Regional coordination for sustainable fisheries management is vital to ensure long-term food security in Southeast Asia. An ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM) is considered a best practice for managing fisheries resources as it balances ecological and human well-being.

As part of the Oceans and Fisheries Partnership’s (USAID Oceans) efforts to advance EAFM in the Asia Pacific region, in December 2018 the project collaborated with the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF) to develop the “Sub-Regional EAFM Plan for the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape.” The first known sub-regional plan of its kind, the document outlines goals, objectives, and management actions for national and regional fisheries management authorities and stakeholders to implement coordinated efforts to manage the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine ecoregion.

Following CTI-CFF’s formal endorsement of the Sub-Regional EAFM Plan, in December 2019 USAID Oceans engaged Conservation International-Philippines to advance implementation of the plan in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. Conservation International-Philippines is now leading ongoing consultations among regional partners from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines and working to establish a sub-regional mechanism to implement the Sub-Regional EAFM Plan.

From March 10-11, 2020, Conservation International-Philippines partnered with the CTI Regional Secretariat and members of National CTI Coordinating Committees of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines to conduct a Sulu-Sulawesi Sub-Regional EAFM Plan Implementation Workshop in Manila, Philippines. The workshop was held to finalize the guidelines and structure for a Sulu-Sulawesi Sub-Regional Working Group to lead EAFM efforts for priority seascapes in the Coral Triangle Region, and to identify priority actions to be taken in the next two years both at the sub-regional level and by each of the three attending countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines).

Priority actions identified focused largely on the need to include small pelagic species in fisheries management initiatives. Specifically, each country was encouraged to develop an EAFM plan specific to pelagic species within the country context and to conduct research to highlight the economic value of strengthening management of these species. Participants also prioritized development of a communications strategy to engage with fisheries management and marine ecology stakeholders key to EAFM efforts.

During the workshop, members of the National CTI Coordinating Committees voiced their endorsement of the CTI Regional Strategic Plan of Action, which complements the Sub-Regional EAFM Plan with a focus on improving and sustaining the Sulu Sulawesi Seascape’s small pelagic fisheries using the EAFM framework. This paves the way for the CTI Regional Secretariat; Conservation International; National CTI Coordinating Committees of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; and the United Nations Development Program move forward with implementing the plan.

While USAID Oceans will conclude in May 2020, this workshop sets the stage for ongoing regional coordination to ensure sustainable management of Southeast Asia’s ecological and human resources in the fisheries sector, ensuring the long-term viability of the industry and food security for the millions of people who depend on it.