Socioeconomic and cultural entanglements of Artisanal fishing with Marine Protected Areas (MPA)


The oceans cover more than a third of the earth’s surface. According to the UN, they produce half of the oxygen we breath, regulate our climate, and feed us. To a greater extent, the oceans house most of the world’s biodiversity which still has not been fully studied and remains unknown to science according to USGS. The race for development has led human activities to damage natural systems that have endured millions of years. According to the Ocean Conservation Trust, activities such as habitat destruction, carbon emissions, ocean warming and acidification, chemical pollution, oil spills, noise and plastic pollution, and destructive overfishing detriment the health of our oceans and are far away from receding. Providing the main source of protein to one billion people, as regarded by the UN, fish in our oceans, represent a vital component of the food security of the world. Tragically, almost 90% of the fishing stocks of our oceans are now fully exploited or overfished. Thus, diminishing the fishing stocks creates an imbalance in ocean ecosystems, eroding the food chain and jeopardizing the food security of billions of people.

Global fish consumption is on the rise according to the European Commission. An increase in income and urbanization, the improvement of fishing post-harvest practices, and the evolution of dietary trends are factors driving a projected 15% increase. Even though Aquaculture increasing by 14%, it will undoubtedly not substitute the pressure on open-sea fishing. Measuring the regeneration of each fish stock is uncertain. According to the European Commission, despite the reduction of the fishing fleet overcapacity, fishing efficiency offsets the sustainable gains of the ship reduction. According to FAO, only 5 countries account for 51% of the total fishing global wild catch. Much of this fishing is subsidized because it does not represent a profitable business. Thus, encouraging overfishing and overcapacity. Furthermore, monitoring the amount of catch by species is impossible due to the methods used, bycatch, the unreported amount, and commercialization of parts of the species that represent the minimal amount of that which the species weighs. Monitoring fishing stocks is also challenging due to missing data from key locations like Asian, African, and South American fisheries according to the RAM Database. Lastly, the ability of fish species to regenerate is complex due to external factors like ocean temperature, physical, chemical, and biological oceanographic conditions, and predator-prey relationships.

Current BBNJ treaty negotiations set the first base to better manage and understand our oceans yet the treaty does not have the power to decide upon matters like fishing. Instead, it sets the ground for knowledge building and negotiation for international organizations and states to sit down and find ways to manage the ocean.

Overfishing, nowadays, represents what has been labeled as “the tragedy of the commons,” meaning that at a point in time, advancements in fishing technologies and increasing demand for the resource will surpass the rate of regeneration of the fishing stocks. Garrett Hardin’s concept of “The tragedy of the commons,” (Hardin, 1968) dictates that the unregulated use of a common resource by the self-interest of individuals leads to its depletion. Preceding, and avoiding the tragedy of the commons has been a subject of study for decades. Three solutions to avoid the tragedy of the commons have been proposed: 1) Though creating and selling property rights or quotas, restricting the amount a resource is subject to exploitation; 2) Establishing harsh regulation that prohibits the exploitation of the common resource and; 3) the bottom-up institution approach by Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, local communities that allow for long-term sustainable use of shared resources by cooperation and adequate social, economic and cultural institutions.

Fishing quotas or shares are often inaccurately set, leading to potentially unsustainable fishing practices. Additionally, a lack of compliance and enforcement mechanisms may overlook illegal practices. Given that quotas are set for specific target species, bycatch may also represent a waste of resources and ecological harm. A fishing population may fluctuate, therefore fixing quotas to historic data may reduce flexibility either by overfishing or underfishing. Lastly, fishing stocks cross national boundaries and thus require cooperation in order not to hinder the implementation of quotas.

Regarding the prohibition of exploitation, governments use MPAs as a conservation instrument to protect areas rich in marine biodiversity and are key for conservation and fish population regeneration. Nonetheless, a marine ecosystem has limited capacity for the fishing stock to regenerate. Once this limit is reached, a sustainable amount of the fishing stock can be caught and balanced by natural regeneration. Losing the natural regeneration amount represents a loss of value, perhaps food security for the local coastal population. In some cases, the establishment of MPAs for conservation purposes erroneously misplaces artisan fishing. Hence, fishing for profit differs greatly from the purpose of livelihood and survival.

Specific MPAs’ no-take zone as a conservation measure has proven to be effective in protecting biodiversity and recuperating overexploited fishing stocks. Nonetheless, in some cases, these may result in the marginalization of vulnerable populations whose livelihoods depend on those resources. The economic and cultural capital linked to the activities of fishermen and communities that depend on the resource to provide food security and the economic means of survival to their families can also be affected. Recent studies have proven that the inclusion of artisan fishers within the establishment of MPAs has increased the efficiency of MPAS, including monitoring and compliance. These co-management arrangements engaged coastal communities to participate in the designation and management of no-take zones, seasonal catch sites, and overall control and monitoring derived from social, cultural, and ancestry practices that have been passed down from generation to generation in the means of sustainably using these resources.

As Elinor Ostrom proposed, in a local setting with proper community engagement, these co-management arrangements can prove effective in avoiding the tragedy of the commons. Artisan fishers have successfully managed common resources using their fishing and monitoring techniques, networks of mutual trust, rule enforcement, and cultural institutions that have been shared, communicated, and accepted throughout their existence. Artisan fishing and ancestry knowledge about resources can support governmental efforts for the effectiveness and compliance of MPAs. Seemingly, by their inclusion, governments can ensure the participation and livelihood of fishing communities by working together for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of the common resources within MPAs.

