The Coastal Fisheries Initiative: Teaching communities to fish sustainably
There are no longer plenty of fish in the sea.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 35 percent of the world's assessed fish stocks are fished at unsustainable levels, versus just 10 percent in 1974. Warming oceans, acidification, and pollution are also taking an increasing toll.
And with the livelihoods of some 600 million people worldwide dependent on fishing to some degree, and growing demand for marine protein to feed a burgeoning global population, this isn’t just an environmental crisis, it is a social and economic one.
“We used to get up to 100 kilograms a day. Sometimes even more,” said La Ode Tauhid, an artisanal fisher in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi Province. “But now it’s way lower than that, like 50, 40, or 30 kilos – or sometimes nothing at all.”
To solve this crisis, fishing must change.
Teaching a man – or woman – to fish may once have been enough to feed them for life. Now they must learn how to fish sustainably. Since 2017, the Global Environment Facility-funded Coastal Fisheries Initiative has been hard at work on three continents and on multiple tracks to do just that.
The ambitious program, now in its final year, was designed to give coastal communities in six target countries – Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Indonesia, Peru, and Senegal – the knowledge and tools needed to make their fisheries more sustainable, while at the same time bolstering their resilience to economic shocks.
All hands on deck
The CFI is a truly international undertaking. Coordinated at the global level by the FAO, it is implemented by multiple global agencies including Conservation International, the UN Development Programme, the UN Environment Programme, the World Bank, and WWF, and draws on the on-the-ground knowledge and energy of scores of individuals and local organizations.
“To succeed in preserving and restoring ecosystems over the long term, we need to work with the communities that lie at the heart of all activity,” said CFI Global Coordinator Fatou Sock of the FAO. “You can't restore habitats without the active participation of all the people involved.”
The CFI has three main areas of focus: policy, people, and partnerships.
On the policy front, teams have used workshops and consultations to help authorities shape legislation that supports small-scale fisheries through the transition to greener practices. Legal experts, meanwhile, have conducted painstaking assessments of existing laws to see whether they uphold three key principles that are central to the program.
The first of these is whether and how much they support women, who usually run the household while their husbands are fishing and often handle the processing and sale of the catch afterward.
Ideally, legislation should also support an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management, which considers the entirety of an ecosystem – including the people who depend on it for food and income – rather than concentrating on ecological and environmental aspects only.
Finally, laws should dovetail with the FAO’s voluntary guidelines on creating sustainable small-scale fisheries. These guidelines, agreed in consultation with fishing communities around the world, are designed to safeguard stocks without impoverishing people, and to ensure that everyone, especially Indigenous Peoples, are given a say in their implementation.
Focus on sustainable fisheries
Coastal settlements are disproportionately affected by rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, and other pernicious effects of climate change. And many lack government safety nets to help them weather disasters or personal crises. The resulting combination of economic and food insecurity can make it hard to stick to catch quotas and other measures designed to protect marine environments.
Hence the CFI’s focus on helping fishing-dependent communities develop ways to strengthen their economic health.
With improved financial planning and alternative income streams, fishers can more easily adapt to changes such as the introduction of biological rest periods for fish or no-take areas without undue hardship.
This is why the CFI has championed financial literacy training and easy-to-implement systems along the lines of Peru’s UNICAs (Uniones de Crédito y Ahorro): local groups that pool money in interest-bearing funds. Loans from these funds can help members cope with illness or emergencies, pay for education, or start small businesses.
To help coastal communities learn the ins and outs of sustainable fishery management, best practices for fish preservation and handling, and entrepreneurship, teams from across the five child projects have run workshops and exchange trips with other communities.
Because they are as important as they are threatened, mangrove forests have been a particular area of focus for the CFI, which has worked to teach local communities about the critical role they play: as flood defenses, carbon sinks, soil stabilizers, and habitats for fish and shellfish.
These efforts have won enthusiastic support in places like Senegal’s Saloum Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dotted with islands and islets. Its vast mangrove forests are a haven for enormous biodiversity, including the fish and shellfish that are essential to life for the communities who live there.
