EDFish

‘Doing it for the Halibut: How a discard ban saved my fishery’

By: Wes Erikson

Fisherman Wes Erikson shares his experiences fishing under strict Canadian discard legislation to demonstrate how the Common Fisheries Policy landing obligation can result in sustainably managed and economically viable European fisheries.

Photo: Wes Erikson

Photo: Wes Erikson

 

My story:

I have not missed a fishing season since I was five-years old. At that time, anyone could go fishing commercially; all you needed was a boat and a strong back (my grandfather used to say a weak mind helped!). Fishing with my father and grandfather at age 16, I skippered a 14-metre salmon troller and at 20, in 1987, I purchased my first vessel – a 15 metre halibut/salmon vessel. When I became a vessel owner, I decided it was important to get involved in the fisheries advisory process, and I remain involved to this day.

My fishery has evolved and matured as a result of concerns that fishermen have regarding safety, illegal activities, and price. Managers, scientists, and ENGOs have added to this with issues surrounding monitoring, accountability, discards, MPA’s, seabird avoidance, and more. Sometimes change was forced upon us, and it is worth noting that fishermen can navigate cannily around any rule. We are natural problem solvers. We have to be, because lost lives and financial ruin are a very possible outcome of problems that arise in our field. This is one of the reasons why “only fishermen can talk to fishermen.”

Co-management gave us the opportunity to be involved in decision making and regulation changes; real co-management, not just talking to fishermen. This requires time, trust, and allowing both parties to make mistakes and learn from them. The industry was given the chance to grow and mature, but growing up is not easy. None of this was easy. In fact, many changes seemed impossible.

In 2002, the Canadian government asked the participants of the groundfish fishery to integrate and account for all rockfish – 7 sectors, 4 gear types. The fear here was that if we could not figure out how to achieve these objectives, they would. The system we designed had to be affordable and workable for both the smallest boat in the fleet (5m) and the largest (60m), and seven fisheries, all with various catches, needed to combine and become fully accountable. Some species–of which there were over 72 to manage with up to 5 management areas per species– were jointly managed between Canada and the USA.

What we did:

We began by selecting an independent professional facilitator and developing guiding principles for how the process would work. As we started this new pilot fishery, I was terrified. The annual individual vessel allowance of some bottleneck species were less than I had discarded on any given day. On top of that, the quota for these species were owned by less than 80 individuals, one of whom speculated on quota just before this initiative was implemented, owned ten percent, and was planning on leasing these scarce species for a premium.

In light of this seemingly unworkable situation, we went fishing anyway. We’re fishermen. It’s what we do. In the first year, we left over fifty percent of those bottleneck species in the water, and the quota owners were left holding onto over half of this so-called valuable quota. Fishermen began cooperating and communicating almost immediately in order to avoid species with low TACs, and if you are a fisherman, then you will understand that this is revolutionary. Since 2006, we have under-harvested every species as a fleet, including the bottleneck species.

Over 300 Canadian vessels participate in the integrated groundfish fishery, under one management plan, with catch shares, an allocation based management tool, for all species and vessels; although each sector had a very different catch share design. Each vessel is accountable for all of its catch, regardless of whether it is retained or released, with logbooks being audited against video footage and compared to the offload. Now that we can trust the data, our logbooks are being used in science and management studies, because the data provides information on total catch mortality– retained and released.

How we did it:

The most important guideline in fisheries management design is to clearly define your objectives, before you identify your participants and begin a consultative process. With enough incentive, any problem can be solved. The four most important components of this fishery are:

  1. The removal of competition, or, preventing the race for fish
  2. Individual accountability
  3. Transferability
  4. Monitoring

Transferability is an important feature of this management system. It supports selective fishing, staying within allocations, staying safe, and allowing industry to adjust to resource and market dynamics. Vessels are allowed to carry over some level of quota underages and overages from one year to the next, which encourages vessels to fish below their allocation.

There is no guarantee of success here. However, I do know that without these elements in my fishery, we were headed for failure. Many of us now will survive and thrive because the system gives us the flexibility to adjust, take measured risks, and gather the support we need to execute new plans. This has allowed for better working relationships with everyone involved, and we will continue to evolve and mature over time, because this system allows us the flexibility to innovate.

