Before starting, a brief introduction of the protagonist of this interview.
I am Alessandro Ligas, fisheries scientist at CIBM, located in Livorno (Italy) and coordinator of the STREAMLINE project. In my career, I have been working in fisheries data collection and stock assessment to support the work of the EU Commission and GFCM, and provide advice on the status of Mediterranean stocks. From 2012 to 2015, I have been working at AFBI, Belfast (UK), thus having the opportunity to work also within the ICES framework. I have been acting as chairman of the GFCM Working Group on Stock Assessment of Demersal species (WGSAD) in the Mediterranean Sea (2016-2018), and I am currently member of the STECF. In 2018-2019, I have coordinated the regional grant STREAM, which provided the RCG Med&BS the tools to implement regional work plans in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Now, with the STREAMLINE initiative, which started in 2021 and will be finalized by the end of 2022, we do hope to fill the gaps towards the full implementation of the regionalization process in the Med&BS.
At the moment the approach to the organization and planning of fisheries data collection is being addressed from a national perspective but the aim of Streamline and the EC is to promote a shift towards a regionally coordinated approach. Why does it represent an important progress since the setup of the Regional Coordination Groups? Why is it expected beneficial?
Fish and shellfish stocks are shared among neighbouring Member States within a marine region. Although the monitoring of fisheries and fisheries resources at a national scale does not hamper the quality of the data and information that are collected, it has the risk of duplicating the efforts; in this sense, it is not an efficient process. In contrast, sharing the tasks and the sampling efforts at a multi-national level is an efficient way to collect representative and robust data to be used for scientific advice and fisheries management at a regional level.
Furthermore, Regional Work Plans can represent a good opportunity to further enhance cooperation and coordination among Member States by means of establishing and sharing protocols and good practices for data collection, quality check, preparation and provision of the data. To this end, it is very important having a regionalized database, especially for the Mediterranean and Black Sea, where it is still lacking (but luckily we have the RDBFIS project taking care of this fundamental aspect).
Although Regional Coordination Groups have already produced significant progresses, it is important to highlight that Member States involved in a Regional Work Plan will have further opportunity to improve their skills and technical capacity taking the advantage of a regional network where tools, good practices and protocols will be shared. This will lead to higher quality data, more robust advice and better management of fisheries resources, with positive consequences for the whole fishery sector.
As we observe, the specific topics that will be considered for the drafting of Regional Work Plans (RWPs) in the Mediterranean and Black Sea are: Commercial fisheries with optimized sampling strategies, Fish stomach contents data collection, Recreational fisheries sampling strategy and Monitoring of vulnerable species incidental bycatch. Can you please describe Streamline´s approach to address these topics? Further than those topics above mentioned, have you identified any other relevant ones to be included in the draft RWPs? Is there any collaboration or interaction among Streamline and Fishn’Co experts?
STREAMLINE is building upon the experience gained with the implementation of the previous regional grants, not only those dealing with the Med&BS, but also FishPi and FishPi2. It goes without saying that a fruitful cooperation had been built between the Med&BS grants and the FishPi projects. Taking the advantage of the tools (e.g., R scripts, data quality checks, guidelines, protocols, etc.) produced by the previous grants, STREAMLINE will draft Regional Work Plans in a co-creative cooperation with the RCG Med&BS. We identified those main topics since some of them, namely the recreational fisheries, the fish stomach content analysis and the monitoring of the incidental bycatch, are new elements of the fisheries data collection. Therefore, we believe (and we received confirming feedback from the Member States and the RCG Med&BS) that these represent major challenges for drafting robust sampling plans at regional level. At the same time, commercial fisheries (including small-scale fisheries) represents the bulk of the data collection, therefore we believe it is fundamental helping in designing optimized sampling strategies for their monitoring.
Although we acknowledge there are several other aspects that might deserve some attention, STREAMLINE is a relatively small grant, and we do not have the possibility to further enlarge our scope. Nonetheless, we already started a cooperation with the RCG Large Pelagics to possibly design a draft Regional Work Plan on the monitoring of the incidental bycatch of vulnerable species in the drifting longline fisheries in the Mediterranean. This will also represent a chance to cooperate with FISHN’CO, since they will support the RCG LP in a RWP on the bycatch in tropical tuna fisheries. Anyway, a fruitful cooperation among all the regional grants, STREAMLINE, FISHN’CO, SECWEB and RDBFIS, is fundamental to progress altogether towards the common goal, that is supporting the RCGs and Member States in achieving a full implementation of regional approaches. We are strictly cooperating with RDBFIS, and we count to strengthen the cooperation with FISHN’CO and SECWEB in this final part of the implementation of the grants.
In your opinion, how close is it a fully regionally coordinated approach to fisheries data collection in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions? Which are the strongest and weakest points at the moment? Can you identify some key challenges for the future?
I have had the opportunity to work in the regional grants since the very first implementation, and this is now the second grant that I am coordinating (I had previously coordinated the STREAM project). In the light of this experience, I can say that significant results and progresses have already been achieved towards the designing of Regional Work Plans in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, thanks to the support of the Commission and the RCG Med&BS, and the proactive participation of the Member States. Therefore, I believe that we are very close to fully implement a regionally coordinated approach to fisheries data collection in the Mediterranean and Black. Within STREAMLINE, we performed a thorough review of the available elements helpful to build Regional Work Plans. As I have already pointed out, the Commission and the RCGs did a lot of work, but also STECF, GFCM and ICES provided valuable contributions. I think this represent the strongest point towards the achievement of a fully regionalized approach. Although some gaps still do exist, I think that a source of weakness is represented by a certain reluctance of the Member States to move from a national to a multi-national/regional perspective. In the short-medium term, I believe this is also the main challenge to be tackled in the future. Therefore, it is pivotal continuing to provide support to the RCGs and Member States to overcome this reluctance.
What is the main achievement so far for Streamline? Are there any lessons or tips that you can share from leading such an ambitious challenge as building coordinated RWPs for the Mediterranean and Black Seas?
Besides the technical aspects tackled by STREAMLINE, I believe the main achievement is having succeeded in building a solid and fruitful cooperation with the RCG Med&BS and the Member States. The grant is only a support tool for the RCG and Member States, we do not have the presumption of designing sampling plans by our own, and present them to the RCG in a top-down approach. Our goal is to work in a co-creative environment with the RCG and the Member States. This is also the main lesson learnt that I would like to share: always try to create a collaborative environment where all the actors can provide their contribution.