Coastal Mayors Meet COVID-19 on Their Terms

Fishers in Indonesia’s Southeast Sulawesi province with their daily catch.

COVID-19 has forced mayors globally to adapt to the profound changes challenging the social and economic fabric that underpins their cities. But while the pandemic and resulting lockdowns caught everyone off-guard — fishers and politicians, farmers and investment bankers alike — coastal mayors and local leaders are stepping up to ensure a sustainable, equitable, and healthy recovery.

Through its coastal fisheries program, Fish Forever, Rare is working with nearly 1,000 coastal communities and over 150 local governments across eight countries to ensure stable and resilient fisheries that can act as a critical safety net during a crisis.

Since Fish Forever’s “local leadership pledge” launched in 2019, nearly 100 mayors and local leaders in the Philippines, Indonesia, Mozambique, Honduras, and Guatemala have pledged to protect their communities and the natural resources that sustain them. And with the pandemic driving urban workers to migrate to rural villages in search of jobs, the resilience of fishing communities and their fisheries is vital for food and economic security.

Gaseva Recopuerto, Mayor of Sebaste, Philippines, poses with her public pledge and pin.

These coastal champions are taking charge. Not only are they addressing their constituencies’ immediate needs, including adequate food, health, income, and safety, but they are exploring and providing local response and recovery financing, bolstering local markets and fish supply, and modifying sector-related policies and rules to tackle the additional challenges related to managing coastal resources during a pandemic: low prices for fish, a proliferation of unregistered and unlicensed fishers inside municipal waters, intrusions inside marine protected areas/no-take zones, fishing with poisonous substances, and sea piracy.

To ensure adequate food supply, Filipino Mayor Sharon Rose Escoto of the Gubat municipality has imported fish from other areas, increased tilapia distribution, required each neighborhood to have a wet market, and encouraged household vegetable gardening. Tayasan Mayor Susano Ruperto Jr. (in Negros Oriental) has reactivated seaborne patrolling, while Mercedes Mayor Dante Morales (in Camarines Norte) has intensified law enforcement. The Caramoan mayor is utilizing new mediums such as community radio and e-learning systems to inform and educate the populace. And mayors throughout the country have increased wi-fi centers and hotspots to improve rural connectivity.

“We are seeing so many solutions. It is really inspiring how small coastal local government units (LGUs) — LGUs without a lot of resources — are finding ways to meet the challenge (of COVID-19) on their terms,” says Rare Philippines Vice President Rocky Sanchez Tirona.

And, while the pandemic rages on, Rare is steadfastly supporting coastal leadership to face this foe. In the Philippines, Rare has regularly (and virtually) gathered mayoral champions to share challenges and insights and learn how each other is dealing with the coronavirus.

Indonesia launched its “Partnership for Coastal Mayors” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Indonesia, despite travel and gathering restrictions, Rare and program partners have virtually launched a local leader network, the “Partnership for Coastal Mayors,” across Southeast Sulawesi and North Sulawesi provinces. With support from the Minister of Home Affairs, 32 local government leaders from both regions have signed the pledge, during virtual events, to support Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water and healthy and sustainable fishing communities.

The need to protect and manage coastal resources for food and livelihoods has become ever-more-urgent as coastal leaders and their communities cope with the pandemic’s pressures. In response, Fish Forever has accelerated its support to the coastal fishing sector, leaning on nearly 130 partners, over 150 local governments, robust data sharing, and proven behavior adoption strategies to together enhance and adapt program delivery in this new coronavirus (COVID-19) reality.

For a first-hand account of mayors’ roles as food security frontliners, read the guest blog by Vice Mayor of the Philippines’ Del Carmen Municipality in Siargao in Surigao del Norte.

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