MPAs are often set up in well-established social and cultural interactions connected to social and ecological resilience. Nonetheless, MPAs that are technocratically governed (top-down) will ignore social, cultural, and ontological dimensions deeply connected to the area. MPAs that are framed within a participatory approach would be different. Many studies have focused on the ecological and biological impacts of MPAs determining the key features MPAs require to guarantee its effectiveness in biodiversity conservation. On the contrary, less light has been shed on the social, cultural, and economic impacts on stakeholders in the area who depend on the fisheries resources of MPAs for a livelihood.

MPAs can be a biodiversity success but a social burden by lacking broad participation in management, monitoring, sharing economic benefits, and conflict-resolution mechanisms. For MPAs to be effectively managed, it is essential to consider the knowledge and know-how of the local communities for the long-term benefits of coastal communities.

According to a systematic review of the drives of MPA failings, more than 60% of non-compliance MPAs are reported in tropical countries rather than temperate countries. It concluded that lack of an adaptive management plan, lacking enforcement, and lack of alternative income/displaced livelihood are some of the most frequently cited drivers, particularly in tropical areas. Furthermore, visitor illegal fishing also appeared prominent as MPA failings both in tropical and temperate countries. This suggests that drivers of non-compliance could be correlated to human and social rather than physical factors of the sites.

Independent studies on the social dimensions of MPA implementation have mainly been undertaken by MPA proponents themselves (Samudra, 2008) or professionals and scientists in the field of biology, lacking an interdisciplinary approach. Nonetheless, according to (Wahle et al, 2003) there are six priority themes for a social science strategy in MPAs: governance, institutions, and processes; use patterns; attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs; economics; communities; and cultural heritage and resources (Samudra, 2008). Insisting on, the importance of social sciences such as anthropology/sociology, economics, geography, history, archaeology, psychology, law, and ethics) to be vital in planning, creating, and evaluating MPAs.

According to (Samudra, 2008) independent case studies have been commissioned by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) in six different countries (Mexico, Brazil, India, South Africa, Tanzania, and Thailand), to understand the social dimensions of implementing MPAs. The specific objectives were to provide an overview of the legal framework for, and design and implementation of, MPAs; to document and analyze the experiences and views of local communities, particularly fishing communities, concerning various aspects of MPA design and implementation; And to suggest ways in which livelihood concerns can be integrated into the MPA Programme of Work, identifying, in particular, how local communities, particularly fishing communities, could engage as equal partners in the MPA process.

The studies were undertaken in the context of governance, participation, equity, and benefit sharing, which emphasizes the full and effective participation of local and indigenous communities in protected area management. Taken together, the studies provide important insights into the MPA implementation process from a fishing-community perspective, particularly on issues of participation.

As a result of the studies, in five of six countries, thus undergoing efforts to enhance community participation through the implementation, communities have not been part of the process of designing and implementing management activities. Therefore, not consider themselves equal partners in the MPA process (Samudra, 2008). Furthermore, the studies determine clear costs to communities in terms of livelihood options lost, expulsion from traditional fishing grounds and living spaces, and violation of human/community rights. Additionally, the study mentions that shifting to activities such as tourism in MPAs has been perceived not to bring substantial benefits. Resulting in a trend to resist against MPAs in local communities, mistrust of government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that lead MPA processes, and perpetration of rules and regulations, undermining the effectiveness of the MPA itself. The lack of knowledge about cultural differences, cultural property interests, community resources, and claims in coastal waters becomes a core problem. If the cultural and biological components of MPAs are not effectively integrated, the prospect of mobilizing long-term community support fades while the risk of social opposition, conflict, and eventual project failure seems large.

Empowering artisan, indigenous, and local fishing communities to progressively share the responsibility of establishing, managing, and monitoring coastal and fisheries resources, through their involvement in MPA processes, would support the goals of both conservation through MPA effectiveness and poverty reduction through the protection of the livelihood of coastal communities. Furthermore, the advancement of interdisciplinary knowledge can be applied to the objectives of the BBNJ treaty to safeguard 30% of our oceans by 2030 under the establishment of MPAs.

Further research and knowledge mapping are needed to address the gap in MPA processes from the perspective of the community. To underpin a legal framework for integrating community rights to manage resources, building the capacity of both governments and communities. Moreover, promoting local organizations, and enhancing institutional coordination. Along with, identifying clear examples of violations of community rights, and unjust costs on communities, where easily accessible redressal mechanisms need to be put in place, nationally and internationally.

Findings within this realm can help us bring a Social, cultural, and economic bottom-up institution and a management framework for the conservation and sustainable use of MPAs in exclusive economic zones. Bringing participation and knowledge from local communities on the management and sustainable use of common goods. It would further provide knowledge for MPA management on high seas within the BBNJ Treaty as tools for countries, international, regional, and local fishing authorities to work together and sustainably fish the oceans. It would set a social, economic, and cultural perspective and objectives, parallel to the Biological and environmental objectives of MPAs to guarantee their compliance and to contribute to fish population regeneration and the preservation of marine biodiversity.



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