The majority of marine capture fisheries resources are considered to be close to maximum exploitation worldwide, and nearly half are already completely exploited.
Generally when you think about overexploitation, you imagine enormous international fishing fleets, but small scale fishing generates more than half of marine and inland capture worldwide, almost all of them destined for direct human consumption. Small-scale fisheries employ more than 90% of the 35 million fishermen in the world and support another 84 million people employed in jobs associated with fish processing, distribution, and marketing.
It is estimated that more than 2 million fishermen participate in artisanal or small-scale fishing in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has an annual production level greater than 2.5 million metric tons, and an approximate value of 3,000 million US$.
In Costa Rica, artisanal or small-scale fishing represent 80% of the fishing fleet, and the work is carried out by low income coastal residents, the majority of whom are located on the Pacific coast. This is why initiatives to mitigate the depletion of fish stocks should promote the efficient management of artisanal fishing areas, as well as the organization of fishing communities so that they can exercise a greater level of self-regulation and a more sustainable use of resources.
It is key that the formation of fishermen focus on actions related to the subject of the environment, that can be incorporated into their operational processes and fishing practices. An interesting example worth sharing is the experience of training 17 fishing communities that took place in the province of Puntarenas in Costa Rica. This initiative was part of a project to promote the sustainable management of marine resources that is being executed in cooperation with the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) and the NGO MarViva, with financing from the Global Environment Facility.
This video shows the importance of developing participatory training that is adapted to the necessities and characteristics of the artisanal fishermen. Ideally these workshops both train the fisherman in more sustainable practices and make them aware of their responsibility to the environment, motivating them to use their knowledge sustainably and empowering them to practice fishing as an activity that is more than a means of sustenance.
The training carried out in these coastal communities not only generated space for discussion but also gave the artisanal fishermen the opportunity to:
- Understand maritime fishing regulations established for the artisanal sector, such as the importance of the closed period, which in the case of the Gulf of Nicoya is 3 months a year during which fishing is prohibited.
- Clarify concepts and recognize values with the goal of developing skills and attitudes to promote the conservation of the environment. For example, applying the ecosystem approach to fishing to understand how fishing focused on a limited number of species affects the food chain and thus the health of the marine ecosystem.
- Apply techniques and procedures that are good practices to improve the sustainability of fishing and its resources. Here it is key to use legal fishing arts that avoid or minimize the capture of species in juvenile stage, and thus ensure their reproductive cycles and maintain future populations.
The solution to fishing problems, and to a good part of environmental ones, requires a change in the culture of the fishing sector towards greater social and environmental responsibility. This is why the sector must evolve towards a concept of responsible fishing and the management of fisheries based on an ecosystem approach. Only a long-term vision can ensure the ecological, economic, and social sustainability of fishing.
But artisanal fishermen aren’t the only ones that should be mindful of the sustainable use of fishing resources. We, as consumers, are responsible for supporting responsible fishing by choosing sustainable products when we are buying our food. Today it is easier than ever to access information about what species to consume and where to buy certified fish. And although currently certified fish is more focused on the American and European market, there are many interesting examples of companies supporting local sustainable fishing in our region (the Wok chain of restaurants in Colombia, and the distributor of fish Product C in Costa Rica, among others). A simple step that we can all take next time we go to a grocery store or a restaurant is to ask where the fish comes from. It is our responsibility to be informed and conscious consumers!
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Title: Fisherman fixing a net by ©Kevin Heslin