Community-led management of fisheries has now taken root in countries throughout the western Indian Ocean and the Coral Triangle. In these places, we and our partners support communities to manage their marine environments for sustainability and resilience, usually initiated using periodic fishery closures as a catalyst to spark interest.
In Madagascar, such periodic closures were initially put in place for octopus fisheries, but are now being used for mangrove crab, lobster, Indian mackerel and even for multi-species fisheries.
These periodic fishery closures can be a simple yet effective tool that demonstrates to communities the power they have to manage their own fisheries. But fishers have reported impacts of these closures that go far beyond increases in the number and size of the target species caught.
The benefits experienced by communities who have engaged in periodic fishery closures are diverse, and are linked to the consultation, data collection and capacity-building components which are essential to this management approach.
Training community members to collect data gives them and the whole community a better understanding of the dynamics within the fisheries they are monitoring, the value of those fisheries, and how they might need to regulate catch levels.
Individuals who are trained in data collection and interpretation may gain a new sense of confidence or involvement with community matters, as a result of that role.
Women in Timor-Leste have shown an eagerness to gain new skills and ecological knowledge through fisheries monitoring training. Twenty female data collectors in three communities are now involved in monitoring fish catch, and present the data they collect at village meetings.
This has given them far greater involvement in fisheries management activities than ever before. Village leaders have shown great interest in their fisheries monitoring group – Grupu Monitorizasaun Peskas – and have encouraged them to be more involved in local marine governance and management.
For example, four female data collectors participated in the local pre-consultation meeting for the national fisheries strategy, bringing the attendance to about one third women.
In Timor-Leste, a traditional customary law known as Tara Bandu is recognised by the government as a legal tool that communities can use to manage natural environments on the land and in the sea.
The community of Behau used Tara Bandu over 40 years ago, to ban fishing in a very productive section of the reef near their village, through a combination of sacred rituals and formal legislation. However, its use for marine management had waned in recent years.
With support from Blue Ventures, the community revived and formalised a Tara Bandu to ban all fishing on a section of their reef in 2018, and agreed to trial a periodic closure to help restore the cuttlefish fishery.
Building an understanding of the dynamics of fish stocks through community-based fisheries monitoring, and supporting the implementation of Tara Bandu to allow communities to manage their local coastal areas, has led to a more forward-looking, long-term attitude amongst some:
There can also be broader, community-level changes as a result of this process. Village members in Indonesia reported better community cohesion and a communal spirit, due to the process of involving all fishers in planning their periodic octopus fishery closure.
In the past, communities in Indonesia with customary marine management systems in place had strict rules about the areas any community was allowed to fish in. However, in many places those practices have waned in recent decades, leaving communities unable to defend their traditional fishing areas from migrant fishers and destructive fishing practices.
Communities can use periodic fishery closures, and the legal documents used to formalise such closures, to engage with other fishing communities and enforce their closure area.
Moreover, the process of implementing periodic fishery closures builds skills and leadership within communities.
And once that confidence is present within a community:
The process can deliver financial benefits which are felt by all in the community, not just those involved in fisheries.
When communities start to manage their own fisheries, the impacts they experience go far beyond improved catch rates and affect individuals, dynamics within communities, and relationships with other stakeholders, as well as the marine environment. Developing management plans for shared fishing grounds brings about cooperation amongst neighbouring communities, building relationships and resilience at a regional level.
Communities are set on the path to broader community-led marine management, empowered with the skills and resources to address wider and more complex challenges.
In the future, we hope to scientifically document some of these ‘beyond catch’ impacts, to better understand how they contribute to more resilient communities with the capacity and desire to act as stewards of their marine environments.
Produced with contributions from Mwambao, FORKANI, LINI, Planet Indonesia, the community of Darawa (Indonesia) and communities of Atauro, Behau and Manatuto (Timor-Leste).