Capacity-building Workshop on Bycatch Held in Oman

A capacity building workshop to support the implementation of the Regional Observer Scheme of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) was organized by the IOTC Secretariat in cooperation with the CMS Secretariat in Muscat from 18-22 October 2015. The Oman Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries hosted the workshop which was opened by Dr Ahmed Mohammed Al-Mazrouai, the Director General of Fisheries Resource Development. Dr Al-Mazrouai is the current Chairman of the IOTC Commission.

Workshop participants

The workshop provided expert training to support the creation and implementation of observer schemes in Oman, Pakistan and Iran with a specific focus on gillnet fisheries. IOTC Contracting Parties are required by IOTC Resolution 11/04 to create observer schemes.

Recognizing that without good data sound fisheries management that also minimizes migratory marine species caught incidentally in fishing operations is not possible, five managers from each country took part in the 5-day workshop to learn from each other and from international experts about the elements of effective observer schemes. They also learned how to identify and, where possible, release migratory species such as marine turtles, cetaceans, sharks and seabirds caught incidentally in purse seines, on long lines and in gillnets. Training was designed to support implementation of national programmes that would increase capacity of the three countries to manage their tuna and tuna-like fisheries sustainably, minimize incidental catch of migratory species and ultimately help the countries provide fisheries and by-catch related data to the IOTC Secretariat to fulfill their IOTC reporting requirements. Minimizing by-catch would also assist the three countries in fulfilling their obligations either under CMS to which Iran and Pakistan are a Contracting Party as well as their responsibilities under the CMS Indian Ocean South East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that all three countries have signed.

Consistent and accurate reporting underpinned by high quality and complete data assists the IOTC Commission in making scientifically based decisions in relation to the various fish stocks it oversees. Information has been particularly lacking in relation to both coastal and off-shore gillnet fisheries which are rapidly expanding in the IOTC region. The situation is challenging for Oman, Pakistan and Iran where upwards of 70% of the catch is from artisanal fishers operating from relatively small boats numbering in the tens of thousands often in difficult operational conditions. The sheer number of boats complicates efforts by governments to establish and resource effective on-board observer schemes. Workshop participants discussed how technology may be able to assist as well as how fishers can be encouraged to minimize by-catch of migratory marine species.

John Carlson provides training at the fish market

Working closely with the IOTC Secretariat the CMS Secretariat identified three experts to act as resource people to the meeting: Robert Baldwin (CMS IOSEA Marine Turtle MOU Advisory Committee member), John Carlson (CMS Sharks MOU Advisory Committee Chair) and shark expert Rima Jabado (Gulf Elasmobranch Project). The latter were financially supported by the CMS Sharks MOU. They were accompanied by Tim Collins (IUCN Cetaceans Specialist Group and the Wildlife Conservation Society) and Moazzam Khan (WWF-Pakistan). The workshop participants were exposed to the by-catch issue, safe handling and release of marine species, the identification of sharks, rays, marine turtles, and seabirds as well as best practice guidance to support implementation of IOTC’s observer scheme. Lyle Glowka, Executive Coordinator, CMS Office – Abu Dhabi, attended the workshop and introduced participants to the Convention, as well as the work of the CMS Dugong MOU, IOSEA Marine Turtles MOU, the Sharks MOU, and the Agreement on Albatross and Petrels on conservation and by-catch.

CMS’s contribution to the workshop is one example of the long-standing strong working relationship between IOTC, CMS and the CMS Family of instruments to help ensure the conservation and management of CMS listed marine species caught incidentally within the IOTC agreement area. Building synergies between IOTC, the Convention and CMS Instruments will help the respective members of each organization – a significant number of which are the same countries –minimize the by-catch of marine migratory species thereby supporting IOTC and Convention requirements including CMS Resolutions 6.2 and 9.18 (By-catch) and Resolution 10.14 (By-catch in Gillnet Fisheries), Resolution 11.20 (Conservation of Sharks and Rays) as well as mandates under the Convention, the CMS Sharks MOU and IOSEA to cooperate with regional fisheries management organizations such as IOTC.


