Encouraging new evidence suggests that the bulk of the worlds fisheries – including small-scale, often non-industrialized fisheries on which millions of people depend for food – could be sustained using community-based co-management.
“The majority of the worlds fisheries are not – and never will be – managed by strong centralized governments with top-down rules and the means to enforce them,” according to Nicolas Gutiérrez, a University of Washington doctoral student in aquatic and fishery sciences who is lead author of a paper that went online Jan. 5 in the journal Nature. “Our findings show that many community-based co-managed fisheries around the world are well managed under limited central government structure, provided communities of fishers are proactively engaged.
“Community-based co-management is the only realistic solution for the majority of the worlds fisheries and is an effective way to sustain aquatic resources and the livelihoods of communities depending on them.”
Under such a management system, responsibility for resources is shared between the government and users. On the smallest scale, this might involve mayors and fishers from different villages agreeing to avoid fishing in each others waters. Examples on a larger scale include Chiles most valuable fishery – the snail called “loco,” also known as Chilean abalone – that started in 1988 with local fishers in a single community cooperating along a 2-mile (4-km) stretch of the coastline and today involves 700 co-managed areas with 20,000 artisanal fishers along 2,500 miles (4,000 km) of coastline.
While case studies of individual co-managed fisheries exist, this new work used data on 130 fisheries in 44 developed and developing nations and included such things as marine and freshwater ecosystems as well as diverse fishing gears and targeted species.
Statistical analysis shows co-management typically fails without such keys things as:
- Prominent community leadership and social cohesion
- Clear incentives that, for example, give fishers security over the amount they can catch or the area in which they can fish
- Protected areas, especially when combined with regulated harvest inside or outside the area, and when the protected area is proposed and monitored by local communities
“Our results show that additional resources should be spent on efforts to identify community leaders and build social capital rather than only imposing management tactics without user involvement,” says Gutiérrez.
The new study further confirms the theories of Elinor Ostrom, who won a Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for challenging the conventional wisdom that common property is always poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement, she said, to handle conflicts of interest.
“Elinor Ostrom was right,” says Omar Defeo, University of Uruguay professor, scientific coordinator of Uruguays national fishery management program and co-author on the paper. “With community-based co-management, fishers are capable of self organizing, maintaining their resources and achieving sustainable fisheries.”
After reading the paper in advance of publication, Ostrom called the work “fabulous” and said, “It was very exciting to see the findings about community cohesion founded on norms, trust, communication, commitment and respect for leaders being the most important attributes leading to successful fisheries co-management.”
For the Nature paper, Gutiérrez assembled data from scientific literature, government and non-government reports and personal interviews for 130 co-managed fisheries looking to score them on eight outcomes – ranging from community empowerment to sustainable catches to increases in abundance of fish and prices of what was caught.
With 40 percent of the fisheries scoring positively on 6, 7 or all 8 outcomes, and another 25 percent scoring positively on 4 or 5 of the outcomes, the co-authors write that community-based co-management “holds great promise for successful and sustainable fisheries worldwide.”
Ray Hilborn, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences and a co-author on the Nature paper, was also co-author of a paper in Science in 2009 that found that many of the major industrial fisheries and fishery ecosystems were becoming more sustainable.
“This new paper further illustrates the worlds growing ability to manage fisheries sustainably and that the tools appropriate for industrial fisheries in countries with strong central governments are quite different from those in small-scale fisheries or countries without strong central governments,” he says.
The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright-Organization of American States Ecology Program and Pew Charitable Trusts.
For more information:
– Gutiérrez (Gutiérrez is in Uruguay, returning to the University of Washington Jan. 11), cell phone in Uruguay 598-9461-1830, firstname.lastname@example.org, cell once back at UW 206-290-3858
– Hilborn, email@example.com, office 206-543-3587 (Hilborn will be in New Zealand starting Jan. 1 and plans to check his e-mail and office phone)
– Defeo, 598-2409 2969, firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Uruguays time zone is three hours ahead of EST and six hours ahead of PST
Figures and images available for news media: http://tinyurl.com/co-managefisheries
Sources willing to comment who are not co-authors:
– Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University professor, 2009 Nobel Prize winner, is quoted in the body of the news release. She is traveling and generally unavailable Jan. 3-16. For interviews once she returns, contact public information officer Stephen Hinnefeld, email@example.com.
“While many previous studies have detailed changes to fish stocks, this study takes an innovative look at the social networks that drive fisheries to success or failure. Importantly, it draws a detailed road map for building and supporting sustainable fisheries through community co-management, providing possible solutions for scores of poorly managed fisheries. My main worry is that local successes achieved through co-management may be imperiled by more large-scale factors, such as foreign or illegal fishing, and changes in climate.
“I found it noteworthy that this study emphasizes both quota management and protected areas as key tools in achieving successful management. In previous discussions these were often treated as alternatives, rather than necessary complements. Most importantly, leadership at a community level is revealed as the ʽglueʼ that makes these solutions work in practice.”
