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					This document was published in 1996 as part of ITDG’s Dynamic Diversity series.

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity
through their Fishing Techniques

Initial research by Janet Bell - Compiled by Brian O’Riordan - Series editor Patrick Mulvany

Overfishing, habitat destruction and the introduction of exotic species is having a devastating impact on aquatic
biodiversity and thus on fish populations. These impacts are exacerbated by capture fisheries and industrial
aquaculture and have led to all the world’s 17 main fishing grounds being fished at or above their sustainable
limits. In contrast, nurture fisheries used by artisanal fisherfolk and small-scale fish farmers maintain and develop
aquatic biodiversity. This booklet explains how, through supporting artisanal fisherfolk, the decline in the diversity
of fish species can be reversed.

This document was originally published in 1996 as a fully-illustrated booklet as part of Intermediate Technology’s
Dynamic Diversity series. It has been resissued in this more basic electronic format as a response to the South
Asia tsunami disaster. The text has not been revised. The original publication was produced with financial
support from the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

Intermediate Technology Development Group 1996, 2005 –

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                         1
Farmers, herders and fisherfolk
safeguarding biodiversity for food security
Introduction                                                producers. It is called in situ conservation; it is
                                                            dynamic and the genetic resources develop through
         Today ... we are called upon to help               utilization and selection. The production systems
         preserve the diversity handed down to us           which support this biodiversity still ensure food and
         ... The manner in which we meet this               livelihood security. They provide food for around
         challenge will largely determine how – or          one third of the world’s population as well as
         whether – future generations will live on          providing livelihoods for most of the world’s poor,
         this planet.                                       including the majority of farmers and herders and all
                                                            those dependent on artisanal fisheries.
                       Cary Fowler and Pat Mooney
                                                            Erosion of biodiversity
This introduction to the series of three Dynamic
Diversity booklets provides an overview of the              These locally diverse food production systems are
common issues concerning the maintenance of the             under threat and, with them, the accompanying
biodiversity of all food species. The important role of     local knowledge and skills of the food producers.
fisherfolk in safeguarding biodiversity through their       With this decline, the biodiversity of all food species
fishing techniques is described after this                  is disappearing and the scale of loss is extensive.
introduction, and the companion Dynamic Diversity           More than 75 per cent of crop varieties have
booklets describe the roles of farmers and livestock        disappeared; half of the breeds of many domestic
keepers in safeguarding biodiversity for food               animals have been lost. In fisheries, all the world’s
security.                                                   17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or
                                                            above their sustainable limits, with many fish
Importance of biodiversity for food                         populations effectively becoming extinct.
                                                            The genetic erosion of the biodiversity of food
The biodiversity of food species, sometimes                 species is also exacerbated by the loss of forest
referred to as agricultural biodiversity,                   cover, coastal wetlands and other ‘wild’ uncultivated
agrobiodiversity or the genetic resources for food          areas, and the destruction of the aquatic
and agriculture, is an important sub-set of general         environment. This leads to losses of ‘wild’ relatives,
biodiversity: it is the basis of food security. It has      important for the development of biodiversity, and
been developed by smallholder farmers, herders              losses of ‘wild’ foods essential for food provision,
and artisanal fisherfolk, in a wide range of                particularly in times of crisis.
ecosystems over thousands of years, in order to
produce food of desired qualities and taste, for local      Causes of genetic erosion
nutritional, social and economic needs.
                                                            There are many causes of this decline, which has
To achieve this, food producers developed locally           been accelerating throughout the 20th century in
diverse production systems, increasing the reliability      parallel with the demands of an increasing
of production and minimizing risk. Within these             population and greater competition for natural
production systems the biodiversity of their crops          resources. The principal underlying causes include:
and livestock was developed for varied
environments. For example, crop varieties and               •    The rapid expansion of industrial and Green
domestic animal breeds were developed that could                 Revolution agriculture, intensive livestock
withstand drought or floods, thrive on poor or rich              production, industrial fisheries and aquaculture
soils, resist pests and diseases. Likewise, a rich               (some using genetically engineered varieties
aquatic biodiversity, nurtured by fisherfolk, has                and breeds) that cultivate relatively few crop
sustained local fish populations.                                varieties in monocultures, rear a limited number
                                                                 of domestic animal breeds, or fish for, or
This conservation and development of biodiversity                cultivate, few aquatic species.
continues today on the farms and rangelands, and
in the coastal waters, used by these food

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                      2
•   The globalization of the food system and the            Conservation approaches
    extension of industrial patenting and other
    intellectual property systems to living                 The response of communities, states and
    organisms, which has led to the widespread              international institutions has been slow but is now
    cultivation and rearing of fewer varieties and          gathering pace. The global conservation movement
    breeds for a more uniform, less diverse but             has started to recognize this important component
    more competitive global market.                         of biodiversity and the value of local food production
                                                            systems in conserving it.
As a consequence there has been:
                                                            In situ conservation
•   Marginalization of small-scale, diverse, food           As noted above, this is achieved through
    production systems that conserve farmers’               maintaining and developing biodiversity in farmers’
    varieties of crops and breeds of domestic               fields and gardens, on rangelands and in coastal
    animals, which form the genetic pool for food           waters. The genetic resources develop through
    and agriculture in the future.                          utilization and selection. A few exciting partnerships
                                                            have been set up between the formal scientific
•   Reduced integration of livestock in arable              community and local food producers to develop in
    production, which reduces the diversity of uses         situ conservation programmes, but these cases are
    for which livestock are needed.                         still the exception rather than the rule. Despite
                                                            growing recognition for the success of community-
•   Reduced use of ‘nurture’ fisheries techniques,          based in situ biodiversity conservation and
    that conserve and develop aquatic biodiversity.         development, it is still peripheral to institutional
                                                            strategies, rather than being centre stage.
Reversing the trends
                                                            Ex situ conservation
The loss of this biodiversity could be reversed if
there were more support for policies and                    Ex situ conservation of genetic resources, in
programmes, including agricultural research and             genebanks or in living collections located away from
extension and fisheries policies, which strengthen          the production systems that developed the
the production systems developed by smallholder             resources, has received most of the funding in
farmers, herders and artisanal fisherfolk. It is also       recent decades. By definition, this strategy can only
important to develop systems to reward these                preserve material taken from farms and the local
producers for their innovation and their contribution       environment: it cannot develop diversity. While
to global food security, so that they have an               valuable, it should be seen principally as providing
incentive to continue conserving and developing             support to in situ conservation and development
this biodiversity. This could be achieved through the       rather than vice versa. A good example of this is the
development and implementation of Farmers’ or               use of ex situ genebanks kept within communities to
Communal Rights.                                            support local production systems.

Farmers’ Rights, as proposed by the Food and                Conservation in genetic ‘reserves’
Agriculture Organization (FAO), will enable farmers,
                                                            Another strategy that is sometimes promoted is the
and their communities, to: ‘ ... participate fully in the
                                                            formation of Genetic Reserves, usually in remote
benefits derived, at present and in the future, from
                                                            environments, in which communities are
the improved use of [their] plant genetic resources,
                                                            discouraged from developing their crop varieties
through plant breeding and other scientific
                                                            and animal breeds. This denies the possibility of
methods.’ The agreed resolution (FAO 5/89) also
                                                            diversity being maintained, for it is the interaction of
calls for ‘ ... the continued support to farmers and
                                                            old with new practices and new demands that has
farming communities in the protection and
                                                            developed the diversity of varieties and breeds.
conservation of their plant genetic resources.’ There
                                                            Similarly, in Marine Genetic Reserves from which
is a need, however, not only to implement Farmers’
                                                            artisanal fisherfolk are excluded, their expert
Rights but also to extend these Rights to include all
                                                            management of the ecosystem, which has
food providers – those who grow, nurture and
                                                            developed aquatic biodiversity for human use, is
collect the food we eat.

