Fishery Improvement Project
Last Update: August 2016
Pacific anchoveta (Cetengraulis mysticetus)
Pacific thread herring (Opisthonema libertate)
Pacific bumper (Chloroscombrus orqueta)
FIP Stage according to CASS progress table: 4, FIP is delivering improvement in policies or practices
FIP Rating according to SFP rating system: A (Exceptional Progress)
FIP Rating according to MSC benchmarking tool: Initial (Jul 2013): 0.30; Second (Jul 2014): 0.40; Third (Jul 2015): 0.68; Current (Jul 2016): 0.75
Fishery Location: Gulf of Panama, Panama
FIP Coordination: If you would like more information about the FIP or if you wish to support it, please contact Edwin Medina.
- Panamanian Authority for Aquatic Resources (ARAP)
- University of Panama (UP)
- Panamanian Maritime University (UMIP)
Date Publicly Announced: 2011
Current Improvement Recommendations:
- Continue to keep historical records of catch and effort.
- Continue to collect biological data such as size structure, reproductive status and other variables that will serve to conduct stock assessments.
- Improve the management plan, including the establishment of biological based reference points.
- Continue collecting key information from the fishery and about the impacts on the environment with observers onboard.
The small pelagics fishery in the Gulf of Panama is mainly sustained (80% of landings) by two species: Pacific anchoveta, (Cetengraulis mysticetus) and Pacific thread herring (Opisthonema libertate). Pacific bumper (Chloroscombrus orqueta) comprised another 10% of landings over the past few years, while many other bycatch species (many of them also small pelagic fish) comprise the remaining 10%. These are forage species: short-lived, pelagic, and small-sized species that have a low trophic level, constituting prey for other fish, marine birds, turtles, and mammals. The Panamanian small pelagics fishery is the most important in the region north of Peru and south of Mexico, and is of crucial ecological importance for the large marine ecosystem called the Panama Bight.
The Panamanian small pelagics fishery began in the 1940s as one of the sources of bait for the tuna international fishery, and since the 1960s it has been the basis of the Panamanian reduction industry that produces fishmeal and fish oil for national consumption and export. In 2015, 60.6 thousand metric tons of raw fish produced 4.2 thousand mt of fish oil and 15.1 mt of fishmeal. As of December 2015, exports were valued at 15.2 million USD, with Europe as the main market for fish oil, and China, North America, and countries neighboring Panama as the main customers for fishmeal.
Industrial catches are made with purse seines. Each of the 15 purse seine boats that are currently operating makes daily trips between April and October, landing products at the only processing plant in the country, located at Puerto Caimito. Small amounts of artisanal catches are made in low-depth areas with fishnets and small purse seines and are then used as bait for fish of higher commercial value, such as snapper, grouper, and weakfish.
Key initial issues:
- The lack of data to feed stock assessments for the exploited species
- The consequent lack of biological reference points to guide management
- Undetermined interaction of fishing gears with the sea bottom and its associated communities
- Impacts of unknown intensity over other fisheries
- Undetermined interaction with protected, endangered, or threatened (PET) species.
- To collaborate with ARAP (Panamanian Authority for Aquatic Resources, the fisheries and research agency) on the implementation of a research and monitoring plan for the small pelagics fishery to collect the data necessary to start assessing the stock sizes.
- Promote the development of assessment tools that would help to estimate the status of the stocks of small pelagics that inhabit the Gulf of Panama, including the adoption of biological reference points and logic rules to guide the decision-making process (the harvest strategy).
- Encourage the adoption of the ecosystem approach for fisheries, carrying out information diffusion activities like workshops that include all stakeholders and also training activities for personnel involved in research on the variables that are affected by and that affect this fishery.
- Collaborate with ARAP on planning an on-board observers program for the purse seine fleet that, besides collecting relevant data on target species, will allow for systematic monitoring of this fishery’s interaction with PET species and for estimating real catch/discard levels of non-target species.
- Coordinate the compilation of existing local studies related to the diet of species that inhabit the Gulf of Panama and are considered vulnerable or that are thought to be subjected to high levels of exploitation, with the objective of answering questions related to the impact of this fishery over the trophic chain.
- Promote studies that aim to identify and eventually mitigate the impacts of this fishery on the sea bottom and its associated benthic communities, as well as on other fisheries.
- Collaborate on publishing research findings.
CeDePesca conducted meetings and dialogues with stakeholders such as the Panamanian Seafood Exports Association (Appexmar); artisanal fishermen associations; Promarina representatives; and other stakeholders such as Conservation International, Mar Viva, WWF-Colombia, and researchers from the University of Panama since 2009 until the FIP was launched publicly in 2011.
