Chuuk Lagoon and Kuop Atoll shows need for better fisheries management

NOV 2016 - A new report has been released from the University of Guam Marine Laboratory on the status of coral reef and fisheries resources in Chuuk State. The report, a synthesis of data and information from 2008 to 2016, was written by several agencies, including Chuuk Marine Resources, Chuuk Conservation Society, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, CNMI Coastal Resources Management Office, the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, Yap Community Action Program Marine Division and The Nature Conservancy Asia Pacific Program. The report summarizes two major natural disturbance events on Chuuk’s reefs over the years: 1) Crown-of-Thorns Starfish that prey on live corals and have been spreading across Chuuk since 2008, and 2) Typhoon Maysak. Both disturbances have led to a decline in corals, as expected, but the key theme in the report is how the reefs have responded.
Reefs with healthy fish populations were damaged less from the disturbances and show better signs of future recovery. However, many of the larger fish required for recovery are also being heavily fished, as these populations have declined at many sites across Chuuk. In addition, sea cucumbers have also decreased over the eight year period. Dr. Peter Houk, lead author and researcher from the UOGML explains, “While Chuuk Lagoon contains some of the most extensive coral reef habitat across Micronesia’s population centers, the impact of growing fishing pressure was clear.

Our goal was to provide a summary of information that can help local communities plan and manage their resources better. This translates to defining management that can balance the economic and social needs of fisheries against the ecological roles they play in maintaining healthy reefs.” Presently, many of Chuuk’s reefs have among the highest fish biomass in Micronesia, which supports an active fishery for subsistence needs, local sales, and commercial exports mainly to Guam. Given the history of exploitation, many fishers and reef owners are now expressing concerns over declining marine resources and reef health.
The good news is that Chuuk’s reefs are still owned by individual families and managed in partnership with communities. This provides a simpler, more efficient situation for developing and implementing management plans that ensures buy-in from all of the stakeholders. While the growing influence of western cash economies has created conflicting fisheries objectives, locally-driven management allows each municipality to make their own decisions. Houk described, “One community, Oneisomw, in the southwestern part of Chuuk, provides an example. We had the chance to visit with the community and discuss our study and initial findings. Shortly after, the community has begun drafting their comprehensive management plan that ensures local resources are available to their community, but also defines when and how commercial fishing can be conducted. A comprehensive, locally-driven management plan is really a new direction for Micronesia.” Informed management decisions require accurate science.
Surveys were conducted on 75 coral reefs associated with Chuuk Lagoon and nearby Kuop atoll. Representative sites were selected across all major reef habitats, geographic sectors, and locally-driven management regimes. The survey shows clear and consistent declines in sea cucumbers, large clams, large fish, sharks populations, and corals in most areas.
In addition to locally-driven management at the community scale, some consideration will also be necessary at the island scale. The report summarized that large fish and sharks declined the most through time, and the focus of conservation management should be on protecting these groups which are critical for ecosystem functioning. Sustainable harvesting of both fishes and sea cucumbers will require dedicated studies and stronger management to determine thresholds in these populations that must be maintained for sustainable income and healthy reefs. Thus, some policies might best be addressed at the state governmental level, in partnership with the communities. Another example is dealing with the ongoing impacts from climate change. Chuuk can benefit from identifying networks of reefs that are most resilient to climate-driven disturbances to create a Chuuk-wide marine protected area network. The point is that local management is excellent for ensuring food security and protecting livelihoods of individual communities. However, this must eventually be combined with state-wide approaches that establish a connected network. The good news is that the Chuuk leadership (Governor and Legislature) is currently considering a new protected areas network (PAN) legislation, which should pass in the next couple of months. This is a great step forward for Chuuk State conservation work.
The full report is available from any of the participating organizations, or by emailing to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..