Sustainable Fisheries

Special Collection

Worldwide, small-scale coastal fisheries contribute significantly to providing food, employment, and incomes to many very poor people. But these same fisheries, and the ecosystems upon which they rely, are under increasing threat from a combination of climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and the exploitation of resources.


Fisheries management has been a major component in trying to address some of these issues, but with limited global success. The potential of fisheries, if managed well, is considerable but what form that potential will take will depend on how and why fisheries are managed.


This collection of reports and presentations explores just this question, describing some of the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and their efforts to address these challenges and improve the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments.


The collection brings together the "grey literature" of the field, valuable work that is not readily available through academic journals and databases but is instead spread across dozens of organizational websites. This set of reports was initially identified as part of a synthesis review of key lessons commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation's Program on Oceans and Fisheries. We are pleased to make it more easily available for others to use and build on and encourage researchers and practitioners to add relevant work to the collection.

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Regional Study on Social Dimensions of MPA Practice in Central America: Cases Studies from Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panamá

March 1, 2013

This research focuses on the social dimensions of marine conservation, and makes an assessment of the experiences of coastal and fishing communities with regard to the governance of MPAs in North America (Central America); based on case studies from Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and North America (Central America)-Panama;. It examines the national contexts of the above countries in relation to the governance of MPAs. Furthermore, it analyzes the social impacts of MPAs on coastal communities by gathering the experiences and the voices of the communities and institutions involved, and reflects on how to build bridges in the search for forms and models of conservation that respect human rights and which are able to successfully integrate into local development efforts without affecting cultural and/or social patterns. To this end, this monograph looks at nine case studies across the region: in Honduras, the Islas de la Bahia-Guanaja Marine National Park, the Cayos Cochinos Marine Archipelago Natural Monument, and the Cuero and Salado Wildlife Refuge; in Nicaragua, the Chacocente Wildlife Refuge; in North America (Central America)-Costa Rica; the Guanacaste Conservation Area, the Ballena Marine National Park and the Golfo Dulce Responsible Fishing Area; and, in North America (Central America)-North America (Central America)-Panama; the Nargana Protected Area, in the Comarca de la Biosfera Guna-Yala, the Bastimentos Island Marine National Park, and Bocas del Toro.

CoopeTárcoles, Costa Rica. Equator Initiative Case Study Series

January 1, 2012

The artisanal fishers of the community of Tárcoles, located in the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific coast of North America (Central America)-Costa Rica; faced declining fish stocks due to a combination of overharvesting by commercial shrimp boats and unsustainable local fishing practices. At the same time, development of the tourism sector along the coast threatened to restrict access to the shore and to marginalize their work. The local fishing cooperative Coope Tárcoles R.L. was founded in 1985 to confront these twin threats. At the forefront of these efforts has been the development of fishing bylaws that stress sustainable practices, enshrined in the community's 'Code of Responsible Fishing'. In partnership with CoopeSolidar R.L., the initiative launched a sustainable and community-based ecotourism venture in 2007 to provide an alternative source of income for local residents. In 2009, meanwhile, the group was successful in gaining approval of a community-managed marine area.

