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Sustainable management of bycatch in bottom trawl fisheries

Industrial and semi-industrial bottom/shrimp trawling in tropical and sub-tropical areas tends to generate exceptionally large quantities of bycatch and low-value fish. In general, a significant part of this bycatch is discarded and unreported. In Latin America and the Caribbean, detailed information on the composition, volume, value, and potential utilization of bycatch, as well as on the impact of fishing on seabed habitats, had been inadequate until the REBYC-II LAC project. This has led to significant impacts on targeted and non-targeted fishery resources, marine ecosystems, and fishing communities. 

About the project

The Sustainable Management of Bycatch in Latin America and the Caribbean Trawl Fisheries (REBYC-II LAC) project is a partnership between six countries and regional organizations to manage bycatch and to support sustainable development of bottom trawl fisheries and the people who depend on them. The project sought to reduce food loss and to encourage sustainable livelihoods through improving collaborative institutional and regulatory arrangements for bycatch management, strengthening management of bycatch through an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), and enhancing information sharing in the region. The project has created an enabling environment that has increased trust and collaboration between government and stakeholders, leading to improved dialogue, updated rules and regulations, and reductions of over 30% in unsustainable bycatch in at least one pilot site per country. 

Good practices for the project's success 

Integrated and science-based approach to the bottom trawl fishery

The project addressed the interface between biodiversity conservation and food security through sustainably managed international and national waters. In-depth analysis of national fisheries governance, legislation, and international instruments in all project countries led to this integrated approach. Project partners first evaluated the bycatch composition of its target fisheries by assessing the ecological and species-specific impacts of the catches. If these were determined to be unsustainable, partners sought technological and management solutions to reduce the amount of unsustainable bycatch and discards.

Additionally, improved on-board observation and data collection highlighted ecologically sensitive areas that require protection. The project supported dialogue to develop spatial or temporal measures that protect critical habitat. However, bycatch reduction may undermine short-term food security in many coastal communities. Thus, understanding the contribution of the trawl fisheries and different components of trawl catches to livelihoods, nutrition, food security, and poverty alleviation was critically important for the development of sustainable bycatch management strategies. Using this approach, the project sought to protect biodiversity while preventing food-security impacts on vulnerable communities. The project sought consensus on a regional strategy to manage bycatch. This strategy improved practices across the region and will ensure regional collaboration.

Improved institutional and regulatory frameworks through multi-stakeholder dialogues

The project design ensured a multi-stakeholder, participatory process that supports everything from collecting baseline data, testing new technologies, forging agreement on management plans, developing regulations, and sharing information. This process included an early participatory approach to the design of the project itself through local and regional workshops. Thus, once the project began, a proper participatory framework already existed; in most of the countries these participatory committees continued to drive all the associated activities leading to positive outcomes for sustainable bycatch management in trawl fisheries.

While the effort to establish the multi-stakeholder committees was time consuming, it was critical for effective project delivery. These project committees were slowly becoming formalized management committees through government decrees. They are now formal institutional bodies that engage key stakeholders—including small- and large-scale fishing sectors, indigenous and non-indigenous fishers, various environmental organizations, and local communities and governments—in the management of these fisheries. As a example in Colombia and Costa Rica, this participatory approach has led fisher organizations to play a critical role in negotiating management measures (particularly spatial approaches such as fisheries zoning agreements) that clarify where artisanal and industrial fishing takes place and that reduce conflict amongst users. Multi-stakeholder committees are also the main vehicle to update fishery management plans and agree to new or improved regulations, such as those concerning the use of bycatch reduction devices.

Now, the project fosters a proactive and participatory co-management process where all the key stakeholders have participated in an integrated and adaptive fisheries management decision-making process. Strong ownership by government and other key stakeholders offers a foundation for sustainability of outcomes in the face of political instability. An example is Brazil, where the government office responsible for fisheries changed four times during REBYC-II LAC’s lifetime. Despite these changes, the institutional arrangement facilitated by the project, which supported strong partnerships among different institutions (government, academia, fishers’ associations), created an enabling environment for participatory, open, and transparent processes to develop a fisheries management plan. This included local consultations in almost 60 bottom-trawling communities that represent more than 90% of catches from bottom trawl fisheries

Understanding impacts on vulnerable groups including gender 

It is vital to understand the vulnerable groups that the project may affect, and address them directly via policy, capacity building, or project adjustments. Value chain and socio-economic analyses on the fisheries pilot sites improved understanding of the role of women in the value chain. Partners then adjusted the project to make sure that women received socioeconomic benefits from bycatch and that local communities that relied on nutrition from bycatch could have alternative livelihoods. Thus, outputs address the needs of local communities and do not affect them disproportionately. These studies also identified other vulnerable groups, providing the basis for further intervention. In Costa Rica and Colombia, for example, these studies shed light on the role of women in the value chain, and the project is now working to create or strengthen women’s organizations that may fight towards decent employment or seek alternative livelihoods. This is particularly crucial in Costa Rica, where trawling is currently banned.

The Good Practice brief was first published by the GEF here.