Postdoctoral Fellowship Position: Knowledge Co-production and Transdisciplinary Approaches for Sustainable Nunatsiavut Futures
We are seeking a 2-year postdoctoral fellow (PDF) to join a transdisciplinary marine research project in Nunatsiavut, Labrador. The position will be held at Dalhousie University in Halifax and will be co-supervised by Drs. Melanie Zurba (School for Resource and Environmental Studies and the College of Sustainability), Eric Oliver (Department of Oceanography) and Megan Bailey (Marine Affairs). More information found in the pdf.
“Success is the ability of going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”
As I entered the new year, and the last few months of my PhD while also facing the challenges that have come with the COVID-19 crisis, I reflected back on the experience to see what I had learned about myself and my ability to deal with difficult times.
When I first decided to do a PhD I was nervous. I was not quite sure why I was doing it and how I would face the obstacles along the way. What I quickly realized was that completing a PhD is not about how smart you are, it is about how resilient you are. Resilience is the ability to get back on your feet after things don’t work the way you wanted or had anticipated. Resilience is a strength that is rooted in your curiosity about the world around you, your passion to make things a little better, the people you surround yourself with and support you and, your ability to slow down, step back and maintain the perspective on the bigger picture. Here are 8 ways I have found help me strengthened and build resilience.
Find and remember your “why”
First and foremost, finding “your why”. That is: your passion. In my case, what I do is guided by my instinctive curiosity for understanding the world around me, my motivation (and optimism!) to make it better, and my concern about people living more harmoniously with each other and the natural environment. While everyone is guided by their own unique motivations, ultimately remembering “your why” as you face setbacks is an immense source of resilience.
Turn failures and criticisms in opportunities to improve and grow
Sometimes it’s hard to stay optimistic both about the world and your ability to do anything about it. Many things will get in your way – the constant bombarding of negative news and sometimes criticisms of your work and approach. Criticisms and a sense of failure can be turned around if you change your perspective and see them as challenges for which you can seek solutions. Focus on how critics make you better about what you do. Remember that (most times) constructive criticisms are not there to stop you, but rather to challenge you and help you improve.
Realize that you are worthy of belonging, no matter your failures
Resilience comes from realizing that you belong, no matter your failures. Unfortunately, we are not always best prepared to face failures and criticisms (which happens sometimes because we are not perfect), because they make us feel like don’t conform to expectations and therefore that we are not good enough to belong to a certain group. This feeling touches the deepest part of our being because feeling like we belong is part of our evolution as a gregarious species. So, when we fail or a criticized, we can develop feelings of low self-worth, insecurity, anxiety and depression.
This is where it’s important to remember that failing is normal and that the standards we are trying to meet (such as those set by academia) should not define whether we are worthy of belonging. We are worthy of belonging simply because we belong to this world and at the end of the day, we are all the same: figuring stuff out and struggling sometimes – what connects us are the challenges and fears we all have as human beings.
Accept your imperfections
Resilience also comes from accepting yourself as imperfect. Especially as we take risks and set ourselves challenges (like a PhD), we are bound to fail along the way. We cannot know or predict everything. We must learn to love and forgive ourselves with all our imperfections. Treat yourself like you treat your friends: with compassion and understanding. And remember the things you are good at, your strengths and qualities like your reliability as a friend, your great cooking skills, your sense of humour etc.
Stay connected with yourself and others
Related to the point above about accepting imperfection, resilience also relies on the ability to be your own best friend by taking time to connect with and care for myself. By that I mean take some time to check-in with yourself and realize how you feel and reflect on why that is. All too often, we fill our lives with busy-ness because it gives us a sense of importance and makes us feel useful. It boosts our ego. But it can mean we don’t take time out to reconnect with ourselves and we ignore how we feel because maybe it’s too painful. But leaving our emotions undealt with will not make them go away but only make it worse, and sometimes results in burnout. So, to reconnect with myself, I like to spend time alone and with family and friends. Find people who listen and who you can talk to about how you feel in a meaningful way. I find that sharing about my struggles can really lighten the load because you realize someone else is probably going or has gone through something, similar which makes you (and them!) feel less alone.
