Building Trust, Empowering Resource Users: Efforts Underway to Educate, Encourage Participation of Fishermen in MPA Processes

MPA News

Consumptive users of marine resources often do not embrace the concept of marine protected areas, particularly no-take zones. These stakeholders may distrust resource managers when confronted with the prospect of losing customary access privileges, as can be the case for commercial and recreational fishermen. Such distrust can be especially common when stakeholders are not fully involved in the planning of protected areas.

In efforts to build trust and empower resource-user groups, initiatives are underway worldwide to inform fishing communities about MPAs and the roles that fishermen can play in their planning. Several such initiatives have taken the form of workshops and meetings held by government agencies, NGOs, and fishermen themselves. This month, MPA News examines some of these meetings and how organizers have set them up.

Building better communication

In January 2002 the Pacific Marine Conservation Council (PMCC), a US-based NGO, gathered more than 150 commercial fishermen and representatives to recommend ways to improve communication on MPAs among resource managers, scientists, and fishing communities of the US Pacific coast. Concerned that the interests of fishermen were being inadequately addressed in MPA-planning processes, PMCC sponsored the "Fishermen's Forum on Marine Protected Areas" to bridge the communication gap. The forum also aimed to provide attendees with a working knowledge of MPA science and regional MPA initiatives.

Invitations to participate in the forum were first sent to fishermen, each of whom was asked to nominate another interested individual from his or her community to attend, including other fishermen, port directors, and economic development officials. PMCC Science Director Jennifer Bloeser, who helped coordinate the forum, said this technique attracted people who did not normally attend public sessions on resource management. "There is the usual group of people who attend resource committee meetings, and we wanted to get beyond that," she said. "We got a lot of people we hadn't met before, and this contributed fresh perspectives."

With support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, PMCC paid travel, lodging, and food expenses for attendees. Bloeser says this was necessary due to the large geographic focus of the meeting, spanning the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. "It is expensive to get to a meeting like this," she said. "Without support, fishermen would have felt left out from the beginning." Although costly (US $125,000), the price was worth it, she said. "In addition to making the meeting affordable for participants, the financial support made them feel their views were valued," said Bloeser.

For the forum, PMCC assumed a neutral stance on MPAs. According to Bloeser, this non-advocacy role allowed fishermen to feel more comfortable in attending. "Our role was to facilitate communication and share information, not to argue the pros and cons of MPAs," she said. (The board of directors of PMCC is a diverse group of fishermen, scientists, NGO representatives, and other individuals.) PMCC has produced a CD-ROM featuring recommendations from forum participants and video footage of the science and policy presentations. It is available for US $10 from the PMCC website (www.pmcc.org). The recommendations have been sent to state and federal resource managers, and two follow-up meetings of fishermen - independent of PMCC - have occurred in Pacific coast communities since the forum.

Learning from others' experience

In Mexico's Gulf of California this month (March 21-24), a meeting will bring together fishermen to discuss marine reserves as a tool in fisheries management. Coordinated by a team of NGOs and academics, the "Fisher to Fisher" meeting is designed to help fishermen learn from each other's experience with reserves throughout Northern Mexico.

"The goal of the meeting is to promote communication, coordination and learning among fishers from communities that share similar problems," said Hudson Weaver of Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), a Mexican NGO that is co-hosting the meeting. "Like with most MPAs in the world, in Mexico there is a lot of misinformation and fear about what a reserve could do. [With this] meeting, fishers who have already experienced the benefits of having a reserve can share their experiences with others looking for solutions." Similar to the Fishermen's Forum in the US, the meeting will incorporate presentations on MPA science and processes, including plans for a community-based marine reserve in Bahia Kino, site of the meeting. The process to designate the Bahia Kino reserve was initiated by small-scale fishermen in the community.

"The act of bringing fishers together from remote communities and creating a safe place for them to discuss their questions and doubts about marine reserves should produce honest and useful results for all the communities," said Weaver. "In Mexico there exist very few forums in which fishers can participate, discuss problems, and search for solutions. This is the first meeting of its kind in the Gulf of California."

The organizers - COBI, Conservation International-Mexico, the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center (US), and Prescott College (US) - expect 70 attendees, the majority of them fishermen. Travel expenses for fishermen will be paid through grants from multiple sources. In addition to securing funding, said Weaver, one of the biggest challenges associated with the meeting has been to communicate effectively with fishermen to notify them of the opportunity. Most fishermen in Northern Mexico do not have telephones or e-mail in their homes. "COBI has created a strong support team of many organizations - both NGOs and governmental - willing to help coordinate and communicate with these remote locations," said Weaver. COBI has also worked with the small community of Bahia Kino, which has no conference facilities or hotels, to prepare for the gathering, she said. "Bahia Kino provides a modest and relaxed atmosphere which we are hoping will set a good tone for the meeting."

Taking charge of resource management

The North Atlantic Responsible Fishing Council (NARFC), a consortium of commercial fishermen and resource managers from the European Union, Canada, and the northeastern US, is preparing to host its third conference this June 9-11 in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (Canada). Similar to the council's first two conferences, the meeting will encourage greater involvement of fishermen in stock assessments and promote the development of more conservation-oriented fishing gear and practices. MPAs will be a topic of discussion.

