A broader perspective on Marine Conservation
by John Duncan and Junaid Francis

African penguins at artificial nest boxes

One of the challenges faced by conservation practitioners around the world are the challenges from some groups of stakeholders that they feel that they are the only ones who are expected to change while other stakeholders are often allowed to continue with business-as-usual. When working with communities and small-scale fishers around Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), who are often the stakeholder groups that are most impacted by these conservation tools, it is therefore important to highlight some of the work that is being done with other marine resource users to help secure the future of marine ecosystems.

Understanding that they are part of a much bigger group of people, all of whom are reliant on healthy ecosystems, and that they are not alone in tackling what can sometimes seem like an insurmountable challenge.

It is for this reason that it is important to highlight WWF’s ongoing work with some of South Africa’s larger commercial fisheries, who are another key stakeholder in discussions around marine conservation. Since 2009, the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA), a partnership between WWF South Africa, BirdLife South Africa and four major fishing companies, has been working towards the shared goal of implementing an Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries (EAF) management in South African fisheries. Although the relationship between environmental NGOs and fishing companies has not always been an easy one, through the creation of the RFA, stakeholders are now able to tackle some of the big challenges collaboratively and the last few years have seen some significantly positive shifts.

Since its inception, the RFA has been involved in a number of projects aimed at tackling the challenges of fishing responsibly, ranging from mitigating seabird bycatch to improving fishers’ understanding of the EAF through Responsible Fisheries training programmes. The RFA has recently committed a number of new projects, which will enable the Alliance to contribute toward addressing some key local fisheries concerns, such as the state of vulnerable fish species and declining African penguin population numbers, by encouraging cooperative governance and advocating for evidence-based decision making. By embarking on a project with an emphasis on safeguarding key bycatch species in the inshore trawl fishery, RFA efforts will also contribute towards the development of a co-management system which is envisaged to provide a mechanism whereby bycatch can be regulated without providing individual rights holders with an incentive to discard catch. The management plan will commit industry to develop and regulate fishing quotas which are set in concert with government-determined catch limits with the aim of limiting the impacts of the fishery on vulnerable fish species while preserving its economic viability.

Hake trawler with tori lines

The impact of fishing on African penguins remains a salient issue for the Alliance and, as such, a project has been initiated that strives to examine the impact of the small pelagic fishery on the African penguin populations of Bird Island and St Croix Island. This unique experiment will increase immensely our understanding of penguin behaviour in relation to variability in their prey availability and how these are influenced by fishing pressure. The findings of this study will be used to improve the efficacy of fishing closures in view of both the economic sensitivities of the fishery and the biologic needs of the African penguin.

Additionally, the Alliance is also committed to advocating for responsible fishing practices through a project seeking to adapt the principles underpinning the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and developing a localised version for South African fisheries. This generic code will then be used to lobby each South African fishery to develop and implement a fishery-specific Code of Conduct. The project is aimed at furnishing local fisheries with a set of principles and standards of behaviour to encourage responsible fishing practices and the implementation of an EAF.

Lastly, an exciting study has been commissioned by the RFA to streamline the local fisheries data management model by enriching the local model with lessons learnt from an analysis of international best practice models. Current methods to collect, capture and process fisheries data are inefficient, often leaving decision makers without adequate access to timeous fisheries data. This project will seek to provide managers with access to ‘real time’ data thereby ensuring that decision-making is based on defensible scientific evidence.

St Helena sardine trawler

When coupled with WWF’s work through the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI), it becomes clear that an increasingly broad group of stakeholders are starting to engage with WWF on the challenges facing our oceans. While the challenges may be different, the goal remains the same, healthy marine ecosystems which provide long-term benefits to all.

For more information about the RFA’s work, please see the RFA’s website: http://www.rfalliance.org.za/

For more information about SASSI’s work, please see the SASSI’s website: www.wwf.org.za/sassi