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Oversaturated fisheries are just one part of the problem that fishing communities face in this region. (Photo: Google map/FIS)

Even most sustainable fishing proves insufficient to support so many fishermen in Gulf of California

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Saturday, November 03, 2018, 02:40 (GMT + 9)

A team of researchers suggests that even if fishermen used the most efficient and sustainable known practices, they would not generate enough revenue to maintain a living above poverty level.

These scientists, from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of British Columbia, indicate that two-thirds of the small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California present some degree of overexploitation.

However, the study highlights that if fish stocks were allowed to recover, total annual fishing revenues could increase by 70 per cent, representing an increase from USD 141 million now to USD 240 million per year in the future.

Still, in areas with large numbers of fishers, such as Mazatlan and Guaymas, even if depleted fisheries recovered, fishers would not earn enough money to pay for food, education, health services and clothing. For the Gulf of California as a whole, as much as 80 per cent of fishers would continue to live in poverty.

“Our results demonstrate that fisheries have a maximum economic capacity. Failing to recognize that will harm our efforts to conserve marine resources and to provide economic security for coastal communities,” said lead author Alfredo Giron, a graduate student at Scripps.

Small scale fishermens working with nets. (Photo: courtesy TierraFertil)

While fishers around the world are often recognized as vulnerable groups frequently living in poverty, governments seem invested in increasing the number of people trying to make a living out of this activity.

To the researchers conducting the study, increasing the number of fishers not only exacerbates unsustainable exploitation of marine ecosystems, but will also compromise fishers’ well-being since their individual revenues will continue to decrease year after year.

“We would not like the only take-home message to be that the only solution to achieve sustainable fisheries is to have fewer fishers, but it definitely needs to be part of the conversation,” said Giron.

Oversaturated fisheries are just one part of the problem that fishing communities face in this region, Giron said. Previous studies highlighted the importance of addressing other social problems like marginalization of coastal communities and lax or inconsistent enforcement of sustainable practices.

“Focusing on the sustainable exploitation of fisheries is still important to preserve our marine biodiversity,” pointed out Octavio Aburto, a marine ecologist at Scripps Oceanography and co-author of the study.

“However, if we want to talk about human well-being, we need to start thinking further ahead within a broader social, economic and ecological perspective,” Aburto added.

For his part, Andrew Johnson, co-author of the study, and a fisheries biologist consultant for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, stated that it is not a matter anymore of mitigating the effects that fisheries overexploitation has on particular locations, but about designing adaptation strategies that will provide coastal communities with more economic opportunities.

The study, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, highlights the need for policymakers to recognize the potential of the oceans as a platform for sustainable economic development and encourage present-day fishers to pursue livelihoods that stand a better chance of providing stable income over the long-term.

“The challenge will be to generate alternate economic opportunities that fishers would be willing to accept, as most times fisheries are not only a job, but a form of living,” said Andres Cisneros, co-author of the study and research economist at the University of British Columbia.

With this in mind, this paper aims to alert not only fisheries managers and sector leaders, but development economists, anthropologists, sociologists, and new sustainable industries.
 
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