Don’t be afraid to seek advice and help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you feel stuck in your work. Isolation is the worst and can make you feed lonely. I am not saying one should ask for help every time there’s a little bump in the road – of course you should first try to figure it out by yourself but if you find yourself really stuck – then it’s important to be OK with asking for help. You are still learning and that’s what you are here for – learn from others around you. Sharing and discussing ideas can more often than not help overcome roadblocks. Don’t be afraid to share imperfect work with your mentors, your PhD friends, your supervisor and your committee. Feedback, even if it can feel like criticism, is usually helpful. So, accept that whatever you produce, it will not be perfect! It never is!
The practice of mindfulness (which you can train through meditation) have come in handy for me in building resilience because it helps me calm down and put things in perspective. Meditation is about mindful breathing which means that your sole focus becomes the act of breathing and the sensation of your inbreath and outbreath.
First, meditation brings you back to the present moment and helps you connect with the now, with your body and the wonder of being alive (we don’t even know if that “miracle” could have happened elsewhere!). Second, by focusing on your breath you momentarily stop thinking. In other words, you become free from the incessant thinking, judging and worrying. And in this moment where your thoughts are now longer taking all the space in your mind, you feel calm. Third, meditation also helps practice concentration. It helps cultivate that focus that brings you into the what they call the flow: this feeling that you are completely absorbed by what you are doing now and not thinking about anything else.
Find the best way to organize yourself that helps you keep track of the big picture and break it down. For me, this is about setting monthly goals and then weekly and daily tasks. For example, I make lists, prioritize, mark important deadlines in my calendar, keep a notebook to write down my ideas as they arise, etc. Everyone has a different way of organizing themselves, so you have to figure the best way for yourself. I keep a sheet with my yearly goals which I break down in three-month goals. And every week I look at them and make a plan for the week which is sort of my compass for that week. I also keep a daily journal of all the little tasks I need to do and what I’ve done that day which helps me with keeping track of what I need to do and allows me to look back and remind myself I can get stuff done!
Overall, the PhD is probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do but that’s exactly why it has taught me so much about myself and how to become more resilient. Remember why you are doing it and never stop being kind to yourself.
Less than two days after ringing in the new year (and new decade), I made my way into a meeting room to take part in my first conference as a PhD student – the Canadian Conference for Fisheries Research (CCFFR 2020). After several years working outside of academia, the environment felt both friendly and familiar, but also refreshingly new. It was also a bit jarring to be under the fluorescent lights staring at a PowerPoint screen after two weeks away enjoying the holidays with lots of food, family, and fun! But one has to get back to work eventually, and what better way to kick off the new year than with inspiration from fellow researchers from across the country?
Held in partnership with the Society for Canadian Limnologists, CCFFR was celebrating its 73rd meeting, gathering both freshwater and marine researchers in Halifax to share the latest and greatest in fisheries science from coast to coast to coast. The event officially kicked off with multiple keynote addresses. I found Dr. Scott Bonar, who gave a welcome message on behalf of the American Fisheries Society, particularly memorable. He used a large portion of his time to highlight the importance of communicating with the public and encouraging us to do so, especially regarding global climate change. It was an appreciated reminder that climate change research is not outside the expertise of fisheries scientists, but rather an integral consideration in what we do, and thus we bear some responsibility in spurring climate action by the public.
As a researcher interested in the local knowledge held by fishers, I was thrilled to see that there were more community-based projects working with stakeholders than academic conferences I had attended in the past. More and more, researchers are co-developing projects with Indigenous groups, engaging citizen scientists, and working side-by-side with community partners. Despite this, I did feel that I was a bit of an anomaly as an interdisciplinarian, given that I split my time between the Bailey lab, focused on equity in fisheries governance, and the Hutchings lab, focused on fish ecology and evolution.
For this reason, I couldn’t help but notice the “siloed” nature of the fisheries research presented at CCFFR. While the audience included a mix of academics, NGO representatives, and staff from various government departments (primarily the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO]), most of the presentations focused on ecology, evolution, genetics, and research methodologies specific to the natural sciences. Most presenters asserted that their work had applications for management, but I couldn’t help but think that we could all benefits from having more folks from the policy and economics side of things in the room. After all, fisheries management typically has not only ecological objectives, but also social and economic ones as well. Some of my colleagues who attended the North American Association of Fisheries Economics in Halifax last year commented that their meeting, too, was very discipline-specific. It would be great to have more opportunities to bridge some of these gaps within the field of fisheries.