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From top down to bottom up: Transitioning to co-management of local fisheries

“We’re all on the same page for the first time, and it’s amazing”, Wes Erikson, Commercial Fisherman

At the Hague Global Oceans Action Summit last month, Tom Grasso of the Environmental Defense Fund had the opportunity  to facilitate a co-management workshop under the theme of ‘Models for Governance,’ featuring:

  • Wes Erikson: fourth generation Commercial Fisherman, British Columbia
  • Raul Garcia: Director of Fisheries, WWF Spain
  • Momo Kochen: Science and Programme Director, Fishing and Living, Indonesia
  • Cathy Demesa:  Executive Director, Network of Sustainable Livelihoods Catalysts, (NSLC) Inc., the Philippines
  • Dr Sunoto:  Advisor to the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia

Attendees discussed the best way to achieve a transition from top down, centralised fisheries management to bottom up, community-led approaches. All agreed that successful co-management takes time, due to a need to build sustained trust and willing co-operation across different sectors such as fishermen, government, NGOs and processors – but that the investment of time pays major dividends.

All of the field practitioners noted the similarities among triumphs and challenges they faced in implementing comanagement systems, even while it comes in many different forms. WWF’s Raul Garcia drew attention to Spain’s long history of co-management with the cofradias, and the continued attempts of NGOs in Spain to widen the number of fisheries in which the ethos of co-management is institutionally accepted.

All supported prioritising investment in creating the enabling conditions necessary to encourage the adoption and spread of co-management, such as investments that:

  • Facilitate networking, information sharing and exchanges that introduce best practices and reduce learning times and technology transfer costs.
  • Strengthen the voices of local communities and of leaders at all levels of governance, to ensure their active participation in making and enforcing rules and best practices.
  • Secure access rights, enhance access to markets and, where necessary, compensate local communities.

There is no doubt that transitioning to co-management of local fisheries is no easy task. However, the speakers at this workshop demonstrated that when a co-management system takes hold, it has the potential to transform former long-time adversaries into collaborators with recognised shared goals.

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Congress Take Note: New Reports Show Progress for US Fisheries

status_determination_listings_2013_status_of_stocksThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week released two reports pointing to continued improvements in US fish stocks. Taken together, they send a clear message: that fisheries nationally are turning the corner as sustainable and more innovative management approaches take hold. Congress should take note.

The first report, the so-called Status of Stocks report to Congress  revealed that seven stocks were removed from the overfishing list last year and four from the overfished list. Two more stocks were declared “rebuilt,” bringing the total number of rebuilt stocks to 34 since 2000. Twenty-eight species are still on the report’s overfishing list, reminding us that there is still work to be done. But after decades of mismanagement that depleted fisheries and hurt coastal communities, the positive momentum of recent years is unmistakable.

The second report released concurrently by the agency, Fisheries Economics of the US 2012, underscored the critical role that healthy fisheries play in our nation’s economy. According to the report, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $199 billion in sales in 2012, a gain of 7% over the previous year. It also found that the economic impact of fishing jobs increased 3% from 2011 to 2012. Such year-on-year growth is to be welcomed.

2012_feus_jobsThe news in U.S. fisheries is not universally positive. A number of fish populations remain in serious trouble, and there are individual fishermen in some regions who face enormous financial hardship through no fault of their own. We should not lose sight of that. But we also shouldn’t allow that to obscure the clear trend towards more vibrant fisheries that we’ve seen in recent years.

