Wildlife Conservation Society Organizes Fisheries Observer Workshop for Central Africa

   01.04.12

The Wildlife Conservation Society recently collaborated with Gabon’s Department of Fisheries, the Gabon Sea Turtle Partnership, Defra’s Darwin Initiative at the University of Exeter (UK), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the USA (NOAA) to organize a land-mark fisheries observer training course for Central Africa, one of the first of its kind for this region.

Held recently in Gabon in mid-November, the two-week long training, attended by 35 participants from three central African countries (Gabon, Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea), provided instruction on fisheries sampling techniques, fish and bycatch identification, as well as health and safety.  Fisheries observer programs operate throughout the world collecting information on the amount of fish caught, as well as interactions with marine mammals, sea turtles and sea birds.  Scientists and governments need this information for effective fisheries and ecosystem management.

The training course is part of a three-year project aimed at developing a marine biodiversity action plan for Gabon.  The project is funded by Defra’s Darwin Initiative and led by Dr Brendan J. Godley at the University of Exeter.

“Sound management of marine biodiversity and resources requires an understanding of our impacts in the seas around us,” said Dr. Godley. “The University of Exeter and its international partners collaborate with Gabon’s government on several fronts, including this initiative to build a sustainable national fisheries observer program.”

Alongside this training, the collaborative partnership has implemented a program for the testing and installation of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) across Gabon’s shrimp fishing fleet.  These devices are fitted to existing fishing gear and provide a means of escape for leatherback, olive ridley, and other sea turtle species sea turtles caught in fishing nets.  Dr Angela Formia of the WCS Ocean Giants Program said: “The deployment of on-board observers on Gabon’s trawlers will help to monitor the effectiveness of TEDs and to strengthen our understanding of the impact of fisheries on sea turtles.”

The International Observer Program, managed by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provides observer training throughout the Atlantic coast of Africa, and focuses on robust scientific data collection designed to strengthen international cooperation in fisheries management.  This is mandated by the US Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requiring enhanced international cooperation in fishery management.  Teresa Turk, coordinator of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Observer Training team, commented: “This is a great chance for NOAA to work with other countries to help improve fisheries management.  We are pleased to help build collaborations and share experiences from more than three decades of operating fishery observer programs in the USA.”

“Gaining a greater understanding of commercial fishing activities in the waters of Central Africa is essential to ensure long-term sustainability of fish stocks, as well as quantifying the impacts from bycatch to the region’s iconic marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program.

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