Philippines-U.S. Exchange Knowledge in Marine Resource Management

by Megan Moews-Asher

A school of sardines above a coral reef in Cebu, Philippines (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Megan Moews-Asher).

What makes a successful exchange span from across an agency to across nations? The people! Recently, a group of high-level and expert scientists, managers, policymakers, and law enforcement officials from the Philippines and U.S. came together in a government-to-government peer exchange in Honolulu. They discussed fisheries and marine resource management, science, and enforcement between the two countries.

This effort—supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and several offices within NOAA Fisheries—was a success because of each and every individual (and there were many) who played a part. According to both PIFSC Director Mike Seki and Regional Administrator Mike Tosatto from the Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), the exchange exceeded their expectations. Administrator Tosatto, Director Seki, and Office of Law Enforcement’s (OLE) Assistant Director Bill Pickering stated that they and many of their staff learned a lot through the exchange and were thankful to all who participated and made it such a success. In addition, Director Seki said that, “it was pretty impressive how it rolled out and that’s only through the engagement [of all parties], so I appreciate that.”


Group picture of particpants on June 26 (Day 1) of the Peer Exchange, including Philippines Undersecretary for Fisheries and Director of DA-BFAR Eduardo Gongona, Philippines Director of DENR-BMB Mundita Lim, and NOAA PIRO Regional Administrator Mike Tosatto, PIFSC Director Mike Seki, and Office of Law Enforcement Assistant Director Bill Pickering (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).


Sunset at Moalboal, Philippines (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Megan Moews-Asher).

It all started a few years ago with a vision. USAID’s Rebecca Guieb and Dr. Rusty Brainard of NOAA discussed the need for a scientific exchange between fisheries scientists from the Philippines and United States. Over time, the concept evolved into a much broader sharing of expertise and information that brought together the Philippines Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), several NOAA Fisheries offices (PIFSC, PIRO, OLE, and General Counsel), as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, and other partners.

6.OLE_Vessel Inspection

Inspection of longline fishing vessel. Tour and discussion led by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s Joe Scarpa at Pier 38 (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

In an open and honest sharing of information, participants gave their valuable time as part of the “Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management and Conservation: A Partnership in Governance, Management, Science and Enforcement” Peer Exchange that included what the different countries and agencies are currently doing to manage fisheries and conserve biodiversity, the challenges they face, and some of the key lessons-learned over the years. As stated by DENR-BMB Director Dr. Mundita Lim, “the exchange provided an insight of interconnectivity among disciplines.”

As a result of everyone’s candidness and genuine desire to make the exchange a success, the dialogue led to thoughtful and engaging presentations and discussions, new partnerships, improved collaborations, and future plans. The surprise? On Friday, June 30, the Philippines Undersecretary for Fisheries and DA-BFAR Director Commodore Eduardo Gongona and DENR-BMB Director Lim signed a “Declaration of Commitment and Action Plan for the Management of Shared Resources.” The declaration is an unprecedented effort between their two agencies to increase collaboration in the management and protection of their shared marine resources and ocean ecosystems!


Declaration signing between the Philippines Director of DENR-BMB Mundita Lim and Philippines Undersecretary for Fisheries and Director of DA-BFAR Eduardo Gongona (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

Throughout the exchange, Undersecretary Gongona and Director Lim discussed ways in which their bureaus can work together in the future. It is anticipated that this signing will lead to a memorandum of understanding between the two bureaus in the coming months. This is an exciting prospect for the Philippines, where marine resources are some of the most highly diverse in the world, where vast fisheries and marine resources face a multitude of threats, and of utmost importance, where people depend on these resources for their food security and livelihoods.

8.UFA Tour

Inspection of longline fishing vessel. Tour and discussion led by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s Joe Scarpa at Pier 38 (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

Director Seki explained, “many of the Pacific Rim countries have very similar problems.  The sense of food security and conservation is pretty much ubiquitous throughout all of our countries that rely on marine resources and it is on us as scientists and managers to make sure that the resources are there tomorrow.” To add to this, Regional Administrator Tosatto stated, “it really was striking to see how we’re dealing with common problems coming from very different ground truths and yet we’re still solving problems in much the same way, and I think we can help each other.”

Special thanks to ALL involved, but in particular, to DA-BFAR Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona, DENR-BMB Director Mundita Lim, Mike Tosatto, Mike Seki, and Bill Pickering for their time, support and leadership. In addition, to sum up the significance of the exchange and the importance of working together toward sustainability and protection of our fisheries and marine resources, a few words from Bill Pickering, “It’s a trifecta, you have to have all three sides of the triangle [science, management, enforcement] in order to make it work. I don’t think any side is more important than the other because if one of them is missing, whether it be the science, the regulations, or the enforcement part, the whole thing falls apart.” Further addressing the Peer Exchange participants, he stated, “you’re proof of that, from listening to everything you all said.”

