Project Report (pdf):               Advancing the Micronesia Challenge through Community Based Management of Marine Resources in Piis-Paneu, Chuuk

Project Bibliography (pdf):     Marine Resources Bibliography of Chuuk

Principal Investigator:   Javier Cuetos-Bueno

Piis-Paneu is a small coral atoll located at the northern edge of Chuuk Lagoon (Federated States of Micronesia), and is a 45-minute boat ride from Weno, the capital and business center of Chuuk State. Contrasting with the small size of Piis-Paneu island, Piis-Paneu municipality extends for over 250 Km2 of lagoon waters, including over 40km of barrier reef, several main reef passages, five uninhabited islands, and dozens of patch reefs. Due to its isolation from main population centers, these marine resources are among the best preserved within Chuuk Lagoon. Less than 400 people live in Piis-Paneu island today. They still maintain a traditional way of life in many aspects, and strongly depend on the marine resources for their subsistence, and as their main source of income.

Piis-Paneu community is currently working with state and regional partners to find solutions that integrate the conservation of their precious marine resources with the need of maintaining local livelihoods. The community of Piis-Paneu hopes to maintain a healthy and diverse coral reef ecosystem by exploring protection strategies, including reef closures. Additionally, new sources of income (including dive tourism and aquaculture) will be explored, with the goal of improving local livelihoods while reducing pressure on the marine resources.

The Problem

In an effort to improve the management of their marine resources, the community of Piis-Paneu recently requested technical support from state and regional conservation organizations. Responding to this request, Pacific Marine Resources Institute, in collaboration with Chuuk Conservation Society, conducted a series of studies directed at understanding the status and main threats to these marine resources.

These studies found that the main threat to Piis-Paneu marine resources is unsustainable levels of fishing, levels which have greatly increased during recent decades. The increases have been driven by access to motorized boats, facilitating access to the seafood markets and exporters based in Weno (the Chuuk capital).  With few other local income alternatives, most families in Piis-Paneu have turned to commercial fishing as their main source of income. Additionally, commercial fishers from other islands now target the remote reefs of Piis-Paneu.

A serious lack of management has further facilitated uncontrolled levels of harvesting. Traditional fishing laws in Piis-Paneu, like metchen (temporal closures) or bans for outside fishers, are not currently enforced. Additionally, there are few state fishing laws, and boats from Chuuk Department of Marine Resources rarely patrol the reefs of Piis-Paneu.  As a result, today there are virtually no limits to fishing in the reefs of Piis-Paneu.

Increasingly, worrying indicators of overfishing can be observed at the reefs of Piis-Paneu.  The study found low abundances and sizes of reef fish and invertebrates (especially of sea cucumber), which were positively correlated to distance from Piis-Paneu island (more and larger individuals further away). This has resulted in poor catch rates at the reefs near Piis-Paneu, with the need to travel far away (increasing fuel costs) for good catches.

The people of Piis-Paneu confirm these findings, with almost all fishers reporting, overtime, decreases in abundance and size of reef fish and invertebrates. They additionally believe that too much fishing (from locals and outsiders) is the main cause for these decreases.

The Science

Household expenditure

Piis-Paneu, while having very limited access to in-site jobs, has over the last decades rapidly adopted a cash-based economy. Socioeconomic surveys showed that households in Piis-Paneu, once completely self sufficient, have today average expenses of $4,500 per year. The main expenditure is imported food items (mostly rice and canned meat), which was cited as the main source of expenditure by over 90% of the households.

Household income

These increasing monetary needs have been fulfilled largely by the commercial exploitation of marine resources, which were reported as the main source of income by 80% of the households. Other opportunities for income production in Piis-Paneu are related to government wages/retirement associated with the very few government positions available on the island (e.g., teachers, nurses, police officers).  These non-marine resource related employment opportunities are few, and were only reported as the main source of income in 16% of the households.

Marine resources decreasing overtime

Under an scenario of increasing fishing pressure, and an almost complete absence of fisheries management, most fishers in Piis-Paneu report overtime decreases in both abundances and sizes of main targeted groups (especially of sea cucumbers), with 91% of them confirming over-harvesting (both by local and outside fishers) as the main cause for these decreases.

