News

    Study: Giving Local Fishermen Control Prevents Overfishing

    Research also finds fisher-managed systems sometimes fail

    A reef with high coral cover, but the lack of fish suggests it may be less healthy than it appears.
    A reef with high coral cover, but the lack of fish suggests it may be less healthy than it appears.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Saving threatened coral reef ecosystems may be best handled by the people who make their living from them, according to a recent study.

    In many tropical countries, overfishing by small-scale fishers threatens offshore reefs, which are some of the oceans’ most important ecosystems.

    The new study confirmed what a growing body of research has shown: giving local fishers more control over how, when and where to fish usually results in better incomes, more cooperation with the rules, and more fish on the reef.

    But not always. The new research also found out why these fisher-managed systems sometimes fail.

    Exponential decay

    Tropical coral reefs are fertile fishing grounds for some 200 million small-scale fishers around the world.

    But many of these reefs are in decline. Tim McClanahan with the Wildlife Conservation Society has followed the catch from one coastal fishing community in Kenya for more than a decade.

    “It was going down every year. It was just one of those beautiful exponential decay curves,” he says.

    The question was, what could they do to stop that decline before it crashed the whole reef ecosystem?

    Such a crash would not just be bad for the fish. The fishers who make their livelihoods from the reef would suffer as well.

    Central control

    Since no one owns the oceans, most countries put fisheries management in the hands of the central government. But it’s a complicated business, with a huge number of fishers, catching many different species, with a wide range of equipment, brought ashore in many different places.

    “Trying to manage that from an under-resourced ministry of fisheries in the capital city is basically an impossible task,” says Tim Daw at the University of East Anglia. Faraway authorities setting the rules but lacking the funds to enforce them are a major reason why fisheries around the world are in decline, he says.

    But Daw says that is changing. In the last decade or so, civil society groups and researchers have been helping fishing communities come together to set their own rules and enforcement mechanisms.

    “Rather than a centralized state actor trying to manage fisheries, it’s a cooperation between the state and the local people, with much more emphasis on the local people,” he says.

    Community rules

    Communities may decide to close off certain areas to fishing, for example, or restrict what kinds of equipment can be used. The Kenyan community McClanahan worked with decided to ban the use of very-fine-mesh nets that catch almost any kind of fish, large or small.

    “And sure enough, within months - six or seven months - the catch started to slowly rise, and it’s actually been rising since that happened,” McClanahan says.

    And as the catch rose, so did incomes.

    Getting everyone to follow the rules was not easy. But now the community elders tell him they will never go back.

    However, McClanahan says, there is more to the story.

    “Even though the fish catch has come back - the fish are getting bigger - the reef is not in good shape," he says. "Ecologically, it’s not a success story.”

    Livelihoods and ecosystems?

    That's the big question for supporters of community fishery management: can it improve both livelihoods and ecosystems?

    In a recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, McClanahan, Daw and their colleagues studied 42 locations in five countries on two oceans. They interviewed more than 1,000 fishers and local leaders.

    They found that people were generally better off with community management than without it. And there were generally more fish in community managed systems than without.

    But not always.

    Fish market

    “When we actually got in the water and looked at how much fish was there, the strongest driver there was the distance to market,” Daw says.

    Even with community management, when fishers could easily get their catch to a market, they had a strong incentive to overfish, according to Daw.

    “The value of the fish that you can catch from there is going to be higher, there is going to be more pressure on those resources, they’re going to be attractive to more people," he says. "And we see that as there being actually less fish left on the reefs.”

    Also, the more dependent fishers were on their catch for food or income, the less well the systems worked.

    And community management did not work equally for everyone. Wealthier people tended to benefit more, perhaps because they had more influence over how the rules were made or enforced than poorer people did.

    But Tim McClanahan says, “There was evidence the wealthy were doing well, but the poor were either doing a little bit better or not any worse.”

    Not a panacea


    The study backs up what Indiana University political science professor Elinor Ostrom has found with groundwater, pastures or other resources that communities share but no one owns.

    “Our own research has been showing that small community-controlled resource governance can - CAN - work," she says. "But all of our studies have also shown that it isn’t a panacea. It doesn’t always work.”

    Ostrom should know - she won a Nobel Prize for her research.

    She says when people have a stake in making the rules and have effective ways of enforcing them, communities can do a better job than governments at managing a common resource.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Tim Daw
    April 11, 2012 4:54 AM
    Thanks Steve. This report is based on a paper by Josh Cinner and others which is available here...
    http://www.pnas.org/content/109/14/5219.short

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora