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Fishermen Embrace Change in the Sinaloa, Mexico Shrimp Fishery: Part II

The fisherman’s story of frustration with compliance issues under the Sinaloa Shrimp fishery catch share was what I and two of my colleagues continuously heard during our outreach trip in Mexico in July.  After spending a month in fishing camps along the Sinaloa coast giving presentations on catch shares and facilitating other exercises to communicate and dissect the issues of fishery management, we believe the fishermen we reached now understand that achieving success through catch share management will take efforts from all the stakeholders: NGOs, government, and most importantly the fishermen themselves. 

Although it is easy to become frustrated with the challenges of implementing a new fishery management program, we stressed that real lasting change will take time and that our workshops aimed to empower fishermen to begin solving their own problems with compliance. 
 
One thing that has always interested us is what type of management fishermen would implement if they could choose.  To find this out, we played a “fishing game” with three rounds that mimic the problems in the fishery for both the fishermen and the authorities, while inviting fishermen to solve these issues using their own knowledge.

The first round represents the race to fish; the second round a command and control management, and in the third round the fishermen themselves are allowed to make up their own rules.  In many cases the third round resulted in some form of catch shares.  In response, we communicated that although the realities fishermen face are bleak, without their participation and compliance we will never see the third round in reality.

Implementing catch shares in Mexico has many challenges, and illegal fishing is one main roadblock.  In 2009, a historic year for fisheries in Mexico, a TAC was set and shares were allocated for the artisanal blue shrimp fishery.  NGOs and government were working together to improve fishery management, something rare in any country.  

Though in a land where the laws are written well but commonly disobeyed, it has become clear that with catch shares the story is no different.  For this reason it has been of utmost importance for us to maintain contact with the fishermen and continue our presence on the ground.  Adaptive management and design continues to be our motto as we work with fishermen to implement innovative solutions and design to confront these challenges.

During our trip, I was a proud catch share cheerleader, and for this shrimp season in Sinaloa we have restored the faith in many fishermen that catch shares equals change.   Now we must continue to work with fishermen to help design solutions that will turn theory into practice and implement innovative enforcement programs, which will reward those who are part of a catch share and gather their support as advocates and better stewards of their resource.

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Fishermen Embrace Change in the Sinaloa, Mexico Shrimp Fishery: Part I

Docked boats in Sinaloa, Mexico

Docked boats in Sinaloa, Mexico

Over the past two months EDF’s outreach team traveled over 200 miles up and down the coastal state of Sinaloa, Mexico visiting five major lagoons that participated in the artisanal shrimp fishery catch share program.   We were all eager to listen to fishermen’s concerns and see first-hand how this new catch share management program was progressing. The artisanal shrimp fleet opened under a catch share management system in September 2009, an initiative of the federal fisheries management authorities – Conapesca and Inapesca, with the support of EDF, WWF, and Noroeste Sustentable – a local Mexican NGO. 

Mexican fishermen during a fishing cooperative meeting on catch shares

Mexican fishermen during a fishing cooperative meeting on catch shares

Conventional wisdom says that people are generally resistant to change, but what we heard from over 1,000 shrimp fishermen was quite the opposite.  In fact, these fishermen want change and are ready to embrace the change that catch shares represents for them and their fishery. Furthermore, EDF’s outreach team was far from the middle aged Mexican male bureaucrat official that is status quo for these fishermen. Without anticipating it, we ended up representing change simply because we were a group of women from all different parts of Mexico coming to talk to them about how to keep their fishery alive and thriving. 

It then became our goal to cultivate trust and encourage these fishermen to “keep the faith” that catch shares is a change for the better.  This story portrays the sentiments of many fishermen that our team met in dozens of fishing camps. 

Imagine you are an artisanal fisherman fishing in the lagoons and bays of Sinaloa, Mexico.  You are a member of the same cooperative your father was during his days as a fishermen; you are a proud fisherman because you work alongside family and neighbors on the waters of the once-bountiful Gulf of California – it is your community and your livelihood. 

Occasionally you daydream about your father’s fish tales of when the mangrove forests were lush and sprawling and the lagoons were teeming with big blue shrimp.  A season’s catch was enough to buy a new pickup truck or take the kids to the doctor and send them to school with new books and tennis shoes. Unfortunately times have changed… 

Today mangroves are being cleared for shrimp farms producing smaller, cheaper shrimp that lowers market prices of all shrimp.  The lagoons are filling up due to sediment washing down from the growing number of agricultural fields, as Sinaloa has become the largest vegetable producing state in Mexico.  As a result, more and more pesticides and other pollutants are entering the lagoons causing shrimp hatches to decline.  Last year’s catch barely put food on the table for your family, and your cooperative is battling debt.  You feel trapped and know that something has to change if you want to return to those days of plenty.  No one is playing by the rules, more and more illegal fishermen are poaching the lagoons, and traditional enforcement efforts are futile. 

But, this past year seemed different.

This past fishing season a team of government and NGO representatives arrived in your community to talk to you about catch shares, an innovative management system that establishes a total allowable catch for the fishery and allocates shares to each cooperative with the goal of ensuring a sustainable catch and improving the value of the fishery.   Meanwhile, Conapesca has paved a brave new path by installing microchips on all the skiffs, handing out identification cards for all licensed fishermen and sending an independent company to monitor your cooperative’s landings.

You listen attentively in the workshops, and considering your circumstance the arguments are compelling.  You speak with your fellow fishermen and everything looks quite promising so you decide to support the transition to catch shares and wait to see how it plays out in practice  You prepare your skiff knowing your cooperative is only getting a small percentage of a total number of shrimp that you have to share with 140 cooperatives, 5,988 skiffs and more than 10,000 fellow fishermen.

The season opens and the usual “race to fish” seems to have subsided.  Unfortunately though, it is an “El Niño” year so the temperatures seem colder than normal and you are catching significantly less than last year.  While the monitoring company appears to be doing their job, you can’t help but notice that many illegal fishermen are still on the water, and can easily land and commercialize their catch – enforcement is lacking. Some of them you can’t blame because they are locals who are just trying to provide for their families. But your frustration mounts as temporary fishermen from other areas, even ones who migrate back from the United States for this lucrative short season, dip into the catch.

You feel robbed because you are playing by the rules, catching your share but know that there are still too many leaks in the system. The season comes to a close and it feels as though little has changed.

Stay tuned for more on the Sinaloa story …

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More Press Coverage of How Catch Shares Make Fishing Safer

In Sunday’s Anchorage Daily News story: Deadliest Catch? Salmon, Not Crab, fisheries journalist Laine Welch writes about new statistics on where fishing fatalities are the worst. It turns out crab in the Bering Sea is not the deadliest catch. That fishery claimed the lives of 12 crabbers since 2000, while other fisheries saw many more deaths [Gulf of Mexico shrimp (55), Atlantic scallop (44) and Alaska salmon (39)].

Welch says the Bering Sea crabbers attribute the increased safety to the shift to catch share management in 2005. She explains that only one life has been lost since 2005, compared to 77 deaths between 1991 and 2005.

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A Brief History of Fisheries

Rod Fujita, EDF Senior Scientist & Director of Oceans Innovations

Rod Fujita, EDF Senior Scientist & Director of Oceans Innovations

In the beginning, there were no controls at all on fishing.  This worked alright when there were not many of us around, but soon people started noticing that fish were disappearing in coral reefs, bays, and nearshore waters – in some places. This apparently started happening thousands of years ago. 

As with any other resource that is not owned by anybody in particular and is used by people who are not well organized, fish tend to get overexploited.  This is because individual fishermen know that any fish they leave in the water for noble purposes like conservation or future generations could just get caught by another fisherman.

Ancient peoples solved this problem by establishing exclusive fishing grounds.  However, such traditions were generally replaced (with a few notable exceptions in Hawaii, the Gulf of Maine, some South Pacific islands, parts of Africa, and other places) with policies and laws that encouraged access for all (“open access” or “fisheries modernization”) and the extraction of maximum sustainable yield.  Over the years, this led to an “arms race” in some fisheries as technology entered the picture. This “arms race” occurred not because of rampant greed or a desire to wreck the environment – it was an entirely reasonable response to the incentives created by open access. 

Fishermen tried to win the competition to maximize catch by catching as much fish as quickly as possible, leading to giant trawlers with enormous, powerful engines and sophisticated fish-finding equipment.  Again, these technological innovations were rational responses to the incentives created by open access. 

Managers tried to control fisheries first by limiting the efficiency of fishermen.  This, however, sets up a cat and mouse game between managers and fishermen who are still trying to win the competition, and guess who usually wins?  Innovation and ingenuity in industry almost always out-runs regulation (witness the fancy financial instruments that helped destroy the global economy recently; regulators could not even understand these innovations in the financial sector, let alone get ahead of them).

Managers next introduced catch limits, which successfully limited catches in many fisheries but in many cases wrought economic havoc, as suddenly there were way too many fishermen and way too much gear chasing fish around (“overcapitalization”).  Costs were high and revenues low due to low prices resulting from supply gluts, leading to strong political pressure to ease up on catch limits (e.g. the West Coast groundfish disaster) and attacks on the underlying science.  There was also pressure to forgo catch limits altogether and stick with effort controls (e.g. the New England groundfish collapse). 

The crazy economics of open access fisheries is one of the main reasons some countries (including the U.S.) subsidize fisheries – some analysts think that globally, subsidies might be as high as $30-34 billion a year  – in support of an industry that generates only $80-90 billion annually . While effort controls and catch limits are working well in some fisheries, generally speaking, such measures — divorced from measures to address incentives to compete for maximum catches — have not worked out too well for lots of fisheries.  Sometimes conservation goals are met, but the fishery fails economically – people lose their jobs, their vessels, and sometimes even communities because fishing costs are too high and revenues are too low due to restrictive regulations.  In other cases, the economics are good (for a while) but these gains are often achieved at the expense of conservation, resulting in population decline and collapse. 

The answer is to tackle the incentives straight on by strengthening the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of fishermen.  This can be done in many ways.  One way is to allocate or auction secure shares of a scientifically determined sustainable catch level for individual fishermen and communities, and then designing and enforcing rules to ensure that the program achieves its social and economic goals.  This kind of management is known as catch shares

Another way is to designate fishing territories (another form of catch share) that give fishermen a sense of ownership and stewardship over their local resources.  Yet another way is to create cooperatives that allow fishermen and other partners to pool assets, share skills, and cooperate rather than compete. 

These solutions – catch shares and cooperatives – have been shown to stop the competition to maximize catch and reduce the risk of fishery collapse substantially.  In fact, if the historical performance of catch share systems is a good guide, then many of the fishery collapses we’ve seen since the 1950s could have been avoided if all fisheries had been under catch share management.  Similarly, extensive research has shown that people can stop destructive races to extract natural resources – from forests to water to fish – by organizing themselves into cooperatives with certain rights, rules, and responsibilities. 

There are solutions to overfishing, bycatch, and habitat degradation due to fishing.  Designing them well and getting them implemented pose great challenges – but the potential to save fish, habitats, fishermen, and fishing communities makes it all worthwhile.

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Somewhere Over the Gulf Coast: A “Glee” and BP Oil Disaster Mashup

As posted on EDF’s Climate 411 blog by EDF Executive Director, David Yarnold.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jPjJPVdR4g

From a comfortable distance – in our classrooms, around our water coolers, through pictures on TV or newspapers – the BP oil disaster is depressing and horrific.