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                       3
Institutional context                                       consider Agricultural Biodiversity and it receives
                                                            reports from the FAO on current negotiations. It is
The main global institutions concerned with the             hoped that the revised IU from FAO, including
conservation and utilization of the biodiversity of all     Farmers’ Rights, will be included as a Protocol to
food species are the Food and Agriculture                   the Convention. However, the influence of the
Organization (FAO), the Convention on Biological            World Bank, the Group of 7 (G7) and the World
Diversity (CBD), and the Consultative Group on              Trade Organisation (WTO) on the Convention is
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The            increasing, with the possibility that farmers will get
World Trade Organisation (WTO) is also a major              little recognition for their contribution to biodiversity
influence on the international food system and              conservation.
hence, indirectly, on biodiversity. Between them,
and their governing bodies, these institutions are          The United Nations General Assembly is reviewing
the major influence for developing global systems           progress of the Earth Summit’s Action Plan
that affect the biodiversity of food species. There         (Agenda 21), in 1997, 5 years after Rio. This may
are other important institutions which focus on             affect how agricultural biodiversity is governed in
specific aspects, for example the International             future.
Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of
Plants (UPOV), and these are referred to in the             Consultative Group on International
subject-specific booklet.                                   Agricultural Research
Food and Agriculture Organization                           The CGIAR comprises 16 International Agricultural
                                                            Research Centres. Its overall purpose is to promote
The FAO is the principal intergovernmental                  international research on sustainable improvements
institution concerned with agricultural biodiversity. It    in the productivity of agriculture, forestry and
achieved the agreement of 148 countries in June             fisheries in countries of the South, in ways that
1996 to a Global Plan of Action for the Conservation        enhance nutrition and well-being, especially of low-
and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic                income people. It has a System-wide Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA), which             Resources Programme managed by one of the
contains activities on in situ conservation, among          Centres, the International Plant Genetic Resources
others. This will be taken forward in FAO’s World           Institute. The CGIAR, collectively through all its
Food Summit (WFS) and at subsequent                         Centres, has the largest ex situ genebank
negotiations in the FAO Commission on Genetic               collection, which is now held in trust by the FAO.
Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA). This            The CGIAR is the major influence on agricultural
Commission is extending its brief from covering only        research internationally but it urgently needs to
plant genetic resources to include domestic animal          develop its programmes in ways that are more
diversity (for which FAO already has an                     responsive to the majority of poor farmers, herders
international programme), fish genetic resources            and fisherfolk.
and forest genetic resources.
                                                            World Trade Organisation
The Commission is also the forum in which the
International Undertaking on Plant Genetic                  The WTO incorporates the General Agreement on
Resources (IU), which includes a commitment to              Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which, since the Uruguay
Farmers’ Rights, will be negotiated.                        Round of negotiations, now includes the marketing
                                                            of agricultural products. It is promoting trade
The FAO is also a key proponent of Sustainable              liberalization and the removal of subsidies and
Agriculture and Rural Development through various           protection for local food production. Another part of
of its programmes and is implementing a Code of             its mandate is to promote a Trade Related
Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, among other              Intellectual Property Rights system (TRIPs), which
relevant programmes.                                        favours the development of patents, or other
                                                            effective systems of intellectual property protection,
Convention on Biological Diversity                          for living organisms. A review of this is due in 1999.

The CBD was negotiated in Rio at the Earth Summit
                                                            Key policy issues
in 1992. The CBD’s controlling body, the
Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity               In order to achieve improved conservation of
Convention (COPs), meets annually and reviews               agricultural biodiversity, policies and programmes,
progress in the development and implementation of           at all levels, need to:
the Convention. One aspect of its mandate is to

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                         4
•   Promote the conservation, development and                    communities. Alternative rights regimes must
    legal use of a wide range of biodiversity of food            be pursued which recognize and reward
    species in ways which encourage the local                    indigenous innovation. These contrast with
    improvement of the genetic resources                         patents and plant breeders’ rights which may
    contained in crop varieties, domestic animal                 exclude food providers from receiving any
    breeds, fish species and ‘wild’ foods.                       benefits or even from being able to access
                                                                 freely the genetic resources they developed.
•   Increase consumption of locally produced
    foods and generate awareness among                      •    Support locally determined priorities for
    consumers of the importance of maintaining                   agricultural, livestock, fisheries and forestry
    agricultural biodiversity.                                   research and extension. These should become
                                                                 more responsive to the diverse needs of the
•   Emphasize in situ conservation and utilization,              majority, poor, Southern food providers, rather
    maintaining dynamic diversity rather than                    than a Northern-dominated research agenda.
    freezing (and losing) diversity in genebanks.
    These ex situ genebanks should only be used             •    Increase recognition and support for
    as a back-up to the living, dynamic and                      appropriate technologies, which respect and
    evolving collections used and nurtured by food               nurture the environment, increase biodiversity,
    providers.                                                   and sustain and support livelihoods, especially
                                                                 those technologies embodied in the local
•   Accord special priority to local development of              knowledge and skills of food providers. A much
    genetic resources for food and agriculture for               more careful assessment is needed of the
    local ecological niches and specific market and              impacts of new technologies, including
    social needs. This can be achieved through                   biotechnology, on the environment, peoples’
    support for local crop breeding and local seed               livelihoods and biodiversity.
    marketing schemes. It may require the removal
    of some legal and commercial constraints, for           •    Improve formal and informal sector linkages
    example to the use of semi-finished crop                     and increase co-operation between formal
    varieties and varieties that are not on official             researchers and NGOs and food providers in
    lists. Similarly, there needs to be                          order to achieve the goal of improved
    encouragement for schemes to develop local                   conservation and utilization of genetic
    domestic animal breeds and edible aquatic                    resources for food and agriculture. The formal
    species.                                                     sector needs to understand and value the
                                                                 strengths of the informal sector, particularly in
•   Increase recognition and reward to women who                 the areas of conservation and utilization,
    have been the principal nurturers and                        training, advocacy and research. This will
    developers of the biodiversity of food species.              require increased support and the removal of
    Any programme or initiative should use gender                legislative and institutional barriers.
    sensitive techniques in planning and
    implementation. It is important to ensure that          Call for action
    any reward systems benefit women, in
    particular.                                             Concern about securing a diversity of affordable,
                                                            safe, nutritious foods is being voiced by
•   Safeguard the ownership of, and rights of               communities throughout the world. Before it is too
    access to, this biodiversity by local                   late, policy and practice needs to turn around in
    communities – especially through the                    favour of smaller-scale, people-centred, biodiverse
    implementation of farmers’ or communal rights.          food provision. The aim of this booklet is to provide
    These should be based on the recognition that           information for the debate and to stimulate action to
    genetic resources for food and agriculture are a        reverse the decline in the biodiversity of food
    heritage of farming, pastoral, fishing and forest       species.

