It’s Time to Confront the Great Paradox of the Overfishing Crisis

Larissa Hotra
Oct 18, 2019 · 3 min read
José Villalta, mayor of Juan Francisco Bulnes, a coastal municipality in Honduras, signs a banner pledging to protect the Mesoamerican Reef region’s waters, reefs, and marine resources that sustain their communities.

“Every year, we fish harder, deeper, further afield. Every year we chase ever-fewer fish. Yet the crisis of overfishing is a great paradox: unnecessary, avoidable, and entirely reversible.” — Alasdair Harris, Blue Ventures

“I’m a marine biologist, here to talk to you about the crisis in our oceans. But this time, perhaps not with a message you’ve heard before…” This is how Alasdair Harris of Blue Ventures opened his TED talk during the recent UN General Assembly and Global Goals Week. The ‘message’ he urgently wants you to understand is one all-too-familiar to Rare’s coastal fisheries program, Fish Forever: “Our success propels theirs.”

‘Ours’ relates to scientists, philanthropists, conservationists, investors, governments, and civil society advocates working vigorously to tackle the different challenges associated with a changing climate and threats like overfishing and pollution. ‘Theirs’ is the coastal fishing households and “army of everyday conservationists” who have the most to gain from managing their resources sustainably — and the most to lose from the global community’s inability to act. As Alasdair wisely professes, “Helping them achieve this is the most powerful thing we can do to keep our oceans alive.”

Like Blue Ventures, Rare is committed to listening to and empowering the world’s 50 million coastal fishers and their families and communities so that they are the ones who benefit from transforming coastal fisheries management. We do this by championing locally-led, community-based fisheries management.

By working with fishing communities to design networks of marine reserves that protect essential fish habitat and stock.

By helping these same communities collect and analyze catch data to make informed management decisions, underpin policymaking, and measure the efficacy of those decisions.

The women-led Bailaki savings club in Závora, Mozambique, a fishing community over 400km northeast of Maputo.

And by including those perhaps even less visible than the fishers — the women buying, selling and processing the fish, managing the household’s finances, and creating small businesses that generate more resilient and diversified income streams that protect families from the risks inherent to fishing.

We do this, and much more, through Fish Forever “because fisheries are one of the most productive resources on the planet. [And] with the right strategies, we can reverse overfishing.” We’re proud of the progress we have made in empowering and inspiring coastal fishing communities in the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Honduras, and beyond.

In mid-2018, Indonesia officially designated the Dampier Strait as a protected TURF (Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries) network. At 211,000 hectares and encompassing 19 villages, the Dampier Strait network is the largest comprehensive TURF-Reserve network in the world. The formal agreement was led by the Maya Tribe Adat Council in Raja Ampat, West Papua and signed by 58 local leaders in the Dampier Strait.

As the global community of ocean advocates descends upon Our Ocean this week, let’s be a voice for those local leaders and governments who are working to ensure that coastal fishers are recognized and valued for their real worth. And let’s never forget who ‘our’ success is for. In fact, let’s consider measuring success in this way: when fishing communities benefit from the surrounding wealth of resources and use them to ensure a better future for fish and people alike.

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

Larissa Hotra

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Telling stories to remind us that we’re all connected.

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

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