More than one billion people — nearly one-seventh of the world population — depend on wild-caught fish for protein. At least 500 million people support themselves and their families by working in small-scale, “artisanal” fisheries. Overfishing is endangering this vital food supply, and the livelihoods it supports.
But examples from around the world demonstrate how community-based marine conservation can succeed at conserving fish stocks where international or government-based efforts fail, particularly in low-income countries. When local communities are involved from the ground up in setting the terms and goals for fisheries management and marine conservation, these projects can avoid the pitfalls of top-down initiatives that often fail to address the immediate needs of local communities.
Here are five projects from countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that show off the potential for tackling the global problem of overfishing by grounding the solutions in local communities.
1. Madagascar: Blue Ventures
Blue Ventures is a conservation organization that advises local communities on creating and implementing conservation efforts along the east coast of Africa, as well as in areas from Mauritius to Fiji.
The group got involved in locally-based marine conservation a decade ago, when communities in southern Madagascar asked Blue Ventures to help figure out why their fisheries were on the decline. After experimenting with a temporary closing of a local octopus gleaning area for a few months to allow the population to recover, octopus landings and fisher incomes both increased. News of this fishery boom quickly spread to neighbouring communities, which started to copy the practice.
Progressively more ambitious coastal management efforts eventually led to the creation of Madagascar’s first Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA), governed by a small network of fishing villages in 2005. Today there are 65 LMMAs encompassing 11 percent of the island’s seabed.
Blue Ventures’ work shows that for successful long-term conservation, sustainable fisheries management must be economically beneficial to local communities. Blue Ventures now operates in several nations, and hopes to reach at least three million people across the world’s tropical coastal regions with their conservation models by 2020.
2. Indonesia: The Dorsal Effect
Despite government actions to stem the trade, Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of shark fins, with much of global the trade destined for the growing Chinese market for luxury foods. Named for the iconic spinal fin of the shark, The Dorsal Effect is a business that is trying to stem this over-exploitation of sharks.
Singaporean founder Kathy Xu set up the business in the fishing port of Tanjung Luar, located in the southeast parts of Lombok island, which is one of Indonesia’s main sites for auctioning and exporting shark fins to China. There are few alternative livelihoods for fishers, and although catch sizes have dropped rapidly over the past decade, sharks remain a particularly lucrative catch.
Operating from the heart of this destructive trade, Xu hires shark fishers and trains them to take tourists on snorkeling cruises instead. This eco-tourism provides the shark fishers with an alternative source of income, as well as a livelihood that is safer and more convenient than the harsh working environment on a shark fishing boat.
While the tourism industry is still in its early stages in those parts of the island, media attention on Xu’s work has attracted grant funding, which she has used to pay the boat crews when visitor numbers are down. The Dorsal Effect plays a crucial role in giving local communities ways to make a living other than overfishing sharks.
3. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand: Wicked Adventures
Far east of Lombok, in Indonesia’s Sumba Strait, the Flores region is home to Komodo National Park. Although famous for its giant “dragon” lizards, Komodo National Park also contains some of the most pristine, biodiverse diving sites in the world, and the diving tourism industry is starting to leave its mark on the region.
Wicked Adventures, an Indonesia-based eco-tourism outfitter, offers tourists who come to Komodo opportunities for diving, kayaking, trekking and visiting traditional villages. Wicked Adventures supports community-based, sustainable tourism by donating 2 percent of its revenue to a non-profit foundation, Wicked Good, that facilitates local efforts to improve livelihoods while also promoting conservation. These range from funding a turtle conservation center, to organizing beach clean-ups, to English classes and eco-tourism and dive guide training. Wicked Good also offers local residents internships and scholarships, fostering new generations of adventure guides who can convey eco-tourism and conservation knowledge to their communities.
4. Mozambique: &Beyond
Operating in more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia and South America, &Beyond is a major luxury experiential travel company that also emphasizes community development and conservation of threatened ecosystems as part of its business strategy. The company’s goals are expressed in its motto: “Care of the land, care of the wildlife, care of the people.”
&Beyond recently launched an initiative, named “Oceans Without Borders,” that hopes to connect the conservation efforts of three specific island destinations in marine protected areas along 2000 kilometres of Mozambique and Zanzibar coastline. Key parts of the project include involving local communities in maintaining the health of local marine ecosystems, small business development to provide alternative sources of income, and the creation of vegetable farms to lessen dependency on marine resources for food. Local marine ecosystems are also monitored and researched to ensure their long-term health.
5. Costa Rica: CoopeTárcoles
CoopeTárcoles is a local cooperative of artisanal fishers who practice and promote sustainable fishing methods, aiming to conserve the local marine ecosystem and the vitality of their local economy. The community of Tárcoles is located in the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, an area that boasts great biodiversity. On land, it is home to around 45 percent of the country’s plant species. The Rio Grande de Tárcoles, which flows through the region, is crucial in supporting the country’s many mangroves—important habitats for diverse marine species, and important coastal buffers against storms.
In 1985, after years of over-exploitation of natural resources from both artisanal and commercial fisheries had worsened local poverty, CoopeTárcoles formed to unite the local fishing industry around collective adoption of sustainable fishing methods. The region has since seen improved conservation, while local communities have been able to maintain their traditional lifestyles. The cooperative adopted its “Responsible Fishing Code” in 2003.
Collaboration with conservation groups has spurred the growth of regional eco-tourism as well, providing fishers with additional sources of income while further promoting sustainable fishing methods. The collaboration includes research and monitoring of local fishing trends, which facilitates dialogue and cooperation between different stakeholders in the region’s marine economy. In 2009, a long bureaucratic process culminated in the creation of a community-managed marine area.
CoopeTárcoles has earned recognition in Costa Rica and worldwide as the country’s first organization to adopt a common code for sustainable fishing, and for its use of science at a local level to both improve livelihoods and limit environmental damage.