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Background and Rationale

Noting the importance of this issue for the Asia-Pacific region, the 28th Session of the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC) recommended holding a workshop to bring together the many co-management experiences in the region and to plan a way forward to "mainstream fisheries co-management"[1].

Many agencies (both governmental and non-governmental) are striving to improve the livelihoods of poor people that are dependent on aquatic resources by including these stakeholders in the planning and implementation of fisheries management. Many states have adopted decentralization as the way "Mainstreaming" in this sense refers to institutionalizing co-management within governments and local communities, rather than relying on ad-hoc projects and unsystematic interventions. to implement future fisheries management, especially in developing countries, which often involves a partnership between government and the local communities, i.e. a co-management approach. Numerous examples of success using the approach have been documented. However, the approach is often supported by donor funding rather than from direct government funding, and as a consequence is largely confined to demonstration or pilot sites scattered throughout Asia and the Pacific. There is an inherent assumption that the practice will spread to other communities, based on good practice. In many cases this assumption does not hold and the co-management fails after the project support has been withdrawn. The challenge is to find a way that co-management becomes mainstream practice of both government and non-government organizations and communities.

Many common constraints to successful implementation of co-management have been identified and some summaries in terms of "lessons learnt" are available. Ingredients for success appear to be (i) empowerment of communities, (ii) agreed roles and responsibilities of the different players (includes the whole hierarchy of players from national governments to local communities), (iii) legal and policy backing at all levels, (iv) people with skills in communication, natural resource management and problem solving, (v) use of traditional knowledge and traditional social structures (e.g. those used traditionally for decision-making and governance).

Some projects across the region have also demonstrated that co-management can not be achieved without dealing with fisheries in a more holistic livelihoods approach to break the inter-connection between overfishing and the need to survive. This involves empowering communities through improved organization to enable them to have a greater say in issues that affect their future and dealing with the issues of inadequate sanitation, lack of education, inadequate water supplies etc., while at the same time addressing the issues associated with responsible fishing.

It is probably time to take stock of the lessons learnt through government initiatives and through projects to formulate "best practice" for guidance of future activities. In particular, we need to examine what is needed to make co-management a mainstream activity. Importantly, it is clear that we need to focus on the functional (actually how stakeholders interact) rather than the structural (the theoretical relationship) aspects of co-management. A critical point to realize is that power-sharing is the result, rather than the starting point, of co-management.

[1] “Mainstreaming” in this sense refers to institutionalizing co-management within governments and local communities, rather than relying on ad-hoc projects and unsystematic interventions.

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