Aquaculture Newsletter

(August 1996 Number 13)

The GFCM Aquaculture Information System

Mario Pedini and S. R. Coppola
Fisheries Resources Division

SIPAM, the French acronym for the Information System for Promotion of Aquaculture in the Mediterranean, is a regional information system which operates as a network under the aegis of the recently established Aquaculture Committee of the General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean (GFCM).

The SIPAM is intended to assist the private and public sectors to have quick and easy access to information required for decision making, both on specific technical matters and for the design and assessment of new aquaculture projects. The system also supports, and serves as a tool for the regional aquaculture research networks which operate in the Mediterranean basin under the umbrella of the GFCM. It assists researchers to keep abreast of research activities in the region and to exchange research information, and supports research planners by providing information on the state of the art of various aquaculture disciplines. This is particularly important to researchers and planners in developing countries, who often work in relative isolation.

Why SIPAM was developed

SIPAM was conceived by FAO to facilitate aquaculture development by improving the flow of aquaculture information among the countries of the Mediterranean Basin.

When Phase II of the FAO-executed Mediterranean Regional Aquaculture Project (MEDRAP II) started its work in 1991, effective information systems for aquaculture development did not exist in the participating or observer countries. Following the initial subregional meetings of the project, which were intended to elaborate its programme of work, it was decided by participating countries that an information network was needed to support and link the work of the specialized research and development networks to be set up by the project. The specialized networks which were finally established in addition to SIPAM are: Technology and Aquaculture in the Mediterranean (TECAM); Social, Economic and Legal aspects of Aquaculture in the Mediterranean (SELAM ); and Environment and Aquaculture in the Mediterranean (EAM). The first two are coordinated by the Centre for High Agronomic Studies of the Mediterranean (CIHEAM) and the third is coordinated by the PAP/RAC of UNEPs Mediterranean Action Plan. The SIPAM would design the software for the data bases required by the specialized networks in consultation with the members of these networks. The linkage between SIPAM and the other networks would ensure a more multidisciplinary approach in the treatment and use of information and avoid the compartmentalization which would occur if independent information networks wer put in place for each research network.

The approach selected for SIPAM was to develop national information systems having a similar structure, which could communicate amongst themselves, thus creating a regional system which would be, in simple terms, a sum of the parts. There was general agreement that these information systems could serve as a tool to the countries for planning purposes and would also provide information and other services to the industry. The sharing of national information among countries through SIPAMs regional centre would also allow participating countries to access information from other countries and keep abreast of developments on a regional level. This would help countries to be better equipped to deal with, and respond to changes, emerging challenges and new technologies in the sector.

An information system called SIPAL, based on similar reasoning, had previously been conceived by FAO for Latin America. This system was hosted by the FAO-implemented regional project, AQUILA, with headquarters in Mexico City, and was still under development when MEDRAP II became operational. FAO decided to base SIPAM on a similar software architecture so as to facilitate the eventual establishment of a compatible global information system for aquaculture which would link the various regional centres. The remote linkage would be useful for exchanging information on markets for common aquaculture products, suppliers and sources of expertise, research activities on species and systems of common interest, and so forth.

The establishment of the regional aquaculture information systems (SIPAL & SIPAM) required regional mechanisms to assist in the development of the software and to provide forums for discussions with the countries on the contents and relevance of the data bases to be included. The FAO was able to provide such a mechanism in Latin America and the Mediterranean through the FAO-implemented regional projectsAQUILA II and MEDRAP II respectively, but lacked a similar opportunity in Asia at that time. The development of the SIPAM system was also assisted by another FAO project under a trust fund agreement with the Government of France, while the development of the Aquaculture Planning Simulator (APS), a component of the information system, developed jointly under SIPAL and SIPAM, was supported by France and Mexico through yet another trust fund agreement.

The inclusion of the SIPAM aquaculture information system under the MEDRAP II was requested by the countries at a seminar held in Cairo, Egypt in December 1991 and later approved by the UNDP. This initial meeting led to a SIPAM Network Constitution Seminar which finally established the network in 1993, including the modalities for continuing operations following conclusion of MEDRAP II. In the course of the seminar, Tunisia offered to host the SIPAM Regional Centre on a permanent basis and upon conclusion of MEDRAP II in 1995, an agreement was negotiated and finally signed in early 1996 between the Tunisian Government and FAO for the operation of the Regional Centre (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Current SIPAM Member Countries

Italy and Morocco are recent members

SIPAM components and location

The SIPAM network consists at present of a Regional Centre, located in Tunis, and ten National Centres located in Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey (Figure 1). The Regional Centre has its own offices in the premises of the Ministry of Agriculture of Tunisia, and the National Centres are in the following locations:

The National Centres are conceived to be used by the national aquaculture community to collect, organize and use local aquaculture data. Being part of a regional system, they will also receive similar aquaculture related data from other countries of the region and from FAO, via the Regional Center. The Regional Centre is linked to the FAO Fisheries Resources Division of the FAO, Rome, Italy, which ensures the technical supervision of the system and liaison with the Aquaculture Committee of the GFCM. The Centre is conceived to be a unit to service the National Centres, including provision of training in the operation of the system. Its main job consists in collating and verifying the national data coming from the participating countries, the compilation of a regional aggregated data base and its redistribution to the National Centres. In addition, the Regional Center is intended to respond to additional needs, in terms of information data bases and analytical tools identified by the National Centres and partner institutions which coordinate the other GFCM supervised aquaculture networks.

