The problems facing the world's oceans and marine resources can seem insurmountable: overfishing, wasteful by-catch, pollution, privatization... Many were discussed at Slow Fish earlier this month, but one conference in particular heard inspiring examples from around the world of a solution that could be the answer to many of those problems.
"Towards Collective Management of Common Resources," chaired by Roberto Danovaro from the Polytechnic University of the Marche, heard mostly from fishermen, from Ecuador, Colombia, Spain and France, who have been involved in setting up and running co-management systems. In these systems, instead of regulations being dictated by a central government, the local fishing communities themselves work with local authorities and other stakeholders to come up with sustainable and sensible ways to manage who fishes what, how and where.
Lider Gongora of C-CONDEM, the national network for the defense of the mangrove ecosystem in Ecuador, described the incredible benefits that mangroves bring to the environment and the humans who live around them. But in Ecuador, and many other countries, locals are being evicted from their villages, the mangroves are being chopped down and the estuaries polluted to satisfy the huge demand for farmed shrimp in the United States, Japan and Europe. His organization is working to strengthen the knowledge and capacities of local communities to help them improve their economies and fight for their rights. "The legislation is issued by politicians who earn a lot of money," he said. "The rules and laws should start from the people, those who live in the ecosystem. People need to be trained and educated."
The next to speak were Primitivo Pedrosa and Augustin Perez Pernas, two fishermen from Galicia in Spain, who are involved in a project to create Marine Protected Areas managed in a participative way by the fishermen in collaboration with local government. It is in the interest of the local fishers that the areas be managed sustainably. For example, said Pernas, "the fishermen asked the authorities to impose larger minimum catch sizes for some species, like octopus, because they understood that it meant having more fish now and having fish for the next generations." He said the participation of universities had been extremely helpful. "They're allies for fishermen because they help them set up these system, offering information that allows them to manage the resources they live on."
Colombia's Pacific coast is lined with tropical jungle and mangrove forests and its waters are rich in biodiversity. In the Chocó region, a group of small-scale fishers started working together in 1998 when they saw how rapidly the industrial fleet was developing and threatening their livelihoods with overfishing. Gerardo Ortiz, a fisherman and community leader, described how they created their own fishing management organization, and working with the Fundación MarViva have been able to connect with restaurants in Bogota who buy their sustainably caught, high-quality seafood at a fair price. José Diaz of MarViva said they are also working at a community level to help draft sustainability criteria.
Didier Ranc is a fisherman from La Seyne-sur-Mer, on France's Mediterranean coast, and a prud'homme, the elected leader of a Prud'homie, a type of fishing management body that has existed for over ten centuries. There are 33 Prud'homies along the Mediterranean coast of France, and they manage the distribution of fishing resources to ensure they are divided in a fair and sustainable way, using very detailed regulations. "From the beginning, the main philosophy has been that anyone who has a fishing boat can making a living and that means those who have smaller boats are still supported," said Ranc. "We also manage the ecosystem properly. If you want to fish more, you can't just catch one species. You have to find a way to fish different species to decrease the pressure on stocks." Despite the Prud'homies' authority being recognized by the government, he said that the legal struggles and conflicts with European Union regulations were making their lives difficult. "I became a fisherman to be free," he said.