“When I was growing up, I remember a lot of fishermen fishing outside Port Victoria, near what we used to call ‘The Far’. The Light House. In those days there were spawning aggregations of groupers every April. Fishermen knew to fish there for a big catch. This spawning site vanished even before the land reclamation because of overfishing.” Dr Shah, Nature Seychelles CEO said in introducing a workshop presentation on conventional and acoustic tagging of herbivorous fish.
The presentation was delivered by Tove Jorgensen, a fish researcher who has been working with Nature Seychelles for the past one and a half years. The workshop highlighted her findings vis-à-vis improved design and functioning of marine protected areas (MPAs). The project was aimed at studying key herbivore fish and how well they are protected by the marine reserve on Cousin Island.
Cousin Island Special Reserve was the pilot site for the fish tagging project which was funded by United Nation’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and which is now coming to a close.
The presentation workshop held at Nature Seychelles’ boardroom in Roche Caiman was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE), Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), Global Vision International (GVI), government of Seychelles UNDP-GEF Project Coordinating Unit (PCU) and independent and renowned scientist Jan Robinson.
Tove first worked in the Seychelles several years ago with the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) after completing her Masters degree, where she worked on spawning aggregations of groupers on one of the outer islands. “That is how I met Jan Robinson,” says Tove. “Ten years later, I met him again at a WIOMSA conference in Mombasa. He then introduced me to Shah when I told him I was interested in working on acoustic tagging. A year later I applied for a fish researcher position with Nature Seychelles.”
Tove’s presentation focused on acoustic and conventional fish tagging as well as the evaluation of telemetry equipment, outlining how these are carried out, her results and how effective the methodologies are. The components of her work however also included desktop review and gap analysis; fish utilisation of habitat; fish sampling and gonadsomatic index; and fish and substrate surveys around Cousin and Dividi.
“I would say the project has been a great success,” Tove stressed. “We now know much more about herbivore fish behavior and that for some species, small marine reserves are not sufficient to protect them. They need additional protection. The project has shown clear links between how fish movement can affect coral reef management.”
Following her eighteen months of research, Tove concluded that forktail rabbitfish (Siganus argenteus) appear to be protected at Cousin Island Special Reserve whereas the shoemaker spine foot (Siganus sutor) are vulnerable leaving the marine reserve regularly during spawning. She also pointed out that as juveniles, none of the species are protected.
Recommendations from her presentation included a 100% increase on all sides of the marine reserve on Cousin, protection of spawning sites and the protection of juvenile fish habitats from land reclamation as well as in mangrove habitats. Tove stressed the importance of including the Praslin Fishing Authority in all management discussions and decisions, having worked so long and closely with local fishermen whose livelihoods depend on a healthy fish population..
“The Seychelles is very dependent on the ocean both for fishing and tourism and it therefore very important to safeguard these resources” Tove concluded.