Using local environmental knowledge and fishing community cooperation to map bycatch hotspots for finless porpoises
Despite the popular image of Hong Kong as a thriving business and banking metropolis, an extensive small scale fishing industry continues throughout Hong Kong waters, despite all commercial trawling being banned in 2012.
Entanglement in fishing gear is the most common known cause of injury and/or death for whales and dolphins worldwide and is also a known cause of mortality for Indo-Pacific finless porpoises in Hong Kong waters. With an estimated population size of fewer than 200 individuals and an average of 29 porpoises dying per year (for the last 5 years), the local population would appear to be under severe pressure and urgent measures to reduce the rate of mortality need to be implemented.
WDC is supporting local NGO SEAMAR and, following on from earlier work, this project aims to document local community ecological knowledge and to cooperate with fishing communities to better understand the areas where small scale fisheries and finless porpoises overlap.
Working closely with the communities research is carried out using a combination of tracking devices on fishing vessels and autonomous acoustic devices (AAD) attached to fishing gear in the water. These enable the researchers to track the behaviour and location of porpoises near where the fishermen operate. Using the findings, the project aims to build risk maps for finless porpoises in Hong Kong.
Local success can lead to global benefits
It is hard to say how many individual porpoises will benefit from the documentation of hotspots and the fishing communities’ willingness to contribute to an action plan that will minimise risks to porpoises from fishing practices.
However, given the small population number and the existing high mortality rate, even a handful of lives saved would benefit the welfare of individual porpoises and improve the population’s status. The benefit to the fishing communities themselves, however, is more profound. In Hong Kong, as is the case in many areas globally, conservation management plans are developed by government authorities with little engagement with communities until after a course of action is near fully matured.
This project aims to produce an action plan based on data the communities have gathered thus involving and, indeed, depending upon community engagement from the onset. The fishing communities will be instigators of conservation action and through participating in the project have made a commitment to improve the status of the local finless porpoise population.
This project will be used as a framework for other areas where small scale fisheries and coastal cetaceans overlap so that the positive contribution of small scale fisheries to conservation can be expanded elsewhere in the world.
Objectives of the project
- To work with leaders within local fishing communities to collect data on the occurrence of porpoise around active small scale fishing gear
- To use AAD to understand the occurrence of porpoise close to fishing gear
- To plot the fishing activities and patterns of fishermen who operate in the southern waters of Hong Kong using GPS tracking devices
- To work together with fishing communities to develop spatially explicit maps which quantify areas of highest fishing activity and porpoise habitat
- To develop a locally driven action plan on how best to avoid overlap and to share these data with the wider conservation community.
Thanks to funding from The Joanna Toole Foundation, WDC was able to fund the purchase of GPS tags and support local fishing community members who participated in this project.
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