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                       5
Fisherfolk safeguarding aquatic biodiversity
through their fishing techniques
    Underlying the capability ... to achieve the            leading to a dramatic five-fold increase in fish
    sustainable contribution of fish to ... food            catches, from some 20 million tonnes per annum in
    security are two critical policy requirements.          1950 to about 100 million tonnes per annum today.
    These are: the maintenance and                          In recent years most of this increase in production
    enhancement, where possible, of the resource            has come from aquaculture as yields from marine
    base and of biodiversity; and the equitable             fisheries have levelled off and in some cases
    allocation of resources and the benefits derived        declined. China and India are the two main
    from their use.                                         aquaculture producers in the world. Between them
                                                            they produce over 65 per cent of the world
                 Food and Agriculture Organization1         aquaculture production. It is also important to note
                                                            that in 1993, over 80 per cent of the world’s
Livelihoods and food security                               aquaculture production came from the developing
                                                            countries, including more than 85 per cent of all
Fisheries have provided livelihoods and food                farmed fin fish.8 These increases in fish production
supplies to communities of fisherfolk for millennia.2       have been achieved through using ever more
Fish provide the world’s only major food source             intensive capture fishing techniques and industrial
harvested from the ‘wild’. They are thus dependent          aquaculture production systems, leading to the
on the naturally renewable aquatic biodiversity             destruction of the aquatic environment and
found in the world’s oceans and inland waters. As           biodiversity, and the loss of marine fish stocks.
fishing and fish production techniques become
more intensive, this biodiversity is being rapidly
                                                            Aquatic biodiversity
eroded through habitat destruction, overfishing and
the introduction of exotic species, threatening food        There are 20,000–30,000 species of fish in a
security.                                                   multitude of diverse marine aquatic ecosystems
                                                            worldwide, and in freshwater environments many
Currently, fish provide the fifth largest food              new fish species continue to be ‘discovered’ by
resource, and are the primary source of animal              science.12 Yet, 40 per cent of the world’s fish catch
protein – 65 million out of 253 million tonnes of           comprises only 20 species, of which the Peruvian
animal protein eaten by people. They provide more           anchovy accounted, in 1993/94, for nearly 10 per
than 50 per cent of the animal protein intake for           cent. While this may demonstrate the potential that
over one billion people in Asia, as well as millions of     other types of fish could play in providing food for
people in coastal African and Latin American                human kind, it conceals the fact that there are
countries and in small island developing states.3,4         complex and far-reaching interdependencies
                                                            between fish species and their environment that are
In these countries in the South there are an                essential to sustaining global fisheries production.
estimated 10 million full-time and 10 million part-
time, almost all male, fisherfolk.5 Together with           More than 90 per cent of the marine fish catch
wives and dependants, an estimated total of                 comes from the 9.9 per cent of the ocean that lies
between 150 and 200 million people worldwide are            over the continental shelf, especially in key habitats
dependent for all or part of their livelihoods on           in the nearshore waters, in the inter-tidal zone, and
artisanal fisheries. These fisheries produce about          in the land areas immediately adjacent to the coast
25 per cent of the total world marine fish catch, and       – coastal rivers, bays, wetlands, estuaries,
contribute about 40 per cent of the fish destined for       mangroves, saltmarshes, mudflats, sea grass and
direct human consumption. Their contribution to             seaweed beds, and coral reefs. About two thirds of
local food security is important, particularly in           all commercially valuable fish species spend the
isolated coastal communities.6                              first – and most vulnerable – stages of their life in
                                                            these waters.13 In the 0.1 per cent of the oceans
These artisanal fisheries, which nurture fish stocks,       where underwater currents rise to the surface – the
are under threat. Over the past five decades, there         upwelling zones – significant catches are also
has been an industrial and technological revolution         made,14 the remaining 90 per cent of the open
in the world’s marine and freshwater fisheries,             oceans, while yielding relatively few fish, is

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                     6
essential for providing resources needed to                 century naturalist and would-be evolutionist, Jean-
maintain fish populations in the productive 10 per          Baptiste de Lamarck, encapsulates the still widely
cent of the seas.15                                         prevailing view on fisheries: ‘Animals living in ... the
                                                            sea waters ... are protected from the destruction of
Fisheries ultimately depend on the quality and              their species by man. Their multiplication is so
integrity of the whole ecosystem, and the                   rapid, and their means of evading pursuit or traps
biodiversity within it. To threaten the health of the       are so great, that there is no likelihood of his being
ecosystem and its biodiversity is to threaten the           able to destroy entire species of these animals.’19
health of the fisheries that rely on it. Removing key       Many people, including fisheries experts, have
species from this environment can dramatically              continued to commit the same error of thinking.
effect the structure of ecosystem, can destabilize          Their mistakes have reduced marine fisheries
fisheries, and hasten their collapse.16 In general,         populations to extremely low levels, destabilized
the more biodiverse the ecosystem, the more stable          marine ecosystems and impoverished coastal
and sustainable. The maintenance of aquatic                 communities.20
biodiversity and a precautionary approach to the
use of aquatic ecosystems is therefore of                   The environmental problems, and impact on local
fundamental importance to conserving fisheries.             aquatic biodiversity, caused by aquaculture (the
Once severe loss or degradation of biodiversity has         cultivation of fish and other aquatic foods)
occurred within an aquatic ecosystem, irreversible          production can also be devastating on aquatic
changes are likely to occur.                                biodiversity. It is not sufficiently taken into account
                                                            when planning aquaculture developments. With
It is essential, therefore, to conserve habitats and        many planners seeing the cultivation of
within-habitat diversity, providing varied                  ‘domesticated’ and genetically improved varieties of
environmental niches to which particular species            fish as being the main new source of fish, the
are genetically suited. These can provide shelter           expansion of this form of production, without
from predators as well as a variety of feeding,             adequate safeguards, could further erode aquatic
spawning and nursery grounds for a wide range of            biodiversity, threatening the wider fishery and
potentially competing species. This diversity of            livelihoods.
habitats allows otherwise incompatible, but often
interdependent, species to coexist.17                       Extent of loss of aquatic
As well as an important end in its own right, a
healthy aquatic biodiversity is also an important           Precise measurement of fish biodiversity is difficult
indicator of sustainability. A high level of aquatic        and the measurement of loss tends to be more in
diversity results in diversity and security in peoples’     terms of species that are no longer caught in
livelihoods, and indicates the use of sustainable           significant numbers than precision about species
fishing practices. For many fisherfolk, losing this         that are ‘extinct’.
biodiversity goes hand in hand with losing
livelihoods and food security. A Chilean fishworker         •    In India, because of habitat destruction mainly
has described fisherfolk as the ‘lighthouses of the              through trawling, local fishing communities no
sea’ (los faros del mar), because they sound the                 longer catch 150 species that were commonly
warnings when the biodiversity of the fishery is in              caught 20 years ago.
danger: healthy fisherfolk reflect a healthy aquatic
biodiversity.18                                             •    In Canada, the Grand Banks fishery produced
                                                                 810,000 tonnes of cod in 1968 and because of
The problem: aquatic biodiversity                                overfishing only 150,000 tonnes in 1977. In
                                                                 1992, a total ban on cod fishing was imposed
conservation – a low priority?
                                                                 when it was realized that there were few, if any,
All the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are being                cod left in the rest of the fishery that were old
fished at or above their sustainable limits.                     enough to spawn. In 1995, in the northern part
                                                                 of the fishery no cod were found at all.21
This crisis in the world’s fisheries is having a
devastating impact on fish production and                   •    In Africa, up to 75 per cent of endemic species
livelihoods. When considering this crisis, the                   have been lost in Lake Victoria, replaced by
importance of aquatic biodiversity to fisheries has              introduced Nile Perch which make up 80 per
not been sufficiently recognized by fisheries policy             cent of the catch. In other African lakes
makers and managers. A quotation from the 19th                   introduced species now make up 60-90 per

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                        7
    cent of the total catch: in Lake Kivu and Lake               impact of trawling. During the 1970s, overall
    Kariba introduced species comprise 85 per                    fish catches in Kerala declined and, within this,
    cent of the catch, and in Lakes Cohoha and                   the artisanal sector’s catches fell to between 40
    Rweru 60 per cent.22                                         and 60 per cent of pre-1970 levels.26

