Turning the Tide for Coastal Fisheries

Entry Overview

The Grey Ghost, conserving biodiversity and improving livelihoods in Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Aitutaki Island Council
Cook Islands
Describe the problem: 

The Aitutaki Island Council has instigated a change in practice for the fishery of bonefish, nickname Grey Ghost, known locally as 'kiokio', from an indiscriminate, unsustainable gillnet fishery to a sustainably managed, income generating flyfish sports fishery. The associated Plan provides for ecologically sustainable development and an effective, beneficial and enforceable management structure for the bonefish fishery. This encompasses all fishing activities associated with the catching of bonefish from the lagoon and surrounding reefs of Aitutaki and nearby Manuae. The project not only sustainably manages the fishery, but also puts in place a resource friendly economic activity for the development of the island, which assists in protecting other species as well through gillnet control.

Biodiversity Impact: 
Our actions facilitate environmentally, socially and economically sustainable fisheries and promote ecosystem well-being by protecting habitats. Any developments which may disturb reef passages and sand flats which are important habitats for bonefish, require an environmental impact assessment. Closures are put in place to protect juvenile nursery, and adult spawning areas and seasons. We have also created a permit system for fishing and carefully control this activity. All non-Cook Islanders who wish to fish in Aitutaki and Manuae lagoons and surrounding reefs, shall be required to obtain a permit, and be accompanied by a local guide, who also monitors the fishers catches. The encouragement of the Bonefish sport fishery presents an opportunity for the alternative economic development of the Island. It contributes to strengthening the future economy and sustainability of the resources, and relieves pressure on other marine resources that are targeted for livelihoods. By involving the community in the governance and the development of the activity, the plan is well rooted and develops local capacities. This includes increasing expertise of licensed local guides and the development of educational programmes to strengthen the management of the fishery. In the longer term, through this program we will enhance research on population parameters and stock status, via a tagging programme, incorporated into the tag and release fly fishery. The collection of information will assist decision making to refine and improve the management of the Aitutaki and Manuae bonefish fishery.
Human Well Being and Livelihood Impact: 
The population of the Aitutaki island is approximately 2000, or about 13% of the country’s total. We strongly believe that the change in the way we utilise the bonefish resource will benefit everyone on the island. The Fishery plan puts a special emphasis in maximizing equitable distribution of benefits. Of course, for the local population, such a strict preservation of bonefish resource demands some sacrifice of a food resource. However bonefish does not represent an exclusive source of food nor a preferential one. The tourism industry is currently the most important income activity for Aitutaki. Bonefish fishing is a globally recognized fishing enthusiast’s activity. The development of the Bonefish fishery in Aitutaki represents a huge opportunity to add another dimension to tourism for this remote island. The shifting in use of the resource brings opportunities for the island as a whole, not just those directly involved in the bonefish industry. Demand for local goods and services including agriculture,tourist accommodation, handicrafts, transportation, etc. will increase to service the increased tourism, creating additional employment opportunities where few options currently exist, especially for women and youth. Local expertise will be enhanced through quality training of guides and the integration of fisheries into educational programmes. Furthermore,the money earned from the visitor fishing permits and guide licensing will go to the Aitutaki Bonefish Community Development Fund for use to further develop and manage the fishery, as well as other community projects. // As would be expected with a small population living on a tiny and remote Pacific Island, there exists a strong fishing history amongst the community. A shift in any fishery practice needs to ensure that there is wide participation by stakeholders into both the governance and the implementation. The result is that traditional values and practices of the Aitutaki community are maintained in harmony with the innovation introduced by the bonefish sports fishery. Measures encompass community awareness actions and help to manage social conflicts amongst users of the lagoon. For example users are consulted for the allocation of areas and public awareness and education programs ensure that the community is aware of current developments concerning the bonefish fishery. The committee provides the community with feedback such as the status of stock; number of bonefish anglers; and economic benefits derived from the fishery. In the governance scheme, local community is largely represented in the Aitutaki and Manuae Bonefish management committee and final decisions are taken by the Aitutaki Island Council. This local council is the key factor in the management of the fishery. The Council provides administrative support and assistance in the implementation and enforcement of this fishery. It has the power to grant or decline license and permits. Furthermore, it approves budgets, recommends new regulations, fees and penalties. And finally, it receives fees which form part of the Aitutaki Bonefish Community Development and Management Fund and manages the disbursement of this fund.
How many years has your solution been applied? 1 year // Have others reproduced your solution elsewhere? No // The Fishery plan establishes a participatory management system and framework for the control and governance of all bonefish fishing and related activities within the lagoons and surrounding reefs of Aitutaki and Manuae. The legislative authority for enforcement of regulations for this fishery is under the Ministry of Marine Resources. However, the responsibility to manage the fishery is devolved to the local community. The Aitutaki and Manuae Bonefish Management Committee was formally established to implement and administer the plan. It comprises member’s representatives of the Aitutaki Island Administration, the Cook Islands police, the Ministry of Marine Resources, representatves of the licensed guides, the traditional chiefs of Aitutaki and the Island council. The committee discusses bonefish fishery development and management issues and strategies. It also undertakes an annual review of the plan, such that an adaptive management approach can be used. An ecosystem based approach is used, such that the lagoonal ecosystems are managed as a whole, taking into account external as well as internal impacts. The Council assesses Bonefish Guide licence applications and provides recommendations to the Aitutaki Island Council. The committee prepares annual budgets for the administration of this fishery and reports to the Council. They also raise public awareness. The Ministry conducts monitoring for compliance with regulations and provides technical information and advice to the Committee and Council on the fishery and effectiveness of management measures.
Historically, fishers caught bonefish with hook and line, and handmade fibre nets, and catches on each trip were less than 100 fish. However, with the recent introduction of motorized boats, monofilament gillnets and freezers, fishers were able to increase their catches to over 1,000 fish per trip. The approach taken, is to replace gillnet fisheries with recreational or sport fishing activities through training programs in fishing methods, small business management and sea safety. The fishers, who previously relied on gillnets, are provided with the skills for alternative means of income generation targeting the very same species at more sustainable rates. Introduced management frameworks discourage gillnet fishing and promote recreational catch and release fisheries, therefore reducing fishing mortality on the stock. Local fishers are able to provide for their families by taking out paying enthusiasts for bonefish fishing expeditions. We believe the development of sport fishing for bonefish and thus the regulation and control of fishing activity would allow stocks to recover. Furthermore, the restrictions on gillnets will not only benefit the bonefish species but all species vulnerable to gillnets in the lagoon. A number of local fishermen will also transfer their efforts away from exploiting vulnerable inshore resources to concentrate on the bonefishing industry. We thus anticipate a positive impact on fish biodiversity.//Aitutaki lagoon and reef cover an area of approximately 77 sq.km. Manuae lagoon and reef add a further 13 sq. km, for a total of 90 sq. km. Within these larger areas, we can divide the bonefishery into 3 distinct areas, within which any fishing permit holders must be accompanied by a licensed guide. These include the nursery and spawning areas. In those areas, gillnet fishing is prohibited at all times and furthermore, all fishing in the spawning area is prohibited 3 days before and after the new moon. The nursery area spreads over 147.7 ha and the spawning area covers over 252.7 ha. There is then the controlled fishing areas where fishing effort and gear are restricted from time to time. The main area for this is Rapota sand bank, a total area of 306.5 ha. Overall, the plan covers a total area of 706.9ha.

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