Webcast Recap

Around the world, growing global demand saps natural resources. Demand for palm oil— a popular cooking oil and growing source of "green" fuel—is driving deforestation of some tropical rainforests. Blue agave is dwindling as tequila sales rise. And fish stocks are declining as the global hunger for fish protein and fish products grows, said Kitty Courtney of Tetra Tech EM, Inc., at the third meeting in the Environmental Change and Security Program's series on fisheries. Courtney was joined by Marea Hatziolos of the World Bank for a discussion of the economic and ecological impacts of declining stocks in capture fisheries, and the ways in which to reduce small-scale fishers' vulnerability to harmful internal and external forces.

Rapidly growing global demand for fish has increased prices, creating a short-term economic incentive for fishers to maximize their catches. Small-scale fishers are pitted against commercial operations; and as the field grows crowded, individual fish catch declines, decreasing individual net earnings. At the same time, small-scale fishers and their families are being "priced out" of an important source of protein. These problems, while immediate and dire, also foreshadow longer-term challenges: the scramble to maximize fish catches creates an ecological disadvantage, as overfishing places greater pressure on already stressed fish stocks and associated ecosystems.

Challenges of Small-Scale Fishing in the Philippines

In the Philippines, fish provide more than half of the population's animal protein. "Most of the demand increases are internal, and from population growth," said Courtney. With its growing population demanding fish, the Philippines cannot tackle the problem solely by addressing the fishing sector. Instead, Courtney advocates integrated approaches like those pioneered by the PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc., which has successfully addressed the connected problems of rapid population growth and declining fish stocks by providing communities with reproductive health and coastal resource management (CRM) training.

Small-scale fishers in the Philippines and in many other developing countries are increasingly threatened by commercial fishing. Formerly concentrated off-shore, commercial fishing is creeping closer: "[Commercial fishers] decided it was cheaper to forgo off-shore fishing for near-shore fishing because it was less expensive and closer to the market." In response, the small-scale fishers sought ways to keep up with the highly productive and efficient commercial vessels. Efficiency, though, is not free of cost, said Courtney: "Small-scale fishers are forced to compete, and often they do this with dynamite." Apart from being ecologically disastrous, dynamite helps fishers overharvest, propelling the decline of fish stocks. Yet, there is no simple way to prohibit its use. In the Philippines, the so-called "dynamite fishing capital of the world," Courtney explained that the demand for dynamite has created a whole new industry: "Blasting caps are a cottage industry employing thousands of people."

Governance and Building Capacity

Countering many of the internal and external forces responsible for the decline of capture fisheries requires capacity-building on the national and local levels. Working with municipalities may be an effective way to build support and awareness from the bottom up, Courtney proposed. At a three-day workshop on coastal management in the Philippines in 1999, more than 800 out of 850 mayors from coastal communities discussed the problems and challenges in their municipalities. They discovered they shared many of the same problems. "That was the point at which the mayors could see they needed to provide coastal management as a basic service, just as you would with education or health care," she said.

Successfully providing CRM services requires incentives and a bit of hand-holding, said Courtney: "We have to encourage local government[s] to really appreciate the value of what they are losing by not managing their fisheries and coastal habitats." Part of the awakening involves demystifying the steps and stages of CRM. In the Philippines, Tetra Tech has created a plan that defines the beginning, intermediate, and advanced stages of coastal management. "It has been really helpful for municipalities to have steps and see where they are going. Without this, it becomes quite mysterious," she said. Tetra Tech has also helped sustain interventions by making sure localities and municipalities have multi-year plans that meet basic requirements such as baseline assessments, annual budgets, and partnerships with community organizations to raise awareness.

While promoting capacity-building and training, Hatziolos also advocated a shift in thinking: "We need to focus on the sustainability of the sector rather than focusing just on the productivity of the sector." Sustainability, however, requires accomplishing a host of interrelated tasks. Licensing schemes and zoning are necessary to limit access to fisheries. But access cannot be limited without providing other employment: the regional and national governments need to provide services to help ease the transition to alternative livelihoods. She noted that ecotourism projects could help keep fishers in a familiar element, but wean them off fishing. Additionally, she advocated literacy training and greater educational opportunities as ways to both smooth the transition and prevent people from gravitating toward the fish sector.

The small-scale fishing sector cannot be repaired simply by focusing on it alone. National governments—as well as the international community—must act to tackle commercial fishing and poaching. "The federal government must be involved," Hatziolos said. "[It] needs to do a lot of command and control, and raise the specter of visibility of the commercial sector." Consumers, too, should take action and avoid purchasing unsustainable fish. This, however, requires greater dissemination of information about fishing practices. "Consumers need to know where their fish are from," she said.

Note: Originally scheduled speaker Peter Espeut, executive director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, was unable to attend the meeting, but his PowerPoint presentation is available below.

Drafted by Alison Williams.