For more information:

“Data do not speak for themselves” – Analyzing social science data in Micronesia

by Supin Wongbusarakum
Coral reef along the coastline of the Rock Islands, Palau.

Coral reef along the coastline of the Rock Islands, Palau.

Data do not speak for themselves; there is always an interpreter, or a translator (Ratcliffe 1983[1]).

While nature conservation and natural resource management efforts are increasing throughout the Pacific Islands, the importance of balancing ecological health with human well-being is also increasingly recognized. In Micronesia, the ocean spans nearly three million square miles and is home to approximately 500 species of corals and 1,300 species of fish. But it is also home to more than half a million people living in communities with a close relationship with both land and sea.

These relationships are now being profoundly challenged by external factors such as the global economy and the impacts of a changing climate. In the vast region of Micronesia, effective conservation means ensuring sustainable livelihoods through subsistence and earned income, maintaining cultural integrity, engaging in good natural resource governance, and promoting environmental education[2]. We know these different aspects of conservation are all important, but how do we know if they are actually being carried out consistently and sustainably in the region? How do we know if conservation and natural resource management have contributed to positive changes in the region without adverse human impacts?


Woodcarving detail that depicts a famous story of a magical breadfruit tree (from the Etpison Museum, Palau).

In 2010, we launched socioeconomic monitoring in Micronesia based on SEM-Pasifika (Socioeconomic Monitoring Guidelines for Coastal Managers in Pacific Island Countries). This community-based monitoring effort aims to better understand the conditions of communities in areas with active resource management. In the past few years, we offered several socioeconomic assessment training sessions based on SEM-Pasifika in Micronesia and also provided technical assistance to local teams who collect qualitative and quantitative data in the field. Last year, I conducted a capacity needs assessment to identify further gaps in knowledge and information. The results showed an immediate need for analysis of social science data.

To address this issue, I worked with a network of partner organizations to hold a socioeconomic data analysis workshop in Koror, Palau from September 12-17, 2016. The workshop was funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, with support from many partners—including the Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Regional Office, Pacific Islands Managed and Protected Areas Community, Micronesia Conservation Trust, Palau International Coral Reef Center, and several other organizations and agencies involved in marine conservation and resource management in Micronesia. Participants attended from Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap), Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Hawai‘i.

Matt Gorstein, Social Scientist and Natural Resource Economist from NOAA’s Hollings Marine Laboratory, joined me as a co-trainer. Combining his experience and expertise in analyzing socioeconomic data from the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program—and using preliminary data collected from the NOAA Habitat Blueprint site in Manell-Geus, Guam as well as other sites in Micronesia and Hawai‘i—we had a fully packed and productive training covering a wide range of topics. We started with data entry, created a code-book, and documented work-flow, while also addressing differences among qualitative (e.g. from interviews) and quantitative data (from surveys). We discussed the use of best practices in data entry, management, and analysis. Matt and I provided a comprehensive overview of how to use IBM’s Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) to run descriptive and inferential statistics. The training was regularly reinforced by hands-on exercises and summarized with quizzes.

In the course evaluation, the majority of participants rated the overall training as being extremely useful. One of the participants said, I feel much more confident in examining social survey data more critically. I have stronger ability in designing future assessment with stronger understanding in how data is analyzed.” Another participant stated, “I actually learned more in this workshop than the stats class. Also SPSS is such a useful tool and I am glad I know how to use it now.” With the skills and knowledge gained in this workshop, we hope that the participants will be able to analyze and interpret socioeconomic data more effectively. Their new skills will support efforts to improve coastal and marine resource management and conservation—while balancing ecological health with social well-being.


Trainers and participants of Socioeconomic Data Analysis Training Workshop. Back row, left to right: Angel Jonathan (Conservation Society of Pohnpei), Kailikea Shayler (Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Aquatic Resources), Matt Gorstein (NOAA Hollings Marine Laboratory), Bond Segal (Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization), Jane Dia (Guam Department of Agriculture, Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources), Mochieg Reyuw (Yap Community Action Program), Kodep Ogumoro-Uludong (Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance), Rachael Nash (Micronesia Challenge Regional Office) Front row, left to right: Noelle Oldiais (independent researcher, formerly Palau International Coral Reef Center), Erin Zanre (Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Aquatic Resources), Supin Wongbusarakum (PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Program), Marybelle Quinata (NOAA Guam Field Office), Lincy Marino (Palau International Coral Reef Center), Alicia Edwards (Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority)

[1] Ratcliffe, J. W. 1983. Notions of validity in qualitative research methodology. Knowledge: Creation, Diffusion, Utilization 5(2), 147-167.
[2] Based on results of Micronesia Challenge 1st (2012) and 2nd (2015) Socioeconomic Measures Workshops and Micronesia Challenge Measures Working Group Scorecards Workshop (2016).

