Empowering Fishing Communities in the MAR Reef

 
$2,674
$87,326
Raised
Remaining

The Mesoamerican reef presents not only a great deal of biodiversity but also a lifeline of fish stock to villagers along its 1,000 km stretch of coastline. The GlobalGiving-sponsored MAR Fund has been very busy over the last 5 years helping community development organizations in Mexico, Belize, and Honduras participate in the management of these fish populations, but it is now looking to the slither of Guatemalan coastline around the Caribbean town of Livingston to do the same.

This summer, I traveled to Livingston and one of these Guatemalan fishing communities, San Juan, with MAR Fund’s technical coordinator, Claudio Gonzalez. The second I stepped foot on Livingston’s dock, I found myself thrown into an animated debate between trawling boat captains and traditional artesanales fisherman about the future of the waters off their coast. When I think back on all the conversations I had there, I realize just how complicated this debate has become and how vital MAR Fund’s assistance is in its efforts to establish fishing reserves before it’s too late for everyone.

We stumbled upon one such conversation the night before the boat ride out to San Juan as we ran into Claudio’s old friend on one of Livingston’s streets on the way to dinner. The man was very outgoing, and after noticing his Real Madrid hat, I decided that I really liked him from the get-go. Then I found out that he was one of the trawling boat captains whose fishing nets scrape up pieces of reef and wildlife from the waters destroying this beautiful aquatic ecosystem. Trying to put those feelings aside, however, I saw his genuine happiness when explaining that the community had improved so much since he last saw Claudio. I began to feel his frustrations when he complained that he could not support his family because his fishing nets were ripped up by wooden sticks placed in the water by artesanales to mark off fishing zones. When his employers pay his wages conditionally on the fulfillment of strong daily quotas, these nets are really his only choice. And, when this region of Guatemala lacks the credit and banking systems needed to provide loans for him to purchase his own boat, these employers are also his only choice.

The next day, Claudio and I met members of the local community development organization, FUNDAECO, that MAR Fund hopes to work with in the coming years. Their leader, Cleopatra, took us to the fishing community of San Juan to introduce us to some of the artesanales fisherman that she has been working with recently. When asked about conditions in their waters, the community leader, Norberto, claimed that 25 years ago when he arrived there were plenty of fish, but now there are none. He also claimed that, because the trawling boats only come out in the cover of night when monitoring is impossible, they have been able cross over into his territory without consequence. But when asked what he thinks the solution could be, his statement that “all we are asking for is for them to leave the whole bay to us” demonstrates that the MAR Fund needs to be there to help reign in expectations on both sides.

As I thought about possible solutions to this apparent trade-off between social values and economic progress, the economics major in me bounced around ideas that the artesanales should try to move on to another more viable trade. There was even some evidence that they have been trying to do so. But, then on the way back to our boat, I asked some of the villagers more or less my own age what they did in their free time when they weren’t fishing, and after ten seconds of awkward pause, they said “fishing”. I realized that fishing is not just an income for them but a way of life.

When I was speaking with these trawling and artesanales fisherman face to face, I could see very clearly just how essential MAR Fund’s technical and best practices assistance will be for FUNDAECO and the entire community in the coming years. Most donors will never be able to visit this wonderful community, but GlobalGiving hopes to connect you directly to projects like this around the world in unique ways so that you can see the impact your donations are making on communities in need.

The project developers organizing the monitoring activities.
The project developers organizing the monitoring activities.

After all the necessary paperwork with the project developers in the protected areas in both Mexico and Honduras, our two community marine reserve pilot projects have finally kicked off.

In Puerto Morelos, México, the Fishing Cooperative, has started the reef monitoring with the assessment of the National Park Administration and the NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI).

So far, the Cooperative has completed one full monitoring phase that had the following methodology: they selected 13 strategic monitoring sites within the protected area. In these monitoring sites they set up transects to measure the following indicators: number of fish and fish species, number of reefs and reefs species, number of invertebrates and invertebrates species, type of sediments, and bottom structure.

They organized themselves in working teams, so that they all got to monitor every indicator in each phase at least twice. This will allow them to develop their monitoring skills and learn more about the ecosystem they fish.

After concluding this first monitoring phase and analyzing the results of the existent biodiversity and reef health, the fishermen have selected two potential “no take zones” within the protected area.

The three communities within the Wildlife Refuge of Cuero y Salado project in Honduras, will initiate with their activities soon, with the administrative support of the Cayos Cochinos Foundation.