– Boris Worm
Associate professor, Dalhousie University, Canada
“Nick Gutiérrez and his colleagues have assembled a one-of-a-kind database to examine the factors leading to successfully co-managed fisheries. In my mind they make two really important findings. First, co-managed fisheries can work very well, possibly even better than top-down approaches that give fishermen little say in the management of the resource. Second, catch shares and appropriately designed marine protected areas seem to be ‘enabling conditions’ for successfully co-managed fisheries. This makes sense: good natural resource stewardship often follows when the resource users themselves are given a stake in the long-term health of the resource.”
– Christopher Costello, professor
Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara
“This important research shows that a better understanding of ecological, social and economic interactions – and shared responsibilities for management – can yield sustainable well-being for ecosystems and fishers alike.”
– Phillip Taylor, section head
National Science Foundations Division of Ocean Sciences
Contact through Cheryl Dybas, public information officer, 703-292-7734, firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s encouraging to see new models for sustainable fisheries management being proposed, especially those that incorporate the human dimension as a key component in management solutions,”
– David Garrison, director
National Science Foundations biological oceanography program
Contact through Cheryl Dybas, public information officer, 703-292-7734, email@example.com
“This is an outstanding study that shows fisheries management is far from a lost cause. It also provides some invaluable practical insights on the recipe for success: nurture local leadership, make the broader investments in communities that build social cohesion, and promote and support catch share arrangements and area protection. If policy-makers, line ministries, local government officials and development practitioners all take note it could improve the lives of millions.”
– Stephen Hall
Director general, WorldFish Center, Penang, Malaysia
“This study clearly shows the potential for co-management to solve commons problems in fisheries. Success is most highly correlated with the number of co-management attributes employed. As in many of our efforts to manage the commons it is a question of and not or – multiple redundant approaches lead to resilience and a better chance of success.”
– Robert Costanza
Portland State University professor, director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Oregon
Costanza is in New Zealand until Jan. 16 but can be contacted via e-mail.
Three examples of successful, community-based co-management:
Written by Nicolas Gutiérrez
UW doctoral student in aquatic and fishery sciences
– Chile: Co-managed fishery of “loco” snail, also known as Chilean abalone
The “loco” snail is the most economically important shellfish in Chile. Until the late 1980s, the fishery was open access, meaning that anyone could extract seafood from the sea. Fishers had no incentives to cooperate and short-term individualism led to resource overexploitation. In 1988, fishers, scientists and government set up a co-management agreement in a fishing cove covering 4-km of seashore, where only local fishers where allowed to extract loco. Collective management behavior and a sense of empowerment associated with the co-management policy generated a strong cohesive group structure. Simple internal rules and rigorous self-enforcement facilitated conflict resolution. This co-managed area significantly improved the social welfare of the local community. Fishers became convinced that this was like a savings account in a bank. They were saving resources. The experiment was a success and caused a domino effect throughout Chile. Two decades after the initial experiment, more than 700 areas are co-managed along 4,000 km of the Chilean coast and involving more than 20,000 artisanal fishers. This co-management model resulted in one of the most successful abalone fisheries worldwide.
– Philippines: San Salvador fishers, local government cooperate on marine conservation
San Salvador, an island village in Philippines, has been inhabited by three generations of residents. The initial immigrants, who were mostly farmers from the mainland, did not have a clear tradition or knowledge on fisheries management. Until the late 1960s, village residents recalled an abundance of coastal resources and a lack of resource-use conflicts, enabling an open and unrestricted access to the fishery. In the 1970s, partly due to influx of new immigrants, the scenario began to change and progressively devastated San Salvadors fishing grounds. The financial and regulatory limitations of the centralized government increasingly became apparent. Local fishers felt helpless about the situation and were too fragmented to embark on any collective action to stop resource degradation. A marine conservation project, implemented in 1989, allowed the fishing community and the local government to jointly regenerate fishery resources through coral reef management, clearly defined and legitimate property rights, vigorous enforcement activities and community-based marine reserves. The San Salvador experience attests to how a community can rise above the obstacles associated with de facto open access nature of fisheries. It offers hope to many small island communities in a similar situation with an unwavering tenacity to avert resource deterioration.
– San Diego, Calif.: Sea urchin fishery on road to co-management
In the United States, many fisheries are now moving toward community-based co-management. One prominent case is the San Diego sea urchin fishery. About 6 years ago, Peter Halmay, a sea urchin diver with more than 30 years in the fishery, started to collect information on his own, not only on the harvest but also about biological information of the species, other organisms of the faunal community and habitat characteristics. In collaboration with scientists, the analysis of that information contributed to the overall knowledge of the exploited species and its ecosystem. As a result of Peters enthusiasm, keen leadership and commitment, more than 60 percent of the San Diego sea urchin fishers are now collecting information at very fine spatial and temporal scales. This model has been expanded to other fisheries in the region (for example, the Santa Barbara lobster fishery). The San Diego Watermen’s Association is today a strong and cohesive organization that believes that community-based management is the approach needed for the long-term sustainability and profitability of the fishery.