New Roadmap for Managing Vanuatu’s Coastal Fisheries

Stakeholders participating at the consultation workshop

A stakeholder consultation workshop, hosted by the Vanuatu Fisheries Department (VFD) in Port Vila on the 27th of September 2018, marked an important step in the final stages of developing a coastal fisheries roadmap that will guide VFD’s management and development activities along Vanuatu’s coastlines.

“Inshore [or coastal] fisheries provide the primary or secondary source of income for up to fifty per cent of households in the Pacific region. Amongst rural populations, 50–90% of the animal-sourced protein consumed comes from fish. At the national level, coastal fisheries carry significant cultural and economic value. They are estimated to contribute 49% of the total fisheries contribution to GDP, demonstrating that they are central to the Pacific way of life”.

Vanuatu is no exception to this. As the cornerstone protein source supporting the 66% of the population whose villages fringe a coastline, coastal fisheries are critical to the social, economic and food security of these people.

This is evident in that 72% of households engage in fishing activities in coastal zones for subsistence or commercial purposes and a per capita consumption of fish ranging from 16-26kg per person.

Culturally, coastal fisheries are also very important to the people of Vanuatu, whereby their management is deeply engrained in local custom. In some islands, sacred or tabu areas mean people will not visit, fish or harvest particular fish species because of their cultural beliefs.

In Vanuatu, coastal fisheries generally refer to fishing activities occurring within the 12 nautical miles territorial waters, with the majority of activity concentrating within the limits and peripheries of the fringing reefs.

However, Vanuatu’s coastal fisheries resources are not in a good shape. There have been noticeable declines, for example, in all economically important species, including in particular, trochus, sea cucumber, green snail, lobster, coconut crabs and giant clam.

Looking into the future, it is projected that coastal fisheries resources will decrease in population by 2-5% by 2035, 20% by 2050 and 20- 50% by 2100. These decreases are in part due to increase sea surface temperature, ocean acidification, greater runoffs due to high rainfall and greater cyclone intensity.

In addition, there are human pressures too. In 1999, the population of Vanuatu was 186,678; a decade later it had risen to 234,023 (2009). Today the population stands at around 270,402, with two thirds of this population living within 1 km of the coast and depending on coastal fisheries as a source of food and livelihood. While the population continue to grow, the reef area remains the same at 408 square kilometres, implying that the pressures on resource stocks are expected only to intensify. In such a scenario, one could argue that without proper policy guidance and management control to ensure sustainability, chronic food shortages and poverty are likely.

Vanuatu Fisheries Department (VFD) is the mandated government agency responsible for the management, development and conservation of coastal fisheries through the Fisheries Act. VFD has recognized these challenges ahead and through the vision and leadership of the Director has taken a significant decision to put in place a policy roadmap that will guide and assist sustainable management that will ensure long-term continuous benefits from coastal fisheries for the current and future generations.

To realise this, VFD collaborated with its partners under the auspices of the Pathways Project, including the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) and the Pacific Community (SPC). After initiating the process in late 2017, VFD developed its draft roadmap over a series of planning and drafting stages, in time for a stakeholder consultation workshop held on the 27th September 2018. The main objectives of the consultation workshop were to present the draft roadmap to all stakeholders so as to incorporate broader interests, views and activities towards finalizing the draft. This consultation furthermore provided opportunity for coastal fisheries stakeholders to discuss the various programmes and activities being implemented within the coastal zone.

The draft roadmap has a long-term vision that states “By 2030 secure sustainable coastal fisheries, underpinned by community-based approaches to ensure the resilience and wellbeing of our people”.

The vision is supported by four overarching outcomes, which refer to different thematic components that make up the vision. These outcomes include Resilient Communities; Effective Coastal Resource Governance; Productive and Healthy Coastal Ecosystems and Happy, Healthy and Wealthy People.

Underneath the four overarching outcomes, sit six action areas that identify clusters of actions that will be addressed. These are critical to realizing the overarching outcomes, vision and ultimately the overall success of the roadmap. These include Governance; Information and Knowledge; Ecosystem Management; Markets; Health and Nutrition and Livelihoods and Wellbeing.

Once approved, the roadmap will be the key guiding policy document assisting VFD and its stakeholders in the sustainable management, development and conservation of Vanuatu’s coastal fisheries resources.

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