Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Improving Fisheries and Ecosystem Data Collection in the Caribbean through Partnership, Collaboration, and 117 Ideas

February 28, 2024

Strategic planning workshop drives toward enhancing Caribbean fisheries science and management.

A school of snappers, grunts, and other tropical fish species swim near pilings surrounded by soft corals. Credit: Adobe Stock

The Caribbean Fishery Management Council has more commercial and recreational species under its management than any other council in the nation. However, the fishery and ecosystem data collection to support the assessment, monitoring, and management of these stocks comes from disparate sources that are often siloed from one another. This creates substantial challenges that require collaboration, coordination, and integrated funding considerations when it comes to ensuring sustainability.

To help overcome these challenges, NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center hosted a strategic planning workshop. Representatives from 13 regional partners focused on strategy and innovation to improve fisheries management in the region. 

“The strategic planning project came about because partners across the region recognized the need to better coordinate and cooperate to address data collection challenges,” said Kevin McCarthy, chief of the Caribbean Fisheries Branch in the Center’s Sustainable Fisheries Division. “These collaborative efforts to find and organize new data sources will set us up for success when studying and managing Caribbean fishery species.”

Engaging with Partners

A group of people stand in green grass in front of a stand of palm trees
This group of workshop participants brainstormed, collected, and organized ideas for improving fisheries and ecosystem data for the U.S. Caribbean. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

The goal was to involve partners in a meaningful way. This “would help us to establish more efficient and effective processes” for stock assessments and ecosystem-based fisheries management, added Rachel Banton. She is a research associate with the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami, a science center affiliate, who served as project manager for the workshop. The ultimate objective was to draft a collaborative strategic plan—with input from all partners—that would help establish efficient and effective data collection, particularly around stock assessments. 

The key question: How can we make sure all the organizations collecting and using data in the Caribbean know what each other is doing so they can get the most benefit from the work? To address this, the team developed five goals: 

  • Coordinate existing data
  • Inventory existing data
  • Identify data gaps 
  • Look for ways to fill those gaps
  • Inform management based on existing data 

“Everybody needed to have a voice,” McCarthy said. The workshop team brought together a diverse think-tank of partners from the Caribbean Fishery Management Council, federal and territorial agencies, and academic institutions. Participants explored how these regional partners collect, analyze, share, and fund their stock assessment and  ecosystem-based fishery management data. All attendees were actively and enthusiastically engaged, which was invaluable to the workshop’s success.

“For me, this workshop was amazing,” said JJ Cruz Motta, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Marine Sciences and a member of the Caribbean Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee. “I’ve been hoping for something like this for years. It was a great opportunity to share my ideas for how the Caribbean branch could do this work better.”

Sennai Habtes, Bureau Chief of Fisheries for the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources—Division of Fish and Wildlife, said attending the meeting highlighted how important engagement with territorial agencies and academic institutions is. It sent a clear message that regional collaboration is a priority for the science center.

“This strategic planning process was a good opportunity to show how serious [the center is] about that,” Habtes said. “Our work requires collaboration with all the partners who were in that room all the time. The workshop brought all of the moving pieces into one place rather than separate meetings. And meeting in person after emailing back and forth for years is an amazing way to put a face to a name and add deeper context.”

Developing an Action Plan

People sit at a u-shaped table brainstorming collectively
Workshop participants brainstormed, collected, and organized ideas for improving fisheries and ecosystem data for the U.S. Caribbean. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Rachel Banton

With the participation of 36 attendees, the group’s brainstorm, conversation, and problem-solving led to a concrete plan with clear, actionable steps.

“I really liked the approach they used, because it was the first time that I felt that my project was being heard,” said Grisel Rodriguez-Ferrer, Fisheries Biologist and Project Leader of Recreational Fisheries for the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. “They were truly taking into account the people from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” 

She noted one important factor that led to high participation and engagement was the use of her native language. The facilitators spoke both English and Spanish throughout the workshop—an element that didn’t go unnoticed. It helped spark deep, meaningful conversations about the future of the branch.

“When the facilitator asked what major breakthroughs we’d like to see in the next 5 years, our group came up with 117 different ideas to improve data collection in the region,” Banton said. “I don’t think anyone was quite prepared for the amount of ideas we came up with. When you can come up with that many thoughts, it shows how important this exercise was.”

McCarthy agreed: “It was a really thorough process, and everyone was involved. Partners continue to be active in addressing issues identified in the workshop and that differentiates this effort from past attempts at improving Caribbean fisheries data collection.” 

Concrete Next Steps

The outcomes included a 5-year strategic plan and consensus on the strategic goals, pared down from the 117 ideas generated. Importantly, no one left the room until there was a strategy in place to implement the plan. Eight working committees were formed, and are already meeting as part of the crucial follow-up to the workshop. These include:

  • Inventorying current data streams to look for gaps and prioritize future research
  • Determining the best ways to manage fisheries given the existing data
  • Stakeholder outreach, education, and engagement
  • Developing strategies for effectively and efficiently funding ongoing and planned data collection in the region
People stand in a meeting room adding sticky notes to posters on the wall
Workshop participants brainstormed, collected, and organized ideas for improving fisheries and ecosystem data for the U.S. Caribbean. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Rachel Banton

Thanks to this workshop, “We have targets for 1 year,” Cruz Motta said. “They are not grandiose, unachievable tasks. We have attainable targets to get these things done. We’d like to meet to work on this again so we can continue to steer the research and have a great system.”

“People in the region are frustrated by the challenges and eager to present solutions,” McCarthy said. “They came ready to work together to develop a true shared leadership approach to resolving our issues.”

Banton added that a large part of the workshop’s success was establishing a true sense of shared purpose and a commitment to inclusiveness. “Not only did we all have the same goal,” she said, “but we had the same opportunity to be heard.”

“It was a 3-day workshop, but the conversation has continued,” Rodriguez-Ferrer noted. “Our groups meet every few weeks to keep the work going. Being part of different groups and communicating diverse ideas was one of the best outcomes from this workshop.”

Thanks to the contributions of stakeholders in the U.S. Caribbean, this strategic planning workshop will help enhance Caribbean fisheries science and management into the future. For more information, view the strategic plan summary, Regional Strategies for US Caribbean Stock Assessment and Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management (English, Spanish).

A bunch of sticky notes stuck to a poster on a wall labeled "5 year Breakthroughs"
During the workshop, 117 sticky note ideas were collected for 5 year breakthrough goals that improve data for U.S. Caribbean stock assessments and Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Rachel Banton

Funding for the workshop came from a grant through the center’s Ecosystem, Climate, and Stock Assessment Improvement fund. The meeting was also supported through and co-facilitated by members of the Quality Management and Continuous Improvement Professional Specialty Group of NOAA Fisheries’ Fisheries Information System program. This interdisciplinary team provides tools and resources to help NOAA Fisheries and our partners improve the processes that underlie the creation of data products to improve the products. 

But that is not all that is going on in the Caribbean as this effort parallels a similar process to compile data and develop partnerships to support marine spatial planning to inform offshore wind and aquaculture.  NOAA also recently hosted marine spatial planning workshops in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to prepare for development of the blue economy in the U.S. Caribbean


For more information, contact Kevin McCarthy (kevin.j.mccarthy@noaa.gov) or Rachel Banton (rachel.banton@noaa.gov).


Participating Organizations:

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on February 28, 2024