Solutions for reducing food loss and ensuring sustainable fishing livelihoods

FAO is helping revolutionize fishing livelihoods in Latin America and the Caribbean

Key Facts

Bottom trawling (dragging a net through the bottom of the sea floor to catch fish and other aquatic species for tropical shrimp in particular) is an important source of income for fishers and fish-workers all over the world.  Unfortunately, irresponsible tropical shrimp trawling tends to come at a great cost to the environment and marine resources. Historically, shrimp trawlers can end up catching 3 to 15 times more bycatch (the unintended catch of fish and other marine life) than actual shrimp, making it one of the fisheries with the highest catch rate of non-targeted species. However, recent technological advances have begun to reverse this impact and many shrimp trawling fisheries across the world have significantly reduced the volume of bycatch in their nets.

Supported by Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Sustainable Management of Bycatch in Latin America and Caribbean Trawl Fisheries (REBYC-II LAC) project seeks to reduce food loss and enhance food availability by improving the management and use of bycatch and ensuring sustainable fishing livelihoods. The six countries (Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago) participating in the REBYC-II LAC project share water and marine resources in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Turning food losses into opportunities
Food security is not only about producing more food. It is increasingly about ensuring that the food that is produced is consumed or utilized, or in the case of fishing, that the fish that are caught are eaten. Bycatch, anything that a fisher does not intend to catch but that still ends up in the net or gear, is a perfect example of a potential loss of food and natural resources that can be turned into a gain with the right practices and management.

With the support of GEF, FAO has implemented the REBYC-II LAC project in Latin America and the Caribbean. This project aims to 1) reduce food loss by improving the management and utilization of bycatch and minimizing discards and 2) support sustainable livelihoods by making shrimp and bottom trawl fisheries into sustainable and responsible fisheries. By focusing on both environmental and livelihood impacts, the project seeks to safeguard human and environmental well-being.

Stop the waste
When bycatch is effectively managed and utilized, it can contribute to food and nutrition security and constitute an important source of food and livelihoods for local populations. However, when it is discarded, it represents a significant loss of potential food and revenue.

Bycatch is often composed of juveniles of targeted species, small or low-value fish, or accidently caught sea turtles, rays or sharks, some of which are endangered species. Whatever is not kept for use is thrown back into the sea dead or dying and is considered discard, another harmful practice for our species and environment.

In order to minimize discards and the bycatch of unintended, or endangered species, the project is looking at improving shrimp trawl fisheries through more responsible management alongside the implementation of new technologies and better practices.

Across the region, the REBYC-II LAC project has been working with universities, research partners, governments and fishers to develop and introduce Bycatch Reduction Devices in all bottom trawl fisheries. The fishers have been actively involved and engaged in testing these new technologies and have demonstrated a strong commitment to changing their way of fishing if it can ensure long-term sustainability.

Sustainable fishing leads to sustainable livelihoods
In Latin America and the Caribbean, shrimp is the second highest valued fisheries export. It also has tremendous demand in national economies, thus providing food and incomes for local people and high-value products for the international market. However, bad practices, overfishing and unregulated fishing have taken a toll on the oceans and fishing livelihoods. Because of decreasing catches and increasing costs of operation, many fishers are finding it difficult to keep their operations profitable. This means lower incomes, but also lower availability of high-quality protein.

Cesar Ceballos, Head of the Shrimp Production System Committee in Campeche Mexico, acknowledges that, “Severe increases in fuel prices, steady but low shrimp catches, and ubiquitous illegal fishing seriously jeopardize the future of the fishery.” This is true across most of the region.

This is where taking a sustainable approach can help both the environment and livelihoods. Carlos Fuentevilla, FAO’s Regional Project Coordinator for REBYC-II LAC, points out, “We tend to erroneously believe that the opportunity cost of conservation and preservation of biodiversity is a loss of livelihoods and a worsening of food insecurity. However… we find that responsibly managed fisheries actually improve livelihoods and increase food security by boosting both productivity and income, both in the medium and long terms. Healthy aquatic ecosystems with ecologically appropriate genetic diversity provide a greater source of food and livelihoods than degraded, overfished habitats.”

Policies are the foundation of action
Helping countries to implement better policies and guidelines can also help address the problems related to unregulated, illegal and unreported fishing, all of which lead to degradation of marine resources.

The REBYC-II LAC project works with countries to review existing legislation and governance and suggest amendments that engage the fishing sector and promote the sustainable management of fisheries.

This is done in part through the implementation of internationally important policy guidelines such as the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, International Guidelines on Bycatch Management and Reduction Discards, the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries.

Making the necessary changes to reduce bycatch requires enabling legal and institutional environments that help identify best practices and share them through regional fisheries organizations. “We may have the best ideas in the world but if this is not clearly articulated in national legislation and national policies, it will be very difficult for fisheries administrations to institutionally integrate fishers into the decision-making process,” emphasizes Fuentevilla. 

Bringing fishers to the table
One of the biggest successes of this project has been getting fishermen involved in the discussion and having their voices heard when considering policy and legal changes to their fishing livelihoods.

In Costa Rica, Roy Carranza, Head of the National Chamber of Fishers, describes how this approach has made a huge impact: “The past couple of years have shown what the sector can do when it cooperates in an open dialogue. Through dialogue, we have been able to agree on critical aspects of the shrimp fishery, including a marine spatial planning agreement to govern when and where different people can fish that is now part of the national regulation…this has really changed the way different stakeholders interact and understand each other.”

Having fishers participate and treated like equals has meant greater involvement and buy-in for the proposed actions. Fuentevilla summarizes, “We cannot expect a community to be a responsible steward of the environment if they are not fully informed and involved in the decisions we take regarding their livelihoods. To put it bluntly, if fishers are not effectively participating in the decision-making process and levels of trust and transparency are low, there will be no sustainable fishing practices in Latin American bottom trawl fisheries. That is the reality.”

At the heart of it, the project aims to show that promoting sustainable fishing does not have to be at the cost of livelihoods. Sustainable fishing not only contributes to conservation, resource and ecosystem management, but also safeguards livelihoods and ensures that the world’s oceans are able to deliver nutritious food for generations to come.  

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