Over 30 small-scale fisheries stakeholders from nine Mediterranean countries gathered in Gökova Bay, Türkiye to kick off the first workshop of the SSF Forum 2023–2024 programme. Organized by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), with support from the Mediterranean Conservation Society (AKD), the three-day exchange visit addressed market-based blue economy solutions to the accelerating expansion of non-indigenous species affecting the Mediterranean Sea.


Approximately 1 000 non-indigenous species (NIS) have been identified in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, with more than half having established permanent populations. This development poses evolving challenges to marine ecosystems, fisheries, and local communities, as NIS can outcompete local species for habitat and food. The warming waters of the eastern Mediterranean are a hotspot of NIS, including the highly abundant blue crab and lionfish, but these species also present opportunities for new revenue sources. Exchanging information about NIS and sharing strategies to enhance the value of these species were at the focus of the SSF Forum workshop.


Gökova Bay's own Akyaka cooperative, which is celebrating its 26th anniversary this year, offers a pioneering model of success for adapting to the changes brought by NIS. The seven no-fishing zones (NFZs) established within the bay's marine protected area (MPA) have led to an increase in size and abundance of native species, such as groupers, whose larger bulk and better health allows them to fare better against predation or competition from NIS – indeed, a 50 percent reduction in the overall abundance of NIS has been observed in the NFZs compared to the abundance of NIS in the surrounding areas of the MPA.


Moreover, the Akyaka cooperative offers a profitable outlet for those NIS that are still caught by the fishers working in the MPA, such as blue crab and lionfish, selling this catch directly to consumers and local restaurants. "The journey of AKD's New Fish programme began in 2015 with two crucial questions: 'How can we integrate non-indigenous species into the economy?' and 'How can we make them a value for small-scale fishers?'" recalled Zafer Kızılkaya, President of AKD.


This week's SSF Forum workshop – made possible by funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – brought together fishers and other stakeholders from around the Mediterranean to share examples like Akyaka's and discuss solutions to the challenges and opportunities presented by NIS, including local initiatives to capitalize on the market potential of these species. A study run across four different Turkish cooperatives by AKD in 2023 showed that 24 percent of the total catch surveyed was made up of edible NIS, which accounted for about ten percent of the fishers' income, revealing the extent of new market opportunities.


Anna Carlson, GFCM Fishery Officer for socioeconomic issues, insists that "monitoring and management of NIS are made possible thanks to local ecological knowledge and the consistent data collection performed by fishers, which represents a central pillar of the GFCM 2030 Strategy towards sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea."


Tunisian fishers shared their story, which echoed the Turkish experience. Having initially caused massive disruptions in fishing and incomes, the blue crab now offers new opportunities, according to Tunisian fisher Sassi Alaya. He said that during the high season, the blue crab represented more than 70 percent of the catch off the Gulf of Gabès in southeast Tunisia. Adapting to this new reality has not only raised incomes but also drawn more women and young people into the business, opening the door for integrative employment.


The SSF Forum workshop showcased the resilience of the small-scale fisheries sector in the Mediterranean Sea, presenting and exchanging stories of successful adaptation to NIS and opportunities for future growth. Striking a balance between the conservation of local species and the valorization of NIS for consumption will remain a key priority for the GFCM, which has already launched a pilot study on NIS in the eastern Mediterranean and a research programme on blue crab throughout the entire basin. Collaborative efforts, data-driven strategies and sustainable practices are crucial to preserving the marine living resources and livelihoods of Mediterranean fishing communities.


"As a small-scale fisher from Algeria, we haven't yet seen many of these species in our waters. However, thanks to this meeting, I leave here confident that if these species arrive, we will be ready to adapt." concluded Azzedine Arhab from Béchar.


This is what this first SSF Forum workshop – planned and designed by the fishers themselves in March 2023 at the SSF Forum in Rome – was about: sharing local knowledge, stories, tips and solutions to move forward and together find a new balance.

Ακολουθήστε το Agrocapital.gr στο Google News και μάθετε πρώτοι τις ειδήσεις