Community-based fishery management and Somali pirates
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A study published last week in the journal PLoS Biology found that, in one-third of low-income countries, the principal fishers were fleets from the European Union, South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, or the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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A 2008 New York Times story reports:
A vast flotilla of industrial trawlers from the European Union, China, Russia and elsewhere, together with an abundance of local boats, have so thoroughly scoured northwest Africa’s ocean floor that major fish populations are collapsing.
That has crippled coastal economies and added to the surge of illegal migrants who brave the high seas in wooden pirogues hoping to reach Europe. While reasons for immigration are as varied as fish species, Europe’s lure has clearly intensified as northwest Africa’s fish population has dwindled.
And it gets worse.
When Somali pirates tell their stories, they often mention fishery depletion as a reason why they became pirates . From another Times story last year:
Several fishermen along the Gulf of Aden talked about seeing barrels of toxic waste bobbing in the middle of the ocean. They spoke of clouds of dead fish floating nearby and rogue fishing trawlers sucking up not just fish and lobsters but also the coral and the plants that sustain them. It was abuses like these, several men said, that turned them from fishermen into pirates.
"Roving banditry" by fishing fleets is, it seems, creating bandits of a different kind.
Back to community-based fishery management. Would the Gulf of Aden be a safer place if the Somalis managed their own seas? Who knows? But, as it turns out, traditional cultures determined that community-based fishery management was the best approach long ago.
One of the best known, but by no means the only, examples of community based fishery management comes from Polynesian societies of the South Pacific. Islands are – well, islands. They have very obviously finite resources. (So do planets, by the way, although perhaps a little less obviously.) If they're mismanaged, there's little recourse. As a result, Polynesians have developed strict fishery policies.
Communities along the shore have exclusive rights to fish directly offshore. These rights are jealously protected. (One scientist recently working in Fiji told me about fishermen spearing, but not killing, an interloper.) We might call this a limited-access fishery. The point is, a fixed – and known – number of people fish it, and they're answerable to a local authority.
Then, when fishermen note that fish stocks are falling in a given area, a village chief might issue an edict prohibiting fishing there for a time.
Elsewhere nowadays, scientists take stock assessments. Depending on what they find, they might recommend a closure. A patch of sea is set off-limits. We call that a no-take marine protected area (MPA). MPAs are fast becoming a cornerstone of fishery management.