The Hook continues the series on sections of the Small-scale fisheries (SSF) policy. This week we look at biodiversity and the sustainable use and management of marine resources and ecosystems.

The utilisation of marine resources has a huge impact on the ocean environment. With widespread development of fisheries, it has become the major ecological impact.

Historically, fisheries exploited near-shore and coastal resources, but the expansion of far seas fisheries in the second half of the 20th century led to exploitation in all the world’s oceans (Garcia and Newton, 1994).

Thus it is little wonder that a National Research Council workshop identified “‘fisheries operations'” as the most important anthropogenic effect on marine biodiversity among five major critical environmental issues (NRC, 1995).

A general definition of biodiversity is “the collection of genomes, species, and ecosystems occurring in a geographically defined region” (NRC,1995).

Fisheries impact baseline diversity at each of these levels. At the genetic level, fisheries change population characteristics (e.g., age distribution, reproduction, stock structure), resulting in alterations to the genome.

At the species level, fisheries affect species composition and interactions. Finally, through effects of by-catch, habitat alteration, and altered energy flow, fisheries impact the diversity of marine habitats and the function of ecosystems”(W. Boehlert, 1996).

The sustainable use and management of marine resources and ecosystems is a very important factor in fisheries. If marine resources and ecosystems are not properly managed, they can be over used and exploited. Unlike air, some marine resources are finite resources and thus can be extinct or depleted if not managed properly.

Some of the ways marine resources have been managed is through Total Allowable Catches (TAC), Marine Protected Areas (MPA) and permits. These are processes introduced by government to manage and protect marine resources, thus limiting the possibilities of these resources to be depleted and exploited.

The Small-Scale Fisheries Policy provides a framework of how marine resources should be utilised via the Amended Marine Living Resource Act. The Act thus is a document making sure that resources are managed, protected and used effectively.

The Act has the following objectives and principles:
• the need to achieve optimum utilisation and ecologically sustainable development of marine living resources;
• the need to conserve marine living resources for both present and future generations;
• the need to apply precautionary approaches in respect of the management and development of marine living resources;
• the need to utilise marine living resources to achieve economic growth, human resource development, capacity building within fisheries and Mari culture branches, employment creation and a sound ecological balance consistent with the development objectives of the national government;
• the need to protect the ecosystem as a whole, including species which are not targeted for exploitation;
• the need to preserve marine biodiversity;
• the need to minimise marine pollution;

As the Small-Scale fisheries policy aims to contribute to food security, social economic development and poverty alleviation to small-scale fishing communities, it is thus important that the resources in which these communities depend on are managed, protected and nurtured.