Community Leadership

Why do some fisheries fail, from overfishing or mismanagement, while others appear to be successful, or at least sustainable?

A lovely study, published in Nature this past month (online Jan 5, but hard copy Feb 17), indicates that a carefully community-based, co-managed fishery is the way to go – perhaps the only way that fisheries can be prevented from crashing.

Such co-management involves the usual scientists and managers, but it also depends on the fishers, and a willingness by all to work together. The common objective is to manage the fishery successfully, while at the same time sustaining the fishing community. Who can argue with that?

The authors of the study (Nicolas Gutierrez, Ray Hilborn and Omar Defeo) call it “the only realistic solution for the majority of the world’s fisheries.” A strong statement.

They assessed 130 co-managed fisheries in 44 countries, and of course the diversity in ecology, community, and politics of the fisheries was immense. They identified a number of features of a successful fishery, and their conclusion is that the more features a fishery possesses, the more likely it is to be sustainable. That’s not surprising, but they also ranked the importance of the various ingredients.

This map of co-managed fisheries around the world is from the Nature article. Colours indicate how many useful features a fishery possesses - successful ones have most (light and dark green), while least successful ones have only one (red). (

The most successful examples of sustainable fisheries include protected areas where fishing is restricted, territorial user rights by those doing the fishing, and accepted quotas of what individuals or the community can catch.

Most important by far, however, is the presence of at least one individual in the community who is well respected, energetic, and deeply committed to the success of the co-management of the fishery. Of course there are conflicts over aspects like quotas, licenses, and poaching in even the best of co-managed fisheries, and such a community leader needs political skills as well..

This is reassuring news. Even hopeful. The other components are certainly necessary – scientists assessing stock sizes and proposing what the quotas should be, managers providing a diversity of regulations – but without strong community leadership, successful co-management is unlikely. And every fishing community is certain to have talented individuals interested and willing to provide the necessary leadership.

The advantages to community based co-management are so very clear. The authors of the Nature article point them out:
– Enhanced ownership by fishers, encouraging responsible fishing.
– Greater sensitivity to socio-economic and ecological constraints.
– Improved management through use of local knowledge.
– Collective ownership by fishers in decision making.
– Increased compliance with regulations through peer pressure.
– Better monitoring, control and surveillance by fishers.

On the one hand, it seems odd that we are only truly learning this now. What have we been thinking during all these years of fisheries failures? On the other hand, co-management is truly happening in more and more fisheries, and we now know a lot about what makes co-management succeed.

This is real, not fantasy. Community-based co-management works.
Community leaders arise! Now is your time.

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