The present program structure and connections

SIPAM architecture for connections (Figure 2) has been designed following a hub and node pattern in which the hub represents the Regional Centre and the nodes are the National Centres with their secondary users. The hub has two more connections, one with the FAO Fisheries Department and a second with remote data bases and networks. The Regional Centre is provided, among other things, with a full INTERNET facility (containing E-mail, FTP, navigation tools, W.W.Web, Gopher), has point to point connection via modem, and will eventually incorporate some commercial and non-commercial remote data bases and information systems (e.g. GLOBEFISH FAO). The National Centres will be provided with the same software and tools, but contracts and running costs will be paid from national budgets.

The SIPAM system software is being developed in stages. The present, first version, has been developed through four prototypes. It is based on MS-DOS and consists of five primary subsystems and three accessory modules which consist of several data bases or software programmes. The primary subsystems are:

These subsystems and modules are installed both in the Regional and National Centres, although the way in which they work is slightly different.

Figure 2. Elements of the SIPAM Network


The national subsystem provides access to the national data banks in countries with information systems in place, with which The national subsystem provides access to the national data banks the SIPAM national coordinators can establish communication for downloading of data. The SIPAM was conceived to build on existing sources of aquaculture information by creating interfaces to download data into SIPAM rather than imposing a new and non-compatible system which would oblige countries to discard their information systems. In the case of countries without such information systems, the national subsystem will have the same structure as the regional subsystem described below. The regional subsystem contains an aggregate of the national data provided by the participating countries. This information is periodically updated by the Regional Centre. The databases included at present in the regional and national subsystems are:

The FAO subsystemcontains programmes produced by FAO which are relevant to the promotion of aquaculture (e.g. AQUACULT PC  a time series of aquaculture production statistics; FISHSTAT-PC  a time series of global fisheries catch statistics; SPECIESDAB  a global species database for fisheries purposes; SOFA  the State of Food and Agriculture, GLOBEFISH  information on fish marketing, etc.). The data communication subsystem, which is not yet operational, is intended to include abstracts of information of potential interest to the region, collected by the SIPAM Regional Centre through its links to worldwide commercial and non-commercial information networks. This subsystem will be developed in the second phase of the SIPAM. The analytical subsystem will contain various programmes for the analysis of the information in the SIPAM system, as an aid to the technical and financial assessment and management of aquaculture production projects. The first of these is the Aquaculture Project Simulator (APS). In the accessory modules the data processing module contains the commercial software which users of the system may require to prepare reports or to analyze retrieved data (e.g. word processors, spreadsheet, database management systems, project management tools, graphics, statistical packages, etc.). The system configuration module is utilized to configure SIPAM according to the different hardware/software platforms where it is installed. It also contains and manages the codification and reference systems.

The system management module manages data received from the various national sources and provides an interface to the regional subsystem. The SIPAM national coordinators evaluate the quality of the in-country data received and classify them as : data non reliable, to be revised or rejected; data reliable, but confidential, to be kept at national level only; and, reliable non-confidential data which can be downloaded to the Regional Centre. This module prepares the package of national information which is periodically sent, via diskette or E-mail, to the Regional Center. At the Regional Center the system management module is utilized to create the regional package of information which is sent back to the countries. The SIPAM Data Manager in the Regional Centre, after receiving the data from National Centres, checks for consistency and accuracy, then merges the data using this module. The amalgamated information is subsequently redistributed to the National Centres for access in read only mode.

Future development of the SIPAM

Plans for further development of SIPAM include: (1) expansion of the number of participating countries to eventually include all member countries of the GFCM, (2) development of the secondary national user networks, and (3) the further evolution of the software. Regarding expansion, it is planned to add two new countries per year till the GFCM membership is incorporated. Malta and Morocco are scheduled for inclusion in the system this year. Staff from the SIPAM Regional Centre in Tunis will visit Morocco, and a team from the Cyprus National Centre will visit Malta to train local counterparts on the organization of data collection and SIPAM software. The visits will be supported by the FAO programme on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC). The secondary national user networks will link the SIPAM National Centres to other institutions, universities and/or private sector groups in the country, who will be able to access information in the National Centres through their own terminals. They will also provide data for inclusion in the national and regional data bases.

Two stages of evolution of the software system are planned. The first, which is the medium term objective, is the development of the WINDOWS version of the current DOS-based software. This has already started with the assistance of the Institute of Marine Biology of Crete, Greece, and with financial support from the FAO-executed unilateral trust fund project from France (GCP/REM/055/FRA).

The re-elaboration of the system taking into account its potential expansion and consolidation under WINDOWS should provide the users with a better interface with all the functionality the new platform will allow, especially with reference to data/information integration and data communication. Specifically, the WINDOWS version will help to:

It is expected that the WINDOWS version will be operational by 1997. The second and final development stage of SIPAM will be its transformation into a complete Decision Support System for Aquaculture Planning and Development. These systems support analysts, planners and managers and are especially usefl for semi-structured or unstructured decision making processes in which problem solving is facilitated by an interactive dialogue between the system and the user. In this stage SIPAM will contain facilities to transfer data from its own data bases and from external data bases to build models, feed GIS Thematic Data Banks, build time series to perform planning analysis, etc. The initial decision support system, which has been designed as a prototype with these characteristics in mind, is the Aquaculture Project Simulator (APS), an interactive programme that allows the analysis of aquaculture projects, comparing proposed or on-going projects with similar existing ventures, and performing financial analysis on request (figure 3).

Figure 3. The Global Aquaculture Information Network


The establishment of the global aquaculture network (Figure 3), mentioned earlier, will begin when the regional centres (SIPAL, SIPAM. SIPASIA. etc.) are fully operational.