One opportunity did arrive at the end of CCFFR which nicely addressed this concern – a unique presentation organized by Noreen Kelly and Ryan Stanley (DFO), who led an open discussion on “the future of marine spatial planning in Canada’s oceans”. It was a chance to share ideas and perspectives among academics, government officials, and others with an interest in the topic. It provided more of an exchange of ideas than would typically occur in a question period at the end of an academic talk but was more open and public than the one-on-one or small group discussions that often take place in the poster session or during the coffee break. As a result, needs for data standardization, transparency, and communication with stakeholders were brought to light for further discussion.
All together, I learned a great deal about the field of fisheries science and enjoyed many fantastic presentations and conversations during CCFFR 2020. On a personal note, it was also a pleasure to reconnect with current and former colleagues from throughout my academic and NGO work history. I’m grateful to everyone who stopped by my poster presentation to ask questions and give feedback. I learned a lot about the parts of my project proposal that work and parts that need tweaking. Perhaps more importantly, talking about my proposed project helped me to realize the parts of my project that I am most engaged with and most excited about, so I can see more clearly where to focus my energy moving forward. Best fishes for a great year of research ahead!
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has just started its 26th Regular Meeting of the Commission. Last fall, as part of my thesis fieldwork, I attended the 21st Special Meeting of ICCAT in Dubrovnik, Croatia. In a nutshell, these are the annual gatherings for government representatives to collectively debate and adopt fishing policies and management measures for the tuna species in the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to government delegates, ICCAT is also attended by representatives of environmental conservation organizations, as well as people affiliated with fishing companies. Collectively this equates to over 800 people sitting and talking (often heatedly) around a table in a massive conference hall for about ten days.
Being in the meeting most of the time I had only been able to sneak quick glances out at the lovely weather we had all week while I was in Dubrovnik. And, sadly, the day after the meeting ended, the thunderstorm of the year hit the city. I tried to do a bit of sightseeing, but it was pretty pointless and so, playing it safe (i.e., there was nothing else to do), I headed to the airport early. My flight to Zagreb was supposed to be at 5:30 but I didn’t even know if it would still go—checking online showed nothing but delays and cancellations.
I need not have worried because I was in excellent company once I arrived. About 250 other people from ICCAT were sitting around the tiny airport in various spots wallowing in the misery of the thunder and lightning outside and the uncertainty of whether or not we would all be spending another night in Dubrovnik together. The palms outside the cafeteria near the check-in desks were getting shaken so hard that their movement kept triggering the motion-activated glass doors to the patio and every couple minutes we were all besieged with a wet gust of wind and the sound of the Amazon in the rainy season. It’s also important that I point out that the Dubrovnik airport is not Heathrow. I think it has three departure gates and sees a daily total of eight flights, all within the EU. It was not built for business travellers. So when I finally made my way through security, I found that the snack kiosk had been totally raided and all that remained were five or six bags of chips (all looking very helpless flopped on their sides or lying face down in the aftermath of what was surely an unexpected attack on their troops), a full shelf of yogurt parfaits (clearly not a health-conscious crowd), and a couple cans of pop (anything with even a modest alcohol content was long gone). And cash only. Because the storm was causing problems for the credit machines.
This is one reason why I love travel. It is the great equalizer. Whether you’re from a high or low-income country, whether you own a fishing company or work for a non-profit, everyone is subject to the same delays, everyone has to grin and bear long layovers, anyone’s luggage can go missing. It was odd to see government delegates who had been sporting nicely pressed suits and bright ties for the last ten days now dressed in fleece hoodies and jeans eating egg salad sandwiches from plastic boxes. The EU delegation was huddled at tables they had pushed together, the Japanese delegation sat at a small booth, the Americans were roaming aimlessly around the Duty-Free, and the Brazilians pulled up a chair for me and gave me a beer. By some miracle, I saw across the room that the environmental NGOs had gained a monopoly on all the power outlets in the room and, for the first time all week, seemed to be in the best spirits of everyone. Amazing what a little power can do (figuratively and literally). After a week of mostly unproductive discussion between delegates, which resulted in a failure to adopt any meaningful conservation measures, everyone had to endure each other’s company one last time. There was no escape. It really was a miserable, comical, and surreal sight to behold. And yet, it was so poignantly human that I couldn’t help but smile.