Causes of the loss of aquatic                               •    In Senegal it is reported that many species that
biodiversity                                                     previously formed part of the artisanal catch
                                                                 have become scarce, and some species have
The above are examples of the four main, and                     disappeared altogether. For example, La
interrelated, causes of the loss of aquatic                      Diaragne bream has completely disappeared
biodiversity:                                                    since foreign trawlers began to fish in
                                                                 Senegalese coastal waters.27
•   Habitat destruction, which makes the aquatic
    environment uninhabitable, reducing the                 Intensive aquaculture production is also a cause of
    number of species of all aquatic organisms.             extensive environmental degradation in coastal
                                                            areas. Its impact on biodiversity is rarely positive,
•   Overfishing, which affects whole ecosystems             sometimes neutral, but usually negative to some
    because of the disruptions to the food web              degree. Aquaculture is being widely promoted by
    caused by the loss of the targeted species that         the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
    is overfished.                                          Research (CGIAR) and other international
                                                            agencies: ‘On the land we have learned to produce
•   Wasting of fish, the losses of untargeted               food by cultivation. But in the sea we still act as
    species that are caught unintentionally, and are        hunters and gatherers. The next great leap in
    discarded.                                              producing food will come from “domesticated” and
                                                            genetically improved varieties of fish and other
•   The introduction of exotic species, deliberately        seafood’.29 The leap is already in mid-air. In
    or accidentally, which has a decisive impact by         Ecuador, more than 120,000 hectares of
    directly affecting the ecological balance               mangroves had been cut down to make way for
    between aquatic species.                                prawn ponds by 1987, and Thailand has
                                                            transformed 100,000 hectares.30 However, the
When aquatic biodiversity is lost it can increase           aquaculture boom is being fuelled by ‘profit and
vulnerability: the depletion of pivotal species can         export earnings, not hunger’.31
completely change the ecosystem from a rich,
diverse and relatively stable system to a poor,             Although the potential benefits from shrimp farming
rapidly changing and highly vulnerable system.23            are lucrative, there are heavy associated costs. The
                                                            aquaculture ponds are not viable for more than 10
Habitat destruction: destroying the forests                 years, and are often useless after two or three. The
of the deep                                                 land is often damaged irreversibly, leaving families
Some fishing practices also destroy habitats. The           with no replacement options for their livelihoods. In
use of fishing equipment which rakes and churns up          addition, high capital costs mean that shrimp
the seabed (such as heavy trawling nets which are           farming is the exclusive domain of wealthy
dragged along the seabed) can have a major                  landowners and corporate investors.32 The lure of
impact on the fishery habitat especially in tropical        export markets increases the pressure on farmers
waters, making it inhospitable for fish and modifying       to convert agricultural and common lands into
it in ways which changes its nature.24 Trawling also        shrimp farms.33,34 As the shrimp farms die, the
removes fish and other species indiscriminately.            corporations move on, but the communities cannot.
The increasing use of dynamite and cyanide is also
destroying not only fish populations but also               Overfishing: fishing out the gene pool
habitats such as coral reefs which support them and         The spread of capture fisheries has led to one of
a whole array of other marine life.25                       the most serious global threats to marine
                                                            biodiversity: overfishing. Between the late 1940s
•   In the fishing communities of Kerala, south             and 1989, marine fish landings increased almost
    India, fishermen have documented that many              fivefold from 18 to 89 million tonnes.37 1990 saw the
    natural reefs have been destroyed by trawling,          first decline in 25 years, a drop of 3 per cent,38 and
    and that 150 once-common species are no                 global fish catches seem to have reached a plateau.
    longer caught by artisanal fishermen due to the         Per capita catches have started to decline.39

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                     8
It is not simply the size of the global fishing fleet       •    In the Philippines it is estimated that the
(which grew at twice the rate of fish landings                   collapse of major fishing grounds is uprooting
between 1970 and 1989) that has taken its toll on                tens of thousands of fishing families each
fish stocks. The intensive use of new technologies               year.46
for fish detection and the capture of large shoals,
coupled with the ability to process and preserve on         The pressure to overfish comes not only from the
board, has turned fishing vessels into efficient            need for profits by industrial fishing companies but
hunting machines. These technologies, along with            also from the need for hard currency in Southern
large government subsidies, are allowing fishing            countries. For example, the European Union (EU)
fleets to remain competitive while fish become more         paid Senegal €18m to get increased access for the
and more scarce.                                            EU fishing fleet to Senegalese fishery resources
                                                            during 1994/96. The EU-funded Oceanographic
In particular, the emphasis on mono-species fishing         Research Centre had already warned in 1992,
(the practice of targeting single or relatively few         however, that fish stocks off Senegal were so
species) results in many uneconomic and non-                seriously depleted that there should be EU quota
target species, over-quota fish and small fish being        reductions: fish stocks were already being fished at
discarded and wasted. For example, in the North             their maximum sustainable levels by the local
Sea at least 40 per cent of the total biomass of            fishing fleet.48
commercial species is removed each year.40 This
figure does not take into account discards which are        Wasting fish: by-catch, high-grading and
often far greater than the landed catch. For                discards
example, when using Beam Trawls in the North Sea
                                                            These three terms describe some of the most
for catching sole, for every kilogram of sole landed,
                                                            wasteful fisheries practices in modern commercial
as much as 10 kg of marine biomass is discarded41
and nearly 3 kg of bottom-living organisms are killed
by the Beam Trawls.42
                                                            •    By-catch: fish caught unintentionally along with
                                                                 targeted fish species, and often discarded
The majority of the world’s coastal waters where
trawling can be carried out (trawlable continental
                                                            •    High-grading: making room for fish of the
shelves) have now been impacted by fishing,
                                                                 highest value by discarding lower value fish
leaving few sanctuaries where biomasses and
biodiversity remain high.43 Such intense pressure
                                                            •    Discards: over-quota, lower value or damaged
on aquatic populations depletes the gene pool and
                                                                 fish that are dumped at sea.
reduces the potential for species to adapt to the
changing aquatic ecosystem.
                                                            They are a direct result of quota management,
                                                            where quotas are set for catching particular species
The fisheries crisis which is developing in the North
                                                            in specified fishing grounds. These quotas are
is putting pressure on fisheries resources in the
                                                            based on the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ concept
South. For example, 49 out of 55 trawlers of a
                                                            of fisheries production, which quantifies the
Canadian company were sold to developing
                                                            maximum catch levels that can be taken from any
countries after the onset of the 1992 Atlantic cod
                                                            fish stock, taking into account reproductive and
crisis.44 The sheer scale of these technologies,
                                                            growth rates of the fish, and the levels of intensity of
developed for large schools of fish in the temperate
                                                            fishing. The latter, or ‘fishing effort’, is still measured
waters, can have catastrophic consequences for
                                                            according to the size of boat and the horsepower of
fisheries and aquatic biodiversity in the tropics,
                                                            its engine, rather than the impact of all fishing
because of intrinsic differences between temperate
                                                            technology used in particular fishing grounds.
and tropical ecosystems. The impact of this
industrialization is that fishing communities in both
                                                            The use of ‘catch-all’ techniques, which literally
North and South are losing their livelihoods as fast
                                                            catch everything in the path of the nets, results in a
as the fish are disappearing from the sea.
                                                            significant proportion of the fish catch consisting of
                                                            fish which are over-quota, undesired species (i.e. of
•   Between 30,000 and 40,000 fishermen and
                                                            little or no commercial value), fish that are
    plant workers were put out of work when the
                                                            damaged, or which are below a marketable size.
    Canadian Government closed the cod fishery
                                                            This ‘by-catch’ may be discarded. According to the
    on the Grand Banks in 1992.45
                                                            Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                          9
amounts to at least 25 per cent of the total marine              the wider fish population (e.g. in-breeding in
fish catch.47                                                    hatchery-reared salmon).

