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Proposal for a Programme of Education on Genetic Conservation for Aquatic Resources

An international programme is needed for education and to provide baseline information from which to evaluate the diversity and vulnerability of genetic resources in fish. Before we can begin such evaluations or activities to preserve endangered genetic resources certain questions must be answered. These questions vary with species, geography and environmental regime. A few regions and habitats are well studied particularly in the temperate zones. For example, in the California current there has been a long history of systematic evalutions of species abundance at all ages, and in many cases from egg to adult. Such background information provides a basis for identifying small populations with limited distributions which might be vulnerable to events leading to genetic depletion. Several small endemics are already under protection in this system (e.g., Garibaldi), primarily through legislation and development of preserves (e.g., La Jolla marine preserve).

In order to preserve the genetic resources of vulnerable fish populations, programmes for identifying potentially threatened or vulnerable species need to be implemented; monitoring programmes need to be devised and begun; archival methods and information retrieval and dissemination systems need to be provided. For maximum impact these need to be institutionalized at the international level.

The role of the United Nations agencies such as UNEP and Unesco seems appropriate for such a programme. The basis of the programme would be the development of training courses on the national and regional levels. The first level would, by design, involve employees of the fishery institutions at the lower technical levels so that they might remain in the operational or active sectors of their institutions for sufficient time to promote continuity of any monitoring and identification programmes.

The training course should include introductory level exposure to general ecological and genetic principles. This could take the form of a series of lectures and field exercises which would be the basis of the identification of vulnerable resources and subsequent monitoring schemes. The field exercises would not only be designed to teach collecting and monitoring techniques, but would also be a source of baseline information.

A second level of training workshops could be held at the regional level. Here it would be appropriate to use natural biogeographic features such as drainage systems to define the regions, and/or shoreline or substrate characteristics for the marine system (e.g., mangrove or coral reef systems). The objectives at these workshops would be to familiarize regional experts in the techniques of identification and a classification of fish and in the estimation of genetic and ecological vulnerability in fish, in order to begin the evaluationof the specific regional resources which look to be most vulnerable. The technical level of the trainees need not be particularly high, but familiarity with basic mathematics, biology and chemistry, would be required.

The advantages of a two-level training scheme would include: (1) the accumulation of basic information about the fish resources of the regions; (2) direct contact with national institutions for involvement in the programme objectives and means; (3) communication networks could be created at the level of most relevance (the field staff or operational level); (4) the programme can be promoted and operationally implemented at the outset, rather than this being separated in time.

The impact could be direct on both national and international programming and funding levels. At the national level there should be increased emphasis on all aspects of fisheries research, for example, in the general areas of: taxonomy; toxicology; genetics; ecology; physiology; behavioural biology; biochemistry; developmental or early life history studies. The above are suitable programmes to be initiated by UNEP and other UN bodies and would provide opportunities for young scientists and students from Third World developing countries to train in the national and regional workshops, and in appropriate cases, perhaps at the Ph.D. and graduate level in the more industrialized countries.

Certainly there are medium-term objectives involved where skills and knowledge may best be transferred directly. This could best be resolved through development of international research -educational exchange programmes.

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