Of course, we did get out eventually, and we all sprinted like Boxing Day shoppers to our connections out of Zagreb. But my last few hours in Croatia were also markedly emblematic of the whole. I went to ICCAT thinking I would get a couple dozen or so interviews done for my thesis and some more first-hand experience in how RFMOs function. And yes, I did. But more than anything, the whole week felt like a lesson in the authenticity of humanity rather than the failure of an international institution. One day, as I was walking to the cafeteria for lunch, I saw one of the delegates beaming from ear to ear as he Facetimed with a little girl (I assume his daughter). Another evening as the discussion was dragging on in the main hall, I noticed a guy from one of the industry NGOs texting someone (I assume his significant other) kissing emojis and hearts. Then there were some industry reps who I sat behind one afternoon, seemingly disinterested in the discussion at the table and instead scrolling through their smartphones at content rather inappropriate for an international meeting. Outside of the meeting venue, I was greeted every night at the local wine bar by a cheerful middle-age Croatian woman who hardly spoke a word of English. Only once did she have any other guests, but her bar was always open when I arrived, and each time she welcomed me with a warm smile and a basket of bread with olive oil.
The thing that struck me the most about ICCAT was that regardless of what our ID tag said or where we sat at the table, we are all just people. We may not always understand one another’s culture or background or language, we may not always agree on how to fix a problem or how we ended up there in the first place, but everyone in the room does have the same overall goal. And, as we work toward that goal, we can always practice kindness and generosity instead of judgment. I gained huge respect for all the people I met and interviewed. Sure, a lot of the time I was incredibly frustrated as a bystander and I did not always agree with the decisions they made or the tactics used, and there are significant underlying problems affecting the global seafood trade—including political corruption. And while I don’t forgive them for these failures (I don’t think that absolution is mine to make anyway), the more I learn and the more I see, I am beginning to realize how complicated governance of transboundary fish is in practice. The problem with a lot of research is we assume that people behave rationally. Or, as academics, we think that if we publish a paper that has suggestions around improving management then policymakers will see it as valuable and actually want to implement our suggestions. But rarely is this the case. This is not to say our work can’t or doesn’t have impact—it does—but for most delegates, attending ICCAT is just their job. These people are responsible for looking out for the interests of their country’s economy and they could just as well be discussing olives or timber as bigeye tuna. They don’t actively seek out peer-reviewed journal articles to read each night before bed. And while I worry that the research I do makes little difference, I also know that it’s ok for them not to see the world the same way I do. Because if we saw everything the same, how boring life would be.
These meetings have also made me realize that I’d be a terrible politician. I like everyone too much. I care too much for the people I meet because I see them as humans, not as the countries or industries or institutions they represent. And so, while I want to contribute positively to all of this, I still don’t really know how. Most of the people in these meetings know so much more than I do, and I feel rather silly thinking that I will ever be able to tell them something new or useful. And yet, maybe, I can still do something they can’t. Maybe, as someone who has autonomy, who conducts independent and unbiased research, who can talk to people from all backgrounds and affiliations, maybe there is something I can see that they can’t. They can’t bully me or bribe me because I am of no value to them. Yet if I don’t include their perspectives, they fear they will be misrepresented. It was amazing to me how many people actually wanted to talk to me because they wanted to make sure my work wasn’t biased against them. All week I noticed people watching me as I wound my way through the crowds or stood silently at a table during break. I think most people there didn’t know what to make of me but once they saw me talking to people with opposing views to theirs, they wanted to make their voice heard too. And so, while it’s a pipedream, an ability to hold their attention is still something. Right now, all I can do is continue to be genuine in all our interactions. Because that is how trust is built. And there can be no progress toward common ground without trust. This year, at the 26th Meeting In Mallorca, Spain (which I am also attending), I hope the to build on the relationships I formed last year. Because regardless of their affiliation, I want the people here to know I care about the work they do, and I want my work to contribute to ensuring they can do their job effectively in to the future. To do that, I need to understand and experience their job as best I can. Because, ultimately, there isn’t really any debate when it comes to one thing: all everyone wants is healthy stocks and sustainable tuna fisheries in the Atlantic.
