Six Pacific Island fisheries officers now have new skills in techniques for determining reef fish age and growth parameters after attending a training course last week at the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD) and Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Noumea, New Caledonia.

The course is one component of a project to monitor the vulnerability and adaptation of coastal fisheries to climate change on a Pacific-wide scale. After completing the theoretical part of the course at SPC, the six participants from Nauru, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Federated States of Micronesia continued their training in IRD's laboratories.

The project's main goal is to detect possible changes in coastal fishery productivity and to determine the extent to which these changes are connected to climate rather than to other pressures on the resource, in particular overfishing and habitat degradation due to poor watershed management. Pilot observation stations have been set up at five sites for this purpose: Manus (Papua New Guinea), Pohnpei (FSM), Majuro (Marshall Islands), Abemama (Kiribati), and Funafuti (Tuvalu). Each pilot site is equipped with seawater temperature recorders and covered by baseline marine resource and habitat assessments.

As part of this project, the activities conducted in close cooperation between SPC and IRD Research Unit 227 COREUS (Biocomplexity of Indo-Pacific Coral Ecosystems) include training and capacity building to enable Pacific Island fisheries officers to understand age determination techniques and determine reef fish growth parameters. More specifically, the officers are learning about the back-calculation of fish growth and age determination using otoliths (organs in the inner ear of fish).

This collaboration is a major component of the 'Monitoring the vulnerability and adaptation of coastal fisheries to climate change' project because there is uncertainty about the possible effects of climate change on the growth of various reef fish species. In addition, there are currently no reference data for various Pacific Island countries and territories.

Fish growth depends a great deal on temperature and is also by definition linked to the productivity of reef fish populations. The initial two-week workshop was part one of a two-part course. The workshop revolved around the extraction of otoliths, preparing them for determining age, and initial interpretation using otoliths collected by trainees in their country or from IRD's collections. Part two, which involves examining otoliths collected in-country, will take place over four to eight weeks at the Noumea IRD Centre in 2013.

'Monitoring the vulnerability and adaptation of coastal fisheries to climate change' is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), under the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (ICCAI).