Coastal Fisheries – Our Livelihoods, Our Future

This dramatic statement was part of the 2011 SPC report ‘Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change’. That publication highlighted the importance of Pacific fisheries to the world and emphasised the absolutely fundamental role of fish for the people in the region.

The numbers in the report are staggering, “The average annual consumption of fish (including shellfish) by coastal rural populations ranges from 30-118 kg per person in Melanesia, 62-115 kg in Micronesia, and 50-146kg in Polynesia.  Even in urban centres, fish consumption usually greatly exceeds the global average of 16-18kg per person per year.”

Put another way, fish and seafood provides 50-90% of the protein consumed by people of the Pacific with the majority of this catch coming from coastal stocks.

However, population growth, destruction of habitats, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, climate change and over-fishing is putting enormous pressure on the coastal fisheries resource.  Regional monitoring of 5 key fish species indicate overfishing is pushing of some these species to their limit. Sea cucumber fisheries for example, once a common in our region, have now closed in most Pacific islands.

But this is just the beginning. Projections indicate that we will not have sufficient wild coastal fish supplies to meet the growing needs of our region.  An additional 115,000 tonnes of fish will be needed by 2030 just to provide the recommended amount for good nutrition. Faced with those numbers, even a well-managed coastal fisheries will not have the capacity to provide the extra fish required for food security. To make matters worse, the agricultural production of the Pacific is not keeping pace with the population growth and already two thirds of island nations are net importers of food.

The impact is already being felt. Many islands are resorting to importing lower quality fish products and other processed food items, which is helping to fuel the regions Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) epidemic. Pacific people will continue to suffer excessive rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease unless there is a fundamental shift in dietary patterns based on local products such as fresh fish and staple crops.

To help tackle these challenges, the SPC was mandated by the Pacific Leaders in 2015 to lead regional work on coastal fisheries. The Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries and A new song for coastal fisheries – pathways to change: The Noumea Strategy are the policy instruments endorsed by the Pacific leaders and have been guiding our activities  in fisheries management.

This week, SPC is hosting the first Regional Technical Meeting on Coastal Fisheries. It is an opportunity for 20 Pacific nations to address some of the concerns and explore ideas on the future of Pacific fisheries. The meeting will also provide a special focus on how to bridge data gaps in coastal fisheries both for better resource management and to compare against the indicators of Sustainable Development  Goal 14 on oceans, seas and marine resources.

The Pacific Ocean is our defining feature – it connects and sustains our communities.  A sustainable coastal fisheries resource is essential for our survival and our future.