 

Let’s hope that Congress is taking clear note of what these reports say as it tackles three important issues in the coming weeks:

  • Appropriations: The House and Senate are currently moving through committee the bill that will fund the National Marine Fisheries Service in fiscal year 2015.  It is crucial that we continue to invest in the management of our nation’s fisheries to ensure their continued recovery and long-term success. Just as we invest in roads and bridges on land, the information infrastructure of fisheries is what allows the economy around them to thrive. As Congress struggles with tight budgets, it must do more to give the National Marine Fisheries Service the financial resources it needs to succeed.
  • Anti-Fisheries Rider: In what has become an unfortunate annual tradition, Congressman Steve Southerland of Florida seems set to make another attempt to usurp the authority of local fishery managers by taking an important fishery management tool called catch shares out of their toolbox. Improved management in a number of fisheries through the adoption of catch shares is a critical ingredient in the successes that last week’s reports details. By aligning the economic and conservation interests of participants in these fisheries, catch shares have allowed fishermen the freedom to fish when it makes sense for them, given them a tangible stake in the long-term health of the fishery, and enabled more robust enforcement of science-based catch limits. According to NOAA’s economic report,

“[c]atch share programs are helping to improve economic efficiency and encourage more sustainable fishing practices. They are also designed to produce more fish at lower costs, improve fishermen’s safety and profits, and strengthen the biological and economic benefits in a fishery.”

Members of Congress should think hard before supporting Rep. Southerland’s short-sited and parochial amendment when it comes to the floor.

  • MSA Reauthorization: Both the House Natural Resources and Senate Commerce Committees have started circulating discussion drafts of legislation that would reauthorize the nation’s premier federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA. It’s commendable that congressional leaders are reviewing how the law is working and whether improvements may be possible. But some ideas for reform would turn back the clock, ignoring the progress that’s been made since the law was last strengthened through reauthorization in 2007. As lawmakers in the House and Senate move towards consideration of reauthorization drafts, they would be well served to take a cautious approach, and recognize that their first obligation given current progress is to do no harm.

Last week’s reports are another reminder of just how important the fishing industry is to our economy.  We are encouraged that smart management is continuing to yield positive results for both fish stocks and fishermen. Through its past leadership, Congress deserves to share in the credit for this progress. It should build on that success to ensure it continues in the years ahead.

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Establishing a biological and ecological baseline of Cuba’s coastal ecosystems

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

A team of scientists from Cuba and EDF set sail on an expedition to assess the status and health of marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve in southern Cuba, one of the most pristine and intact coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

One morning we awoke to a small tuna boat pulling up alongside the RV Felipe Poey.  The crew of the “Unidad ‘77” had been targeting bonito, a small tuna-like fish, south of the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve. EDF scientists were eager to tap into the captain’s localized knowledge, and peppered him with questions that were ably translated by CIM’s Patricia González.   The captain described his fishing grounds, proudly displayed his catch and explained how his crew times their trips to coincide with certain phases of the moon.  Before shoving off, the captain asked for some cooking oil for his next voyage.  We traded oil for tuna and enjoyed fresh fish for many meals over the next few days.

 

A Scientific Baseline for Management:

Vessels like Unidad ‘77 are common in Cuba: small boats that work for the state, the livelihoods of their crews dependent upon a stable resource base.  This and future expeditions will synthesize scientific findings to inform the management of Cuba’s marine resources.  While our voyage was one of discovery, there were practical benefits too; the datasets we initiated will ultimately increase understanding of how ecosystems in Cuba work, which is essential to developing its coastal fishing economy in a sustainable manner.

Long-term monitoring programs are some of the most powerful tools that managers and scientists have to track and gauge ecosystem performance, variation and resilience.  They generate baseline information about the status of a target species or ecosystem. In many cases, baseline information is used to analyze an impacted region after a major change (such as a disturbance either natural or human produced), or as reference data to compare between areas of interest; for example, to compare Cuba to other regions of the Caribbean that have been heavily impacted.  Well-designed programs aid in evaluating impacts and help tailor recovery and management strategies. Additionally, long term monitoring data helps to identify areas that are more or less resilient to change over time. We can identify factors that enhance ecosystem health and resilience, as well as factors that have negative impacts.

But long-term fishery datasets are rare, and of those that exist, most are limited in their geographic scope.  The data collected during this expedition and future trips represent a significant step forward for Cuba.  Additional trips are planned in other regions of the country, alongside annual sampling across all of the monitoring regions including the Gardens of the Queen.

