The Challenge

Indian mackerel is an important fish species shared by eight countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal, but their stocks were heavily exploited, particularly in coastal areas. Organizational arrangements to implement an ecosystem approach to national fisheries management have been ineffective. Limited opportunities exist for scientists from the eight countries to interact on common technical issues.

The Solution

The GEF-funded Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Project aimed to generate and make available knowledge on the genetic stock structure of Indian mackerel in the Bay of Bengal as a prerequisite for improved and joint fish resource management.

With assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand collaborated through the BOBLME Project. Between 2012 and 2015, three workshops held in Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand as part of the transboundary diagnostic/strategic action plan process enabled participants throughout the region to share knowledge, update training in analytical techniques, and improve their understanding of Indian mackerel genetic stock structure. A Canadian expert in fish molecular genetics and fish stock identification provided technical oversight and helped to coordinate the activities of the countries.

Through the transboundary diagnostic and in particular the strategic action plan process, joint management of these fish stocks were addressed during the implementation phase of the BOBLME Project.

In a related initiative, representatives of governments, regional and international bodies, fishing communities, civil society and non-governmental organizations, and academia met in Bali, Indonesia (August 2015) and Colombo, Sri Lanka (November 2015) for regional consultations on the Implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security.

Results
  • Progress has been made in mapping and understanding the stock structure of Indian mackerel in the Bay of Bengal. This knowledge is guiding the preparation of a strategic action plan for the next phase of the project – joint management of fish stocks.
  • The results of the work have been reported in three workshop reports. A technical paper is planned once the analysis has been concluded.
  • A community of practice was established by fisheries scientists of the Bay of Bengal countries and continues to function. » Multi-stakeholder regional interactions from 2012 to 2015 highlighted the strong need to move from theory to practice and to link policy with effective organizational arrangements.
Lessons Learned

Involving participants in dealing with problems encountered in implementation can lead to innovative solutions. The logistics of having eight national research agencies working in concert to collect samples from multiple sites in their own country, using comparable equipment and storage techniques, proved complex and difficult. Transporting biological samples across national borders to a central agency for analysis, for example, posed considerable administrative and biosecurity challenges. But, the scientists involved came up with ideas on how to successfully resolve these challenges, and no obstacle was too difficult for their dedication and enthusiasm.

Coordinating multicountry collaboration can be a tough challenge, and continued commitment is needed to persevere. Project stakeholder input showcases the strength of the transboundary diagnostic/strategic action plan approach in achieving results across national boundaries toward improved regional governance of ocean resources.

Dr. Chris O’Brien, formerly the Regional Coordinator of the BOBLME project, commented: “Many of the challenges and issues that threaten the sustainability of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem fall outside the mandate of fisheries management agencies. For this reason, it has been vital to ensure the commitment and cooperation of environment ministries alongside their fisheries counterparts.”