By the end of my week in Happy Valley, I had already sworn to become fluent in Inuktitut, write a review of the entire oral histories of Labrador fisheries, and attempt to single-handedly dismantle the colonial structures of academia. It was the first official week of my Interdisciplinary PhD, and I was so honoured and surprised by the warm and enthusiastic reception we received that I had immediately fallen for Labrador and the people I met there.
Megan Bailey (MAP Professor and my PhD supervisor) and I had travelled to Happy Valley/Goose Bay in late April/early May to attend the Labrador Research Forum. It was an opportunity to get oriented on ongoing research in Labrador, to build relationships with our research partners in Nunatsiavut, and to start planning for the future of our research project.
We started the week by meeting with potential partners on the project. We’ve teamed up with the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat to work, along with partners in the government and in the communities, towards a vision for the future of commercial fisheries in Nunatsiavut. We had meetings with the Torngat Fish Producers Co-operative and the Nunatsiavut Government Department of Lands and Natural Resources to hear their input on the project proposal. Both groups provided invaluable insights on how to improve the project, and the general enthusiasm for the work was so motivational that I got really fired up for the next four years of what promises to be fascinating and rewarding work.
Following the meetings, Megan and I attended the Labrador Research Forum. Because the Forum is thematically organized around “Labrador”, rather than being specific to a discipline, the proceedings were truly interdisciplinary, affording an opportunity to see the whole range of research that is happening in Labrador. Topics were generally organized around health, archival research, and social and environmental science. This gave me a chance to learn a lot of interesting and useful things about Labrador – did you know, for example, that Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province where researchers haven’t found the West Nile virus? That microplastics are intensely place-based forms of pollution? Or that rabies is reasonably common in Arctic foxes and stray dogs in Labrador?
While all of the research was engaging, I took three interrelated lessons from the conference that will play a major role in my work moving forward. I still have a lot of work to do unpacking and deepening my understanding of these concepts but some initial reflections on how they will affect my thinking and my actions as my PhD develops are expanded on below:
As a researcher in an Indigenous space, I am not a leader. I am there to listen, to learn, and to respond to the needs of the community. It is all too easy to act on the power that comes along with being an academic and a settler. Acting on those impulses, however, will not help anyone. It erases the knowledge, the history, and the relationships that Indigenous people hold. It closes my eyes and ears to the power of a completely independent system of knowledge.
Instead, as I embark on this project, I must always remain aware of everything I do not know, and everything I can never know. This is a frightening place to be in as a researcher – we are not supposed to say “I don’t know”. But I will never have clear and total access to Indigenous knowledge, and I can’t claim any ownership over whatever I do learn from the people I work with. My role is not to lead, but to follow – to help where I can, and to make sure that the benefits of my work are returned to the communities.
Centring Indigenous perspectives in research
In approaching this project with humility, I must necessarily move myself to the side – I am, as much as possible, an observer – and move Indigenous perspectives into the centre of the research.
Centering Indigenous perspectives transfers power from the hands of the researcher into the control of the community. This allows the communities to structure the project according to their needs and priorities. It opens up space for the research to become reciprocal, because the researcher can create something that is useful for the community.
Research methods must be highly participatory and iterative to reflect the needs of the community. Several panels of Inuit researchers, community members and elders pointed out that any researcher coming into the community from the outside should be asking: What does your community need? What do you want to know? and to make the answers the basis for their research.
Academia can make this a difficult task, as funding models and timelines may interfere with the ability to develop projects in this way. But it is necessary that I find avenues to work around these systems in order to be accountable to the needs and priorities of the community; centering Indigenous perspectives in research both encourages self-determination, and makes it possible to deliver a product that is actually useful for the community.
The importance of relational/place-based engagement
In order to do research that is reflexive, iterative and community-driven, the person collecting information must be embedded in the location of the research. This is true for practical reasons; participatory research should be evaluated and community-reviewed on a regular basis to make sure that it is true to the collective vision. Staying in the community makes this type of back-and-forth communication possible, and builds better trust relationships between the researcher and the community.
It is also more fundamentally true insofar as it speaks to the relational nature of learning. For a long time, it has been a tradition in Western science to lay claim to a neutral, value-free perspective. What was revealed to me through the course of this conference was the fact that knowledge is never value-free, and that presenting it as such erases the incredible complexities and nuances of life. All of our knowledge is grounded in culture and in place. Learning is human and relational, and it is my task to acknowledge that embodiment.
