The countries of the Lesser Antilles have made progress in implementing EAF management, often in response to specific international agreements or other ad hoc pressures. Development of comprehensive, ecosystem-wide plans based on national and regional objectives and associated priorities is still in preliminary stages. The LAPE project has provided a substantial body of scientific information which will allow the countries to continue the process of systematic identification, review, and priority-setting for pelagic fisheries issues begun under this project. Ideally, this should lead to formalized EAF management plans for all fisheries and ecosystems at national and regional levels.
Scientific and technical
This project has completed an extensive compilation and synthesis of the information available to guide policy in support of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management for the sub-regional pelagic fisheries. There are a number of data deficient areas which could be improved with relatively small additional investments. There are also areas which will require much more substantial and long-term investment to be addressed.
The project had to assess the degree to which certain large pelagic fish stocks depend on or utilize the Lesser Antilles pelagic ecosystem. The project used fisheries catch data available from ICCAT but additional data are available which should be included in this analysis to improve these estimates. These include USA and Venezuela observer data as well as tagging data from over 20 years of large pelagic tagging activities.
One of the original target areas for new information generated by this project was to be the diet of cetaceans and other top predators in the sub-region. There is still a need for additional data in this regard but another immediate, extensive, and hence expensive, study of predator diets is not recommended. However, a relatively small level of continuing effort in this area such as individual small-scale studies (e.g. M.Sc. projects) could eventually lead to a substantially improved understanding of the ecosystem structure at the upper trophic levels. Such studies should be coordinated to address identified needs and to ensure that data quality standards and a central data repository are maintained over time.
At the national level, fundamental fisheries statistical data continue to be inconsistent or incomplete in many of the regional countries. Efforts to improve data collection, data management and routine analyses must continue to ensure that policy analysis and decision making is supported by high quality and accurate information. To make regional or sub-regional management a functioning reality the various national data systems must also be harmonized to a greater degree than has been the case to date.
Management and governance
The fisheries management consultations initiated by the project were well received by stakeholders and provide a starting point for more involvement of resource users in developing management objectives. This should be integral in future planning activities for single-species and ecosystem management planning.
Pelagic fisheries are expanding, particularly in the southern countries of the region. Although this is largely consistent with policy directions taken by the national governments it is accompanied by unplanned side effects. This is highlighted by the recent development of bait fisheries to supply the growing fleets of longliners. Longline fishers demand for bait (primarily small coastal pelagic species and flyingfish) will have implications for food security, as local consumers of low-cost fish must compete with large-pelagic fisheries for the same supply. Effective management and sustainable expansion of the regions large pelagic fisheries must not only deal with the international ramifications (e.g. involvement in ICCAT) but also the more local side-effects such as bait supply and loss of food fish from the local markets.
The need for a process of consistent management activities, in particular planning, development and monitoring, at the sub-regional level is highlighted by the example of the bait fishery discussed above. To support management decision-making for the Lesser Antilles pelagic ecosystem a coherent Lesser Antilles perspective is needed.
The additional information demands of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management means that further assistance, with data system development, with training, and in some cases, with additional human resources, may be required for the Lesser Antilles countries to responsibly and adaptively manage their participation in regional and international pelagic fisheries.