Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fisheries monitoring in practice

So with the help of Shanti, our volunteer researcher, we've been
collecting some data from the fishing village of Maskahunju which is
just a short walk south of Kande. On the whole the fishermen have
been very accommodating for which we are grateful. Mr. Nyasulu, the
head of the fishing village has been equally so. For the past month
we have been doing two things. First we have been interviewing
fishers and the general population in and around Kande to gauge their
thoughts on the two major actions being recommended by Ripple Africa's
newly initiated Fisheries Conservation Program. The first
recommendation is to extend and broaden a pre-existing (but rarely
enforced) two month closed season to four months starting in November
and ending in February. The second recommendation is that the maximum
length of a gillnet should be 1000 meters and have a minimum mesh size
of 1 ¾ inches. So far villager's and fishermen's responses have been
mixed to these proposals. Our sample size is still quite small, we
have interviewed just over 50 individuals. Roughly half of the
respondents think the actions are a "good idea" while the other half
think them a "bad idea." Asked whether they think the
recommendations, if implemented, would actually be followed, a slight
majority thought they would not be, while the rest were more
optimistic. Somewhat surprisingly the fishers interviewed were
slightly more in favor of the closed season than they were of the net
size limitations while the villagers were the opposite. Until we have
a bigger data set, however, these results are very preliminary and it
would be premature to draw too many conclusions from them.

The second thing we are doing is piloting a monitoring program that we
hope to extend over the entire area in which the Fisheries
Conservation Program is being implemented. For the past month we have
been working out what is feasible keeping in mind that those who will
eventually be doing the monitoring are non-professionals with limited
time. The primary goal of the monitoring program is to collect the
necessary data to calculate CPUEs (catch per unit of effort) for the
various types of fishing occurring in the program area. This will
give us a rough indication of whether or not each type of fishing is
sustainable. We are also collecting information on the market price
of various fish species at the landing sites and the rough species
composition of the catches. So far it has been an interesting
adventure of trial and error.

One of the problems we have run into is timing. The fishermen don't
all come back from their nightly forays at the same time. If the
monitor comes too early to the landing site he/she may not get an
accurate count of the total number of fishers who went out the night
before, while if he/she goes too late some of the fishers may have
already arrived and emptied they boats by the time the monitor gets
there. And yet we don't want to make our monitors wait around all
day. The goal is that the monitoring is a part-time job, a couple
hours per day maximum. Fortunately we think that we have found a
sweet spot that balances all of these considerations reasonably. At
least for Masakahunju, the right time for the monitor to be at the
landing site seems to be between 1 and 3pm.

Another problem we have run into is getting accurate measurements of
the total catch weight of individual fishers' canoes. Most fishers
are amendable in principle when we ask to weigh their catch however
the process by which the fish are pulled from their nets and sold
sometimes frustrate our efforts. The fisher rarely extracts the fish
he has caught from his nets by himself. He is tired after having
spent the whole night fishing and usually hires two people to do it
for him. In payment for this service the "fish-pickers" are allowed
to keep a small portion of the catch which they lay aside separately
from the main pile of extracted fish as they work. So instead of one
pile to weigh the monitor actually has two or three, the main pile and
the "fish-pickers'" piles. The main pile is usually easily weighed
but attempts to weigh the "fish-pickers'" piles often meet with some
resistance as the "fish-pickers" are understandably not eager to make
obvious the exact amount of fish they have set aside for themselves as
a percentage of the total catch for fear of having it reduced by the
fisher. Furthermore the process of extracting caught fish from a net
takes considerable time, often two to three hours. Fish buyers do not
always patiently wait until all the fish have been extracted from a
net before making a purchase and so the catch can be sold piece-meal
before the monitor has a chance to weigh it all. Luckily we do not
need to weigh the total catch of every canoe. At the moment our goal
is to weigh the total catch of a fairly random sample of 20% of the
total canoes landing each day that the monitor is collecting data. At
Masakahunju the number of fishers going out on any given day varies
greatly from none when the weather is bad to 45 when it is good.

These problems notwithstanding we are cautiously optimistic that with
a bit more fine tuning over the next month or so that the monitoring
program will be ready for expansion once the Conservation program gets
into full swing in November. It's been a fun and interesting
experience getting to know the fishers at Masakahunju and we are
looking forward to meeting with other fishing communities in the
Program area.

Stay tuned.
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