Helen Packer on the tuna handline fishery

During my internship in Indonesia, I worked for ANOVA Seafood, a Dutch seafood importer with branches in America and South East Asia.

TURFs have the potential to solve user conflicts that do arise from overlaps between artisanal and commercial fishing gears but may not achieve sustainable yield goals.

In 2009 ANOVA initiated the Fishing & LivingTM initiative: a Fisheries Improvement Program for the Handline Yellowfin fishery in Indonesia. The primary goals of this program are to reach MSC certification and improved living and working conditions within fishing communities. To that end, Fishing & LivingTM is involved in various aspects of the fishery: improving fisheries data collection, building strong relationships with the government, NGO’s and seafood industry to build capacity and open up opportunities to improve fisheries management, community development projects, and research activities to improve our knowledge on social and economic aspects of artisanal fisheries. Tuna fisheries, in a developing country like Indonesia, are fascinating because they are not just about ecological aspects but also about important social and economic values. My tasks were very diverse: I worked both on ecological aspects such as Risk Bait Assessment and on more social aspects such as investigating traditional forms of management.

I investigated the opportunities and constraints for implementing a right-based form of management: Territorial User Rights for Fisheries (TURFs). TURFs consist in allocating an exclusive right to fish to fishermen or communities within a certain territory. The Handline tuna fishery I was investigating operates around anchored Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) that are often owned privately, either by fishermen or a FAD owner. Therefore, when a FAD is set, fishermen implicitly claim (exclusive) fishing rights around it. This behaviour is very close to a system of TURFs. However, TURFs have mostly been implemented for fisheries that exploit sedentary species, as molluscs, and in spatially defined ecosystems as coral reefs. In these cases, TURFs function well as the rights-owner exploits a resource that stays within an area and whose quantities depend (almost) directly on his level of exploitation: almost like a garden! In the case of tuna, this relationship between the TURF territory, the area around the FAD, and the resource area of Yellowfin tuna that migrates across the Coral Triangle and beyond is  very loose! As a consequence, tuna fishermen may not develop incentives to fish more sustainably as would a coral reef fisherman fishing on Giant Clams. Tuna is being fished by many people and many different types of fishing gears all over the Coral Triangle: the action of one affects the catch of the others. So, TURFs may not achieve sustainable yield goals unless they are implemented for all fishermen in Indonesia or when combined with catch limits. Nevertheless, TURFs have the potential to solve user conflicts that do arise from overlaps between artisanal and commercial fishing gears.

To investigate the feasibility of TURFs locally, I decided to find out how the handline fishermen are organized, and about their experiences at sea as well as encounters with other gears. I wanted to understand the spatial organization of the FAD based handline tuna fishery and identify a good basis exists to establish territorial user rights from a social and economic point of view. Next to a literature review on existing forms of local management, I interviewed fishermen and suppliers, as part of a case study in Lombok. This kind of “social” study was very new to me as I was not so familiar with interviews and analyses of “social data”. I truly appreciated and learnt more about the fact that fisheries are not just a set of fishing units exploiting a resource but consist of human beings, driven by complex social, political and economic motivations. Artisanal fishermen, who are often forgotten by management authorities, still lack a voice to influence the management of their fishery. Therefore, the first step towards improving the management of the handline Yellowfin fishery is to gain more knowledge and understanding on the human and ecological dynamics as well as include fishermen in decision-making processes rather than to implement a set of rules.

Working on sustainability in Indonesian tuna fisheries has been one of the most enriching experience I’ve had due to their complexity  and their social, economic and ecological value.

A meeting with fishers from Lombok and the Fishing and Living team
A meeting with fishers from Lombok and the Fishing and Living team