[Coral-List] Chagos Tribunal and Chagos conservation

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Sun Mar 29 21:13:45 EDT 2015

   The International Society for Coral Reef Studies (ISRS) recently sent
members a copy of the latest edition (March, 2015) of the Reef Encounter
newsletter.  In it, I found an article on page 10 about Chagos, the MPA,
conservation, fisheries, and so on.  I learned some things.  The article is
easy reading.  Reef Encounter including this latest issue is available
open-access on the ISRS website, at
http://coralreefs.org/publications/reef-encounters/  Free to download,
interesting to read.

    This reminds me of what a good deal membership in ISRS is!  We should
ALL be members.  Membership includes a heavily discounted subscription to
Coral Reefs, the only journal devoted exclusively to coral reef science, a
high quality publication.  Much less expensive than most other journals
(except open access where the author pays).  There is a steep discount for
people in developing countries, especially if you choose the electronic
version of Coral Reefs.  Coral Reefs has grown over the years, and now has
a lot of articles in each issue, articles we need to be aware of.  Check it
 http://coralreefs.org/publications/coral-reefs/   The society does a lot
of other great things, including helping sponsor the ICRS.

     What follows is a bit long, so a short summary is that in my previous
message urging a "well-managed fishery", I should have pointed out just how
difficult that is.  It's not impossible, but it is very difficult indeed.
Actually, all methods of managing fisheries have risks that in fact they
are not well managed even when we think they are.