We are very excited about the results that these two projects will obtain for their fishing communities and the coastal and marine protected areas, as well as for the conservation and sustainable use of their fisheries resources. We are sure that more fishing groups will join the community marine reserve initiative motivated by these first two.

We are still working on the assessment of establishing fisheries co-management mechanisms and no take zones with other groups of fishermen that are very interested in these initiatives and that have been identified in the other two countries of the Mesoamerican reef. The funding that is being raised through Global Giving and other donors will go to supporting these fishermen's projects.

The Puerto Morelos Cooperative preparing its scuba gear.
The Puerto Morelos Cooperative preparing its scuba gear.
Sub aquatic material used by the monitoring team.
Sub aquatic material used by the monitoring team.

After three successful workshops, where expectations were exceeded in almost every way, the results started showing almost immediately.

In Puerto Morelos, México, the Fishing Cooperative, has been working with the National Park Administration designating no take zones. This will be one of the two community marine reserve pilot projects that the MAR Fund will develop this year, thanks to your generous support and that of AVINA Foundation.

In addition, three fishing communities sharing the same fishing grounds in a coastal-marine protected area of Honduras will initiate work towards establishing a community marine reserve. The marine protected area is the Wildlife Refuge of Cuero y Salado, and the communities located there are: Salado Barra, Boca Cerrada and La Rosita. The first two of these are located inside the marine protected area and the last one is outside the refuge boundaries.

We are very excited about the awareness that the first three workshops generated in fishing communities and the coastal and marine protected areas, and we are sure that more fishing groups will join the community marine reserve initiative. The funding that is being raised through Global Giving and other donors will go to supporting these two and other fishermen's projects in the four countries of the Mesoamerican Reef.

The last workshop took place in Punta Gorda, Belize, on august 25-27, 2008. Thirty-one people participated in this workshop; five groups of fishermen were represented. These were Placencia, Punta Gorda, Riversdale, Monkey River and Hopkins. Other participants included the Environmental Defense Fund, the Fisheries Department, and several NGO’s.

The methodology was the same as in the first three workshops, and the fishermen were also very interested in participating in this type of co-management mechanism.

We look forward to supporting other groups of fishermen in the process of establishing fisheries co-management mechanisms and no take zones and to keep you posted on our advances.

To learn about the possibility of establishing community marine reserves in the MAR region, the MAR Fund developed three diagnostic studies. These included an evaluation of the fishing organizations and the needs of fishing communities and the legal frameworks in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras regarding community participation in the management of fisheries. The studies can be obtained from the MAR Fund website (www.marfund.org).

Two informative/training workshops on community participation in fisheries management have been organized this year: one in Livingston, Guatemala and one in La Ceiba, Honduras.

Forty-nine people participated in the Guatemalan workshop, exceeding the initial expectations. Thirteen groups of fishermen were represented, all belonging to the Network of Caribbean Fishermen of Guatemala. There was a large participation of women fishers. The Chair and Coordinator of the Network are both women and they have done an amazing job of bringing fishermen in the Caribbean region of Guatemala together around common interest topics.

Other participants included the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the National Council for Protected Areas, the Fisheries authority, and several NGO’s and programs. Also present were donors that have been supporting local conservation activities including sustainable fisheries.

As a result of the workshop, the fishing community of San Francisco del Mar, from the Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge, have had several discussions on the possibility of establishing a community marine reserve to protect a shallow coral area within their traditional fishing grounds. We are very excited about this development, and have met with the fishing group to discuss possible next steps. The funding that is being raised through Global Giving and other donors will go to supporting this and other fishermen's projects in the four countries of the Mesoamerican Reef.

A total of 48 people participated in the Honduras workshop, including nine groups of fishermen. We are looking forward to hearing about their projects for participating in the management of their fisheries and their fishing grounds.

As part of the activities to support fishers in the Mesoamerican Reef, the first in a series of four workshops on ecosystem-based management of fisheries and community marine reserves was offered from 3 to 6 December, 2007. This first workshop took place in Puerto Morelos, Mexico.

The workshop was designed and organized jointly with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI). Participants included representatives from six fishing cooperatives, fishing and protected area authorities, academia, and local and international NGOs. The activities involved initial exercises to design networks of community marine reserves (similar to no-take zones) in the cooperatives' fishing concessions.

Participants were very pleased with the information that was provided and with the results of the exercises. They committed to taking the information to the rest of the cooperative members for follow-up.

The remaining three workshops will be organized, also with COBI, in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras throught the first semester of 2008.

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Project Leader

Maria Jose Gonzalez

Executive Director
Guatemala, Guatemala

Where is this project located?

Map of Empowering Fishing Communities in the MAR Reef