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Research from Belize Sheds Light on how to Better Manage Small-Scale Fisheries

Posted: Thursday,November 16, 2017. 6:43 p.m. CST.

By BBN Staff: Small-scale fisheries are critically important for the provision of food security, livelihoods, and economic development for billions of people.

Most of these fisheries appear to be under-performing with respect to conservation, food production, revenue, and the quality of the livelihoods they can support.

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According to a recent study and newly published research, Belize is among a handful of countries that are successfully innovating and pioneering solutions to ensure the sustainability of small-scale fisheries.

Many factors related to successful small-scale fisheries management have been articulated in previous research and through practical experience, including strong leadership, co-management, secure catch or marine tenure privileges, and scientific assessment of fishery status.  

Both the pathways and tools employed in fishery reform vary, but there is a growing consensus that the integration of effective fisheries governance and science-based management is crucial for success.

Together with fishermen and women, community members, managers and scientists have identified some major lessons that arise from case studies in Belize, Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines.

Newly published research (“Integrating Science-Based Co-management, Partnerships, Participatory Processes and Stewardship Incentives to Improve the Performance of Small-Scale Fisheries” in the October 2017 issue of Frontiers in Marine Science) highlights challenges and lessons learned from Belize, where government, fishermen and women, and Non-Government Organizations (NGO) are developing science-based solutions for sustainable fishing.

 The Belizean co-authors of the study from the Belize Fisheries Department, Environmental Defense Fund, Toledo Institute for Development and Environment, and Wildlife Conservation Society found that successful science-based management in Belize includes fisher participation and empowerment, partnership across sectors and community buy-in, and sound scientific analysis.

The experience in Belize is playing a major role in driving global innovation in small-scale fisheries management. Finding ways to evaluate small-scale fisheries means gaining a deeper insight into the pathways and tools used to transition fisheries to more science based solutions. Small-scale fisheries occur in many different governance and data contexts. By identifying attributes of successful small-scale fishery reform efforts and mainstreaming this dialogue, we can begin to understand what conditions result in fisheries meeting environmental, social and economic goals. Just over the past year, delegations from around the world, including Indonesia, Philippines, Morocco, Honduras, and Mexico have participated in exchanges with the Government of Belize and Belizean NGOs and fishers.

Embedding science-based fisheries management within governance systems that create incentives aligned with management objectives, such as strengthened traditional tenure systems, co-management systems, and well-designed rights-based systems has the potential for dramatically improving the performance of small-scale fisheries, just as it has for large-scale fisheries.

Larry Epstein, Director at Environmental Defense Fund, says “Belize is already seeing evidence that the combination of empowered fisher organizations, co-management, and managed access is generating improvements on the water.”  These solutions are being applied in every fishing community and fishing area in Belize today.

As a result, stakeholders in Belize are experiencing how the performance of small-scale fisheries can be improved across a variety of contexts. Based on the evidence from Belize and other case studies, the authors of the study found that the solution often includes:

1.    Participatory processes empower fishers, increase compliance, and support integration of local and scientific knowledge;

2.    Partnership across sectors improves communication and community buy-in;

3.    Scientific analysis can lead fishery reform and be directly applicable to co-management structures.

The research suggests that a fully integrated approach that implements a participatory process to generate a scientific basis for fishery management (e.g., data collection, analysis, design) and to design management measures among stakeholders will increase the probability that small-scale fisheries will implement science-based management and improve their performance.

For Belize, this means the long-term sustainability of a resource that is vital for Belize’s food security, poverty alleviation, sustainable development, and culture and heritage.

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