Baitfish Monitoring: improving science & understanding in Indonesia.

From April to the end of August 2015, Daphne de Groot travelled from her home in Wageningen, Netherlands, to Jakarta, Indonesia, to work as an intern for IPNLF, setting up a baitfish monitoring programme for the Indonesian one-by-one tuna fisheries. Read Daphne’s blog to learn about her experience and the innovative baitfish monitoring scheme.
Storing baitfish in a Bagan, Bitung, Indonesia. © Paul Hilton & IPNLF

Indonesia is a global leader in one-by-one tuna fishing, catching approximately 25% of the global share of pole-and-line tuna. To ensure that resources are responsibly managed, to maintain and develop thriving fisheries and coastal communities, IPNLF have been working alongside a range of stakeholders as part of the Fishery Improvement Project (FIP). An essential prerequisite to one-by-one tuna fishing is baitfish; in Indonesia, fisheries tend to purchase live baitfish at a bagan – a fishing unit that targets small pelagic fish species (e.g., anchovies, sprats, and sardines) and keeps them alive in a net to sell. Once purchased, live baitfish are stored in the fishing vessel’s bait-well until a tuna school has been located. The baitfish are then thrown overboard to lure the tuna into a feeding frenzy, allowing fishers to catch them efficiently with a pole-and-line. In order to improve and ensure the sustainability of Indonesian baitfish fisheries, more data are needed on the species targeted, volumes used and mortality rates within the bait well. In response, a baitfish monitoring program was born. I hoped that by developing a tailored and effective baitfish monitoring programme, fishers would be encouraged to submit real-time data to shed light on baitfish populations to feed into fisher education programmes to improve handling practises, and national management initiatives to ensure that populations remain viable, and that the fisheries can continue to thrive.

For the duration of my internship I was based at the office of Asosiasi Perikanan Pole&Line dan Handline Indonesia (AP2HI), the Indonesian fishing association representing one-by-one tuna fisheries, and a partner of IPNLF. For the first few weeks of the internship I spent time getting to the bottom of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) 2.0 certification standard to make sure that the monitoring protocol would align with the certification assessment requirements. Fisheries that undergo MSC assessment are evaluated against a range of criteria to ensure the fishery is managed in line with the three core MSC principles: sustainable fish stocks; minimal environmental impact and effective management. Consumers recognise the MSC eco-label, and choose to buy sustainably caught seafood, therefore rewarding certified fisheries that fish responsibly according to the MSC standard. The MSC has two standards, the normal standard for sustainable fisheries and a risk based framework used in data-deficient fishery assessments. Since there was not enough data available, I decided to prepare an assessment based on the risk-based framework. The data collected from this baitfish monitoring program could be used to support a normal standard MSC assessment in the future.

After getting to grips with the complex MSC assessment requirements, I turned my focus to establishing a tailored baitfish monitoring programme. To make sure that this system was well adjusted to the needs of the fishing companies, I went together with my AP2HI colleague to visit AP2HI’s members, and explore the baitfish fisheries in Ambon and Bitung, Indonesia. The purchase records created when the one-by-one fishers buy the live baitfish from the bagans could give a first indication of the level of baitfish utilisation by the industry, and form the basis of the monitoring. We visited a bagan to gain an insight into the process – I observed that one of the issues faced when collecting data on baitfish fisheries, is that live baitfish are purchased in buckets that are quickly transferred to the bait well, to reduce stress and mortality when storing them on the vessels. Recording the number of buckets bought was a simple process, but this did not provide the exact mass of baitfish within each bucket, which could lead to misleading data within the monitoring program. Further, the first bucket is always more full than the last because the density within the net decreases, as more fish are being scooped out. To combat this variation in the data collection we decided that once every six months an AP2HI representative would measure the mass of baitfish per bucket during a trip.

It really helped to talk with fishers in Ambon and Bitung, to gain a better understanding of their working environment – a key step in developing the protocol. AP2HI’s members are required to submit data on the species and mass of tuna fish caught and the days spent at sea for each tuna-fishing trip, as part of the fishery improvement project (FIP). In addition they are now required to record the data on the mass and species of baitfish used per trip. These at-sea records would then be transcribed into an online database. However, we learned from the fishers that the online system was not yet adapted to their needs and they were not yet using it – this would give me a lot of work to do in the office, but first my colleague and I went snorkelling to enjoy the underwater wonders next to the bagan!

Collecting real-time fisheries data is essential to help IPNLF and AP2HI improve understanding and management of the fishery. The database can also be accessed by the fishing companies, to monitor the best areas to fish and the most efficient fishing vessels. During the last months of my internship I was busy making changes to the online system to better align with record and information already recorded by the fishers. I also developed manuals for AP2HI members on how to use the online system, and an overview of the frequently bait species and their names and so on. These materials were distributed during the trainer of trainers (TOT) workshop, as well as made available online for the members.

Baitfish in the one-by-one fishing vessel bait well. © Paul Hilton & IPNLF

During the last few weeks of my internship the team was busy with the preparations for the train the trainers (TOT) workshop. The workshop invited a representative from each of AP2HI’s member fishing organisations to learn about AP2HI, sustainable fisheries, product quality and handling, bait handling, safety at sea, and the MSC standard and certification process. The 12 attendees would become trainers within their company and go on to share knowledge with their colleagues. Through a strategy of ‘training trainers’, the target is to have 500 fishers across the country trained by the end of the year. During the workshop I was on hand to help everywhere I could; it was particularly rewarding to see my materials contribute to the training.

After the ToT workshop my internship was almost finished. After a farewell swim and a goodbye picnic it was finally time to say goodbye to my IPNLF and AP2HI colleagues who I had worked closely with over the past few months.

The data collected with the monitoring programme will provide improved information on the status of bait resources and allow AP2HI and IPNLF to engage more effectively with government on issues related to evidence-based bait management, to identify opportunities to improve bait utilisation efficiency and prepare for MSC Principle 2 assessment. As I continue my studies in Wageningen University, I will certainly be keeping in touch to hear about the advances of this pivotal baitfish monitoring program.