One response of commercial fishing to quota                 Ways of conserving aquatic
management is the practice of ‘high-grading’,               biodiversity: static or dynamic
keeping only the fish that will fetch the highest
value, and discarding the rest. In many trawl
fisheries huge nets are in use, which have a                Dynamic conservation by fisherfolk
catching capacity far in excess of the quotas
                                                            The conservation of aquatic biodiversity in situ has
allocated. Surplus, but perfectly edible, fish are
                                                            always been central to the strategies of nurture
simply dumped back in the sea, dead. As they are
                                                            fisheries. These strategies adopted by artisanal
not landed they do not count against the boat’s
                                                            fishing communities over millennia differ markedly
quota – but they should.
                                                            from the modern industrial approach to fishing,
                                                            using capture fishery strategies.55 Nurture fishery
Fishery management in the European Union is
                                                            technologies are necessarily selective, passive,
based on quota management and has done more to
                                                            low-energy and ecologically efficient. They may not
destroy fish stocks than any other fishery regime.
                                                            bring in the biggest catch in the short term, but they
Single species quotas in the multi-species North
                                                            ensure the sustainability of the fishery through their
Sea fishery has resulted in the unnecessary
                                                            harmonious interaction with the dynamics of the
destruction of thousands of tonnes of edible fish as
                                                            ecosystem, on which depends the aquatic
discarded ‘by-catch’.
                                                            biodiversity. These technologies are socially and
                                                            culturally embedded, and people’s involvement in
Introduction of exotic species
                                                            their creation, maintenance and management draws
Negative impacts of introducing exotic species may          the wider community into the fishery, sharing the
be direct through the introduction of exotic species        responsibilities.
to the environment, or indirect through the loss of
habitat.49 The development of aquaculture is one            This community-based conservation has by
cause of the spread of exotic species to many parts         definition taken place in situ, although it would
of the world, and a thus a potential threat to local        rarely be recognized as a discrete activity. Instead,
aquatic diversity.                                          it is an integral, but inseparable, component of the
                                                            complex web of rules and relationships drawn up to
The introduction of new species in aquaculture              promote the long-term health of the fishery and
production, while providing the possibility for faster      security of the fishing community.
growth rates, greater profitability, greater food
value, etc., also carries certain risks. These include:     Nurture fisheries harvest a more diverse range of
                                                            species than capture fisheries. In the UK, for
•   The displacement of less competitive local              example, 65 per cent of the catch in 1994 came
    species which share similar ecological niches           from five species, with considerable waste in the
    or on which the introduced species feed (e.g.           ‘by-catch’ and discarded fish.56 Whereas artisanal
    Nile Perch in Lake Victoria).                           fishermen in south India harvest some 200 species
                                                            (and virtually nothing goes to waste).57 This
•   The introduction of exotic diseases to which the        difference can only partly be explained by the richer
    local fish populations have no resistance (e.g.         diversity of warm, tropical waters compared with the
    the introduction to the UK of Crayfish Plague –         colder water nearer the poles. If species are useful,
    a fungal infection fatal to indigenous crayfish –       the incentive to ensure their survival is dramatically
    through the introduction of American Signal             increased. Since so many species are used and
    Crayfish).                                              valued by local communities, aquatic ecosystems
                                                            thrive. Even if species have no direct market value,
•   Environmental degradation caused by the                 their importance in the ecosystem is usually
    escape into the wild of potentially destructive         respected.
    species (e.g. clearance of aquatic vegetation
    by herbivorous fish).                                   Planners and policy makers often consider in situ
                                                            conservation through community-based strategies
•   The introduction of fish stocks which develop           as inadequate given the increased pressure on
    recessive genetic characteristics that can affect       resources, and favour establishing marine protected
                                                            areas, and other forms of fish ‘set aside’.58 These

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                    10
reserves serve as replenishment areas for aquatic            Genetic engineering
resources, maintaining the genetic diversity of key
species.59 However, by keeping fishermen out they            A new technology now threatens the fishery:
run the risk of encouraging illegal fishing activities. If   genetic engineering. Research is being focused on
such marine reserves are initiated in consultation           a few species and characteristics such as fast
with fishing communities and participative manage-           growth rates, and resistance to stress and disease.
ment regimes established, their effectiveness could          The release of genetically manipulated fish raises
be greatly enhanced.                                         biosafety issues, as the novel genes may spread
                                                             into wild populations and ecosystems with
Traditional aquaculture                                      unpredictable results.66 In the case of the native
                                                             Californian Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch),
A significant proportion of aquaculture production           there is evidence to show that due to cross-
comes from traditional methods which conserve fish           breeding with genetically homogenized hatchery
stocks in situ. Aquaculture contributes to genetic           fish, native populations have plummeted by 94 per
diversity by the development of domestic breeds,             cent since 1949.67 Biosafety threats are of most
and shares with agriculture the need to conserve             concern to people who share the ecosystem with
this man-made diversity along with wild aquatic              the fish and whose livelihoods depend on it.
diversity.65 By combining diverse fish species of
different food habits and ecological niches, it              Fisherfolk safeguarding aquatic
facilitates optimum use of available food in the fish
pond. Multi-species aquaculture or ‘polyculture’ is
based on the harmonious stocking of different                While the management systems of capture fisheries
varieties of fish species at different levels of             are technically based, those of nurture fisheries are
population, using an understanding of the                    socially based and still, to a varying extent,
production cycle and energy flow through the pond.           spiritually based.69 They are an expression of social
There are planktonic feeders (at the pond surface            relationships among people, manifested as rights to
and in mid-water) which feed directly off the                exploit resources. Such community-based
‘phytoplankton’ and ‘zooplankton’ produced by the            management is the key to sustaining the fishery. It
natural productivity of the pond. The faeces they            is geared towards sustaining the aquatic ecosystem
produce further enhance the productivity of the              and the fishery resource base. It promotes
pond, as does pond manuring (with agricultural and           community-based ‘co-management’ of the coastal
household residues). Fish species which feed on              commons, and advocates harvesting rather than
larger organisms in mid-water (small fish, insects,          hunting approaches in the exploitation of aquatic
etc.) and the pond bottom (snails, worms, etc.) are          resources. These systems only work if people are
also stocked. The result is that energy flow and             confident that they or their communities will retain
transformation are extremely efficient. If this method       access to the resource base in the long term.
of conservation in situ is to be sustained by                Community-based strategies are increasingly
traditional aquaculture, then attention needs to be          coming under pressure because this security is
focused on decentralized production, using diverse,          being lost as the result of external intervention,
environmentally sensitive techniques. Protection             affecting either their lives directly, or the resource
from introduced species and diseases is also                 base on which they depend.
                                                             For example, the FAO/UNDP Integrated Coastal
Ex situ conservation                                         Fisheries Management Project in Trinidad and
                                                             Tobago recognizes the important role of fishing
Ex situ conservation of aquatic resources has
                                                             communities, and includes as one of its broad
received little attention to date, except in the case of
                                                             strategy elements: the awareness creation on the
a few important food species. Recent interest in the
                                                             socio-economic contribution of the fisheries sector
pharmaceutical applications of marine resources
                                                             and its role as a natural monitoring unit of the
has led to a sharp increase in bioprospecting, but
as yet has not been translated into concerted efforts
towards ex situ conservation. New technologies for
                                                             Fisherfolk’s Rights
ex situ conservation include cryopreservation and
genebanks.                                                   Over the last two decades efforts have been made
                                                             to establish management systems which recognize
                                                             traditional rights. Both the Territorial User Rights in
                                                             Fisheries (TURFs), which confer rights to fish in