How much does a longline fishing trip cost?

Since 2004, the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program – in collaboration with the NOAA Observer Program managed by the Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) – has maintained an ongoing trip-level economic data collection program for Hawaii longline fisheries. The establishment of this routine economic data collection program provides timely information to support management of these fisheries. Economic data collected are used for (but not limited to): 1) Assessing the economic viability and stability of the fisheries; 2) Measuring the economic importance to local economies and the value of fisheries; and 3) Analyzing the economic impacts of various policy options.

Trip costs for Hawaii longline tuna fishing trips, 2004-2015

An average tuna trip cost about $25,500 in 2015, excluding labor costs. Over the period 2004-2015, the average trip cost in the Hawaii tuna longline fishery nearly doubled (in nominal value), from $13,800 per trip to $25,500 per trip, due primarily to increases in fuel prices. In 2004, fuel costs made up about 46% of total trip costs, whereas it comprised 54% in 2015. Average tuna trip costs have increased gradually over time, peaking in 2012. In 2012, the average yearly fuel price as reported by fishermen reached a high of $3.90 per gallon (average consumer prices as reported by AAA was $4.78/gallon at the time), which comprised nearly 58% of the non-labor trip costs. The recent drop in fuel prices during 2015 resulted in decreased overall fishing costs in 2015 relative to prior years (16% lower than the 2012 peak).


Trip costs for Hawaii longline swordfish fishing trips, 2005-2015

Swordfish fishing trips are usually more expensive than tuna fishing trips, even when trips are carried out by the same vessel, mostly due to longer trip length and subsequently a higher proportion of fuel cost in its trip expenditures. On average, the cost of a swordfish trip is approximately double that of a tuna fishing trip. In 2015, the average swordfish trips cost $42,200. In 2012 when the average yearly fuel price was at its peak, an average swordfish trip cost over $57,600, while a tuna trip cost about $30,700 during the same year. Similar to tuna trips, with the substantial drop of fuel price in 2015, the average trip costs for swordfish fishing decreased relative to recent years (27% less than the peak costs in 2012).


More data products based the data collection program led Dr. Minling Pan, can be found on the PIFSC website, click for:

Hawaii longline

American Samoa longline

For more information about this research or to comment on survey results, feel free to contact us:

For more information about other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts.

Researchers continue studies of effects of water circulation and sedimentation on benthic communities at Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa

By Bernardo Vargas-Ángel

Members of the benthic and oceanography teams of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) are on a 2-week deployment on Tutuila, American Samoa, as part of 2 projects funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. Both projects aim to establish much needed baselines to better understand and mitigate the effects of land-based sources of pollution, such as runoff and sedimentation, on the coral reef communities in Faga`alu Bay.

NOAA diver Marie Ferguson on April 5 conducts a survey of corals, using the belt-transect method, in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

NOAA diver Marie Ferguson on April 5 conducts a survey of corals, using the belt-transect method, in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

Close-up of a coral community of the shallow backreef in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa, as seen in this photo taken on April 5. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

Close-up of a coral community of the shallow backreef in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa, as seen in this photo taken on April 5. NOAA photo by Michelle Johnston

The primary goal of this mission, which concludes on April 11, is twofold:  (1) retrieve oceanographic instruments, including wave-and-tide recorders, current meters, and salinity and temperature recorders, that were deployed in March and April 2012 at strategic sites inside and outside of Faga`alu Bay to better profile water flow patterns and sediment residence times and (2) conduct surveys at nearly 40 sites to acquire detailed data on coral community demographics (size class) and health condition to expand and complement the benthic assessments conducted on March and August 2012 for one of the projects.

Jeff Anderson and Matt Dunlap of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division finish a benthic survey, which they conducted by snorkeling, in Faga`alu Bay on April 4. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

Jeff Anderson and Matt Dunlap of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division finish a benthic survey, which they conducted by snorkeling, in Faga`alu Bay on April 4. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

A team of 5 CRED researchers is conducting the surveys and retrieving the instruments: Oliver Vetter, Marie Ferguson, Matt Dunlap, Jeff Anderson, and Bernardo Vargas-Ángel. The two projects are “Inter-disciplinary study of flow dynamics and sedimentation effects on coral colonies in Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa” and “Comprehensive baseline assessment and development of performance measures for Faga`alu Bay, American Samoa.”

