The sea is a critical part of our planet's life support system, yet its health is in jeopardy due to climate change, pollution, and unsustainable practices such as overfishing.
Each year, global fisheries lose out on $83 billion in economic benefits due to overfishing, according to a World Bank report titled The Sunken Billions Revisited.
Overfishing also places at risk the livelihoods of the 492 million people around the world who depend on small-scale fisheries.
One way to reduce this risk is the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), a holistic management framework promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the GEF-funded Coastal Fisheries Initiative (CFI) that looks at the environment and human societies as interconnected elements.
The EAF is a participatory process: it aims to create a joint sense of ownership between fisherfolk and decision-makers as they work together to preserve the marine food chain for current and future generations.
One of its tenets is that species must be given time to reproduce. However in many cases, fishers don't have the luxury to stop working, even for a day.
A race to the bottom
This is the case of small-scale fisher Yesenia Condori, whose business association, Mujeres del Mar del Puerto de Quilca in Peru, is made up of 28 women fishing vessel owners. They also own a hardware store that sells fishing supplies.
Ms. Condori says her association wants to fish sustainably, but is hobbled by low market prices and lack of cold storage.
"In our port, prices are very low. So fishers have to extract greater quantities to cover their expenses and still have enough left over to support their families," Ms. Condori said at the CFI Global Partnership Consultation in March.
"If we could eliminate our dependency on (market) intermediaries and also finance a cold storage facility, we could extract less and add value to our products," she explained.
She was echoed by Matilde Mendes Martins and Carolina Monteiro, both fishmongers from Cabo Verde's Maio Island.
"My biggest difficulty is that I can't produce enough ice to conserve all the fish," Ms. Martins explained during a recent exchange visit organized by the CFI in West Africa.
"If I had the means to make more ice, my fish would get to market in good condition, which sometimes doesn't happen," she added.
"When there's a lot of fish we can't sell it all in one day, and many of us don't have containers for ice," said Ms. Monteiro. "This means we have to work very long hours in order to sell as much fish as possible before it goes bad."
Small-scale fishers need cold storage
Ahmad Baihaki from the World Bank works at the Indonesia CFI Challenge Fund, which promotes responsible private sector investments in sustainable fisheries. He says small-scale fishers must be given the means to reduce their effort while increasing their effectiveness.
"In the case of artisanal fishing in Indonesia, a lot of fishing is happening, but there are no ice-making facilities. A lot of the catch gets thrown away," Mr. Baihaki explained during the CFI Global Partnership Consultation.
He cited one of the CFI Challenge Fund's business cases in Indonesia: a solar-powered ice-making facility that "would help small-scale fishers increase their catch quality so they can earn more while reducing their effort."
The EAF: a way forward
For small-scale fishers along the world's coasts, who according to FAO are responsible for at least 40% of global catches, the answer to overfishing could lie in the EAF, which brings communities, investors, and governments together in an effort to agree on and adopt sustainable behaviors.
"The EAF is designed to be participatory and adaptive: it provides feedback loops at different timescales, and promotes the use of the best available knowledge to inform decision-making," explained Merete Tandstad from the FAO EAF-Nansen Programme.
"The participation of those involved in the fishery from the outset of the planning process creates a sense of ownership of the process and its outcomes," Ms Tandstad added.
Striking a balance between human needs and the environment
"We must recognize that there are trade-offs between conservation and what local populations can sustain," according to International Fisheries Analyst and Senior FAO Consultant Lena Westlund.
Co-management, ensuring secure tenure rights, and giving local communities "ownership" of the resources they are asked to use sustainably — for their own future and for that of others — are key to implementing the EAF in small-scale coastal fisheries, Ms Westlund explained.
For example in Indonesia, the CFI works with government to create incentives for community-based fisheries management led by Indigenous fisherfolk.
This means adequate infrastructure, including cold storage, and market rewards for sustainable fishing.
"The start of the process is always community initiative — without that, it will go back to business as usual," says CFI Indonesia's Jimy Kalther.
About the CFI
Funded by the Global Environment Facility, the CFI is a partnership made up of FAO, Conservation International, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, and the World Wildlife Fund, as well as governments and fisher communities.
They work together to achieve sustainable coastal fisheries in six countries across three regions: Asia (Indonesia), Latin America (Ecuador and Peru) and West Africa (Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, and Senegal).
This piece was originally published by FAO.