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                      11
particular waters, and Customary Marine Tenure              subsumed by international law which allocates
(CMT) systems, which define the ownership of a              ownership and responsibility to national and
particular fishery, show promise if they are                regional entities. TURFs and CMT are not
developed in a way that ensures that rights are             recognized by this international treaty.
conferred on local communities rather than
individuals.71 No strategy that hands over                  While UNCLOS has provided the means to define
responsibility to individuals will ever achieve long-       ownership of marine resources with greater clarity,
term security: the community is the key to ensuring         it has also drawn them into the global market place.
sustainability and equity.                                  Coastal states are now effectively the designated
                                                            owners of 35 per cent of the world’s oceans and 95
The big players and global                                  per cent of the global fish stocks.80 Through
instruments for conserving aquatic                          UNCLOS the interests and rights of traditional
                                                            fishing communities have been subsumed by the
Trends in fisheries over the last five decades have
largely been towards centralization of fisheries            Provisions within UNCLOS (Sections 61 and 62)
management and globalization of resource access             allow fish stocks and other marine resources to be
and use. The centralization of fisheries                    bought and sold as commodities by the coastal
management by national and regional bodies has              state (though subject to certain conditions). Through
largely been at the expense of local participation in       joint-venture arrangements and other forms of
decision making.                                            fisheries agreements with coastal states,
                                                            commercial interests are able to buy up marine
The globalization of the world fishery resources has        resources. This has grave implications for traditional
linked the resource base more directly to distant           livelihoods and food production systems which are
consumer demand. As a result, some 40 per cent of           dependent on them.
the global fish catch now enters international trade.
This has tended to marginalize producers even               Agenda 21 and the Ocean’s Chapter
further, and has put control of the resource base
                                                            Issues of responsibility and sustainable
into the hands of those who control the markets.
                                                            development were key to the 1992 Earth Summit
                                                            which led to the signing of the legally binding
The United Nations Convention on the Law
                                                            Agenda 21. Consequently, Chapter 17, the fisheries
of the Sea
                                                            chapter of Agenda 21, states that further measures
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the             are required to ensure the effective implementation
Sea (UNCLOS), signed in 1982, is the most                   of UNCLOS. It also acknowledges that ‘the right to
important global instrument for regulating fisheries.       fish is conditional and accompanied by the duty to
Others, like Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 and the UN             manage and conserve resources for present and
Treaty on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly                 future generations’,81 and links this to sustaining
Migratory Fish Stocks,79 relate to directly to the          livelihoods and recognizing the rights of fishing
provisions of UNCLOS.                                       communities.82 Nevertheless, like all the other
                                                            major instruments, Agenda 21 allocates control to
Although UNCLOS was agreed in 1982, and only                the state rather than to communities. Although the
ratified in November 1994, by 1976 more than 60             motive for establishing these instruments
countries had laid claim to fishery resources in the        (establishing more sustainable fisheries) is valid,
waters extending 200 miles from their shore –               the approach is misguided, because the proven
Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Today more                 experts in maintaining biodiverse and sustainable
than 122 nations have established EEZs. However,            fisheries, the fishing communities, have been
over 50 per cent of the total EEZ area (i.e. some 17        excluded.
per cent of the world’s oceans) are controlled by 10
countries, and 29 per cent by four countries: USA           The Convention on Biological Diversity
(10 per cent), France (7 per cent), Australia (6 per
                                                            The Convention on Biological Diversity is the other
cent) and New Zealand (6 per cent).
                                                            legally binding agreement signed at the Earth
                                                            Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Its objectives are:
There are serious implications of this new
ownership regime on coastal communities, and for
                                                            •    The conservation of biological diversity
their traditional livelihoods and food production
systems. Traditional rights of access have been

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                   12
•   The sustainable use of its components                   employment, income and food security, and calls
                                                            upon states to protect their rights to resource
•   The equitable sharing of benefits derived from          access, decent working conditions and livelihood
    genetic resources.                                      security.

The Convention recognizes ‘the importance of                The International Centre for Living Aquatic
biological diversity for ... maintaining life-sustaining    Resources Management (ICLARM)
systems of the biosphere’. It acknowledges that
                                                            ICLARM is the Consultative Group on International
‘conservation and sustainable use of biological
                                                            Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) only aquatic
diversity is of crucial importance for meeting the
                                                            research centre. Both FAO and ICLARM have set
food, health, and other needs of a growing world
                                                            up databases to gather information on fish diversity.
                                                            ICLARM has also made significant contributions to
                                                            fishery science and the in situ and ex situ
The Conference of the Parties to the Convention, at
                                                            conservation of fish species. In the case of ex situ
its second meeting in Jakarta in 1995 (COPS II),
                                                            conservation, the main motivation would seem to be
adopted the Jakarta Mandate. This outlines a
                                                            the quest for higher yielding species for fish
programme of action for implementing the
                                                            farming. The results are impressive (ICLARM’s
Convention with respect to marine and coastal
                                                            ‘super tilapia’ is 60 per cent larger than its peers),
                                                            but the introduction of new species can have a
                                                            negative impact on the overall diversity of marine or
The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible
                                                            freshwater ecosystems.
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO)               Other players
Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries sets out
                                                            As introduced species now make a significant
the principles and international standards of
                                                            contribution to food production and the wider
behaviour for responsible practices with a view to
                                                            economy, such benefits need to be weighed
ensuring the effective conservation, management
                                                            carefully against possible harmful effects. Criteria
and development of living aquatic resources. It
                                                            need to be established against which species
follows the lead of UNCLOS in assigning
                                                            transfers can be judged. The International Council
responsibility for fishery sustainability, as well as
                                                            for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and the
technical and biological management, to states.
                                                            European Inland Fisheries Advisory Council
                                                            (EIFAC) have devised a Code of Practice and a
The Code also addresses the rights of consumers.
                                                            Manual of Procedures for the Consideration of
It deals with issues of biodiversity through
                                                            Introductions and Transfers of Marine and
promoting the precautionary approach to fisheries
                                                            Freshwater Organisms. The Code of Practice is
management, by proposing the integration of
                                                            completely voluntary, and in most cases its
fisheries into coastal area management, by
                                                            provisions are not followed.
advocating the use of selective and environmentally
safe fishing gears, and by promoting responsible

There are two particularly significant aspects of the
Code for artisanal fisheries:

•   Protecting the rights of artisanal and small-
    scale fishworkers to a secure and just
    livelihood and granting them preferential
    access to their traditional fishing grounds
    (Article 6, (6:18)) and

•   Ensuring that the livelihoods of local fishing
    communities are not negatively affected by
    aquaculture developments (Article 6, (6:19)).

The Code also recognizes the important
contribution of artisanal and small-scale fisheries to

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                    13
                                                            about fishing, aquaculture, fish marketing and
                                                            processing and community management. While
Capture vs nurture fisheries                                most of the people who actually fish are male,
                                                            women play a key, though often hidden and
Capture fisheries                                           unrecognized, complementary role in fishing
Capture fishery strategies consider fishing as a            communities.
hunting activity, targeting selected species for mass
markets, where the range is open access and the             Often at the first point of sale, women make an
fish stocks are common property. This strategy              important contribution to decentralized systems for
leads to a ‘free for all’. Responsibility for managing      processing and marketing fish. They may also be
fisheries is ill defined, and this leads to the so-called   involved in many other aspects of the fishing
‘tragedy of the commons’ where what is left by one          process, such as net-making. Through this role they
user is taken by another.9 As a result, all the world’s     make a significant contribution to household income
main fishing grounds are being fished at or above           and food security, and in the wider distribution of
their sustainable limits. Some 70 per cent of global        fish in the coastal community. Their wisdom and
fish stocks are now regarded as fully exploited,            local knowledge is integral to the management
over-exploited, depleted or recovering.10                   systems drawn up by their communities. In many
                                                            instances it is the work undertaken by women that
Nurture fisheries                                           ‘underwrites or provides the risk fund necessary to
                                                            sustain fishing activities’. It is important to use this
Nurture fishery strategies, by contrast, recognize          type of information when planning initiatives with
the time needed for stocks to replenish themselves,         fishing communities. Hitherto there has been little
and the need to conserve species diversity. The             change in sectoral planning or project formulation
nurture fishery strategies of coastal fishing               despite awareness that gender issues should be
communities the world over have evolved numerous            considered.7
rules – often unwritten – to regulate their fisheries.
Some govern who may fish in which season and
]where; others stipulate the sort of fish that may be
caught; others relate to the kind of fishing gear that
                                                            Coral reefs under threat: the forests
may be used; and still others govern onshore
activities such as processing, net-making, and
                                                            of the deep
marketing.11 Sustainable nurture fisheries                  Coral reefs have been described as the rainforests
techniques developed and used by artisanal                  of the sea, due to their high species diversity: they
fisherfolk, especially in tropical waters, are now          are among the most biologically diverse
having to compete with the industrial fishing fleet.        ecosystems on earth. Covering only 0.17 per cent
                                                            of the Ocean floor, coral reefs are home to an
Likewise, rearing fish through traditional                  estimated 950,000 species, 25 per cent of all
aquaculture, especially in inland waters, has in a          marine species. Healthy reefs are among the most
similar way evolved methods which ensure                    productive fisheries in the oceans. Producing a fish
sustainable production. But these nurturing                 catch of some 4-8 million tonnes annually, coral
methods are increasingly under threat from modern           reefs account for 20-25 per cent of the fish catch in
intensive aquaculture production. Intensive systems         many developing countries – making a vital
are providing an increasing proportion of total fish        contribution to local food and livelihood security. An
available for consumption, increasingly through             estimated 4 million small-scale fisherfolk (about 30
production of exotic species which can displace             per cent of all subsistence fisherfolk worldwide)
local species. Their development often destroys             depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods.28
aquatic habitats and their production systems cause
pollution: intensive aquaculture converts rich              Coral reefs have proved to be fragile in the face of
biodiverse aquatic environments into polluted               attacks from coastal pollution, coral miners, and
wastelands.                                                 ruthless commercial fishermen using heavy nets
                                                            and dynamite, causing directly or indirectly the
                                                            destruction of 5-10 per cent of the world’s reefs.
                                                            Given the current rate of destruction, another 60 per
Gender and local knowledge                                  cent could be lost in the next 20-40 years and some
                                                            175,000 species will have gone with them.
Both men and women make valuable but different
contributions of their local knowledge and skills

