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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Delineating stock structure for tuna fish within Sulu Sulawesi Regions

PI: Ida Astarini,, Universitas Udayana and BIONESIA
U.S. Partners: Allen Collins, National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, and Bruce Collette, The Smithsonian Institution
Project Dates: December 2017 - November 2020

Project Overview

Sulu Sulawesi is a highly diverse marine region located in the heart of the Coral Triangle. The diversity of marine species and habitats in this region continue to be threatened by human activities, including overfishing and destructive fishing practices. Escalating threats to the coral reef ecosystem of the Sulu Sulawesi seascape have motivated the establishment of the Sulu Sulawesi Marine Eco-region (SSME), an international partnership launched in 1999 by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The SSME emphasizes the promotion of sustainable fisheries within the region by gathering baseline information on growth rate, migration, and stock structure of highly consumed species such as longtail tuna (Thunnus tonggol). Stock structure in commercial fisheries is typically assessed using genetic approaches, allowing managers to understand population mixture and recognize migration patterns between regions. Using this genetic data, we can also identify effective population size—an essential parameter that helps determine the vulnerability of populations, thereby informing sustainable management and conservation decisions dealing with exploited species. Although powerful, defining stock structure in SSME regions is challenging and requires expertise in conservation genetic skills that are rarely available in this region. Many labs are not equipped with the tools or training required to support this type of research. At this time, research capacity has been developed sporadically and is not specifically designed to support conservation and policy. Using insufficient data to develop fisheries management and conservation strategies could lead to ineffective conservation efforts that put critical fisheries resources in jeopardy.

6-446 Kedonganan Sampling6-446 Student Lab Work
Members of the research team collect fish samples at the Kedonganan Fish Market in Jimbaran (photos courtesy of Dr. Astarini).Students from Trunojoyo and Udayana Universities in the lab.

This project will provide essential scientific information to support policy design and ensure that sustainable fisheries practices are effective within SSME regions. The first major activity is understanding stock structures of longtail tuna within the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea, and to this end the team will collect 30-50 samples per population/location at sites off Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. The samples will undergo 2b-RAD analysis at the Smithsonian Institution, to be carried out by visiting research team members on three-month internships with guidance provided by the U.S. partners. Back in Indonesia, the team will organize several training and outreach activities, including a molecular genetic and biodiversity workshop and a next-generation DNA sequencing workshop to train students and faculty from partner universities in the theory and application of modern molecular genetic research for the study of fisheries, marine biodiversity, and conservation. Near the end of the project, the PI and her team will also host a national seminar on sustainable fisheries of tuna and other commercial species to discuss the study’s findings. The event will also provide a platform for stakeholders, including academic researchers, NGO representatives, and government and industry staff, to share their ideas on emerging fisheries issues and discuss how research can be applied to effective sustainable fisheries management strategies.

Summary of Recent Activities

During the second quarter of 2018, Dr. Astarini and her group conducted several activities, including a mini-grant competition to fund small research projects co-managed by researchers at local universities. This effort is designed both to build the capacity of the grant recipients and to bring in additional data on tuna genetics for the project. Seven grant proposals were selected for funding, and the recipients are conducting research on the ecology, population, and conservation management of longtail tuna (Thunnus tonggol), in several areas of Indonesia, including Aceh, West Sumatra, East Java, Madura, Bali, Lombok, and Maluku. Details on the research and the successful applicants under this mini-grant program can be accessed on the website of Bionesia at ( Also during this past quarter, the PEER project hosted internships for a total of eight students from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Udayana University, the Fisheries Department at Brawijaya University, and the Marine Science Department at Udayana University. The five students from the latter two departments will be using their research in preparing their undergraduate theses.

The PI and her team also conducted successful preliminary sampling activities to find longtail tuna at the Kedonganan fish market in Bali and at locations in Central Java, including the Semarang fish market and the Pekalongan, Demak, and Jepara fish landing stations. During their sampling activities in Semarang, they also had the chance to introduce the project to an audience of students and lecturers at the Biology Department and the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science at Diponegoro University. This event is expected to serve as a stepping stone for building future collaboration with the university. In addition, Bionesia has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Khairun University, North Maluku.

During the last half of 2018, the team will be collecting more samples from other areas targeted in their study. Sample collection is challenging, as there is not a great deal of information available on the longtail tuna species, and the fact that it shares similar morphological characteristics with other tuna species makes it difficult to identify correctly. In addition, the catch is seasonal, with fishing vessels only harvesting the species at certain times of the year. In addition to the sample collection, Dr. Astarini and her colleagues will also be collaborating with their mini-grant awardees to monitor the additional fisheries data they will collect and ensure that they take their genetic samples properly.

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