Supporting USAID Missions by Conducting Complementary Research and Learning Related to Distant Water Fleets in Fisheries

Large fishing vessel in water against background of mountains
Adobe Stock: Boris Fedorenko/EyeEm

USAID recognizes the sustainable management of wild fisheries as a development issue with implications for food security, livelihoods, peace and stability, and biodiversity conservation. USAID missions that are engaged in fisheries programming design interventions based on an assessment of the threats and drivers that lead to unsustainable harvesting. In recent years, USAID mission staff have raised questions about the extent to which harvesting by distant water fishing (DWF) fleets threaten sustainable fisheries in the countries where they work. To better understand the impacts of DWF on national fishery resources, USAID/Washington developed the Distant Water Fleet Research Agenda (DWF Research Agenda) in collaboration with USAID mission experts.

DWF can affect the fishery resources in host countries in multiple ways. Some DWF vessels are known to engage in illegal, unregulated, or unreported (IUU) fishing while others may engage in harvesting practices that are legal but unsustainable. It is not always clear whether the licenses that allow unsustainable activity are the result of weak data and technical analyses or of corrupting influence on issuing officials. Competition between DWFs and national fishers—which can result in conflict, perceptions of unfair resource allocation, or the undermining of local economies and food security—can erode domestic support for management rules.

To help implement the USAID DWF Research Agenda and identify responsive action for the drivers and impacts of DWF on national fisheries, the Fish Innovation Lab is conducting stock-specific research in four priority geographies: Jumbo Squid in Peru, Round Scad in the Philippines, a multi-species tuna stock in Madagascar, and Skipjack Tuna in the Pacific Islands region. The 18-month activity has two major objectives:

  1. Build an understanding of the ecological and social-economic impacts of DWFs operating within the exclusive economic zones of the four priority geographies. In particular, we aim to determine the extent to which DWFs currently affect local, stock-specific fish availability and estimate the extent to which changes in DWF fishing policy could improve food security through revenue, direct consumption, or other food pathways.
  2. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of current systems for licensing and granting fishing access to DWFs, and develop roadmaps for improving sustainability and equity in licensing that are tailored to local context.

To accomplish Objective 1, we will coordinate with local partners and fisheries experts to use catch reconstructions generated by the Sea Around Us research project, including CMSY++ stock assessments, and additional datasets quantifying the current scope and scale of DWFs. To assess and estimate potential impacts of DWFs on food security, we will focus on food availability and access while considering various dimensions of food utilization and specifics of the micro- and macronutrients associated with the focal fish stock. To accomplish objective 2, we will develop a multi-criteria scorecard for evaluating strong licensing and access systems. The score-cards will include multiple categories of evaluation criteria, including transparency, negotiation capacity, and access pricing, among others. The relevant information for scoring will be gathered through a combination of desk-based research into the terms of relevant, active agreements and virtual in-country key informant interviews that will provide input on fisheries access negotiation and licensing procedures.

With this research, and in partnership with USAID mission staff and other local actors working on issues of fisheries sustainability, we will illuminate the specific trade-offs occurring in each priority geography between DWF activity, domestic fishing, and food security, and equip local advocates with the necessary information for targeted strengthening of their national licensing system.

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The Fish Innovation Lab Expands Its Reach to Four New Countries to Examine Impacts of Distant Water Fleets