|(Modified from a report by Kevin Rhodes, 2003)|
The Federated States of Micronesia is comprised of the four states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae distributed across 2700 km of open ocean. Each state is unique in terms of geology, culture, government, and marine resource utilization and conservation. All, however, share growing pressures on tropical reef fisheries and a need for more effective management, including that of spawning aggregations. The greatest threat within the region comes from the commercial sale and export of reef fishes whose population status is unknown and whose fisheries remain largely unmanaged, unregulated or unenforced. To exacerbate these threats, Micronesia is experiencing rapid population growth, expanding unemployment and a decrease in international aid that will likely increase the number of fishers on the reef, the amount of export and reduce the level of monitoring and enforcement by fisheries resource managers.
Within Micronesia, state marine resource managers have all expressed concern over the current status and future fate of fisheries resources and all appear willing to act to improve fisheries management. However, improvements to fisheries management are likely rely on incomplete data, since the state agencies responsible for marine resource conservation or management do not compile detailed reliable statistics on reef fisheries at any level, including market, export or fisher statistics. When statistics are taken, weights and abundance are combined and often include pelagics. No state keeps species-specific or family-specific catch or export records and none was fully aware of spawning or catch seasons and locations or fishing effort on most of the target species mentioned during fisher interviews. Improvements to the current situation are possible, but unlikely without improvements to technical skills and equipment and a substantial injection of directed financial resources to management agencies.
Currently In Micronesia, there is little awareness of the vulnerability of aggregations to overfishing among fishers, fisheries managers or legislators, even though fishing on aggregations appears substantial. Without first knowing why spawning aggregations are important, no steps can be taken to protect them. Only Pohnpei has specific regulations to reduce spawning aggregation fishing pressure. Where rules do exist to conserve spawning fishes, ineffective enforcement and poaching remains because fishing communities have not been informed about management decisions and rationale. Among the states, target species for aggregation within each state is fairly distinct. For example, whereas Kosrae targets smaller, herbivorous species within the inner lagoon, Chuuk and Pohnpei use combined methods, such as hook and line and nets, and focus largely on fishes along the outer reef. The primary families targeted among all states are siganids, acanthurids, serranids, lethrinids, mugilids and scarids. Although the effects of fishing on spawning aggregations of individual species requires further examination, fishers already report smaller catches, reduced sizes for target species and alterations in behaviour among species during spawning periods, suggesting immediate management is likely necessary. However, almost universally, fishers do not believe any level of fishing will result in aggregation extirpation, nor do they have an awareness that aggregations form from local populations. For example, many fishers believe spawning groups move sequentially from island to island or around an island to spawn at different locales at different times. Instead of being ‘fished out' aggregations merely "move to another area".
Managers, conservation organizations and a substantial number of fishers approached during the surveys were highly receptive to ideas for improved marine resources management. For each of the states, the first step toward management and conservation of spawning aggregations is to provide a basic awareness of their function and their vulnerability to overfishing. This step can be administered through education and awareness campaigns at all levels through public radio addresses, posters, or local television. These materials would be most effective if both English and local language options were available. Second, local marine resource agencies, NGOs, educators and decision-makers should be targeted through educational and awareness seminars to present and discuss general management, conservation, monitoring and enforcement options. Third, workshops should be held with these same groups to assist these groups in tailoring these options into effective management and conservation protocols. Local NGOs, academic institutions, dive shops and resource managers at all levels should be targeted to assist in the development, planning and implementation of activities to cater to local needs increase local participation. Finally, a number of fishers interviewed were willing to mark dates on their calendars for when eggs were observed in catches. In Kosrae, the consultant designed a simple one-sheet spreadsheet listing the fish identified in interviews (in Latin and in local dialect) with a box beside each fish for each month of the year. Fishers simply tick the box when eggs are noted to give a basic idea of spawning season for each fish. A second sheet should be developed to identify sites. These types of simple tools to assist in defining spawning seasons and locations for fishes could be an effective mechanism to extract data for use in conservation development. Finally, complete management of spawning aggregations within the states is probably unrealistic given the wide geographic range over which islands and atolls are distributed within Micronesia.