Vaquita sightings on Mexican Expedition inspire hope

Article prepared by Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho and Barbara Taylor, Chief Scientists of Expedicion Internacional Vaquita Marina 2015.

The Government of Mexico has commissioned a new survey to find out how many vaquitas remain at the start of the emergency 2-year gillnet ban.  The survey was launched by the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Rafael Pacchiano Alamán and a host of dignitaries.  Miraculously, vaquitas appeared and were seen by the Secretary and several other dignitaries as if they knew to appear for those who had the power to save them.

Secretary Pacchiano Alamán spots a vaquita through the ‘big eyes’ (Photo by Todd Pusser).

Secretary Pacchiano Alamán spots a vaquita through the ‘big eyes’ (Photo by Todd Pusser).

After 20 days of our 64-day survey on R/V Ocean Starr in the northern Gulf of California, 25 vaquitas have been spotted though some may have been seen multiple times.  We are hopeful of obtaining a useful, updated estimate of population size when the survey is completed. At this stage, we can at least report that vaquitas, unlike baijis when we surveyed the Yangtze River in 2006, are still present, and in habitat that appears healthy and free of gillnets.

The Mexican Government’s emergency ban on gillnets throughout the vaquita’s range is the first large-scale ban on artisanal gillnetting in the world (as reported on this website in mid-January 2015). The ban was accompanied by a compensation package for fishermen and others in the region who rely on the fishing industry for their livelihood.  In hard economic times, the Mexican Government is investing $37 million (US) per year in saving this endemic species.  President Peña Nieto rolled out the emergency strategy, which also includes a new Navy enforcement program, in April in San Felipe, one of the two small fishing villages affected by the ban.

Juan Carlos Salinas looking for vaquitas in the gillnet free waters of the northern Gulf of California

Juan Carlos Salinas looking for vaquitas in the gillnet free waters of the northern Gulf of California

The main method of documenting trends has been and continues to be an innovative scientific method that uses acoustic detectors to monitor vaquitas (details available here in English, and in Spanish).  These detectors provide over 3,000 days of continuous listening each year.  The acoustic monitoring program indicated a 30%/year decline between 2011 and 2014 and it was this finding that prompted the emergency actions (details here).

The present survey, like previous ones, has been a collaborative effort between Mexico and the US.  The survey design involved the world’s top experts to get the most precise estimate possible (more details summarised at Survey Design and in this detailed Report). In waters where more than 700 kilometers of net usually would have been set each day during the start of shrimp season, only a single gillnet has been observed thus far.

The survey involves both a visual team working on a ship in waters more than 20 m deep and the passive acoustic detectors in shallower waters.  There is an area of overlap that will be used to calibrate the visual with the acoustic methods.  To make the abundance estimate as precise as possible, we are using the same ship that was used to obtain the previous two abundance estimates for vaquitas, one in 1997 and the other in 2008.  The visual team uses 6 high-power binoculars to spot the small porpoises that are only visible in very calm seas.  The acoustic effort involves 135 detectors placed in a grid.  Both the visual and the acoustic teams will work from 26 September through 3 December 2015.  Results including the new abundance estimate are expected in the spring of 2016.

Vaquita decline even faster than expected

The sixth meeting of the Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita (CIRVA) was held in San Diego, California, USA, on 22 May 2015, immediately before the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee.

CIRVA-6 commended the Government of Mexico for implementing an emergency two-year gillnet ban throughout the vaquita’s range and also acknowledged the major commitments by the President of Mexico to make enforcement more effective through an interagency team led by the Navy.

However, after reviewing new results of the acoustic monitoring program, including the report of an expert panel that had reconvened in April 2015 to consider the acoustic data from 2011-2014, CIRVA-6 concluded that the vaquita population had declined at an even faster rate than estimated previously. In fact, the estimated rate of decline in vaquita abundance from 2013 to 2014 was 42%!

The CIRVA-6 report (here) recommends that the Government of Mexico proceed immediately with the necessary regulatory measures to make the gillnet ban in the northern Gulf of California permanent. It also recommends that the Government maintain its strong commitment to interagency enforcement and include night-time surveillance as part of that effort.

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