Jean Guy D'Entremont, a Canadian fisherman and co-chair of the NARFC steering committee, says MPAs are a sore spot for commercial fishermen because of their use by some interests to exclude the industry from certain areas. "However, MPAs can be whatever you decide that they be: no-take zones, partial access, etc.," he said. "In Canada, we have had a seasonal closed area since the early 1970s for spawning haddock. This area is presently the most productive groundfish fishing area in Atlantic Canada and boasts the healthiest haddock stock."

D'Entremont credits that seasonal closure for its role in protecting the stock, but points out that other management measures - including a recent reduction in catch quotas - have also played a part. MPAs should be considered as one tool for encouraging responsible fishing, he says, along with moderate harvest rates, selective fishing, dependable scientific assessments, and reduced resource wastage. "Fishermen will be quicker to endorse MPAs as a tool for responsible fishing when they are not imposed on them simply to remove them from an area or fishery," he said. "Fishermen will soon realize that MPAs can provide a test area to monitor the effects of fishing on stock health, [in contrast to] the effects of natural environmental changes."

In arranging the NARFC conferences, D'Entremont has had to convince fishermen to take time off from the immediate concerns of running their businesses and "chasing" management and science meetings to attend a meeting that deals largely with the future. Attendees must pay their own way. "Some fishermen still believe that the government owes them," said D'Entremont. "However, it is becoming increasingly evident that it is up to us to take care of our own, and that we should put our money where our mouths are."

MPA orientations, public consultations

In the Philippines, where hundreds of community-based MPAs are managed by fishermen's organizations, village councils, or multi-sectoral groups, "cross-visits" by managers from one MPA to another are not unusual. Such visits allow individuals from different communities to observe and learn from one another. The Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation (CCEF), a Filipino NGO devoted to coastal resource management, facilitates cross-visits and the use of other techniques to inform stakeholders about MPAs in the country's Visayan region.

For communities unfamiliar with marine protected areas, CCEF provides orientations and public consultations targeting large stakeholder groups, including fishermen. The meetings introduce the concept of MPAs, how they can contribute to coastal resource management, and how sites may be selected. The orientations and consultations also provide a venue to address concerns and questions raised by locals. Ultimately, each community must decide whether or not to implement MPAs as a management strategy.

Should a community decide in favor of designating a protected area, CCEF provides further training for site identification, management planning, and monitoring. In addition, the foundation trains managers and interested fisherfolk to assist in the patrol and surveillance of MPA sites. The latter training is coordinated with the national Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Meetings for recreational fishermen

In the US and Australia, MPAs have increasingly drawn the attention of national sportfishing groups that have questioned the closure of accustomed angling areas when there is little definitive proof of impacts by recreational fishing. The US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which manages sportfishing in federal waters, offered a forum for the nation's recreational fishing community to discuss a range of issues three years ago ("RecFish 2000"). Based on feedback from attendees of that conference, NMFS scheduled a follow-up meeting this year - RecFish II - to be devoted largely to MPAs and their implications for anglers, including the general involvement of sportfishermen in MPA planning.

Although the meeting, originally scheduled for February 2003, has been postponed, a NMFS official told MPA News the agency hopes to reschedule it for later in 2003. "[NMFS] managers believe that the widest discussion of MPAs, including varying points of view, would benefit everyone interested in the issue," said the official. One reason for the postponement was to allow time to expand the agenda to include non-MPA issues.

"As was discovered at RecFish 2000, there is great value in a national forum in which the [recreational fishing] community can gather to discuss issues of common interest," said the official. "NMFS benefits directly from such a forum by being involved in deliberations with key constituents on their concerns and expectations as they relate to NMFS programs."

In May 2002, the 3rd World Recreational Fishing Conference in Darwin, Northern Territories (Australia), offered a forum for stakeholders to discuss issues relevant to the sustainable management of recreational fishing, including marine protected areas. One focus of the meeting was the development of an international code of practice for recreational fishing. Theme speakers included several individuals active in MPA science and planning. For more information on the conference, visit http://www.wrfc3.com.

For more information:

Jennifer Bloeser, PMCC California Office, P.O. Box 327, Arcata, CA 95518, USA. Tel: +1 707 445 4667; E-mail: jbloeser [at] pacifier.com.

Hudson Weaver, COBI, Terminacion Bahia de Bacochibampo s/n, Guaymas, Sonora 85450, Mexico. Tel: +622 221 2670; E-mail: ahw [at] cobi.org.mx.

Jean Guy D'Entremont, Lower West Pubnico, Box 156, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Canada. Tel: +1 902 762 2522; E-mail: jean.guy [at] ns.sympatico.ca; Web: www.responsiblefishing.org.

Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Rm 302, Third Floor, PDI Condominium, Banilad, Cebu City, Philippines. Tel: +63 32 233 6947; E-mail: ccef [at] mozcom.com.

Dallas Miner, NMFS, Office of Constituent Services, 1315 East-West Highway, 14th Floor, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA. Tel: +1 301 713 9504; E-mail: dallas.miner [at] noaa.gov.

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