These projects support the development, implementation, and effectiveness of local action plans for reef-to-ridge watershed conservation and management. They have received instrumental support from partner agencies, including the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (Fatima Sauafea-Le`au), NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (Michelle Johnston and Wendy Cover), American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) (Domingo Ochivallo), San Diego State University (Trent Biggs and Alex Messina), American Samoa Community College (Kelley Anderson Tagarino), and the Faga`alu watershed community working group.

We’d like to extend special thanks to the American Samoa office of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries for the use of their boat, the R/V Manuma, and to the DMWR for the use of their secure dock for this mission. The use of intergovernmental resources has been a huge help in making this mission go smoothly, safely, and within budget. We look forward to fostering these and other collaborations as we continue to work together for the betterment of reefs in American Samoa.

Matt Dunlap, Jeff Anderson, and Marie Ferguson of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division contemplate the day’s plan aboard the R/V Manuma, dockside at the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources in Pago Pago Harbor on April 2. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

Matt Dunlap, Jeff Anderson, and Marie Ferguson of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division contemplate the day’s plan aboard the R/V Manuma, dockside at the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources in Pago Pago Harbor on April 2. NOAA photo by Oliver Vetter

Workshop held in Guam on coral reef ecosystem model

Mariska Weijerman of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division has just returned from a 10-day trip to Guam. Here, she reports on her activities.

With initial funding from the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), Office of Habitat Conservation, and PIFSC and as part of the NOAA Habitat Blueprint Initiative, I am developing a coral reef ecosystem model by adapting the code of the widely used Atlantis Ecosystem Model for a coral reef ecosystem. Atlantis, developed by Beth Fulton, PhD, at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart, Australia, can simulate the complex ecosystem processes that link the physical environment with the associated biological and human communities. It also includes the main steps in an adaptive management cycle (such as feedback from resource managers on performance indicators) and can be used as a decision-support tool that allows for evaluation of ecological and economical cost-benefits of alternative management strategies. A 2007 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which reviewed 20 of the world’s leading ecosystem-modeling platforms, rated CSIRO’s Atlantis Ecosystem Model as the best in the world for evaluation of management strategies at an ecosystem level (FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 477 by Éva E. Plagányi). Atlantis is used by the Australian government and various NOAA Fisheries offices. The application of the Atlantis model to a nearshore, coral-reef-focused system will be novel.

Guam is the focus of my first application of the Atlantis model to coral reef ecosystems. As part of this development process, Val Brown, of PIRO and the liaison for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program in Guam, and I organized a workshop that was held on Nov. 14. From local resource managers, we sought input on the conceptual model (spatial component and the functional groups to include), ecosystem attributes (how should the reef look like and what are the main stressors), ecological and economic indicators (indicators that reflect the ecosystem attributes and stressors), and management scenarios to evaluate. We also discussed the model with biologists from the University of Guam and the Guam Coastal Management Program, both of which have monitoring programs and intimate knowledge of the reefs that can root the model with local knowledge and data sets.

Some of the participants at the recent workshop held on Nov. 14 in the historic Lujan House in Hagåtña, Guam, to discuss the Atlantis model under development for Guam. NOAA photo

Because not everybody was able to attend the workshop and some people had asked for follow-up meetings, we had an additional 6 meetings in the days after the workshop. In total, through both the workshop and other meetings, 26 people participated from 13 different organizations, including the U.S. Navy, local resource management agencies, federal agencies, the University of Guam, and nongovernmental organizations.

Outcomes of the workshop included the identification of the following information and data:

  • Additional data sets and local data to improve various input parameters (for example, habitat use of fish species, life history parameters, and coral growth rates)
  • Ecological and economic indicators (for example, diversity, coral cover, fish biomass, commercial and noncommercial catch values, number of tourists, and invertebrate landings)
  • Various management strategies to model for exploration and evaluation:
    • Cumulative effects of the military buildup
    • Ban on various fishing methods, in certain areas or during spawning season
    • Watershed restoration
    • Strict enforcement of water-quality compliance for sewage outfall
By Mariska Weijerman

Mariska Weijerman and Val Brown discuss the Guam Atlantis Model with Joseph Artero-Cameron (right), who is Guam’s point of contact for coral reef conservation programs, fisheries, and oceans and is president of the Department of Chamorro Affairs. NOAA photo

Evangeline Lujan (left), the administrator of the Guam Coastal Management Program, meets with Val Brown and Mariska Weijerman about the Guam Atlantis Model. NOAA photo