Derek Staples, FAO/APFIC Consultant
122. At the world summit on sustainable development in 2002 states were requested to introduce the ecosystems approach to marine resource assessment and management by 2010. The ecosystem approach has now been applied widely in many sectors and can be defined as “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.” In short, it is a holistic management system that promotes sustainable development. This requires finding a balance among the social, economic and ecological dimensions of sustainable development.
123. In a fisheries context, the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) represents a move away from management systems that focus only on the sustainable harvest of target species to a system that considers the management of all the major components in an ecosystem, including associated species, habitats, and vulnerable species and also considers the social and economic benefits that can be derived from harvesting fish. This is not a new concept but one that was already enshrined in the FAO CCRF. In fact, for fisheries, the ecosystem approach can be considered as simply an approach that assists in implementing the sustainable development principles contained in the CCRF.
124. There are also many other approaches put forward by different sectors and interest groups, e.g. integrated coastal management (ICM), sustainable livelihoods approach, ecosystem-based fisheries management etc. However, it is important to understand that these are all variants of a theme and are all management systems to promote sustainable development. Some place emphasis on ecological sustainability so that human development will continue whereas others emphasize the need to focus on wealth generation so that economic well-being can be achieved. Some include several sectors, such as a large marine ecosystem (LME) approach and others work within a sector. Implementing an EAF requires: (i) participatory approaches through co-management; (ii) moving beyond principles and niceties by developing objectives that can be addressed by management measures; (iii) developing an effective planning/management system that facilitates planning, implementation and monitoring; (iv) implementing EAF at different scales; and (v) integrating fisheries with broader ecosystem management initiatives, e.g. ICM, LME. A range of tools is available to assist in making sure all these basic components of EAF are in place, including tools that facilitate a participatory process and help prioritize the major issues that need to be addressed by management.
125. A checklist on the things that need to be in place in order to claim that the ecosystem approach to marine resource assessment and management has been introduced. The list includes: (i) a regional road map for fisheries based on a broad ecosystem approach; (ii) national policies outlining goals under an ecosystem approach; (iii) fisheries plans outlining objectives, management measures and how their performances are to be assessed; (iv) local community plans that align with national policies and fisheries plans; (v) fisheries better integrated with broader planning initiatives such as ICM; (vi) strengthened MCS (both self-regulatory and preventive systems and regulatory systems under both formal and informal laws and regulations); and (vi) having monitoring and evaluation systems in place.
Richard Gregory, FAO/APFIC Consultant
126. Many fishing communities are caught in a poverty trap because they are dependent on a resource base that is declining. This requires more fishing and increased costs, which drives them further into poverty. Finding alternative livelihoods for these people is not easy. Most have limited access to land, capital or assets and live in remote areas. Many of the solutions offered are usually very simplistic and are not based on a full analysis of the costs and benefits of these alternatives.
127. Alternatives can be categorized as being within a community or outside of the community and being extractive or non-extractive. Extractive options within the community, such as aquaculture, fit with existing activities and are close to existing houses. However, this type of option has a number of negative impacts, including the fact that it can suppress the local price of fish and its sustainability is questionable. Because fish need to be caught as feed for aquaculture this can increase rather than decrease fishing pressure. One such example is spiny lobster culture in Viet Nam.
128. Policies such as moving fleets to fish farther offshore can provide alternatives, but increased fishing capacity that develops offshore can move back inshore and cause more problems in the longer term. Another option is to improve marketing opportunities, but again in remote areas these markets can be limited. Nevertheless, innovation is occurring — a building made especially to harvest bird’s nests for bird nest soup in southern Thailand was given as an example.
129. Non-extractive options such as tourism may be available, but a number of prerequisites is required and many fishers are not in position to benefit. Tourist investors are often outsiders. At the very best, fishers may be hired to man tourist boats etc. There are often other downsides, including increasing prices and the cost of living in the area. Other resource-independent options such as small shops and business are a possibility, but need business skills. Handicrafts and village industries are one such option. Most fishing communities do not have access to capital and credit. Formal credit systems see lending to these communities as too high a risk and are reluctant to lend. To offset this, many schemes such as revolving schemes have emerged.
130. In conclusion, it was suggested that it is “time to face up to some truths”, including that a growing number of coastal fishers are going to struggle to maintain their livelihoods. Many do not want their children to take up their occupation and although diversification may be able to maintain status quo, it will not be sufficient to move these people out of poverty. The solution is much more long term and governments have a responsibility to assist fishers to move away from their dependency on fishing and assist with compensation, e.g. fishing boat and gear “buy-back programmes”. Most importantly, education and skills training is needed for the next generation so that this group is prepared to adapt to future opportunities and options.
131. During discussions it was noted that there is a need to find alternatives for unsustainable fishing within the fisheries sector as many fishers do not want to move out of the sector. It was accepted that education and skills training for young people might be a long-term solution, but options within the sector are needed now.
132. For some people fisheries is already an alternative livelihood. Taking up work on larger fishing vessels was one example mentioned. When looking for alternatives to fishing it was noted that it is important to remember there is also an increased demand for fish both globally and locally and some people need to do the fishing.
133. The meeting was informed that SEAFDEC was to organize a meeting on livelihood alternatives sometime next year.