 

Data for Sustainable Fisheries Management:

Like Unidad 77’s crew, fishermen across Cuba rely upon on finite marine resources to survive. Better management, fortified by sound science, is essential to sustain livelihoods from the sea.  These jobs are a critical component in any coastal nation’s economy. Unfortunately, across the Caribbean and in Cuba, commercially valuable fish stocks are in jeopardy.  By better understanding fish populations, EDF can assist Cuban scientists, managers and fishermen in developing science-based recommendations for sustainable fishery management policies, such as cooperatives and other catch shares.

To inform management efforts, fishery data and fishery models are used to generate stock assessments which can provide estimates of the current population size of species, rate of fishing, time trends, and optimum levels of population size and harvest rates. In addition, the existing fishery dependent data can be used in combination with the fishery independent monitoring to provide stronger stock projections. Our October expedition focused on using fishery independent visual surveys, and began developing a fishery dependent monitoring program using beach seine. Combining both fishery independent and dependent monitoring enables a full view of the assemblage of fish that would otherwise be difficult to sample without the use of fishing gear — for example, fish that exist in shallow, sandy nearshore habitats. Read More »

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Collaborative research in the Gulf of Ana Maria & the Gardens of the Queen

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

A team of scientists from Cuba and EDF set sail on an expedition to assess the status and health of marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve in southern Cuba, one of the most pristine and intact coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

Cuba’s Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeras (CIEC) field station in the Gardens of the Queen is a cozy lodge in a quiet inlet tucked away on a mangrove-covered cay.  Near the Caballones Strait in the middle of the beautiful Gardens of the Queen, the station is a base for Cuban students and researchers studying Cuba’s unique coastal ecosystems.  On our research cruise in October 2013, scientists from EDF, CIEC, and the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) spent a few nights at the station, interspersed along the two week trip.  We used the shore time to compile data and organize gear, scramble for a few minutes of (very) limited Internet access to send updates home and simply enjoy a night on dry ground.

Sitting on the dock watching the sun set over the Gardens provided a chance to reflect on the work we were doing, and to ponder about the interconnectivity between the data sets we had collected.

A Diversity of Data:

During the cruise, researchers from CIM, CIEC, and EDF surveyed more than 30 sites across multiple habitat types, both inside and out of the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve. In the future, these sites will offer a baseline measure of connectivity between the offshore environments and nearshore fishing grounds.  During the expedition, researchers collected samples from commercially-valuable fish species, corals, sessile and mobile invertebrates and macroalgae.

All of the samples will undergo an independent stable isotope analysis, which allows researchers to quantify the relative contributions of individuals from each region/site to the fishing grounds and identify migration corridors among important habitats.  In short, it will help determine where an individual fish, coral colony, etc. originated from.  Combined with oceanographic and abiotic data collected during the expedition (for example, nutrients and sediments in seawater; tides, currents and waves), this information will reveal a more complete picture of interconnectivity between the various marine habitats in this unique region of the Caribbean.

We used a variety of methods to gather data.  To assess coral health, researchers used SCUBA to get close enough to the reef to document the diversity of species at each site and look for signs of degradation or disease.  To study which fish used shallow seagrass – mangrove habitats as either nursery grounds or as adult habitats, we used a beach seine net from the shoreline to corral, count, and measure individual fish.  By seeing which species of fish utilized the nearshore mangrove and seagrass beds, and then counting the fish on the nearby coral reefs with a visual transect method, we could begin to see, literally, the biological connections between these distinct habitats.  As some researchers were in the water, counting fish or documenting coral health, others collected water samples for chemical analysis or hauling in a sampling net. Read More »

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Breaking down barriers, building up trust: French & UK Channel scallop fisheries are ready for change

Photo: Matt Watson, MSC

Photo: Matt Watson, MSC

Dialogue is often the first step towards change, and is a sign of willingness to cooperate. And there was plenty of it at the Scallop Management Workshop held recently in Brixham, England. The event was organised by WWF and EDF in collaboration with GAP2, a research project funded by the European Commission. The forum provided an inclusive setting to engage industry on design and management of their fishery and to identify opportunities to strengthen the existing management framework.

