By J. Brock (SARTMA)
Or should I say, do it right, preferably first. One of the best ways to generate revenue from a fishery for a newly established Government is to assess the commercial species within an established economic zone. That assessment should establish whether or not a fishery would be a viable source of income, not only for the Government but also for the private sector. A lot of work must be done before the first piece of equipment or even a suitable vessel is purchased. Following are some general titbits that could be considered when setting up such a zone.
Once commercial species are found, proper research will help sustain the stock.
When a commercial species is identified, it is wise to assess it and that assessment should get right down to the basics. This means, that when found it must be protected along with its food chain. What does that species eat? Are there sufficient supplies of food to entice the species to stay within your waters?
What is the ocean in the EEZ like? Where are the currents? Are they warm ones or cold ones? And, in what direction do they flow? At what time of the year do they appear, or are they static? Different foods in the chain of commercial species can ride on both warm and cold currents. How deep is the water? It is a general rule that commercial species spawn at one depth and live out their life cycles at different depths. When doing the research, it is important to find out where the stocks are spawning and at what depth.
Are you protecting your spawning stocks? The protection of spawning stock is paramount for recruitment of the species for the next season. Ideally, the spawning stocks should be 40% of the available commercial species in the zone. But dream on. Typical escapement rates can be as low as 12% and it doesn’t take the brains of an archbishop to figure out that low escapement rates mean that there are less fish to spawn and produce offspring.
What is the life cycle of the targeted species? If you are looking at cephalopods (squid) the cycle is approximately a year. Depending on the recruitment and the ocean currents, there could be abundance one season and a famine the next. Various species of finfish offer a cycle that can be as many as 25 years. In a fishery specialising in finfish, if you only catch mature and larger stock, you are in trouble. It means that younger fish have either gone elsewhere or the entire species are in danger of becoming commercially extinct.
Even as important is that if there are no commercial species, then why get an all sing and dancing vessel to protect your waters. The research must come first so that you know what is out there.
Proper management is the key to commercial species sustainability and financial gain.
Once scientific research is completed, the difficult task of managing the fishery can begin. The assessment will tell you what other species (seabirds) are feeding on the stock. How much are they taking and if you take their food, will you lose another valuable resource (Wideawakes)? A decision on the sustainability of seabirds and/or fish stocks is a management one.
Secondly, who’s fishing in your, as yet unprotected zone, and what is their targeted species? Chances are that you will come upon these enterprising fishermen long before the research is done. The rule of thumb is that if fish are in your zone, fishermen will be there to catch them. It’s your zone and their presence means that something of value is being taken away (stolen). Those vessels either have to be licensed, or they are poaching. If they are poaching, how are you going to stop them? In the Falklands, just prior to the setting up of the Falkland Islands Interim Conservation Zone in 1986, there were some 600 fishing vessels in the waters around the Islands, taking the resource for free. Where’s that archbishop?
One of the first assets that a properly managed fisheries zone will acquire is an aircraft kitted out with radar and suitable for doing fisheries patrol. The first type used in the Falklands was a leased Dornier. While it did the job superbly, it was an expensive commodity. Now, the more cost-efficient Briton-Norman Islander is used to great effect. Random sorties to the edge of the zone and back again in sectors will find who is fishing in your zone.
Secondly, the vessel(s) that are used for fisheries protection must be, at least, adequate for the job and further to this, a fully trained crew needs to be manning that vessel. At first, the vessel should be leased, to see if it is up to scratch. The trained crew also must be contracted but part of that contract should be that they train local crew. This is an expensive operation no matter how you look at it. The rewards, however, outweigh the expenditure.
A proper boat and trained crew will bring in the poachers and justify the licensing regime. Otherwise, why buy a fishing license if you can get the resource without one?
And, what of the boat? The best choice would be a former fishing vessel. A fast one taken off a poacher would do just nicely. Confiscate your fishery patrol vessel with care. If that’s not feasible then lease one from the British fishing fleet, who are hurting at the moment due to the cuts in the Cod stocks they can take. It has been said that a fully equipped and used fishing trawler can go for less than £100,000.00. In some circles it is less than £50,000.00. It would pay to have a reputable surveyor chose a suitable vessel for lease on a yearly basis, or for purchase.
Aggressive fines and penalties will help prevent poaching and generate revenue.
Nothing can completely wipe out poachers. There will always be some wanting to test the system. If they get away with it, others will follow. An aggressive deterrent will keep the followers at bay, as well as catch the initial risk taker.
A rule of thumb is that a poacher brought to court will lose his catch, his fishing equipment and even his boat, as well as pay a hefty fine. That, of course, could wipe out the individual operator, but it is a mere drop in the bucket to the larger fishing companies, who may or may not have active poaching programmes. When the EEZ is set up, the poachers know the risks and, if they are taken, then appropriate fines and penalties must be undertaken.
Some layman’s thoughts:
When a fishing company pays for a licence, that piece of paper is worth approximately 10% of the total commercial value of the catch. Providing there is a good fishing season, the licence fee is a sound investment. What makes it even more valuable is the exclusion, or the appearance of it, of poachers from the waters where there are good catches. Make your fisheries decisions with great care and attention to detail.