To increase fishery sustainability and strengthen fisher engagement in fisheries management processes, SFP is undertaking new approaches to support their new small-scale fisheries initiative in some of the world’s largest artisanal fisheries. In the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), one of the most productive dolphinfish (Mahi-mahi) regions globally, most of the dolphinfish production comes directly from small-scale or artisanal fisheries representing a crucial source of income and livelihoods for fishing communities. However, there are critical gaps in knowledge about dolphinfish and the EPO fishery, inconsistent management measures across the EPO, and limited engagement with artisanal fishers in the decision-making process for management of the fishery.

To address sustainability of the dolphinfish fishery in the EPO and promote co-management of the fishery, SFP will use a multi-sector approach involving public-private partnerships, supply chain actors, research institutions, and artisanal fishers to support research to address knowledge gaps in the dolphinfish fishery that are critical for adequate fisheries management. This new multi-sector approach involves working jointly with the Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP) to expand their existing dolphinfish tagging program to help improve knowledge of dolphinfish (Mahi) and dolphinfish fisheries in the EPO, collaborate with researchers, and engage artisanal fishers in data collection efforts. 

Management of dolphinfish fisheries in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) are challenging due to the transboundary and migratory nature of the species bringing the fish into nearshore, offshore, and international waters throughout the course of its lifespan. At the national level, key-producing countries have adopted local management measures and implemented fishery-specific action plans. However, management at regional level is still quite challenging. Today, key pieces of scientific information – particularly stock structure and stock status- are still needed to better understand how best to manage the fishery on both a local and regional level.

The IATTC exploratory stock assessment in 2016 identified genomics and tagging studies as a need to improve knowledge about the stock structure which in turn would determine the health of the fish stock and assist managers in developing appropriate regional management measures. Government researchers and industry groups in Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica recognized the importance of these studies and prioritized genomics and tagging studies in research and science plans.

To fill this gap in knowledge about the stock structure of dolphinfish in the EPO, COREMAHI collaborated with government research institutions (Peru’s IMARPE, Ecuador’s IPIAP and Costa Rica’s INCOPESCA), researchers at Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, and fishers on a genomics study to determine if more than one stock of dolphinfish exists in the EPO. The funding for this multi-sector genomic study was made possible by SFP with the financial support of the GEF funded Global Marine Commodities and the Walton Family Foundation.

“Learning more about the distribution of Mahi will allow us to see how extremely necessary it is for governments, research institutes, fishermen and the industries implementing FIPs to work in a coordinated manner to achieve the sustainable management of this resource. For this reason, from COREMAHI we are contributing with this and other initiatives that will allow us to move in that direction” says Francisco Takahashi, president of COREMAHI.

To further identify the movements of the dolphinfish stock, SFP approached the Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP), the world’s largest dolphinfish mark and recapture program, to discuss opportunities to bring industry together with researchers to help improve dolphinfish fisheries in the EPO. The DRP, who has been conducting work in the Western Central Atlantic Ocean for over 20 years, recently expanded their tagging program to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean off of Panama in 2018 and expressed interest in collaborating with SFP and industry partners on an expansion of their tagging program to Costa Rica and Ecuador.

“For a species as commercially and recreationally important as dolphinfish the movements and use of habitat in the Eastern Pacific Ocean should be far from enigmatic. Given that this is the case, partnering with a consortium to integrate the public in our tagging program is a major step toward elucidating the specieslocal, regional, and seasonal movements. This information will be incredibly useful for improving the management of this important resource to the region.” says Wessley Merten Ph.D. Director of the Beyond Our Shores Foundation Dolphinfish Research Program.

Conventional plastic dart tags and satellite tags will be deployed at tagging events in Ecuador and Costa Rica in January 2022. Fisherfolk participating in COREMAHI were instrumental in facilitating the gathering and delivery of samples for the genomic study and will also be a key stakeholder engaging in the recovery of tagged dolphinfish throughout the beginning of 2022. The tagging activities will also have close collaboration with research authorities from Peru and Ecuador, who will be participating in all research stages.

The expansion of the DRP to Costa Rica and Ecuador is being made possible with the direct support from SR participants Alfa Gamma Group, Beacon Fisheries, Beaver Street Fisheries, Fortune Fish and Gourmet, Pacific Coral Seafood Inc, and Quirch Foods, as well as our retail partner, Publix and with local support from Martec.