By Kelvin Gorospe
What types of science and technology (S&T) innovations are currently being used or developed to improve our understanding of and ability to manage fisheries? And which of these technologies could be implemented in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle in order to promote sustainable management of their trans-boundary fisheries?
These are the big-picture questions being asked by USAID-Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA), to which NOAA was able to respond. Below is a brief summary of this effort. A full report, authored by Kelvin Gorospe of PIFSC’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Chris Elvidge of the NESDIS National Geophysical Data Center, as well as Keith Chanon, William Michaels, and Patrick Lynch of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Science and Technology, is in the process of being completed.
In January 2014, Gorospe convened the “S&T core group,” composed of 36 science and technology experts across NOAA and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to design a survey that would answer USAID’s questions. In August 2014, the survey was released via NOAA’s International Affairs Council to all six of NOAA’s fisheries science centers and other NOAA offices, requesting participation from NOAA employees with either: i) technical or managerial experience working on S&T innovations or (ii) working experience in international capacity building for fisheries management. In addition, the Department of Interior’s International Technical Assistance Program coordinated the survey for DOI.
The final framework of the survey was based on the seafood supply chain, defined as the entirety of stakeholders that are responsible from catching the seafood to bringing it to the consumer’s plate, including all the steps in between. The survey divided the seafood supply chain into the following four categories:
3. point-of-processing or packaging
4. point-of-purchase or consumption
In addition, there was a fifth category–integration of the seafood supply chain–that highlighted the need for S&T innovations that could link together the various steps in the seafood supply chain.
For each point along the seafood supply chain, the survey asked participants to select the most appropriate S&T innovation that, if implemented in the next five years, would have the greatest impact on improving the overall management of Southeast Asia’s and the Coral Triangle’s trans-boundary fisheries. Participants were also asked to explain the reasoning behind their selection and to identify any foreseeable barriers to implementing the S&T innovation in the region.
Results and Discussion
Overall, the survey collected input from a total of 63 participants (53 from NOAA and 9 from DOI). Within NOAA, all six fisheries science centers as well as NOAA Headquarters participated in the survey, with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and NOAA Headquarters having the most participating experts. The majority of participants self-identified their expertise as either “data analysis (43%)” or “field-based or remote data collection (41%),” with a minority coming from a laboratory-based setting (16%).
For pre-catch management needs, the most popular S&T innovation was stock assessment analysis (n=28; 45.2% of survey participants). Many respondents pointed to stock assessment’s authority as a “well-established process” and a “tried and true method” that is “proven to be an essential component of effective fisheries management”. The main barrier to implementing stock assessments, as reported by the survey participants, was data availability. Life history and population demographics parameters, fishing effort and gear, historical catch, as well as fisheries-independent abundance information were all mentioned as important data inputs. Yet, as one participant pointed out: “Innovative approaches are being developed for the data-poor fisheries typical of the region.”
Out of those who favored electronic monitoring (EM), many pointed to its overall credibility as a major advantage over other S&Ts. For example, it can provide “important and non-biased (relative to self-reporting) fishery dependent catch data.” Many participants noted that human observer programs should be included as an important component to point-of-catch monitoring, and point out that EM, if implemented, would only be useful in limited situations.
Another participant clarified that they would like to see human observers equipped with better technology: “Humans are still the best visual inspectors and if equipped with the proper technology will provide the best data.” Thus, funding human observer programs and creating career paths for observers was seen as an important complement to this S&T.
Regarding point-of-catch barriers, cost was seen as a major barrier for EM. In addition to cost, however, many participants also noted the potential for stakeholder resistance, cautioning that there could be fishermen concerns regarding data confidentiality as well as an overall lack of trust and willingness to adopt these technologies.
Point-of-processing or packaging and point-of-purchase or consumption
Among the different points along the seafood supply chain, there was the least consensus among survey participants for point-of-packaging and point-of-purchase information needs. Several S&T innovations were popular, with little dominating consensus for any particular one. In both cases, however, seafood safety and quality testing came out on top.
