Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association

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Billfish Interactions, Livelihoods and Linkages for Fisheries sustainability in the Western Indian Ocean (BILLFISH – WIO)

A. Basic Facts
   i. Project Partners

African Billfish Foundation (ABF-Kenya, Leading institution)

Kenya Marine & Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI-Kenya) Oceanographic Research Institute & South African Association for Marine Biological Research (ORI-South Africa)

Community Centred Conservation (C3-Madagascar)

Deep-Sea Fishing Authority (DSFA-Tanzania)

University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM-Tanzania)

Collaborators: Dr. Lydia Kanyairita (University of Dar es Salaam – UDSM; Dr. Emmanuel Andrew Sweke (Deep Sea Fishing Authority-  DSFA); Mwaka Barabara Said (Kenya Fisheries Services – KFS); Dr. Sean Fennessy & Dr. Bruce Mann (Oceanographic Research Institute, South Africa  – ORI); Raseta Saverio, Madagascar); José Halafo (Instituto Nacional de Investigação Pesqueira – IP): Dr. Joseph Maina Mbui (Macquire University, Australia); Prof. Ussif Rashid Sumaila, (University of British Colombia, – UBC); Dr. Julian Pepperrell, (Pepperell Research & Consulting); Dr. Sam Williams, (University of Queensland, Australia); Dr. Robert Ahrens, (NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, USA); Dr. Sarah Glaser, (Secure Fisheries – One Earth Future, USA); Dr. Andrew Wamukota, (Pwani University, Kenya – PU); Dr. Salum Hamed, (University of Dodoma, Tanzania – UDOM); Dr. Sammy Wambua (Pwani University, Kenya); Dr. Denham Parker, (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, South Africa), Dr. Melckzedeck Osore, (Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute – KMFRI).

   ii. Project Duration 2019-2022
   iii. Project Site(s)
   iv. Project Country Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, and Tanzania
   v. Budget US$ 524,940
B. Project Objectives
  • To evaluate the historical and present status of billfish species in the WIO.
  • To examine the spatial and temporal distribution of billfish species with regard to fishing pressure, proximity to markets, management status and climate-change driven environmental factors.
  • To evaluate the genetic stock structure of the billfish family Istiophoridae using seasonal and spatial distribution data.
  • To evaluate the socio-economic perspectives and governance strategies of billfish with specific consideration of the socio-economic contributions of billfish user groups at individual, local, national, and regional level; the perceptions of stakeholders on billfishes and distribution of the benefits between the genders; socio-economic performance indicators related to sustainable use, recommendation of policy and governance options
C. Expected Results
  • Open-source data on four thematic areas to inform policy and management of the billfish in the WIO region
  • Characterization of billfish maps based on spatial and temporal factors, linked to existing local and regional spatial databases on billfish and influencing billfish distribution
  • Genetic data on billfish in the WIO region
  • Socio-economic indicators related to Billfish value chain analysis
  • Capacity building to MSc and PhD students from the WIO region

Project Outcomes (1st year)

Between September 2019 and September 2020, the BILLFISH-WIO project has brought together over 20 collaborators and 9 students (3 PhD, 4 MSc and 2 BSc students). 

Some of the findings specific to each of the objectives are as follows

  • The review of billfish fisheries in the WIO region (Objective 1) indicated major data gaps across all fisheries targeting billfish. Specifically, countries such as Somalia and Comoros had no official historical records of billfish species. 
  • Our results for objective 2, showed that billfish species exhibit niche partitioning and overlap, especially in the Northern WIO region. Swordfish and sailfish depicted high overlaps in their niche selection, whereas blue marlin and short-bill spearfish had low overlaps in their niche partitioning. In addition, species distribution was influenced by environmental controls such as sea surface temperature, salinity, and oxygen. Our study also showed that the occurrence of billfish species was highly associated with longline fishing effort distribution. 
  • For objective 3 (genetic analysis), our protocol for billfish DNA extraction and optimization indicated that the quality of DNA extracted was retained when both ethanol and EDTA solutions were used at specific concentrations. However, EDTA was found to be inexpensive in cases where ethanol was unavailable. 
  • In Somalia, BILLFISH-WIO has partnered with Project Kalluun, which connects 4 universities (City University- Mogadishu, East Africa University- Bosaso, Berbera Maritime and Fisheries Academy, Kismayo University) and provides video lectures and training for students in data collection, on billfish species and genetic tissue sampling.  Through the collaboration with Secure Fisheries in Somalia, the BILLFISH-WIO is n the process of negotiating access to nation-wide catch data from the government fisheries officers.
  • Through funding from Pew Charitable Trusts to Dr Nina Wambiji (2020 Pew Marine Fellow), BILLFISH-WIO is working with the National Fisheries Research Institution, Institut National De Recherche Pour L’agriculture, La Pêche Et L’environnement-Comoros to promote collaboration on billfish data collection and reporting.

The project team has put in a lot of effort to increase the visibility of the project in-country, regional and internationally. This is evidenced by the number of communication pieces in the WIOMSA Newsbrief (3), national and regional magazines (3), and other online platforms (Twitter – the project has a Twitter handle: @billfishwio where information is posted). The team has also partnered in the production of short videos on YouTube and Facebook:

D. Project Activities
  • To review and assess historical and current billfish landings and catch rates in WIO fisheries
  • Link output data with existing local and regional spatial databases
  • Evaluate the genetic make-up and zonation of selected flagship species
  • Prepare a framework for evaluating risk factors associated with bycatch mitigation
  • To assess the socio-economic perspective of billfish in recreational, commercial, and artisanal fisheries
E. Publications

1. Kadagi, N.I, Wambiji, N., Belhabib, D., & Ahrens, R. (2020). Characterizing competitive interactions between recreational and artisanal billfish fisheries in Kenya. Ocean and Coastal Management (in print).
2. Kadagi, N.I, Wambiji, N., Fennessy, S, D., Allen, M.S., & Ahrens, R. (2020). Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development and Management of Marine Recreational and Sport Fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean. Marine Policy (in print).
3. Kadagi. N.I., Wambiji, N., Mann, B., Parker, D., Daly, R, Rato, D.A.M., Halafo, J., Gaspare, L., Sweke, E.A., Ahmed, S., Saverio, R., Osore, M; Maina, J., Glaser, S., Sumaila, U.R. (2020). Status, Challenges and Recommendations for Sustainable Billfish Fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean. Review in Fish Biology and Fisheries (under review).
4. Thoya, P, Kadagi, N.I, Wambiji, N., Williams, M.S., Pepperell, J.G, Mollmann, C., Schielle, K, Maina, J., (in Prep). Environmental controls of billfish species in the Indian Ocean and implications for their management and conservation.

F. Students Supported by the Project

1. Damaris Kinyua – PhD student at Pwani University, Kenya
2. Shakila Muendo – Masters student, Pwani University, Kenya
3. Pascal Thoya – PhD student, Macquarie University, Australia
4. Salma Ahmed, Masters student, Pwani University, Kenya
5. Eunice Leong, Masters Student, Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique
6. Pascah Bulia, Undergraduate student, Pwani University, Kenya
7. Joey Ngunu, Undergraduate student, Pwani University, Kenya
8. Emmy Mwanjali, Masters student, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
9. Jose Halafo, PhD student, Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique

G. For more information, either visit or contact:
  1. Dr Nelly Isigi <nellykadagi@gmail.com>