My research, therefore, must be (literally) grounded in place. It must acknowledge my limitations, biases and perspectives, and it must pay as much attention to the process of developing and conducting research as it does to the final result.
Megan and I have returned from Goose Bay, and I have since been grappling with the implications of everything I learned for my project. I maintain my sincere and probably naïve promises to accomplish all of the goals I set at the top of this post, and more (I am already looking into how I could participate in the West Nile mosquito project this summer), but I acknowledge now the implications of what it means to embark on a project like this one. It is quite an overwhelming first week of a PhD to realize that I need to commit not only my head, but also my heart, to the challenges ahead.
As the largest archipelago in the world and with over 17,000 islands in the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia’s past, present, and future is intimately tied to the ocean, including its rich tuna fisheries.
The Indonesian handline yellowfin tuna fishery has been in a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) since 2011. It all started with a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) pre-assessment commissioned by WWF Indonesia, and has now become a large multi-stakeholder effort including local and international NGOs, industry members (via Asosiasi Perikanan Pole and Line dan Handline Indonesia – Handline and Pole & Line Industry Association, AP2HI) and international buyers from both Europe and the US. The attention that Indonesian fisheries have attracted is considerable. Donors and buyers alike are funding multiple efforts that aim to improve the socio-economic aspects of small-scale tuna fisheries and to ready them to meet international market requirements for various environmental (MSC), social (Fair Trade USA) and traceability aspects: (US SIMP, EU IUU regulations, etc).
The fishery may be small-scale, but working towards these goals has been no small task, as MDPI, an Indonesian NGO based out of Bali, can attest. MDPI (Masyarakat dan Perikanan Indonesia – Community and Fisheries of Indonesia) was set up in 2013 with the founding philosophy coming from Anova Food USA’s Fishing & Living initiative: “Improving Life in the Fishing Communities”. In 2012, Anova’s Fishing & Living initiative entered a 1-year public-private partnership with USAID Indonesia to set up a pilot data collection program in the handline tuna fishery of Lombok, subsequently called I-Fish. The data collection program quickly grew to new sites with Anova hiring over 25 enumerators across different landing sites. Given the success of the data collection program and additional funding opportunities for traceability activities, MDPI was formed to take over and continue the program. MDPI has now grown to an organization of over 70 staff distributed across the country and funded by multiple international donors.
MDPI’s motto is “Happy People, Many Fish” and has three main streams of work:
The Fishery Improvement (FI) team focuses on fisheries data collection. When the FIP started, lack of data was the main issue with small-scale fisheries in Indonesia – there simply was not any data that could be used to assess the environmental sustainability of the fishery. MDPI now collects fisheries data across eastern Indonesia, including catch, effort and spatial fishing data. These data are uploaded to I-Fish, which is now used by NGOs and sent to the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF).
The Fair Trade (FT) team focuses on the Fair Trade USA program. In 2013, a group of 70 fishermen became Fair Trade certified, making it the first fishery in the world to be Fair Trade certified. Today, the program now includes over 500 fishermen and continues to grow as more fishermen hear about the program. MDPI’s field staff lives with the FT communities and helps them with setting up fishermen associations, manage the Fair Trade premium and provide various trainings to empower them (e.g. financial management training). The program has brought direct benefits to fishers, and the Fair Trade standard is well-aligned with the FAO Guidelines on Securing Small Scale Fisheries.
The Supply Chain (SC) team focuses on traceability and monitoring. The SC team implements traceability systems to ensure that products coming from small-scale fisheries meet international market requirements and therefore are not excluded on the lucrative export market which supports their livelihood. The SC team also works on fisheries monitoring by piloting vessel tracking devices (e.g. SPOT TRACE and PDS) and electronic observer technologies (handheld cameras) suitable for small-scale fisheries.
I had the privilege of spending the last two weeks of November with MDPI, attending a harvest strategy workshop in Jakarta with government fisheries scientists and managers, visiting small-scale processing plants and meeting with the handline tuna fishermen of North Buru (a small island in the Maluku province). The goal of this visit was to start preparing the fishery and its supply chains for entering MSC full assessment before the end of the year. Even though I have been involved with MDPI’s work and the handline tuna fishery since 2013, this trip has reminded me once more of the fascinating complexity of tuna fisheries management from the international levels of fisheries management to the beaches where the tuna are landed.
