Selected tags: cooperative management

Cooperation beats competition

By Sarah Poon

Whether in school, at work, or at play, we’ve all experienced the value of working collectively to achieve a common goal.  Many fisheries around the world are successfully managed by providing a structure for collaboration between fishermen via Cooperative catch shares.

In a Cooperative catch share, one or more groups of fishing participants, or “Cooperatives”, are allocated a secure portion of the catch or a dedicated fishing area.  In exchange, they are responsible for accepting certain management responsibilities.  Many fishing communities around the world have traditionally managed their coastal resources cooperatively, leveraging their local knowledge and relationships to achieve common goals.  Recognizing the success of this approach, many fisheries are building upon this traditional practice, while also adapting to the realities of today’s increasingly global fishery markets.

There are hundreds of Cooperatives around the world.  They have formed in different ways and have various functions and capacities.  But when it comes to their ability to manage fisheries, they share a common (perhaps obvious) theme: Cooperatives work best when people cooperate.  Cooperatives have demonstrated that fishermen working together (often hand-in-hand with fishery managers) can improve fishery science, tailor management to local conditions, increase profits and respond to complex management challenges such as discarding and habitat impacts.

Perhaps the most famous example of a well-functioning Cooperative is the United States Bering Sea and Aleutian Island (BSAI) Crab Rationalization Program which is featured on the popular television program, The Deadliest Catch.  Prior to Cooperative implementation, fishermen competed with one another in an intense and dangerous race to fish, resulting in overcapitalization, overfishing and unsafe work conditions.  Now, under the BSAI Crab Rationalization Program, fishermen are assigned a secure share of the annual catch, and they collaborate rather than compete by sharing information and working together to increase the productivity of their businesses. Because the season is longer and there is no race to fish, fishermen can go out when the weather is fair, avoiding deadly situations.

In the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, artisanal fishermen have worked together for centuries in traditional fishing guilds or “cofradías” to manage the goose barnacle fishery.  However, inadequate fishery science and a rise in demand for this traditional culinary delicacy led to a near collapse of the fishery.  Recognizing the management potential of the cofradías, the Galician fisheries ministry granted exclusive harvesting privileges—also known as Territorial Use Rights for Fishing (TURFs)—to the traditional fishing guilds.  In turn, the cofradías develop annual fishery management plans, participate in monitoring, and ensure sustainable harvest by their members. By working together in their cofradías and alongside fishery managers, fishermen have helped drive the recovery of the goose barnacle population and stabilized profits.

These are just two examples of many fisheries around the world in which a secure stake in the fishery has empowered groups of fishermen to participate in responsible management.  Additional stories of fisheries transformed through a Cooperative catch share approach can be found below and as part of our comprehensive fisheries toolkit.  Two new guides provide step-by-step guidance to designing Cooperative catch shares, including one for quota-based programs and one for Territorial Use Rights for Fishing.

Japanese Common Fishing Rights System

This program is a model for managing mobile nearshore species through a coordinated system of co-management between federal and regional governments and local fishermen organizations.

Mexican Vigía Chico Cooperative Spiny Lobster Territorial Use Rights for Fishing Program

The most productive fishing Cooperative in the Mexican-Caribbean since 1982, this area-based fishery management program has steadied the Punta Allen lobster catch while most other areas declined.

United States Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Non-Pollock (Amendment 80) Cooperative Program

A great example of a cooperative catch share, this program ended the race to fish, drastically reduced bycatch rates, and allows slower and more targeting harvesting by fishermen.

United States Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish Cooperative Program

Launched as a pilot in 2007, the successful rockfish management program was extended for ten years in 2011 years with some key design changes to improve upon the original program design.

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Revitalizing the Mexican Corvina Fishery with Sustainable Management

Corvina Fishing Boat

Mexican fishermen with a catch of Corvina. Photo Credit: Silvia Yee

For many years the short, six week commercial Corvina fishing season in the Upper Gulf of California was marked by a frenzied race to fish, with as many as 600 boats in the water at the same time. Beginning in late February, and aligned with moon cycles, this species gathers in the Colorado River delta to spawn, a yearly ritual eagerly awaited by the local fishermen. And so every year, with so much fish to be had, and so many fishermen, thousands of tons would hit the market simultaneously. This drove the price down and resulted in even more fishing effort, which would even further depress prices – to values below that of a recycled plastic bottle. It was a vicious cycle that has become all too familiar in fisheries in Latin America and around the world. Scientists have long advised that, if unchecked, this way of fishing could lead to the complete collapse of Corvina, having dire consequences for a region with very limited economic alternatives. It is estimated that Corvina represents as much as 60% of all fish sold in Mexico City during this time of year, coinciding with Lent, when seafood consumption is highest. 

Three years ago EDF, fishermen, and critical partners like Noroeste Sustentable (NOS), the Academy for Systemic Change, and the state and federal governments, set out to bring catch share management to this fishery to give fishermen and others a stake in its biological and economic success. In 2012 a new system was put into place: a scientifically-based Total Allowable Catch (a limit on the amount of fish that can be caught) was published ahead of the season, and the first-ever co-management agreements were brokered in the largest fishing community – Golfo de Santa Clara, which represents roughly 80% of the total catch – that included a price agreement and a per-tide, per-skiff allocation. Central to the good preliminary results of this new system was the agreement reached with leading stakeholders in the region, including Guillermina García and other important local seafood buyers. Ms. García and her peers agreed to a price floor in exchange for the fishermen’s promise to stick to their allocation and not flood the market, allowing the buyers to time their supply to the market in Mexico City. The agreements worked and the price floor held for most of the season. Our initial analysis suggests that fishermen made more money while catching approximately 50% fewer fish over the same period of time.

Dinora Gallardo, a local businesswoman, explained the end result best:

This system is worth it, and we are spending less. Before, we were paid 4-6, maybe 8 pesos per kilo. Now we are catching less, but if you make the calculations with the limited catch, and the higher price, we are actually making more, especially because we are out fishing less.Read More »

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