At CEDO we feel strongly that promoting the well-being of regional fishing communities in diverse ways is the best, and perhaps only way to ensure that healthy marine and coastal ecosystems continue to provide us with services like lucrative commercial fisheries, beautiful tourist beaches, biological diversity, climate change mitigation and many others. With this guiding principal, CEDO has been collaborating with six coastal communities that make up the “Peñasco-Lobos Fisheries and Biological Corridor,” (outlined in black, below) an area characterized by ecological and socio-economic connectivity and renowned for its richness of species and habitats.
The Corridor Program was designed to meet these six communities’ immediate needs by partnering them with Mexican government fisheries authorities, together with other scientists and experts. The primary needs that these communities identified involved clarifying traditional users’ rights and granting active fishermen equitable access to legal permits. Prior to the start of this project, more than 50% of artisanal (small-scale) fishing in the Corridor was carried out without the required permits, especially in four of the smaller communities in the municipality of Caborca. The process to obtain permits is expensive, complicated, and involves having political connections. Without permits there are no clear legal rights afforded to fishermen and no way to gauge the actual fishing effort for the purpose of improving management measures.
The pioneering planning and ordering process, which began in 2015, ensures the active participation of fishermen and their communities, and begins and ends with decisions made by a democratically-elected group of representatives from the six coastal communities. This “Intercommunity Group of Artisanal Fishermen” worked together with the MX government agencies CONAPESCA & INAPESCA, as well as with the non-profit sector (CEDO among others) and with other academic experts and stakeholders. The process of information gathering focused on 11 species of primary economic importance (5 shown below) and the habitats that sustain them, and integrated the traditional knowledge of fishermen and their communities into a scientific framework.
Collaborating with fishermen to collect and later validate this data is the foundation for the Corridor Program’s science-based solutions, providing information about the fishing effort that was otherwise unavailable while building confidence among fishing communities around the entire decision-making process. The result of this three-year long, inter-sector collaboration (see diagram below) is a comprehensive Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) proposal that has been submitted to CONAPESCA, and that is currently awaiting implementation.
The proposal urges that the Corridor be managed as an Area of Special Priority, with the aim of establishing well-managed fisheries within a nationally-recognized legal context. It includes the establishment and execution of a range of management tools, including Fisheries Refuge Zones, Community Management Areas, and Catch Quotas for select species. Although each of these tools has clear conservation benefits, all are specifically designed to buffer and even increase the productivity and long-term sustainability of regional fisheries. An appropriate motto for the proposal would be:
“fish better today for better fishing tomorrow.”
The collective vision that has emerged from the Corridor Program is one where clear rights and rules of use – monitored, enforced, and respected by local communities, replace top-down, poorly justified and/or poorly enforced regulations and closures that do little but leave the most vulnerable members of coastal communities high and dry, with few if any economic resources. While during closures the government attempts to compensate fishermen for not-working, this new vision looks to compensate fishermen, and the entire chain of production, for working responsibly. This can be done adding value to fisheries products through the implementation of Fisheries Improvement Projects, traceability methods, and eventually sustainability-certifications like that of the Marine Stewardship Council. In addition, this vision takes into account the women and children of fishing communities, providing them with opportunities to learn, grow and explore new economies like the eco-tourism industry and the sale of locally-crafted goods. In summary, it is a vision where environmental organizations, academics, government agencies, fishermen and industry representatives can be collaborators, partners, and even friends, working towards a common goal:
“vibrant communities AND healthy ecosystems.”
To learn more about how YOU can help us fish for the future of the Gulf of California, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Peggy Turk Boyer and Alan Berman