For supporters of seafood safety and quality testing, the main reason they selected this S&T was to reduce the amount of discarded seafood, which they reported to be a major issue, particularly for point-of-processing activities. Overall, reducing waste and inefficiency means less extraction from the ocean and more sustainable seafood resources. They also cautioned, however, that a potential lack of cooperation from seafood processors, manufacturers, and distributors could be a major barrier. Indeed, one characteristic of seafood safety and quality testing is that implementation would follow a HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) format–a gold-standard endorsed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, but which also places more responsibility on industry to ensure compliance.
Integrating the seafood supply chain
Electronic reporting (ER) was the most popular choice among survey participants for integrating information needs across the seafood supply chain (n=20; 32.2%). As one participant described it, ER would enable “accountability and traceability at the greatest efficiency.” Stakeholder resistance, however, was highly cited as a barrier to the implementation of ER. One participant noted, “There is entrenched (primarily industry) sensitivity to sharing fisheries activity data between countries. And that stance is carried forward by government delegations at international forums.” This type of resistance, however, could potentially be addressed by better data management infrastructure. One participant noted that if electronic reporting is integrated throughout the seafood supply chain, that there will be a need to ensure “data security at the same time as allowing data sharing across multiple users and agencies.”
Smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps (n=10; 16.1%) were also given moderate support for integrating the seafood supply chain. According to survey participants, the main advantage for smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps for seafood supply chain integration centered around its feasibility. Many comments about smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps highlighted their popularity and familiarity amongst the public. It was less clear what the main barrier to implementation is for smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps, likely because barriers to implementation are specific to the particular purpose of the technology. And for this technology, survey participants envisioned a diverse set of potential purposes: observers/crowd-sourcing public (e.g., recording species and size of imported fish entering the market), buyers/sellers (e.g., documenting the seafood’s chain of custody for the purpose of product evaluation), as well as consumers (e.g., supplying background information for making well-informed consumer purchase decisions).
Lastly, integrated ecosystem and socio-economic models arose as another moderately supported S&T for seafood supply integration (n=11; 17.7%). Many comments, as expected, were focused on its integrative capabilities. For example, “seafood harvest and sales involves many players, and modeling these systems can best reveal how to manage the entire process.” Modeling has the ability to link the supply chain by combining data from multiple points throughout the chain. Human activities (e.g., fishing pressure, consumer behavior), ecological processes (e.g., recruitment, mortality, migration), and changing environmental conditions (e.g., ocean and climate change) can all be integrated as part of the model to predict how fisheries will be affected. The main barriers cited here were data availability and technical skill. As many participants noted, these models are difficult to develop and in order to be reasonably predictive, the models require a large amount of data that may not be available.
Final Remarks and Conclusion
Many respondents felt compelled to choose multiple answers even though the survey only allowed them to choose one. For example, for integrating the seafood supply chain, one participant suggested that electronic monitoring be combined with electronic reporting and/or smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps. As another example, one participant noted that for integrative ecosystem and socio-economic models, while these models are particularly powerful for integrating information from diverse data sources, it will still require data inputs about fisheries and ecosystems, which in turn would require the coordination of multiple S&Ts. Thus, it is important to realize that while the survey only asked participants to indicate their preferred S&T, one major limitation here is that it is actually the coordinated implementation of complementary technologies that has the greatest potential.
In some cases, respondents commented on the limited ability of S&T to provide sufficient solutions. For example, several supporters of stock assessment for pre-catch information needs commented on the “inadequate and ineffective legal and regulatory support to implement fishery conservation polices.” Similarly, in advocating for forensic labs as a favored solution at the point-of-processing stage, one participant noted the “need to have a set of international standards, oversight, and verifications of the [forensics] results.” Indeed, well-recognized challenges facing fisheries in the region are poor governance and lack of transparency, issues that are difficult to address with S&T. Overall, these comments highlight the importance of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM), which the region has recently begun to embrace and apply.
Finally, given the framework of the survey, it is important to take into the consideration that survey participants were asked to make broad, internal judgments for each question. It is important to note that the applicability of S&T, and the associated advantages and barriers of any one S&T over another becomes more specific only as we look for solutions to specific fisheries, political contexts, and capacities. Thus, if a specific fishery was identified, a follow-up survey could potentially be developed to explore in more detail how S&T can be coordinated to inform management priorities and fill information gaps.