But up close where every breath you take fills your mouth, nose, and lungs with the toxic mix of oil and industrial chemicals, where you talk with resilient and proud locals and hear their frustration, anger, and concern, where the disturbing and unforgettable scenes of a precious and fragile ecosystem in crisis are just seared into your mind – all of it is just so bad, so repugnant, so wrong in the most profound way.

Two days in the Gulf of Mexico left me enraged – and deeply resolved. Both the widespread damage and the inadequacy of the response effort exceeded my worst fears.

Seeing terns and gulls sitting on the oil-soaked booms that were supposed to be protecting their fragile island marshes – booms that had been blown or washed ashore – may have been the ultimate symbol of the devastation unfolding in the Gulf.

Or maybe it was the lone shrimp trawler, aimlessly circling off the coast, dragging a saturated gauze-like boom behind it, accomplishing nearly nothing.

Or maybe it was the desperation of the fishermen whose livelihoods had been snatched away by BP’s recklessness – and yet want nothing more than to see the moratorium on drilling lifted so their economies don’t dry up, as well.

I’d spent a full day on the Gulf and we ended up soaked in oily water and seared by the journey into the heart of ecological darkness.

By Tuesday night, I was home. My throat burned and my head was foggy and dizzy as I showed my pictures and my flip-camera video to my wife, Fran, and my 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, on the TV in the family room.

Images of the gooey peanut-butter colored oil and the blackened wetlands flashed by. Pictures of dolphins diving into our oily wake and Brown Pelicans futilely trying to pick oil off their backs popped on the screen. And, out of nowhere, Nicole put on the music from the season finale of Glee.

With all these horrific images on the screen, she had turned on the show’s final song of the year, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” The song, a slow, sweet, ukulele and guitar-driven version, couldn’t have added a deeper sense of tragic irony.

I choked up. And then that resolve kicked in: I wanted anyone/everyone to see what our addiction to oil had done to the Gulf and to contrast that with the sense of hope and possibility that “Somewhere” exudes.

Long story short, last weekend, Peter Rice, Chairman of Fox Networks Entertainment, gave Environmental Defense Fund the green light to use the song. The pictures you’ll see were shot by two incredibly talented EDF staffers, Yuki Kokubo and Patrick Brown – and a few are mine.

The inspiration was Nicole’s. This is for her, and for all of our kids – and theirs to come.

David Yarnold is executive director of Environmental Defense Fund.

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Louisiana Oil Spill to Seriously Impact Marine Life and Fishing Communities in the Gulf; Federal Government Must Act Swiftly

NASA satellite view of the Louisiana coastline showing the oil spill creeping toward the Mississippi Delta.

NASA satellite view of the Louisiana coastline showing the oil spill creeping toward the Mississippi Delta.

The ocean ecosystems and fishing communities in the Gulf of Mexico face potentially catastrophic impacts as a result of the 5,000 barrels of oil a day spewing out of the sub-seabed and into the waters off the coast of Louisiana. Oil moving throughout vast expanses of Gulf waters and ocean habitat and coming ashore on the massive Gulf Coast wetlands directly threatens not just the reef fish, oysters, crabs and shrimp that actually live there, but also many other species that use the reefs, marshes and other wetlands as nurseries, or that depend upon them for prey which lives or develops there.

The beaches that are likely to be coated with oil also provide important feeding grounds for shorebirds and fish alike, and essential nesting areas for sea turtles. In addition, a large number of ocean species release larvae to drift with the currents in near-surface waters — exactly where the oil currently is — in their most vulnerable life stages.

Together, a huge fraction of the fish production in the region is at risk – a body blow both to marine ecosystems and the multi-billion dollar coastal industries tied to commercial fishing and seafood, and sport fisheries and recreation. It is especially sad that this catastrophe threatens the fishing communities of the Gulf that have become national leaders in transforming oceans fisheries to models of sustainability. EDF calls on the federal government to act swiftly to minimize preventable damage, but also with compassion to bring aid and assistance to already-reeling coastal communities.

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