Hands-on scientific research

An essential element is hands-on scientific research to obtain data to guide policy

Underwater surveys have become a key part of MIMRA's ongoing work to gather the scientific data needed to characterize marine resources and create strategic plans for future sustainability.

MIMRA's Coastal Fisheries Division oversees a variety of programs aimed largely at ensuring conservation and management of domestic fisheries resources and participation of outer island communities in decision-making about resource protection and management for sustainability.

A key component of this is work with outer island communities, including local governments and traditional leaders, to develop resource management plans. This involves MIMRA staff engaging with outer island communities in a process of understanding the need for management plan, identifying resources essential to the sustainability of these remote communities, and drafting a sustainable management plan for inshore or coastal fisheries resources.

These efforts are time consuming and complex, requiring, in addition to extensive consultation with local communities, consultation and partnership with organizations and government agencies that work in areas related to marine resources. Once the plan are developed, MIMRA continues to assist local communities to implement the plans.

MIMRA's partnership with the Coastal Management Advisory Council (CMAC) is an important part of its work in implementing the Reimaanlok National Conservation Area Plan.

CMAC brings a multi-agency/organization approach to this national conservation work, which is essential to progress for meeting Marshall Islands' conservation obligations under the regional Micronesia Challenge. The focus of Micronesia Challenge is to effectively conserve 30 percent of near-shore marine resources and 20 percent of terrestrial resource by 2020. An essential element of these conservation efforts is hands-on scientific research to obtian data that can be used to guide policy.

During FY2014, MIMRA's Coastal Fisheries Division continues a sampling program that is studying growth patterns of six species of popular reef fish. Coastal Fisheries Division staff also worked with a team from the University of Guam and the College of the Marshall Islands on baseline underwater servey to gather scientific data needed to characterize marine resources and assess the condition of coral-reef ecosystem of Namdrik Atoll, and did follow up surveys at Ailuk, Rongelap and Majuro with University of Queensland representatives.

Outer Islands Fish Market Center (OIFMC) and the Kwajalein Atoll Fish Market Center (KAFMC)provide fresh fish into the Majuro and Ebeye markets and in the case of Ebeye, in addition to fish, local produce from the outer island is sold, injecting cash into the outer island economies.

In FY2014, the OIFMC purchased 110,483 pounds of fish from nine outer atolls, paying local fishermen $116,853.13. This fish was transforted by OIFMC vessels to Majuro for sale.

The KAFMC paid outer islands fishermen from five atolls and islands $28,473 for fish, and local resident another $3,105.29 for produce that was transported by KAFMC vessels to sell on Ebeye Island. Fish market staff work with outer island fishers to enforce quality standards and size limits on the fish purchase.

Continuing high fuel prices during the period and limited availability of a vessel resulted in irregular service by KAFMC to the outer islands it serves, while OIFMC restructured its outer island pick up service by serving multiple islands in one trip to maximize the volume of fish collected on each visit. Overall number of trips to outer islands by OIFMC increased in FY2014, though for some atolls the number declined slightly.

The Division also organized outreach education and awareness visits to scholls on Majuro. These visits included presentations with question and answer sessions about fisheries topics to engage students in learning about this important aspect of economic development in the Marshall Islands.

These talks covered topics ranging from the health of coral reefs to turtle conservation and management initiatives. The presentations to primary and secondary students emphasized the importance of conservation and management to sustainability of marine resources.

The Division monitors the marine ornamental trade, which saw significant growth in exports during FY2014. Seven Marshall Islands-based companies export marine ornamental mainly for the aquarium trade overseas. Products exported included live fish, giant clams, frozen fish and various marine invertebrates.

In Fy2014, exports of giant clams Tridacna Derasa increased to over 4,000 compared to about 1,500 in FY2013, while Tridacna Maxima rose to 3,500 compared to about 1,000 the previous year. Angel fish (Pomacanthidae) exports increased from about 15,000 in FY2013 to over 50,000 in FY2014.

Corals and invertebratessaw significant growth during the period. Although the Marshall Islands is not a party to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Division issues certificates of origine and health that allow for these products that meet international standards for sustainability to be exported from the Marshall Islands.

Division staff are engaged in a regional ciguatera fish poisoning monitoring project. As a result of a regional workshop on the issue, it was agreed that MIMRA will conduct an epidemiological survey and the Marshall Islands was named as the regional "Focal point" for the ongoing work in this area.

A highlight of MIMRA's program is its long-standing partnership with the Japan Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation (OFCF) which began in 1992.

Each year, during the annual OFCF Japan/Pacific Island Nations Fisheries Directors Meeting on Fisheries Cooperation, OFCF receives project requests from each country. After conducting field surveys and consultation with each government, the scope of theh projects are developed and are followed by the signing of an agreement governing implementation.

Projects implementated during this period included repair and restoration of outboard motoes of MIMRA community fishing boats; repair and restoration of MIMRA transport boats; repair and restoration of MIMRA ice plant and KAFMC ice plant; and technical guidance for fishing boat operators.

New requests for OFCF assistance include: Repair and restoration for fish processing at OIFMC, repair and restoration of MIMRA transport boats, repair and restoration of OIFMC solar power system, repair and restoration of MIMRA and KAFMC ice plants and advice for stable operation of MIMRA transport boats, ice plants and fishing boats.

FUTURE DIRECTION

Looking to the future for the coastal Fishery, MIMRA has budgeted rehabilitation work for the 11 fish bases in the outer islands for next fiscal year.

This will address the pressing need to maintain and upgrade these important assets for the coastal fishery.

In acticipation of the World Bank technical assistance project, outer island work will increase through the Reimaanlok National Conservation Area Plan, as well as identifying additional sustainable projects for community engagement and ownership. The aim is to explore and expand aquaculture, fishing and cross-sector development projects with CMAC partnership.

The Coastal Division will continue and expand baseline reef and fisheries surveys for outer islands including partnerships with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and others to develop and implement study methodologies.

MIMRA's new headquarters now in the planning stage will, once constructed, provide an improved environment to support MIMRA division, including Coastal and Oceanic.

It will include an operations room for monitoring, compliance and surveillance work, and a laboratory for scientific analysis on the various marine studies in which MIMRA staff are engaged.

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