     In order to have a "well managed fishery", you have to avoid
overfishing, and in order to do that, you have to know whether overfishing
is occurring, and whether the fish stocks are in an overfished condition
(those are two separate things, similar to whether your car is moving fast,
and whether you are giving it lots of fuel, you can have one without the
other for a while, but they are connected).  The best way to find this out,
is to do a "stock assessment."  The problem with that is that this requires
a lot of biological data on each species, and requires a lot of expertise.
The net effect is that it is very expensive.  That's not a problem with
tuna, since there are just a few species, and tuna fisheries bring in lots
of money.  But it is an overwhelming hurdle for coral reef fisheries.
Coral reef fisheries for finfish are some of the most diverse in the world,
Indo-Pacific reef fisheries typically take 200 species or more.  Further,
the reef fish catches have low cash value, in most cases fishing is
subsistence, and the real value of coral reef fisheries is as a protein
source, food to keep people from starving.  Stock assessment is so
expensive, that it has only ever been done 3 times on reef fish to my
knowledge, on just the same 35 species (not 200) each time.  It will never,
ever, be used widely on coral reef fisheries, it is orders of magnitude too
expensive.  Not going to happen, forget it.
     There are a variety of other ways to get information about fish
stocks.  Fisheries people often use trends in CPUE (Catch Per Unit Effort)
when a stock assessment can't be done.  CPUE can't tell you what the
condition of a fish stock is in absolute terms, but it can tell you
something about relative condition, relative to the past.  If CPUE goes
down, that indicates that the stock is declining.  If the stock isn't
declining it probably won't go down, and you may feel better.  One problem
is that the stock can go down without CPUE going down, because fishermen
get better at catching fish, due to better technology.  Improving
technology is typical of many or most fisheries, so it is not a rare
thing.  Second, CPUE trends are hugely subject to shifting baselines.  Fish
catch data is typically only collected long after a fishery has begun.
That means that some or many species may already be overfished when the
baseline data was taken.  CPUE trends can't tell you if it was overfished
to begin with, it can only tell you that things are getting worse.  And
last, a problem with all methods, is that the status of each species can
be, and usually is (as demonstrated amply by the only 3 stock assessments
ever done on reef fish), different from other species.  One species is
overfished, another isn't, and so on.  The problem is, that you have to
collect a ton of data to be able to say anything at all reliable at the
species level.  So everybody just lumps the data by family, then you have
enough data.  But this covers up problems in individual species.  Take
wrasses, for instance.  There are lots of species, and most species are
small.  But one species, humphead wrasse, can grow to 7 feet long.  Larger
fish are naturally less numerous than small fish (because they have to eat
a lot more so the reef can't support as many) and they are a bigger prize
for fishers, more to eat or more to sell, so they are often sought after
preferentially, which makes them more vulnerable to fishing.  If you look
at fish catch data, there won't be enough data to do meaningful analyses of
individual species.  So you lump by family.  The result is that you will
find that wrasses are not overfished.  Great.  Except that if you did have
enough data to analyze by species, likely you would find humphead wrasse is
overfished.  Lumping species covers up problem species that are overfished.
     So now you have 3 ways in which CPUE is biased to not finding fish
species that are overfished, and between them, it is near guaranteed to
tell you that everything is just fine, when in fact some species are
overfished.  You rely on CPUE at your own peril.  Overfishing means that in
the long run you will be catching less fish than you could if you weren't
overfishing, overfishing is taking more than the Maximum Sustainable Yield,
and does fishermen no good in the long run.
       By the way, reef fish are one of the very few kinds of fish you can
census visually.  That's great, and lots of reef monitoring includes visual
census.  The problem with fisheries is that knowing how many there are,
doesn't tell you whether they are overfished or not.  There are fish that
are naturally abundant, there are others that are naturally rare.  So
abundance by itself doesn't tell you anything that you need to know.  You
need to know how to interpret it, and that requires additional information,
and likely assumptions.
     One thing we can't assume, is that we can take lots of fish from a
reef without overfishing.  Some fish, such as sharks, are very vulnerable
to fishing, and removing only a few can push them into an overfished
condition.  Others, like striped bristletooth surgeonfish, are abundant and
very resistant to fishing.
     There are several other methods of gaining info on stock status, but
unfortunately, every one of them has some kind of weakness (even stock
assessment does, and can lead to disasters such as the Canadian cod
collapse).  What are we to do?  We need better methods of finding out which
species are overfished, but which don't cost so much.  There are people
working on it.  The trick is to get a more practical method which has less
weakness, likely we won't ever get a really cheap method that has no
weaknesses at all.  In the meantime, maybe we need to do something like use
two or more of the less expensive, more practical methods, compare the
results, and use the precautionary principle.  If you have to drive and
your windshield is all fogged up, sometimes a small clear spot is enough to
avoid crashing into things if you are cautious and drive slow.  But driving
blind and fast is a sure recipe for crashing.
      Add to that that fishermen have an incentive to fish more, so they
and their representatives are almost always pushing for less regulation,
and they can push a stock into collapse, like the Canadian cod.  There are
lots of overfished species around the world, though not all by any means.
But almost all are now either fully fished, over fished, or in recovery.
MPAs are popular in part because you don't have to have a stock assessment
to implement one, and if there is no fishing, there can't be overfishing.
People have been pushed into using MPAs largely because fish stocks are
often not well-managed, particularly reef fish, managers do not have
adequate information, and there is heavy pressure from fishermen to reduce
restrictions on fishing.  But if you want to be guaranteed to have fish
stocks that are not overfished and a reef ecosystem that is not being
damaged by fisheries (such as by trophic cascades from removing sharks, or
risk of phase shifts from removing herbivores), there is only really one
way to do it, and that is a no-take area, an MPA.  Sorry, no matter which
method you use to regulate a fishery, there is risk involved, even with a
stock assessment (though that is the lowest risk method short of an MPA).
It is simply not possible to have a "well-regulated fishery" without some
risk that it is in fact not well-regulated and there are some overfished
species and some risk of ecosystem damage.  We need to manage the risk.
How much risk are you willing to take????
      Now you know what I mean when I say that a "well-managed fishery" is
not an easy thing to do, rather it is very difficult indeed.  Would be
easier if we had piles of money sitting around we didn't know what to do
with, but that's not the case.
     These problems aren't just in Chagos, they are everywhere that there
are fisheries of diverse reef fish species, which means almost all of the
world's reefs.  And it is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest
threats to coral reefs.

Cheers,   Doug

For more info on the problems in managing reef fisheries well:

Fenner, D. 2012.  Challenges for managing fisheries on diverse coral
reefs.  Diversity 4(1): 105-160.   http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/4/1/105

On Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 3:30 PM, Douglas Fenner <
douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:

