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Issue 174:September 2003: 2. Prawn Trawl Bycatch - Sean Fennessy

Western Indian Ocean workshop on prawn trawl bycatch
Sean Fennessy

In decreasing order of catches, the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) countries of Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa catch in the region of 24 000 tons of shallow water penaeid prawns per annum, ranging from 200 tons p.a. in South Africa to 11 500 tons p.a. in Madagascar. The target species are mainly Penaeus indicus andMetapenaeus monoceros. As with prawn fisheries elsewhere, there is a substantial and varied bycatch, and both the target species and many of the bycatch species are common to all five countries. Estimates of bycatch range from about 800 tons p.a. In South Africa to about 20 000 tons p.a. in Mozambique, and most of this is discarded. There is frequently conflict between trawling and artisanal fishery sectors, and the main cause of the conflict is primarily a perceived or actual loss of livelihood, exacerbated by poverty, which is often near-endemic in many coastal communities. In South Africa, user-conflict with the commercial line-fishing sector also exists. The conflict with other fisheries sectors is both direct (e.g. damage to artisanal nets by trawlers; bycatch of trawlers comprises species which are valuable to other sectors) and indirect (e.g. by trawlers modifying habitats or altering predator-prey interactions).
Approaches to resolving the trawl bycatch problem have varied from country to country. All of these WIO countries have some estimates of composition and quantities of bycatch, and most have undertaken trials of bycatch reduction devices in the form of grid separators, Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) or square mesh escape panels. Other approaches to resolving bycatch conflicts have included initiation of mechanisms to make discarded catch available to coastal communities, and instituting spatial and/or temporal closures for trawling.
The GEF/UNEP/FAO programme on “Reduction of environmental impact from tropical prawn trawling, through the introduction of bycatch reduction technologies and change of management” commenced in 2002. Initially, invitations to several countries with substantial prawn fisheries were issued, followed by national and regional workshops in 1999 and 2000. Currently, thirteen countries from four regions (Latin America/Caribbean, Asia, the Near East and West Africa) are participating in the programme, and, although representatives from three East African countries (Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania) attended the workshops, these countries have not been included in the current phase of the programme. The lack of a regional initiative in the WIO, aimed at addressing prawn trawl bycatch issues, prompted the hosting of a regional workshop on prawn trawl bycatch in the WIO. The meeting was therefore held against the backdrop of raising concerns of high levels of fish discards associated with prawn trawling in the world and in the WIO in particular.
Overview of the workshop
The workshop was jointly organised by Gerald Mwatha of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) in Mombasa and Sean Fennessy of the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) in Durban. KMFRI hosted the workshop and FAO provided the funding. Twenty-nine participants from seven countries attended the Workshop, with representatives from FAO, government ministries, research institutions, trawling companies and environmental pressure groups. The main objectives of the workshop were: to review baseline studies on bycatch and bycatch reduction in Western Indian Ocean countries; to identify the specific bycatch problem in each country and to develop suggestions how to solve it; to promote and encourage the use of bycatch reduction technology in existing fishing gears; to promote co-operation between countries in prawn trawl bycatch research; and to discuss the development of a regional programme on the introduction of bycatch reduction technologies and measures for increased utilization of bycatch.
During the final session, the main themes covered by the workshop emerged. The first related to knowledge on the composition and quantification of the bycatch, with the necessary requirement of data collection. It was noted that there are limited formal prawn bycatch monitoring systems in the Western Indian Ocean countries apart from Madagascar and South Africa, and formal monitoring has only recently commenced in the form of observer programmes. Madagascar and Mozambique have on several occasions tried to address the bycatch problem through projects, but the efforts have not been continuous. The continuity of these activities is normally affected by staff changes, poor information management, and poor accessibility to information. Quantifying the impacts of trawling on the environment requires long term studies which may be beyond the scope of programmes such as the GEF/UNEP/FAO project. The affected countries need to put in place long-term projects that will provide information to resolve the issues associated with prawn trawling. e.g. the effect of trawling on the ecosystems. Alternatively, bycatch surveys could be undertaken at regular intervals, say five years, to provide the required information.
The second theme was one of bycatch reduction. The measures and efforts being taken to reduce bycatch are at different stages of development in each country. Poverty issues and food security for coastal communities, not the maintenance of ecosystem integrity, are the key issues which are driving bycatch reduction initiatives in Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique. In fact, it could be argued that reduction of bycatch is not seen as a major focus in Madagascar and Mozambique, given these countries' expressed desire to maximise the use of bycatch. However, countries that export prawns have made attempts to introduce Turtle Excluder Devices in order to comply with United States' import requirements. South Africa’s focus is more comprehensive and considers the integrity of the ecosystem as well as impacts on other fisheries. The use of Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) is already at the experimental stage in South Africa.
The third theme relates to the issue of utilization of bycatch and the socio-economic impacts of bycatch which is made available to coastal communities, and there is a strong focus on this issue in Kenya, Mozambique and Madagascar. The latter two countries in particular are seeking to maximise the use of bycatch for poor coastal communities, and have initiated programmes, with foreign aid assistance, to promote increased landing of bycatch.
Overlying these three themes is the issue of bycatch policy and legislation, which does not always specifically form part of existing fisheries policies in WIO countires i.e. the policy framework for prawn trawler bycatch is not well defined and developed.
Although it is not possible for the WIO region to be included in the GEF/UNEP/FAO programme at this late stage, FAO recognised that some countries in the region had already taken the initiative in trying to resolve bycatch problems, and indicated that they would be able to provide support for workshops and training initiatives (e.g. observer programmes, application of bycatch reduction technology), and also raised the possibility of countries asking for support via the FAO Technical Co-operation Programmes. Based on attendance and participation, the workshop was a success, and should serve to stimulate local and regional bycatch initiatives. A full workshop report will be produced by FAO in due course, and they are sincerely thanked for supporting the workshop.
FAO representatives Wilfried Thiele and Aubrey Harris enjoy some fresh coconut milk with
other workshop delegates at Malindi, Kenya.