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                      14
                                                            Depleted biodiversity can
                                                            destabilize the fishery
Lost mangroves – lost biodiversity
                                                            In Lake Victoria a combination of human impact and
Mangrove forests are ecologically rich habitats.            environmental changes has transformed fishery
Year round leaf and litter fall provide a continuous        biodiversity beyond all recognition, destabilising the
supply of nutrients to an ecosystem that contains           fishery and degrading the aquatic ecosystem. This
within it a richness of aquatic biodiversity. Alongside     has grave implications for millions of people in the
the permanent brackish water residents, many                three countries which border the lake (Uganda,
kinds of young fish and shrimps find shelter among          Tanzania and Kenya) who depend on the lake’s
the mangroves roots and seek out food on the rise           fishery.50 A fishery that once drew on hundreds of
and fall of the tide.                                       species now rests on three: the endemic
                                                            Rastrineobola argentea, the introduced Nile Perch
Mangroves therefore play a crucial role in coastal          (Lates niloticus), and the introduced Nile tilapia
ecosystems. They act as filters between land and            (Oreochromis niloticus).
water, anchoring nutrients and trapping pollutants;
they prevent erosion and provide storm protection;          Up to the 1970s the Lake Victoria fishery was
they create important nurseries and provide for             dominated by more than 400 varieties of indigenous
subsistence fishing activities. A study by the Asian        haplochromine fish, estimated to comprise over 80
Development Bank estimated that 1 hectare (ha) of           per cent of the lake’s total fish biomass.51 The
mangroves produces an annual yield of 100                   combined influences of environmental changes and
kilograms (kg) of fin fish, 25 kg of shrimps, 15 kg of      human impact have resulted in the disappearance
crab meat, 200 kg of molluscs, and 40 kg of sea             and possible extinction of 200-300 of these endemic
cucumber in a direct harvest and an indirect harvest        fish varieties. The disappearance of this huge and
of up to 400 kg of fin fish and 75 kg of shrimps that       varied biomass is the likely cause of cascading
mature elsewhere.35                                         changes in the ecosystem.52 For example, the
                                                            removal of the indigenous haplochromine fish,
But mangroves are being cleared in many countries           which formerly turned over the bottom deposits,
to make way for commercial shrimp farms to meet             have contributed to eutrophication and the
the ever-increasing demand, mainly in the North. In         deoxygenation of the bottom waters. Likewise, the
the Philippines, the mangrove area declined from            disappearance of phytoplankton-eating fish has
450,000 to 145,000 ha between 1920 and 1988.                contributed to increasing algal blooms, and the
Much of this decline is the result of the introduction      ‘algal mats’ which sink to the bottom where their
of shrimp farming, the environmental impact of              decomposition further adds to deoxygenation.53
which has been immense.
                                                            Overfishing of endemic species in the 1950s
The shrimp farms that are developed face the same           stimulated the introduction of exotic tilapias and Nile
problems as intensive monoculture production in             Perch, the latter despite scientific advice against
agriculture, only worse. High levels of chemicals are       such action. The introduced tilapias have now
needed to achieve high yields, and to control               effectively replaced the lake’s two endemic tilapia
predators, competitors and disease. High                    species. This has grave implications for the
concentrations of shrimps in the ponds produce              sustainability of the lake’s fishery. Nile Perch now
large amounts of faeces and urea. Together, these           makes up more than 90 per cent of the fish that live
cause significant pollution downstream. The algae           in the bottom of the lake, and 60 per cent of the
and other organisms multiply rapidly, creating              catch.54
anoxia and toxicity, eventually causing a collapse of
the system, if disease has not already got the better       The rehabilitation of the lake’s biodiversity and the
of the shrimps. This so-called ‘environmental               institution of a management and regulatory
backlash’ resulted in Taiwanese shrimp production           framework must now become the main priorities for
slipping from 100,000 tonnes in 1987 to only 20,000         the development of Lake Victoria and the survival of
in 1989, and a 60 per cent reduction in China’s             the lake shore communities.
harvest between 1992 and 1993.36

The impact of this development on local aquatic
biodiversity is negative and permanent.

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                    15
Signalling disaster                                         These are made of concrete rings, used vehicle
                                                            tyres or, traditionally, from weighted down coconut
The introduction of the American Signal Crayfish to         fronds. They form a social and technological
the UK (from its native USA via Sweden) in 1976             response to a fishery crisis, and are based on the
has had a devastating effect on freshwater ecology.         fisherfolk’s age-old knowledge and understanding of
The incentive was the American Signal Crayfish’s            their marine environment.61,62
large size of almost lobster proportions – and its
lucrative aquaculture market.                               Systematic studies of the effectiveness of these
                                                            ARs have been undertaken.63 They show that there
The rapid and uncontrolled spread of American               has been rapid colonization of the ARs by resident
Signal Crayfish farming inevitably led to escapes,          fish varieties. In each case it has been confirmed
and in some rivers they are now the most common             that these reefs are attracting fish from a wide area,
animals. Introduction of a fatal fungal infection,          leading to significantly enhanced catches. This can
Crayfish Plague, carried by the American Signal             increase pressure, however, on already
Crayfish has decimated indigenous crayfish                  overexploited fish stocks, exacerbating the effects
populations. The American Signal Crayfish also              of overfishing. Indeed the International Centre for
eats almost everything in sight, from fish eggs to          Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM)
weed, destroying the food chain and river ecology.          has warned that ARs should not be used as fishing
According to government officials, ‘there is no             grounds for this reason.
means of eradicating the crayfish short of draining a
water for at least a year – and with rivers that is not     Longer-term strategies therefore need to be worked
a practicable proposition’.                                 out with artisanal fisherfolk for how ARs are to be
                                                            used in the future. These should recognize that not
                                                            only do ARs help to restore biodiverse habitats, and
                                                            attract fish, they also have other benefits. They can
Artificial reefs: community-led in                          deter trawling, because they can damage fishing
situ conservation                                           nets, and they can also be used to demarcate
                                                            fishing grounds. Furthermore, the construction of
In India, as in many other parts of the world,              ARs can act as a focus for community action and
concerns about deforestation and land degradation           awareness raising about the state of the fishery and
have resulted in numerous schemes to protect and            the need to restore local aquatic biodiversity.64
rehabilitate the environment. Much less has been
done to find solutions to the degradation of the
aquatic environment. It goes unnoticed, because
the degradation is taking place on the seabed. ‘Out
of sight is out of mind’!
                                                            Indigenous fisheries management
                                                            in Indonesia
For the millions of small-scale fisherfolk whose            The Indonesian government has been looking to its
livelihoods depend on harvesting the fishery                fishing communities for some new ideas on
resources in the coastal zone, such an adage is an          management. The approach used in the Maluku
anathema. The forests of the deep – the natural             islands is one of the favoured models, as traditional
reefs and other seabed structures which provide             practices have prevented overexploitation of the
habitats, shelter, food and breeding sites for the          fishery, promoted village growth, and guaranteed
marine fauna and flora which they harvest – are as          equitable catch distribution.
important as fertile land is to farmers ashore, or as
forests are to the forest dwelling communities.60           The practice of sasi involves establishing a closed
                                                            season and closed areas. In one village, the sasi for
In south India, the impact of capture fishery policies      their adjacent estuary lasts all year, except for one
and practices on natural reefs, marine biodiversity         day, when villagers are allowed to catch as many
and catches by artisanal fisherfolk has been                fish as they want. This yields enough fish to meet
particularly pronounced. So, in order to attract fish       the needs of all the village households for several
into the nearshore waters, to provide shelters for          months. Petuanang governs who may fish in certain
depleted fish stocks, and to replace the natural            areas. Outsiders are rarely allowed to fish in the
reefs destroyed by the actions of trawlers, south           petuanang, but if they are permitted to fish they
Indian fisherfolk have been experimenting with              must use the same fishing tackle as the locals.
artificial fish habitats, commonly in the form of           They may also have to pay a fee to the village
artificial reefs (ARs).                                     head, which is used for community development.