CeDePesca held many meetings with stakeholders and a workshop with managers and scientists to disseminate the Ecological Risk Assessment on the Effects of Fishing (ERAEF) while using it to better understand the small pelagics fishery.
The supply chain is understood and the aquaculture certification processes have revealed some important users for the products of this fishery. Supply chain leverage is operating via Cargill to encourage the aforementioned improvements.
In September, the FIP was informally agreed between Promarina and CeDePesca and publicly launched.
January – March 2012
In February 2012, Promarina signed an MOU with CeDePesca to work together on this FIP with the ultimate goal of MSC certification for the Panamanian small pelagics fishery. As a vital part of the FIP, a preliminary gap analysis will be conducted to understand the improvement priorities necessary to get the fishery certifiable. After a period of improvements, an MSC pre-assessment will be conducted with an official certification body.
April – June 2012
In May 2012, a joint research project application was submitted to the National Secretary of Science and Technology (SENACYT) by CeDePesca, the Limnology Center at the University of Panama, ARAP, and Promarina to contribute to the monitoring and stock assessment for the small pelagics stocks. However, the project was highly scored but not selected, and SENACYT cited funding availability as the main reason.
July – September 2012
In July 2012, a gap analysis of the fishery was started against the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council.
In September 2012, a review and update of the databases for catch and effort and licensed fishing vessels was initiated. After that, a preliminary stock assessment was drafted using global models. The results are expected to be ready for publication by the middle of 2013.
October – December 2012
In October 2012, the update of the catch and effort database continued, incorporating information from the 2012 fishing season. Meetings were held with skippers to discuss the operative characteristics of fishing seasons.
In December 2012, the first draft of the gap analysis was completed and an improvement workplan was drafted.
January – March 2013
In March 2013, the preliminary conclusions of the gap analysis, the stock assessment, and the draft workplan was presented and discussed before the skippers of the fleet and ARAP officials in charge of this fishery. At the meeting it was agreed with ARAP officials to restart basic monitoring activities when the season opens in April.
Training for skippers was followed up further with a discussion about the logbook to be used on board.
April – June 2013
In April, the first national workshop on fisheries research, organized by CeDePesca at the request of the fishing authority (ARAP), identified key research needs for this and other fisheries. As an immediate outcome, ARAP decided to re-start the landings monitoring for this fishery. This also served as a first step for the development of a research plan for this fishery.
In May, the Onboard Observer Program started, jointly managed by Promarina and CeDePesca. Observers were trained to collect information on target and bycatch species. By June 30, information from 22 trips and 63 sets had been collected. At the same time, ARAP started monitoring landed fish (recording species, size, and sex).
In June, the agreement between CeDePesca and the University of Panama was finally approved by the steering body of the University and is now signed and operative. Discussions are in place to establish scholarships and research activities for this fishery.
By June 30, CeDePesca had delivered the gap analysis to Promarina.
July – September 2013
In July, CeDePesca delivered the final version of the gap analysis of the fishery against the MSC standards: Eighteen performance indicators could get a score below 60 points. Additionally, 11 indicators could get a score between 60 and 79 points, and 2 could get a score equal to or greater than 80 points.
In July, the database from the Onboard Observer Program was updated with information from 78 sets, up to a total of 100 sets.
In August, CeDePesca and Promarina signed Specific Agreement #2, to implement the workplan based on findings from the gap analysis.
In August, talks began to sign an agreement between the University of Panama, Promarina, ARAP, and CeDePesca in order to allow students in their last year of studies and post-graduate students to join the Onboard Observers Program.
In September, the University of Panama, Promarina, CeDePesca, and ARAP discussed a first draft of the research plan of the fishery for the next year.
October – December 2013
The fishing season ended on October 10. The database from the Onboard Observers Program was updated with the latest information and a review process began.
In November, CeDePesca and the University of Panama started coordination of an ERAEF workshop to take place in January 2014 with stakeholder participation.
In December, review of the database from the Onboard Observers Program was completed.
January – March 2014
In January, an ERAEF pre-workshop was held with the aim of strengthening knowledge of individuals selected to lead groups during the workshop. In addition, a meeting was held at Promarina to ensure participation of skippers.
In February, the ERAEF Workshop was held at the University of Panama. There were 36 participants in the workshop, including skippers, ARAP officials, researchers from the University of Panama, and NGO representatives.
In March, a pre-season cruise was conducted to examine the size and density of the anchovy population.
A new observer was trained to collect information on target and bycatch species. Also in March, a coordination meeting with students and professors at the University of Panama took place to agree on their participation in the 2014 Onboard Observers Program.