For the first time, industry participants from both sides of the French/English Channel were in the same room discussing what changes are necessary to achieve greater sustainability for the shared scallop fishery. More than 60 people took time off the water and from their jobs to tackle the management challenge head on.   Appreciating differing perspectives was a central component of the gathering’s success.  It requires a good deal of patience and frankly, courage, when addressing issues of such cultural and economic importance.

"We have heard from scientists in the UK and in France – they are frustrated due to lack of resources from Government departments. Those of us in the industry have said 'we've got the platforms, come out on our boats and gather the data – teach us to become gatherers of data'.

Fishermen are willing to do that, but they need to be guided which takes time and resources…but it can happen, and I think it should happen, and I hope it does happen," said Jim Portus, Chief Exec, South Western Fish Producer Organisation.

It’s important to build on the momentum generated in Brixham with a follow up workshop focused on putting dialogue into action. Ideally, a more tailored group will be able to map out the steps required to inform appropriate management and accountability measures.

Government and scientists will be instrumental in identifying these needs, but the process should be taken forward through a co-managed, bottom-up approach with industry leading the discussions. A collaborative approach is imperative to produce a long-term management plan that achieves genuine sustainability and secures a viable and healthy fishery for now and for the future. We look forward to supporting the next steps of this discussion and learning more about the different needs of stakeholders in this important fishery.

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Tri-national collaboration & research in the Gardens of the Queen: The expedition begins

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

With support from the Waitt Foundation, EDF launched an initiative last year with the University of Havana's Center for Marine Research that allowed teams of Cuban, U.S. and Mexican scientists to carry out a series of expeditions to conduct vital new research on Cuba's remarkable—but understudied—marine and coastal ecosystems. 

A Special Caribbean Reef

Coral reefs are some of the world’s most imperiled marine habitats.  Impacts from climate change, pollution, overfishing and resource extraction combine to threaten reefs all over the world.  This is especially true in the Caribbean, where rapid development is underway across the Caribbean Sea, exacerbating the stressors on coral reefs and their related seagrass and mangrove ecosystems.

However, in one special corner of the Caribbean, the Gardens of the Queen archipelago, has remained remarkably resilient in the face of this collective pressure.  A Caribbean marine paradise, The Gardens consist of more than 600 cays and islands and is home to the largest contiguous reserve in the Caribbean at 2,170 square kilometers.  It supports a mosaic of mangrove, seagrass, patch reefs, fringing red and reef slope and is abundant with fish, sharks and other marine life.

To reach the Gardens of the Queen from mainland Cuba, one must bisect the Gulf of Ana Maria, a shallow-water system comprised of mangrove, seagrass and coral reefs. The ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and Gardens of the Queen together cover more than 10,000 square kilometers of productive habitat, making the entire archipelago a magnet for eco-tourism, including SCUBA diving and recreational fishing. Despite a growing eco-tourism industry and offering one of the best examples of a resilient Caribbean reef, much about the Gardens remains a mystery.

We are excited about our partnership with the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) and the Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeras (CIEC), and the potential for collaborative scientific exploration to yield foundational data  and information about marine habitats in and around the Gardens of the Queen.  Our inaugural expedition in (February) 2013 harnessed expertise from a tri-national team of scientists, which shared knowledge and scientific methods while surveying migratory shark populations off Cuba's south coast in the Gulf of Batabanó, to the west of the Gardens of the Queen.  In October 2013, scientists from the three organizations hopped aboard the RV Felipe Poey and RV Itajara to journey to the Gardens reserve itself, and the nearby Gulf of Ana Maria.  This 19-day expedition produced new data about the special Gardens ecosystems, and shared expertise among scientists from the three organizations, promoted collaboration, increased scientific capacity and forged new friendships. Read More »

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Community-based fishery management delivers individual and collective benefits in Belize

DSC_0088Recently, I traveled to Belize to see how TURF-reserves (territorial use rights for fishing co-located with no-take zones) are performing and learn about plans to expand them nationwide. The Mesoamerican Reef, the largest in the Atlantic Ocean, spans the Belizean coastline and is rich in biodiversity and a crucial source of income for thousands of fishers. Coastal fisheries, however, are at risk due to overfishing, and other pressures such as coastal development and climate change.