One of the main sustainability challenges for all tuna fisheries in the Pacific Ocean is the absence of harvest strategies. Given the migratory and transboundary nature of tuna fisheries, harvest strategies must be developed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (or WCPFC), an inter-governmental body in charge of managing Pacific tuna fisheries. Member states like Indonesia are thus also working to develop harvest strategies that are compatible with the WCPFC’s, a process that started in the fall of 2014 and is still on-going. During my trip, I had the chance to attend one of the bi-annual harvest strategy meetings during which Indonesian fisheries managers and scientists, with the support of NGOs such as MDPI and international experts, met to review the result of different harvest control rules and their potential social, economic and environmental trade-offs. During this process, Indonesia is gaining expertise and knowledge on how harvest strategies are designed and taking the matter in their own hands. Together with other NGOs, MDPI has been an important partner in this process by providing some of the data needed by the government to conduct a stock assessment, the first step for designing suitable harvest strategies.
It seems that the harvest strategy process along with Indonesia’s ambition to sustainably manage its fisheries has triggered multiple changes in how Indonesia monitors its fisheries, with the introduction of new port sampling forms, electronic logbook programs and modernized database management between various departments related to fisheries management. These are massive changes in a country where data are still largely recorded on paper and mailed from the provinces to the central government. Moreover, the government will soon be able to integrate data collected by NGOs such as MDPI as part of their national fisheries database. On this note, on December 7th, MDPI and the Capture Fisheries division (KKP) of MMAF signed an MoU which solidifies their partnership. This sets a new precedent for the government of Indonesia to collaborate with NGOs who support sustainable fisheries and provide capacity where it is missing. The inclusion of handline tuna fisheries data is also the first step to ensure that small-scale tuna fisheries are no longer being overlooked by national monitoring programs and their interests are being taken into account. A very important step given that an estimated 90% of Indonesian vessels targeting tuna species in Indonesia are small-scale.
From the busy roads and air-conditioned hotels of Jakarta, I flew to the Maluku province to better understand the management process and how MDPI’s work in the field is supporting that effort. And boy! it is truly marvelous how MDPI has built a network of dedicated staff who collect daily detailed fisheries data from the isolated beaches and coastal villages of the Maluku islands.
Around 4pm, after a 12-hour fishing trip, two fishermen landed their 8m canoe on the beach as family, friends and MDPI staff rushed to greet them and help haul the canoe up onto the dry shore.
Before the tuna loins are unloaded (interestingly, tuna is loined at sea in this fishery as the boat itself is not large enough to store an icebox suitable for a whole tuna) and sold to the local buyer, MDPI staff measure the loins and ask the fishermen a number of questions about his trip: fishing grounds, fuel use etc. These data are carefully recorded on a clipboard or tablet and directly uploaded to the I-Fish database.
From there, each loin is marked with the name of the fisherman who caught it and sent to the processing plant for further processing and export. Many fishermen in the area are Fair Trade certified and receive a premium placed in an account owned by the local fishermen’s association. Based on a consensus decision between the fishermen, the premium is spent on community projects such as improved trash disposal infrastructure, safety-at-sea equipment, saving accounts for the fishermen’s children or turtle conservation projects.
To ensure that the fishermen get their premium, the loins must be carefully traced until the last point of sale: the customer. MDPI was again instrumental in this process, working with Wageningen University to pilot a robust traceability system that allows us to trace each loin back to the community that caught it. This pilot was then modified into an electronic traceability system called Trace Tales for processing plants which were developed by MDPI and funded by USAID. Trace Tales has been a small revolution not only for traceability but also for business intelligence as it helps with reducing human error and gives real-time tracking of yield and inventory.
Artisanal fishermen are some of the last fishermen that truly know their way around the ocean, often without GPS, and truly know how to locate the fish by observing the surface of the sea for hours, looking for signs such as dolphins, birds or flickering activity below the surface. This requires incredible experience, patience and observation skills. This is more than a way of fishing, it is a way of life that deserves to be preserved. Making sure that these fishermen’s interests are represented, for example by collecting fisheries data for management, telling their stories to consumers on the other side of the world and making sure they retain their access to the lucrative export market, is what MDPI together with Anova and other stakeholders aim to do. Happy people, many fish!