April – June 2014
In April, the fishing season begun and coordination meetings between the University of Panama, ARAP and CeDePesca were conducted in order to integrate students from the University of Panama into the Onboard Observers Program. CeDePesca held pre-season meetings to introduce the appointed observers and to explain the goal of their activities to the skippers.
In May and June, the catch and effort database was updated as well as the biological database, and the quality of the information delivered by observers was monitored. Since the beginning of fishing season two trained observers have been embarked on purse-seine vessels
July – September 2014
In August, the catch and effort database and the biological database were updated and reviewed.
In September, a student of the Panamanian Maritime University (UMIP) began his professional practice as an onboard observer.
In November, the fishing season closed. In December, CeDePesca updated the catch and effort database and built the database for by-catch species, based on information from the Onboard Observers Program.
January – March 2015
In January, CeDePesca updated the biological database, with information provided by the Onboard Observers Program.
In February, CeDePesca and Promarina signed Specific Agreement #3, to conduct a first formal stock assessment; to organize a second workshop for the Ecological Risk Assessment for the Effects of Fishing (ERAEF); and to draft a management plan for the fishery based on the information collected throughout the full FIP implementation period.
In February, CeDePesca updated the Onboard Observers Program catch and effort database.
In March, CeDePesca completed the first formal stock assessment for this fishery and issued recommendations for a management plan.
April – June 2015
In May, a Letter of Commitment for the adoption of a management plan for the small pelagics fishery was signed by Promarina and CeDePesca, and to that effect a draft Executive Decree to regulate the fishery was discussed with ARAP. Specific Agreement #4 was also signed, ammending a clause in Agreement #3.
In June, the data collection methodology for the Onboard Observers Program was reviewed and improved.
July – September 2015
In September, Promarina and CeDePesca presented a new draft management plan to ARAP. Throughout the quarter, activities within the Onboard Observers Program have continued.
October – December 2015
In October, a MoU was signed between ARAP, Promarina, Taboguilla S.A., AnimalFeeds and CeDePesca to further delineate future improvement activities. In this MoU, ARAP committed itself to reviewing and adopting a Management Plan for the fishery in the short term.
In November, the catch and effort database as updated, and in December, the biological database was also updated with information from the Onboard Observers Program.
January – March 2016
In February, CeDePesca and Promarina signed Specific Agreement #5, agreeing to conduct a second stock assessment; to organize a workshop for the presentation of the results; and to further adequate the draft management plan for the fishery.
Also in February, a Framework Collaboration Agreement was signed between ARAP and CeDePesca, recognizing the continued cooperation between both entities and formalizing an alliance oriented to improve management and research activities with the ultimate goal of attaining sustainability for Panamanian fisheries, the small pelagics fishery included.
In March, CeDePesca presented the outcomes of the second stock assessment to stakeholders.
On March 29th, the Government of Panama issued Executive Decree N° 107, effectively updating regulations for the small pelagics fishery that were set for the first time almost forty years before, in 1977. This long-awaited and long-sought decree is based on a series of results and recommendations stemming from the work conducted so far in this fishery improvement project with support from fishery stakeholders, most notably Promarina and ARAP. The Decree sets up a new license for the fishing of Pacific anchoveta, Pacific thread herring and Pacific bumper, and limits fishing capacity by setting at 20 the maximum number of licenses to be issued for industrial vessels and to 10 those issued for artisanal vessels (less than 8m long). Net storage capacity of industrial vessels is required not to exceed 188 cubic meters, and specifications are described for fishing nets. The decree also sets a framework for the issuing of annual total allowable catches (TACs), requiring that these are based on research and monitoring, and it adopts the Onboard Observers Program -an initiative of this FIP- setting up its minimum permanent coverage at 20% of operative vessels. The decree also formalizes a long-used good practice used by the fishery, in adopting as a rule for the opening of the fishing season that the mean length of specimens caught in pre-season cruises should be at least 12.5cm TL for Pacific anchoveta and 17cm TL for Pacific thread herring (which correspond to their first maturity sizes). The Executive Decree is considered a huge step forward towards ensuring the sustainability of the Panamanian small pelagics fishery, and it is also an important milestone for the implementation of this FIP.
April – June 2016
In April, the fishing season started. In May, two students of the Panamanian Maritime University (UMIP) were trained and began their professional practice as observers on board.
In June, the catch and effort database was updated.
In July, an updated draft of the proposed Management Plan for the Panamanian Small Pelagics Fishery was agreed by FIP partners and delivered formally to ARAP for their consideration. This updated draft takes into account the results of the latest stock assessment prepared by CeDePesca.
Also in July, the second stock assessment was made public. The document is available here.