In Belize, fishers have seen a decline in their catch, and the Belize Fisheries Department is using TURF-reserves to provide fishers the right incentives to become better stewards of their resources.  As fishers take better care of their fishing area they will realize benefits and secure them for future generations.  This approach to fisheries management is known as “Managed Access.”  In 2008 the Belize Fisheries Department began working with EDF, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), and other Belizean institutions to deploy two Managed Access pilot projects.

Motivated by the success of the projects, the Belizean government is committed to expanding Managed Access to nearly half its fishing grounds, setting the country on a course to comprehensively rebuild and conserve its fisheries and precious biodiversity.

DSC_0074While in Belize, I saw fishermen, government managers, and environmental organizations working side by side to achieve this goal. Park Ranger Edwin Cabrera gave me a personal tour of one of the pilot sites, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.  Edwin works for TIDE, the local organization that co-manages the reserve with the Belize Fisheries Department. He was preparing to head out to the Port Honduras guardhouse, where he’ll spend two weeks on patrol.   Enforcement is critical to the success of Managed Access because it ensures that only those who have licenses to fish in the area are fishing, that they’re following the rules inside the TURF, and that no one is fishing in the no-take zones. Edwin and I talked a lot about how the TURF is working, what his job involves, and what kind of challenges the rangers are facing. The rangers are a dedicated group; they work under difficult conditions and have to cover an expansive body of water. Under the TURF, fishermen work closely with Edwin to protect an area they are extremely invested in.

DSC_0129Compliance with regulations has increased dramatically.  Fishers themselves are now turning in offenders, signaling growing support for TURFs. Edwin is encouraged by the improvements he has seen in management and conservation of the area in the past three years. Approximately 70% of fishers fishing in the TURFs report that they are catching more fish than they were before Managed Access, resulting from the changes they’ve made as they become stewards of their marine resources.

The Fish Forever partnership is partnering with the Belizean government to expand upon the success at PHMR and Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve. Fish Forever is a partnership of EDF, Rare, and UCSB to reform small-scale fisheries in the developing tropics through the creation of TURF-reserves in five countries and will help to accelerate adoption of new TURF-reserves in Belize.  Expanding and implementing Managed Access isn’t easy. Accustomed to an open access fishery, transitioning to TURF-reserves can be difficult for both fishers and managers. This is why it’s very important to have open and honest conversations with fishers – the primary users and beneficiaries of local fisheries.  The Belize Fisheries Department, Rare, and EDF held a series of workshops throughout the country while I was there to talk to fishers about how to best support them as they make the change to Managed Access.

For example, one requirement of managed access in Belize is that all license holders must report all their catch. The fishers we met with see the benefit – knowing more about what you catch means that you can manage it better – but that doesn’t mean that filling out logbooks is easy. It takes a lot of time, you may have to travel far to drop them off, some fishers can’t read or write and there are multiple local names for lots of fish in different regions. Most importantly, fishers fear that this information could be used against them. We talked through these difficulties and then proposed ways to resolve them – such as have someone collecting data at a landing site, holding trainings on filling out logbooks, providing forms in both English and Spanish, using drawings and diagrams on the sheets, and hosting scientists to present on data and communicate how exactly it will be used. This type of conversation ensures that as managed access is implemented, fishers are part of the process and are given the opportunity to provide input and advice on the best way to manage marine resources.

DSC_0036I came away impressed by the progress underway in Belize.  This success is spreading by word of mouth and new groups of Belizean fishers are looking to implement TURFs in their own fishing grounds.  They are motivated and excited to participate in the joint effort to protect their future livelihoods.  Managed Access has its challenges, rendering advance engagement and coordination with fishers essential to gaining their support.  Next time I’m in Belize, I’m confident that Managed Access will have spread its roots across the country, that fishers are seeing consistent increases in their catch and income and that they see a secure future for themselves and future generations.

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