Coastal Fisheries of South America and the Caribbean

January 1, 2011

The importance of fisheries for coastal communities and livelihoods in South America-Latin America; and the Caribbean (LAC) is well documented. This is particularly the case for 'coastal fisheries', including subsistence, traditional (artisanal) and advanced artisanal (or semi-industrial) varieties. There are, however, major gaps in knowledge about these fisheries, and major challenges in their assessment and management. Therein lies the key theme of this document, which seeks to contribute to a better understanding of coastal fisheries in the LAC region, as well as to generate discussion about ways to move towards sustainable fisheries. The document includes three main components. First, an introductory chapter provides an overview of general trends in the fisheries of the LAC countries, as well as some of the key challenges they are facing in terms of sustainability. Second, a set of twelve chapters each reporting on the coastal fisheries of one country in South America-Latin America; and the North America (Caribbean); collectively covering fisheries of each main subregion: the Caribbean islands (North America (Caribbean)-North America (Caribbean)-Barbados; Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago), North and Central America (North America (Central America)-Costa Rica; Mexico) and South America (Argentina, South America (Northeastern)-Brazil; South America (Northwestern)-South America (Northwestern)-Colombia; Uruguay). All these country-specific chapters follow an integrated approach, to the extent possible, covering aspects ranging from the biological to the socio-economic. Third, the final component of the document contains a synthesis of information from the countries examined, an analysis of the main issues and challenges faced by the various fisheries, an outline of policy directions to improve fisheries management systems in the LAC region, identification of routes toward more integrated approaches for coastal fisheries management, and recommendations for 'ways forward' in dealing with fishery assessment and governance issues in the region.

Development and Diversification: Sustainability Strategies for a Costa Rican Fishing Cooperative

January 1, 1994

This is one case study of 32 in the volume: Case studies in fisheries self-governance which was published as a FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. In this chapter: Over the past several decades, scholars have argued over governance strategies for management for commons and common-pool resources (CPRs). In fact, the theory of the commons has undergone major transformations, moving from the "tragedy of the commons" model, to dealing with small-scale, community-based systems as ways of promoting self-organization and self-governance (Ostrom, 1990; Berkes, 2006). Within the fisheries sector, the use of rights based management strategies to re-establish sustainability in open-access fisheries is becoming increasingly popular. The experience with TURFS in Chile, which was implemented as a way to avoid the collapse of the loco fishery, has been successful in terms of managing some benthic artisanal fisheries in a sustainable way and generating basic incentives for fishers' empowerment. However, if the policy is going to succeed in the future, scientists and practitioners must respond to important challenges. Most published studies on the human dimensions of MEABRs stress the need for fishers to have more liberty managing MEABRs as a way to adapt these to local realities and create incentives for developing institutions of self-governance (Castilla and Defeo, 2001; Meltzoff et al., 2002; Castilla et al., 2007; Gelcich et al., 2005a,b, 2006, 2007; World Bank, 2006), i.e. to shift from the current co-management approach used in Chile (= collaborative co-management; Sen and Nielsen, 1996) towards an adaptive co-management approach. Folke et al. (2002), defined adaptive co-management as "the process by which institutional arrangements and ecological knowledge are revised in a dynamic, ongoing process of learning by doing". Adaptive co-management combines the 'dynamic learning' characteristic of adaptive management (Holling, 2001) with the 'linkage' characteristic of cooperative management (Jentoft, 2000), and collaborative management (Olsson, Folke and Berkes, 2004). The adaptive co-management approach treats policies as hypotheses and management as experiments from which managers can learn (Gunderson, 2000). Most importantly, adaptive co-management theory implies that management practices should be adjusted by the monitoring of feedback signals of social-ecological change (Berkes, Colding and Folke, 2003). This shift towards adaptive co-management would imply the need for participatory research. Small-scale coastal artisanal fisheries with well-demarcated fishing grounds provide ideal situations for experimental management research (Castilla, 2000; Johannes, 2002; World Bank, 2006). In addition, if MEABRs are going to successfully adapt, managers should encourage local communities (associations) to experiment and continuously adapt to changes (social or ecological). These are factors we feel are an essential part of the so-called Ecosystem-Based Management Approach (FAO, 2003; Arkema, Abramson and Dewsbury, 2006; Christie et al., 2007). At present the MEABR policy has left few legal alternatives for community experiments and subsequent governance adaptations. This is unfortunate as participatory research in support of adaptive management is becoming almost commonplace in many developing countries (Edwards-Jones, 2001) under the premise that the participation of resource users and other stakeholders is important not only in the management of resources, but also in research orientated toward the generation of information and innovations that shape how resources are understood and exploited (Johnson et al., 2004). In addition it forms a basic building block for self-governance of MEABR resources.