Evidence of over-harvesting

Reef fish populations are now dominated by faster growing and less preferred species (small acanthurids and scarids), and show a significant relationship with distance from the island of Piis-Paneu (fishing proxy). Fish biomass (Sig<0.001, R2=0.701, t=5.298), fish abundances (Sig=0.041, R2=0.303, t=2.283), and mean fish size (Sig=0.002, R2=0.558, t=3.891), all increase significantly with distance from Piis-Paneu. Similarly, invertebrate populations show clear effects of exploitation, with most commercially valuable species present at very low densities across the municipality, at levels that can be considered to be reproductively in-viable, and below the threshold density at which commercial fishing should be contemplated.

Significant differences on mean size and weight are found among reef fish catch at the reefs adjacent to Piis-Paneu island, and those captured elsewhere in the municipality. Reef fish speared within the reefs surrounding Piis-Paneu island showed a mean size of 17.46 cm (±0.28 SE), and a mean weight of 128.73 g (±7.49 SE). In contrast, reef fish captured elsewhere within the municipality showed a mean size of 21.79 cm (±0.26 SE), and a mean weight of 237.99 g (±11.79 SE), both significantly higher than those of fish captured around Piis-Paneu island (Sig<0.001, and Sig<0.001; Mann-Whitney test).

Further confirming this trend of increasing fishing success associated to further distances from the island of Piis-Paneu, regression analysis of day-time catch per unit of effort (CPUE) along a distance gradient from Piis-Paneu island shows a clear positive trend (almost significant; Sig=0.620, R2=0.260, t=2.055).

The Solutions

Under the current scenario of increasing fishing pressure, the failure of traditional and modern marine management, and the evident ecological effects of overfishing; the development of a comprehensive community-based management plan that addresses these issues appears as the best available solution. This management plan should plan should include at least:

Marine protected areas

A network of protected areas (at least one permanent) within Piis-Paneu municipality would create areas where fish and invertebrate populations could recover from human exploitation. Sites to be protected should be chosen carefully, taking special consideration to the inclusion of a wide array of habitats, the biodiversity value of the area, and perhaps more importantly, the viability of enforcement activities. These protected reefs would soon become both biodiversity sanctuaries, and a permanent source of new recruits and juveniles for the rest of the reefs.

Limits to outside fishers

Fishers of Piis-Paneu have expressed their concerns regarding the increasing presence of commercial fishers form other islands, viewing them as one of the main causes of decreasing resources. While limits to these activities would certainly reduce fishing pressure, they should be agreed upon and recognized by the affected outside fishers as well. Otherwise enforcement would be extremely challenging, if not impossible.

Harvesting moratorium for species in critical status

Once-abundant species that have become very rare (i.e. Napoleon wrasse) should not be harvested until their numbers recover.

Enforcement plan

The community should make a clear plan of how they will enforce any newly created regulations. The participation of all stakeholders during this process would be critical, as it would greatly enhance the compliance with the management measures finally agreed upon. While support by state agencies may eventually become available, the community should take full responsibility for the protection of their reefs.

Alternative Livelihoods

In addition to conservation measures, alternative sources of income that could improve livelihoods for the people of Piis-Paneu should be pursued. These alternative sources of income will additionally have a positive effect of the reef communities, as it would greatly reduce the need for fishing. With the technical and financial support of state, regional and international organizations, the community should explore potential local, self-sufficient, and profitable enterprises. Some options that have already be implemented successfully at other communities in Micronesia are aquaculture and dive tourism. Low-tech and low-investment aquaculture techniques are one of the more promising enterprises that Micronesia rural coastal communities can develop as an alternative income source. Recent studies had already identified a great potential for the establishment of locally-managed coral and sponge farms in communities within Chuuk Lagoon (Ellis 2009). Small,self-sustainable, family-size sponge farms could be easily established along the back reefs of Piis-Paneu, which present perfect conditions for this type of aquaculture. Initial investment for sponge farms is low, and could be supported by regional and international funding agencies. Alternatively, returns are high, and maintenance requirements very low.Recognized as the best wreck-diving destination in the world, over 1.600 divers visit Chuuk Lagoon every year (Chuuk Tax and Revenue Office; unpublished data). Outside of wreck-diving, dive operators fail to find quality reef diving sites within the lagoon due to the heavily depleted fish populations. A protected area within Piis-Paneu waters could in just few years recover its fish populations to a level that would attract tourist divers, which could result in a constant income source for the community in the form of local dive fees.  To overcome these ambitious challenges, the community of Piis-Paneu will need to maintain a long-term community effort; effort that should be fostered by technical and financial support from relevant state and regional organizations.

Piis-Paneu Fisheries

Piis-Paneu People

Piis-Paneu Land & Sea