>     Thanks so much for that explanation, Charles.  I think what you say
> makes total sense.
>     The Chagos archipelago, other than Diego Garcia, is probably the
> largest collection of near-pristine reefs left in the world.  It is
> unique.  We have very little near-pristine reef left in the world, and this
> is the largest amount of it, perhaps as much as half of all left in the
> world (I don't know).  But it is incredibly valuable, given that we now
> know that the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), long thought to be near-pristine
> and the best managed reef system in the world, is no longer pristine.  Add
> to that the fact that most of the world's reefs are in decline and some
> such as in Florida and much of the Caribbean, are in very sad shape
> indeed.  When we're all fighting as hard as we can to save the world's
> reefs, letting the largest single near-pristine reef system in the world be
> degraded would be counter-productive, ultimately hurt everyone, and a
> tragedy.
>      We know that the world has a huge number of poor people, and that
> coral reefs can and do, provide services such as food from fishing.  Food
> that is desperately needed by millions of poor people.  The Chagos
> archipelago is a world treasure, much as we've always thought of the GBR
> as.  And it is a huge treasure.  Should we kill the goose that laid the
> golden egg?  Or keep it alive so it continues to provide benefits???  I
> think the latter.
>     I sincerely hope that Mauritius and Britain will work cooperatively,
> together with  other interested parties, to produce a plan that is focused
> on the long term good for both Chagos AND the people of Mauritius.  That
> means avoiding uncontrolled fishing that depletes stocks and leads to lower
> long term catches than a well-managed fishery.  It also means managing for
> ecosystem health, so that the reefs are the gift that keeps on giving.  The
> same is true of the tuna stocks in the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).  But
> for me, the real gem is the huge, near-pristine, coral reef system.
>     Can't we all work together for the benefit of all???  (If we're smart
> we will, since we will all benefit in the long term.)    Cheers,  Doug
> On Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 4:13 AM, Sheppard, Charles <
> Charles.Sheppard at warwick.ac.uk> wrote:
>> People might like to recall that it was a coalition of several of the
>> UK's largest and most respected science societies and NGOs that advised the
>> government to declare the Chagos MPA, not just the Chagos Conservation
>> Trust and Pew!  There is very good reason for this of course and a visit to
>> the chagos-trust.org can explain why they did, as can the 250+ papers
>> written so far by a couple of hundred scientists.
>> The Tribunal also declined to find any improper motive for the
>> declaration, as has been often repeated, as have various earlier judgments
>> too.  It is all for conservation of a very large set of largely undamaged
>> reefs, the largest such tract left in the world.   Scientists operate
>> within governmental constraints of course - as in most places.  Here the
>> government listened to scientists, and this is not liked by those opposing
>> the MPA
>> no-take rules.
>> So the Tribunal ruled that Mauritius holds legally binding rights to fish
>> in the waters surrounding the Chagos Archipelago.  Whether this is a
>> set-back to marine conservation or whether it is a new beginning for Chagos
>> conservation will depend on the action of Mauritius in its reaction to
>> this court ruling.  On the one hand it could say that having had these
>> rights legally recognized, it did not want to exercise them, but rather to
>> have its scientists and conservationists join the international
>> conservation efforts to maintain a world-class fully protected marine
>> reserve for the huge benefit of millions of people in Indian Ocean States.
>> That would indeed be a new beginning for Chagos conservation and one which
>> we and others concerned with marine conservation would wholeheartedly
>> welcome.  Or they could seek to exercise those rights, which would be a
>> set-back to marine conservation and science, though how big a setback would
>> of course depend on the scale, locale and enforcement of the fishing.  With
>> power comes responsibility.  We hope and would wholeheartedly welcome
>> Mauritius joining conservation efforts and we have several times offered to
>> fund Mauritian scientists  (using UK government
>>  funds) to join in with the conservation work - without success so far,
>> but we hope this will change.
>> Our intent is to do whatever is possible under government framework to
>> protect that large tract of reefs and prevent or hugely delay any slide
>> into the condition seen in most other reefs of that ocean.
>> Best wishes
>> Charles
>> _______
>> Professor Charles Sheppard
>> Chair, Chagos Conservation Trust
>> _______________________________________________
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>> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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> --
> Douglas Fenner
> Contractor with Ocean Associates, Inc.
> PO Box 7390
> Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA
> phone 1 684 622-7084
> "belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."
> Politics, science, and public attitudes: What we're learning, and why it
> matters.  Science Insider, open access.
> http://news.sciencemag.org/social-sciences/2015/02/politics-science-and-public-attitudes-what-we-re-learning-and-why-it-matters?utm_campaign=email-news-latest&utm_src=email
> Homeopathy ineffective, study confirms.
> http://news.sciencemag.org/sifter/2015/03/homeopathy-ineffective-study-confirms
> website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner
> blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope

Douglas Fenner
Contractor with Ocean Associates, Inc.
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

phone 1 684 622-7084

"belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."

Politics, science, and public attitudes: What we're learning, and why it
matters.  Science Insider, open access.


Homeopathy ineffective, study confirms.


website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner

blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope

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