Although co-management has been picked up to some or other extent in most APFIC countries, there has been very little advocacy for introduction of the approach as a national initiative. Community empowerment has been demonstrated time and time again (e.g. Pomeroy et al., 1997) to be a very positive social change and in some cases has resulted in improved natural resource management. What are the benefits and why attempt to do it, knowing that it is a complex process that takes time and resources. There are, of course, many benefits, but perhaps the largest incentives come from thinking about the consequences if it is not attempted.
The rapid changes in the fisheries in Asia-Pacific over the last 20 years certainly suggest that as we "fish down the food chain" there are fewer links in the chain that would provide direct human food. The social implications of this type of decline are enormous. If the "safety net" function of small-scale fisheries is removed, where will the millions of people move to and what will they do? They will probably be forced to move to urban areas, aggravating the already large problems in the regions mega-cities. As a poverty reduction strategy, fisheries co-management has enormous potential and there is a clear need for greater advocacy of the approach.
One of the apparent perceptions that needs to be overcome is that co-management is a challenge to government authority and that this ought to be resisted. Experience to date, however, has shown that when governments do devolve authority they benefit by achieving better results in terms of ecological, social and economic outcomes. Under co-management, resource users will get the benefit of participating in management decisions that affect their welfare and governments will benefit by being more effective and efficient, and potentially damaging conflicts, poverty and resource degradation can be avoided, or at least mitigated.
In considering mainstreaming of co-management there are some key issues which must be addressed:
1) How do we get governments to buy-in to co-management in a sector that appears to be a minor player in terms of GDP and able to cope with its own poverty and problems?
3) What should be the roles and responsibilities of all the major players in co-management?
4) What powers and functions can be entrusted to local institutions?
5) What is the role and relationship of governments with non-government organizations and civil society organizations?
6) How do we empower large numbers of communities over large areas to be legitimate players in fisheries management?
7) What are the most appropriate roles for organizations at different scales of co-management and can these be effectively linked across those scales?
8) How do we build the necessary human capacity at all levels, but especially at intermediate district/subdistrict levels?
9) What are sustainable financial models of co-management, and can these be generalized at all?
10) To what extent can/should co-management be supported by donors, and what form should this support take so as to maximize the potential for sustainability once interventions have finished?
11) Should co-management initiatives be focusing more on non-fisheries specific skills required, rather than sectoral specific knowledge, e.g. a greater focus on communications and conflict management skills rather than, for example, stock assessment?
12) How can communication and participatory research be used to support co-management when we have imperfect knowledge of the resources?
13) How can co-management institutions be designed to have enough flexibility to adapt to change (for example, when new resource users arrive, priorities for resource users change or new incentives appear)?