|(Modified from a report by Richard Hamilton, 2003)|
All Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea coral reef fisheries (subsistence, artisanal and commercial) operate within well developed customary marine tenure (CMT) systems, where ownership of and hence access to coastal areas depends on a range of culturally defined variables, including descent line.
In all areas visited fishers had detailed knowledge pertaining to the way in which the lunar stage, tidal state and currents influence catches. For example, interviewers noted that spawning aggregations generally occur on the slopes of submerged reefs, often within highly localised areas with coral trout (and in particular Plectropomus leopardus) being the main fish captured at these sites, where observations on spawning aggregations of Plectropomus areolatus were recorded from spear fishers, and aggregations of spawning Ctenochaetus striatus and mixed aggregations of Epinephelus spp. were described in detail. Throughout the area, however, limited information on the seasonal timing of spawning aggregations was documented. It may be that such sites represent spawning aggregation areas for many species of fish that spawn at different periods throughout the year, if this is the case, it would have the effect of keeping catch rates at such sites high much of the time, thus, there would be little need to mark specific seasons of individuals species. Furthermore, the lightly exploited expansive areas of reef in the island coupled with a subsistence lifestyle of local communities may mean that fishers can catch adequate supplies of fish at any time, thus, there is little need for fishers to mark specific periods of exceptional fishing opportunities. Interviews with fishers also reveal that historical fishing pressure on reef fish resources in the island has been very light. The only declines in catches of reef fishes reported was for near inshore areas very close to populated regions, with older fishers stating that fishers now ventured further from shore than they had to in the past. Even catch rates from heavily harvested and well known mixed aggregations of Epinephelus spp. are said not to have declined notably in fisher's lifetimes.
In Papau New Guniea, the most common and re accruing axiom regarding fish aggregations was fishers claims that when the leaves of the coastal Talise tree turned red, aggregations of serranids with ripe gonads could be harvested in large numbers from known aggregation sites. The linking of spawning seasons to the flowering or reddening of certain trees is not unique and has been documented in many pacific regions. Perceivably, the same environmental cues that cause certain trees to flower or lose their leaves may also trigger spawning in certain species of fish. In all areas, fishers were vague on the months in which the leaves of the Talise tree turned red, invariably stating that they followed the Talise tree not calendar months. Fishers were also unsure of the exact number of times that this Talise season occurred, although fishers predominantly stated that the Talise season occurred between 2-3 times a year. Furthermore, knowledge on the species that formed aggregations during the Talise season varied between communities visited. Clearly, knowledge of the exact calendar months when aggregations form and a knowledge of the precise number of times a year that this occurs is irrelevant to these fishers. Therefore, determining the exact species that aggregate at this time and their spawning season will require scientific investigation
The status of reef fish around the islands appears to be very healthy and levels of exploitation are low, so it is unlikely that they need specific management for the moment. However having a rapid population growth and the rising in commercial ventures such as the LRFFT; the most effective precautionary way of protecting spawning aggregations of high value species in the islands would be implement seasonal closures during the months of spawning. Such closures will require research and would be most effective if passed through provincial law and endorsed by the Land council. Site based management of individual aggregations would be impractical for most areas, given that numerous aggregation sites appear to remain undiscovered, the seasonality of many aggregations is unknown, and the majority of aggregations occur in remote locations. However in areas where aggregations where in close proximity to local communities, site based management could be implemented through existing CMT systems if local communities wanted to implement such controls.
However implementing such controls may prove difficult, as these aggregations represent important fishing periods for artisanal fishers who have limited alternative sources of income. Furthermore, implementing such controls through existing CMT systems may have limited success given that the power of village elders to enforce such controls appears to have eroded considerable in recent decades. Management of aggregation sites would need to be evaluated on a site by site basis through close consultation with local communities. It is noteworthy that any future LRFFT operations would most likely target the remoter, presumably less fished outer atoll regions before they moved to more exploited regions in close vicinity to the main Island. Thus, these areas may be in greater need of management attention in the future.