Local oyster harvester Fatou Sarr, one of the Niominka people who live within the Delta, scolds anyone she sees breaking the branches of mangroves when they retrieve mollusks.
“We Niominka people know the importance of mangroves. That is why we don’t destroy them,” she said. “If we women don’t protect the mangroves, they will disappear.”
Partnering with the private sector
Since private sector partnerships are a crucial ingredient in the initiative’s plan, it established the World Bank-led CFI Challenge Fund to encourage investment in environmentally beneficial practices throughout the supply chain.
Take Challenge Fund beneficiary Clarissa Sastra, who with her brother founded a seaweed farming business to provide local fishers an alternative way to earn a living.
“You give them a sustainable income that they can get money every 45 days, improve their livelihood, and then you reduce the pressure on the overfishing itself,” Sastra said. “What we do is we protect the environment and the coral reefs, which means we can still fish without overfishing. And then everyone’s happy.”
To give an added lift to innovative private sector coalition proposals for stemming overfishing, the Challenge Fund last year launched a Global Knowledge Competition. Winning coalitions were chosen in each of the four participating countries: Cabo Verde, Ecuador, Indonesia, and Peru.
The goal was to harness the collective brainpower of everyone with a stake in restoring fish stocks: from fishers and fish sellers to hoteliers, restaurateurs, and local government.
The idea that took the top prize for Africa’s Cabo Verde spanned the value chain.
In recent years, stocks of sought-after fish such as horse mackerel and grouper have fallen in the archipelago nation as fishers turned to destructive practices such as catching juveniles or fishing in breeding season to satisfy demand.
Since that demand is partly driven by foreign visitors, an important source of revenue in a country where tourism accounts for 25 percent of GDP, the coalition PescaLocal came up with a creative way to ease the pressure. The group created a basket of less popular but more abundant locally caught species and promoted this with hotels and restaurants in Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde’s oldest city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Top chefs were enthusiastic.
“For us, it is important to work with fish in season,” said Paulo Algarvio, chef at the Pestana Tropico Hotel. “Not only for reasons of seasonality or even of sustainability, but also in terms of business for the fishers themselves.”
The coalition is now considering broadening the initiative across Santiago as well as to other islands, including tourism hotspots São Nicolau and Boa Vista.
Spreading the word
To ensure the rich store of lessons learned reaches beyond borders, the CFI has promoted knowledge-sharing and learning among the five projects through webinars, global and regional workshops, exchange visits, synthesized guidance materials, and other means.
For example, there were national and regional exchange visits between women seafood processors in Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal. And at a global exchange visit in Tumbes, Peru, fishers and fish workers from all six CFI beneficiary countries gathered to share their experiences.
"While cultures and countries may differ, the challenges faced by coastal fishing communities are the same. This means good practices can be replicated and scaled across different geographies,” said Fatou Sock.
“This is why we believe that bringing diverse stakeholders together to share their knowledge will generate empowered and responsible communities, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”
An important part of this knowledge sharing has been the five CFI global consultations. These were held in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Two further virtual ones followed during the pandemic, and a fifth was held in Dakar, Senegal, in March, where some 100 fishers, fish processors, and other stakeholders gathered for workshops and a visit to a Saloum Island pilot site.
The CFI has also set up a webinar series called CFI Talks, in which fishers, fish workers, and experts delve into different aspects of how to achieve sustainable fisheries, communities and ecosystems.
So with the program starting to wind down, what lies ahead for the final year?
Now that it has planted the seeds for success in dozens of coastal areas, the CFI will dedicate its remaining months to bringing together the invaluable information accumulated on its six-year journey.
This will form the basis of global knowledge products – everything from stories to case studies to practice briefs – centered on three main themes: the co-management of fisheries and mangrove areas to support an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries, empowering women in seafood value chains, and private sector engagement in sustainable fisheries. Together, this work is creating opportunities for coastal fisheries and communities alike to thrive.