Empowering Fishing Communities in the MAR Reef

by Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund)
Mr. René Laffite, Chairman of FUCSA, signing.
Mr. René Laffite, Chairman of FUCSA, signing.

On August 12, 2010, at 10:30 am, at the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF) facilities in La Ceiba City, Honduras, the agreement between the Asociación de Pescadores La Rosita, Cuero y Salado (APROCUS) and the Cuero y Salado Foundation (FUCSA), the foundation that administrates the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, was signed for the co-management of a fishing territory, which includes four no-take zones (marine reserves) with a diameter of one kilometer each.

The co-management agreement will also be signed by the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF) and the Food and Agriculture Secretary (SAG). The involvement of these two institutions is because the ICF is the protected area management authority, and the SAG is the authority, through the Dirección General de Pesca (DIGEPESCA), in fisheries.

We are very excited about this giant step the project just gave. This will guarantee APROCUS’s involvement in the designing and developing of the management plan for the fishing territory and the monitoring of the no-take zones jointly with FUCSA.

Thanks to all the people that have supported our project, we are moving ahead on the right track for conservation and sustainable use of natural resources of the MAR reef. But we still have a long way to go!

Mr. Olvin Cayetano, President of APROCUS, signing.
Mr. Olvin Cayetano, President of APROCUS, signing.
Fishermen in action
Fishermen in action

During the first week of May, 2010, a workshop was given to evaluate the monitoring techniques learned by the Puerto Morelos Cooperative fishermen and used for the registration of fish, corals, key invertebrates, bottom complex, and substratum type. The workshop was conducted by people from the Natural Protected Areas National Commission (CONANP), the Akumal Ecological Centre, and COBI.

After the workshop, the fishermen went into the water and realized eight monitoring exercises from mid May to early June. They completed satisfactory the data collection in 65 transects.

After the monitoring, people from COBI and CONANP could verify an improvement in the quality of the data. Authorities are considering using this data not only in this project but for management plans, and even including some of the trained fishermen into their monitoring staff.

In Honduras, the Asociación de Pescadores La Rosita, Cuero y Salado (APROCUS) has sent the draft agreement to all the authorities involved: the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF), which is the protected area head authority; the Fisheries Department (DIGEPESCA), and to FUCSA.

The final document had been revised by the legal department from all three institutions, and is now ready to be signed. The first parties to sign the agreement will be APROCUS and FUCSA.

Training workshop at the Fishing Cooperative
Training workshop at the Fishing Cooperative
Ready to jum into the water
Ready to jum into the water

The two pilot projects of our Community Fisheries Program have completed the first phase with some very interesting results.

In Mexico, the Puerto Morelos Fishing Cooperative, has completed two full monitoring exercises. With the assistance of the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) the Cooperative has developed the baseline of the reef’s status, and will now be able to measure long-term changes and restoration processes through a monitoring plan, inside and outside of the designated community marine reserves.

In Honduras, the three fishing communities of the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge have organized themselves to create a new association called Asociación de Pescadores La Rosita, Cuero y Salado (APROCUS) that will represent them. They have developed a draft agreement between the association and the refuge administration for the co-management of a fishing territory, which will include no-take zones.

This agreement will allow APROCUS to design and develop the management plan for the fishing territory and to monitor the no-take zones jointly with the Cuero y Salado Foundation (FUCSA), which is the refuge administrator.

We have started the next phase of these two project thanks to all of your support. We look forward to begining with the Guatemalan project in the San Francisco fishing community within th Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge.

In México, the Puerto Morelos Fishing Cooperative, with the technical assistance of the NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), has completed their second monitoring phase in the 13 strategic sites in the reef and now they will compare these results with the results from the first monitoring phase.

This will give them the elements to establish the base line on the reef’s health, and will help them to decide if they need to select and establish more “no take zones” within the protected area or not.

In the Wildlife Refuge of Cuero y Salado project in Honduras, a single association that integrates the three fishing communities of the Refuge has been established. The Association has started to negotiate with the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF) the co-management of fishing grounds within the Refuge. They are working on a draft agreement with the conditions of the co-management arrangement.

As we mentioned in one of our previous updates, there have been other groups of fishermen that are interested in establishing co-management mechanisms and no take zones in their countries. We are trying to raise funds to support the community of San Francisco del Mar, in Izabal, Guatemala. We are sure that more fishing groups will join the community marine reserve initiative.

We are very excited and counting on this GlobalGiving Christmas Challenge to raise the needed funds (US$ 14,927.00) to start with the Guatemalan project and then move forward to other initiatives in the MAR reef region.

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.


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Organization Information

Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund)

Location: Guatemala - Guatemala
Website: http:/​/​www.marfund.org
Project Leader:
Maria Jose Gonzalez
Executive Director
Guatemala, Guatemala

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