How the involvement of fishermen in MPAs can change the face of fishing industry
In the Mediterranean Sea, many species of fish are threatened with extinction while 96 % of fish stocks are overfished. And yet, the fishing industry as a whole is still reluctant to modify its way of functioning even though it would benefit from fishing restrictions in the long run. How can we make them realize that and drive a change? What about involving fishermen in the management of fish stocks?
This is the idea that a partnerhsip of NGOs, scientists and Marine Protected area (MPAs) managers have decided to explore through the FishMPABlue 2 project. It is indeed well known that genuine change must come from within. In this case, the fishers themselves have a capital role to play. Bearing this in mind, the FishMPABlue 2 project worked towards the achievement of a better coordinated fishing in the Mediterranean MPAs.
FishMPABlue 2 was the continuation of a previous project that had carried out an assessment of effectiveness of the management of small-scale fisheries (SSF) in 32 Mediterranean MPAs, identifying the key elements to be implemented through an SSF governance toolkit. This first phase emphasized that many factors reduced the MPA performance effectiveness, and that most of them relied on the fishers' mindset.
The goal was therefore to create a cooperation platform between the two main stakeholders, fishers and MPA managers, in order to create a participatory approach that would make the fishers the guardians of the marine environment. The second phase of the project then proceeded to test this toolkit in 11 MPAs from 6 EU countries (Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia) to make sure of their effectiveness on the field.
The project ambition being to reduce fishing, some concerns were inevitably raised by the fishers who could lose part of their direct income.
Fortunately, the project succeeded in changing their perception by showing them through scientific evidence that MPAs should not be seen as a danger
for their livelihood but as an ally in safeguarding the source of their income, the marine environment.
In each pilot MPAs, a “local government cluster” (LGC) was established and brought together MPA management body as well as SSF fishers: fishermen, managers, port polices, local stakeholders, local governments. For many fishers, it was actually the first time they had a say in the decisions that were being made locally and that would directly impact their work. The LGC contributed to the empowerment of the fishers that were finally involved in the decision-making process.
My family has been engaged in fishing for over 750 years, and that was the very first time that someone has asked us something.
Sebastian RALJEVIĆ, fisher from Telašćica Nature Park, Croatia
Pilot actions were then implemented in the 11 MPAs contributing in the project, involving more than 200 fishers in total throughout the Mediterranean. These activities went from substituting fishing gear to reducing fishing effort, as well as raising awareness of the different stakeholders. Consequently, the fishers’ responsibilities were diversified and they were directly acting on MPA surveillance and scientific monitoring activities hand in hand with MPA managers.
During the project, scientific assessment of the effects of the activities was put in place in order to compare the environmental-socio-economic status of SSF in each pilot MPA before and after the toolkit implementation. The study showed the environmental quality of the analysed fish stocks and related ecosystems had increased. On the other hand, the study found that fishers positively reacted to the implementation of the governance measures that was demonstrated by their awareness of the on-going measures implementation in their MPA.
In June 2021, the phase 3 of the project (now called FishMPABlue2 PLUS) started. The same strategy will be applied to 11 new MPAs from 5 countries, whom partners are actual trainers and coaches of the concerned domestic MPAs. By the end of this third phase in June 2022, 30 Med MPAs will be applying the same governance-related approach.
Still a great deal of work needs to be done and the process takes time. Although only a science based and participatory approach will allow a real change towards a more sustainable way of fishing. Each well managed MPA and each fisher that is made aware of its impactful potential is a step closer to a more economically and socially sustainable Mediterranean Sea.