Alejandro Anganuzzi is Global Coordinator of the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project, an FAO-managed and GEF-supported Common Oceans program, which aims to promote sustainable decision-making around both fisheries and conservation in areas beyond national jurisdiction. In an interview, he reflected on his hopes for the future of international cooperation in the high seas and reflected on his career that has included being an observer on fishing boats, a sampler, a scientist, and the head of an intergovernmental organization.
What is the Common Oceans Program and what does it aim to do?
Since 2014, we have been implementing the GEF-funded Common Oceans Program, connecting a strong partnership of intergovernmental agencies, private sector, and civil society organizations in four projects that aim to achieve a sustainable utilization and conservation of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). This is the large area (40 percent of the planet’s surface) that is outside the jurisdiction of any single nation – all countries share responsibility for its management.
These areas, and the human activities that take place in them, are often under regulations by intergovernmental organizations, but their remoteness pose special challenges to ensure effective management. The largest two projects in this program focus on fisheries, as this is a major activity that takes place in the ABNJ with potential consequences for many communities. The projects target tuna and deep-sea fisheries, support better compliance with existing regulations, address illegal fishing, and aim to mitigate impacts of fishing operations on the environment, from reducing incidental catches of non-target species to the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems.
In addition, there is a need to integrate management actions by taking into account the cumulative impacts of the operations of various sectors in the ABNJ. There are negotiations underway in the United Nations towards a new agreement that, under the umbrella of the Convention of the Law of the Sea, would lead to better management of the ABNJ. One of our projects supports these negotiations by providing background information to regional leaders and promoting better exchanges between the sustainable utilization and the conservation communities.
At the 58th GEF Council Meeting, a second phase of the Common Oceans Program was approved as part of the Global Enviornment Facility’s international waters portfolio. With this new phase, we wish to build on our lessons learned and leverage the successes achieved during the first phase to strengthen governance in the ABNJ.
Do you have a ‘typical’ work day?
My typical day could be often described as similar to a firefighter’s: having to put out unexpected fires and crises small and large. Being part of a global program, with partners distributed across all time zones, I sometimes find myself up at odd times coordinating calls (eliciting frequent complaints from my family who don’t appreciate phone calls in the middle of the night). I spend much more time on online calls and emails than reading professional literature, but I have long come to terms with the nature of the job. It is about maintaining a delicate balance among all the partners and managing information and expectations among them.
Is there someone you have met through this work that had a lasting impact on you?
I was fortunate enough to have met an extraordinary collection of people over the years and through a long collection of jobs, from being an observer on fishing boats, a sampler, a data analyst, and scientist, to being the head of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, an intergovernmental organization. I had a chance to learn enormously from those experiences, almost always in the field and close to diverse people from cultures around the world. In many cases, I built cherished and almost unexpected friendships across cultural barriers, with people who face their daily life challenges with a combination of creative thinking, integrity, and a smile. They have been, and continue to be, examples in my life of how to deal with difficult circumstances.
What life lessons has your work life taught you?
The value of honesty, integrity, transparency, and respect to help you build long-lasting partnerships. Keeping in mind that you are at the service of the community, working for the well-being of people in the long-term. Listening and assimilating the realities of the communities that you are working with, understanding the impact in the daily life of people of decisions that you and others make.
The importance of having a vision, anticipating the possible ways in which things could go wrong, and being proactive in building contingency plans for when things go wrong. Building your team starting from mutual respect, friendship, and presence; being a good listener and being there for them; providing a vision when you have one, listening to them when they are the ones with the vision.
Every mistake I made has been a lesson in humility, and I have received plenty of those in my life. I usually prefer self-deprecating humor to vaccinate myself against over-confidence, and I appreciate and value a good sense of humor in others as a mark of intelligence and healthy attitude towards life.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?
The pandemic caught us at a transition between programs. Most of the work in the field was completed for a first phase, and some time will pass before the implementation of a second phase will require field work again. Our ability to hold international meetings will have to rely on online means, at least for the time being, so we are preparing alternative implementation plans in case the consequences of the pandemic linger.
More importantly, COVID-19 brought a disruption to global supply chains for valuable fish products. Fishing in the ABNJ means that fish products are often processed far away from where they are caught. Landing and transporting the fish has been hampered. Social distancing in processing plants is often difficult due to the working conditions. The overall production of the food system will be affected with serious consequences to the incomes of the communities involved, and we will track closely how this situation progresses.
What does success look like for your program?
With our current focus on fisheries, success is measured by the adoption of regulations and practices that promote a sustainable utilization of ABNJ resources, while providing adequate protection to non-target species and vulnerable ecosystems. But the focus should be beyond fisheries: we expect that the future program will create a space to exchange information and experiences among the various sectors operating in the ABNJ. In pursuing these goals, we expect to accelerate existing processes, pilot new approaches, and empower developing states that are new participants in ABNJ decision-making with all the information they need to become effective actors.
When you retire, what do you hope will have taken place in your work area?
Retirement is around the corner for me, so I don’t think I can realistically expect any radical changes. I would like to keep seeing the rise of a new generation of concerned young scientists, managers, policy makers, fisherfolks, and private sector and civil society leaders who are not afraid to discuss, on the basis of their merits, new ideas and policies. I also hope they have an open mind, paying attention to the quality and accuracy of the new facts provided, and never losing sight of the communities of people that depend on the ABNJ for their livelihoods. We owe it to future generations to leave them a planet in a better condition that the one we received.