Global fisheries, including those in Canada, can be sustained by following a “community-based co-management” model, according to an American study that suggests input from local fishermen would stop illegal fishing and increase resources.
Researchers at the University of Washington investigated more than 130 fisheries in 44 countries to study how co-management practices affect fisheries around the world. The results showed that the framework, based on shared responsibility between the government and local fishermen, is the “only realistic solution” to the problems fisheries face, said lead researcher Nicolas Gutierrez, who studies aquatic and fisheries science.
His team’s findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, also examined small-scale and industrial fisheries in Atlantic Canada, on Vancouver Island and the West Coast, in the Arctic and Native fisheries.
“Many people believe that having fishermen involved in the management process is letting the fox guard the henhouse. What (this research) shows is just the opposite, that the more involved the fishing industry is in management, the better the outcome,” co-author Ray Hilborn said.
Major components identified in the co-managed fisheries studied included a leader who enforces guidelines based on community input, securing catch and ownership over an allotted space and protecting harvested areas for conservation.
Incorporating these components resulted in less illegal fishing, a greater abundance of resources and higher profits, Gutierrez said.
Hilborn said many fisheries can’t succeed under government management alone because some are so small that officials can’t devote the resources needed to monitor them.
On the smallest scale, the co-management system would include mayors and fishermen from different villages agreeing to avoid fishing in each other’s waters.
Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the model “makes sense” because it provides fishermen, who have first-hand knowledge of the region, with ownership of a piece of the waters, so they’ll take better care of that space.
He pointed to Canadian lobster fisheries on the East Coast — an industry worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars — that have adopted the community-based co-management method.
“It’s not by coincidence that it’s one of the most successful fisheries we have. It’s been sustained for more than 150 years and is economically very important to hundreds of fishermen,” he said.
“When people have a sense of ownership over their resource, they absolutely want to make sure no one takes their lobster, and if somebody does, that person is ostracized in the community and that’s a stronger penalty than a fine.”
He said he has seen successful fisheries around the world operate under this model, naming Chile as an example.
In the 1980s, Chilean fisheries were exploited because of open access, meaning anyone could extract seafood from the sea. By 1988, fishermen, scientists and the government set up a co-management agreement in a fishing cove covering four kilometres of seashore, where only local fishermen were allowed to fish.
According to Gutierrez, the co-managed area now stretches along 4,000 kilometres with more than 20,000 fishermen participating, making it one of the most successful abalone fisheries in the world.
Worm said Canadian communities with crab, lobster and shrimp fisheries should also consider adapting to this model.
“There are new emerging fisheries with limited scientific knowledge, such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers. In a data-poor situation, using knowledge that fishermen have and working with them to conserve the resource is a viable option,” Worm said.