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                    16
Rules and regulation are dynamic. For instance,             New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu is the
since 1980, clams and sea-cucumbers have been               ‘capture’ of traditional leadership by urban elites
protected by special provisions against                     which use their greater access to information and
overexploitation.                                           political and legal power. In many cases this is
                                                            achieved through alliances with foreign commercial
Individuals’ social obligations hold the system             interests, the most notorious being those associated
together. The formal leaders manage the system,             with logging of tropical rainforests. Once subverted
while decision making and supervision are the               it is difficult to reconstitute effective traditional
concern of informal leaders. Each village clan has          leadership.75
its own task. In the case of sasi, one clan provides
messengers, another polices the event, while                Despite the limitations of international laws, in some
another is responsible for the opening and closing          areas fisherfolk have managed to establish their
rites. At the same time everyone has personal               rights to their own exclusive fishing areas. In a
responsibilities related to the event.                      number of countries, such as Chile, Senegal and
                                                            Malaysia, governments now recognize the rights of
However, despite support from the government, the           artisanal fisherfolk to preferential access in
system is still dying out. This is partly because of        delimited coastal areas.76 The extent of this zone
the in-migration of people who do not understand            varies widely. In many countries no such zone is
the system. It is also partly because of government         recognized, in Madagascar the government
efforts to promote exports, which has led to a              allocated an exclusive artisanal zone of only two
shortening of the sasi period and renting out               nautical miles, in Chile six, while in Senegal the
petuanang rights to entrepreneurs.70                        artisanal fishworkers are demanding 12 miles.77 But
                                                            difficulties can arise in trying to incorporate
                                                            traditional rights into international blueprint models.
                                                            In Papua New Guinea, one fisherfolk organization
The rights of fisherfolk: community-                        found the only way to protect local livelihoods was
                                                            to adapt their traditional rights using modern law.
based rights and preferential
                                                            However, as a result, traditional secondary rights
access                                                      are threatened, which are likely to cause greater
People-centred management can only work if                  polarization between the rich and poor.78
communities have guaranteed access to and rights
over the resources they need. In Kerala in south
India, communities traditionally kept the fishery in
balance by controlling hook size, banning night
fishing, and restricting the kind of bait used. In the
1980s, they also added lobbying to their list of
control measures – to get the government to
prevent trawlers from encroaching on their fishing
grounds. They achieved some success in 1989,
when a ban on trawlers coming inshore during the
monsoon (the spawning season) was enforced – at
least partially.72

Community-based systems of rights are highly
complex. One attempt to map fishing rights in Fiji
took several decades to complete.73 In the Pacific
region, a hierarchy of rights often exists, comprising
minority groups of primary rights holders who ‘own’
and determine who may use the resource, and
secondary, larger groups of users who have less, if
any, say in its management.74 As pressure on
resources increases, these secondary rights are
often sacrificed. Such hierarchical systems are
vulnerable to exploitation from external interests, as
the lure of power and money can easily tempt the
primary rights holders. A trend observed in Papua

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                     17
Policy recommendations
•   Global fisheries arrangements must seek to              •    Fishing communities must be granted
    promote and strengthen nurture fishery                       preferential resource access rights, based
    strategies, managed by fishing communities,                  on local needs and priorities in order to
    which conserve aquatic biodiversity in situ,                 conserve aquatic biodiversity. Thus customary
    rather than undermining them.                                tenure systems operating at local levels, written
                                                                 or unwritten, must become part of property
•   Global instruments and national policies                     systems in national and international law.
    and programmes need to recognize the                         Fishing communities must be given full and
    rights of fishing communities to livelihood                  affordable negotiating rights and dispute-
    and food security, the importance of                         solving procedures related to any decision that
    traditional knowledge and management                         affects them.
    systems, the rights of fishworkers to acceptable
    working conditions and the important                    •    The concept and practice of ‘co-
    contribution of women in fishing communities.                management’ must be developed and
                                                                 promoted. This envisages a process of
•   Internationally agreed global instruments                    dynamic partnership between state and
    need to be implemented in a way that is                      community, where community-based
    supportive of traditional livelihoods through                management is a central element, but where
    the maintenance of the aquatic ecosystem and                 the complementarity of national government
    aquatic biodiversity. All aspects of global                  enabling legislation and local community
    instruments that focus on state level controls,              knowledge and social controls is recognized.
    and the allocation of benefits from
    improvements in the fishery to states rather            •    A precautionary approach to fishery
    than to communities who nurture the local                    management must be adopted, based on a
    aquatic biodiversity, should be challenged.                  rationale of optimum rather than maximum
                                                                 sustainable yield. Fishing activities should be
        o    Articles 6:18 and 6:19, concerning                  conducted in a manner that gives a high level
             Artisanal Fisheries, of the FAO Code                of certainty that the risk of irreversible
             of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries                ecological damage is negligible, and should
             should be fully supported.                          actively guard against market forces which
                                                                 continuously press for maximum extraction.
        o    The provisions in the Convention on
             Biological Diversity on the equitable          •    ‘Catch-all’ methods and those methods
             sharing of benefits derived from                    which damage and degrade the
             genetic resources, to the extent that               environment must be phased out in favour of
             this can be extended to marine                      the development and use of selective and
             genetic resources and benefit-sharing               environmentally safe fishing methods, which
             with local fisherfolk communities,                  must be afforded a high priority.
             should be supported. The people-
             centred aspects of the Jakarta                 •    The development of artificial reefs, which
             Mandate should be supported.                        rehabilitate aquatic ecosystems and restore
                                                                 marine biodiversity, should be used to raise
        o    Aspects of Agenda 21 which focus on                 awareness at all levels on sustainable fisheries
             state-level rather than community-                  management and on issues of ownership and
             level control should be challenged.                 control of the coastal commons. They also
                                                                 have a potentially important role to play in
        o    Interpretations of Sections 61 and 62               demarcating exclusive community-controlled
             of UNCLOS, that support local                       fishing zones, and thereby facilitating
             development priorities concerning the               sustainable community-based management of
             management of marine resources,                     fish stocks.
             should be implemented.

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                    18
•   Environmental impact statements showing
    neutral or positive gains to the environment
    and aquatic biodiversity, especially
    downstream, should be a requirement of
    any planning permission granted for the
    development of large-scale aquaculture
    enterprises. The main priority for aquaculture
    development should be low-cost sustainable
    systems for local food production, using
    approaches similar to those developed in East
    Asian polyculture.

•   Internationally binding regulations need to
    be developed to limit the introduction of
    exotic species. Only those species which
    satisfy stringent criteria should be translocated
    to other ecosystems, and their impact on local
    biodiversity must be strictly monitored.

•   International standards must be developed
    to control the release of transgenic

Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques   19
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Fisherfolk safeguarding Aquatic Diversity through their Fishing Techniques                                 21

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