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Mongabay: Supporting fisher communities to adapt to the new normal

In an article on Mongabay Indonesia, Nisa Syahidah explores how community-based organisations in Indonesia are supporting fisher communities to adapt to the new normal, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

English translation:

Supporting fisher communities towards the new normal

Unu Asumbo counted the rupiah in his hand. He’d just sold his catch through FishFresh, an initiative of the Gorontalo Natural Resources Management (Japesda) Advocacy Network to market fish online for fishermen affected by the pandemic.

Unu is a fisherman from Torosiaje Jaya Village, Popayato District, Pohuwato Regency, Gorontalo – a Bajau village about 100 kilometers from the capital of Pohuwato, Marisa. The name of this village is also said to come from the Bajo language – toro means cape, and siaje means stopover.

Like many fishermen across Indonesia, Unu is feeling the bitterness of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also dealing with the shift to the southern wind season, when strong winds start coming in from the south; the high waves of the sea at this time of year aren’t too friendly to fishers. Usually he’s able to catch a lot of fish, including bubara fish, snapper, and mackerel. But now his catch is reduced, and sometimes he catches nothing at all. 

Before the pandemic, Unu would sell his fish to local suppliers. His life changed completely when the supplier ceased operation due to the pandemic. The fishery supply chain almost stopped and his income dropped dramatically as the price of bubara and snapper fell more than 50%.

Unu initially only sold fish in the local market, or caught it to eat at home with his wife and three children. Since then, he’s joined the FishFresh initiative established by Japesda which connects fishermen with consumers in the city of Gorontalo and surrounding areas.

Japesda facilitates sales so that small-scale fishermen get recognition and a reasonable price for their environmentally friendly fishing efforts. “My initial concern was that my catch would not be sold, but with help from FishFresh I’m selling it in the city,” Unu said.

“FishFresh was established after we mapped the potential of fisheries on the Gorontalo coast last March. We found that the catch of fishermen was quite abundant, but the selling price was relatively low. So, we are trying to help market fishers’ products through FishFresh, and farmers through Ramba-Ramba online,” said Nur Ain Lapolo, Director of Japesda.

“Not only does this benefit farmers and fishers, but it also makes it easier for buyers in Gorontalo City who can have their orders delivered to them at home,” added Nur Ain Lapolo.

Fisher community empowerment in West Kalimantan

In Sungai Nibung Village, Teluk Pakedai Subdistrict, Kubu Raya, Alek and Jaka feel the same way as Unu. Both are fishermen who catch crabs, fish and shrimp – invertebrates that live in the Nibung River mangrove forest area. Alek has been a fisherman for more than 45 years. Jaka is younger, at 20 years old.

Alek and Jaka felt the impact of a 30% fall in prices, so they weren’t going to sea because they could not sell their catch for a decent price. Both are members of the Conservation Community Business Services (PUMK). PUMK is a programme initiated by Planet Indonesia Foundation (YPI) in West Kalimantan to support coastal communities to protect their natural resources through strengthening the local economy.

Alek and Jaka have been PUMK members for three years, through which they’ve learnt to save and plan finances, while engaging in various conservation activities with YPI. As part of the programme, they work to maintain and manage Sungai Nibung Village Forest, so that the benefits remain sustainable. For example, through an open and close river system, where the community (supported by YPI) implements a fishing ban for a certain period. This enables the habitat to restore and allows fish, shrimp, and crabs to breed. Both Alek and Jaka also joined in patrolling the river area when it was closed.

As PUMK members, they are entitled to a welfare fund of Rp750,000 to ease the burden of the impacts of the pandemic.

“This funding has helped me to buy groceries and bait for crabs,” said Jaka. “With the money, I made sure to use the money responsibly, such as not buying fishing equipment that was illegal or not environmentally friendly,” he added.

PUMK aims to strengthen the capital of community members in developing productive businesses, as well as facilitating the marketing of sustainable production through a conservation cooperative scheme that addresses the root causes of biodiversity loss in vulnerable ecosystems.

PUMK urges its members to keep aside money from these funds to save. “I was able to buy fishing gear from the savings at PUMK, there was no need to borrow money from collectors or chart owners in the village,” said Alek.

“I also hope that in the future, PUMK on the Nibung River will continue to advance and increase so that I can continue saving,” said Alek again to Mizan, YPI staff in Kubu Raya.

Holistic support

Japesda and YPI are taking a holistic approach to conservation programmes with the community. YPI integrates ecosystem conservation and livelihood diversification through sustainable support between community (social), economic and natural (ecological) relations.

In addition to supporting the community in an economic context, YPI runs a health programme called Healthy Families, to increase access for women and young people to health services. The programme also offers literacy education to increase public awareness of the importance of education at an early age.

YPI encourages sustainable natural resource management through fisheries programmes. These aim to protect mangrove ecosystems by implementing a temporary coastal cover system by involving the community to conserve marine biota in a sustainable manner.

“PUMK is the backbone of our overall program to improve community welfare, which will thus have an impact on environmental preservation in support of broad conservation efforts in West Kalimantan,” said Miftah, Community Empowerment Manager, YPI.

“We are currently identifying needs at the community level, thus helping us take strategic steps forward to strengthen the program and community resilience,” Miftah added.

Meanwhile, Japesda has a similar dream in Gorontalo, “Welcoming the new normal, Japesda’s economic development division will continue to develop FishFresh and Ramba-Ramba online by looking at market opportunities and working with several potential partners to help fishers, farmers, and small businesses in marketing their products online,” said Ain.

Japesda also strengthens community resilience by establishing local food stalls in the villages where they work, so that community members can earn an income selling mangrove sticks, shredded anchovies, roa fish sauce, cassava chips, chocolate pia, virgin coconut oil and many more.

Towards the new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new normal, and market demand is now gradually increasing again. Jaka and Alek are now back at sea, but are keeping up social distancing rules and paying attention to their health. 

Unu also went back to sea as the local market has begun to open and there are more buyers again, but the prices are still relatively low. Probably, this is because most people, both local buyers, fish collectors, and people from outside the village are still trying to recover from the weak economic conditions of the pandemic.

There is much hope for these fishermen as they adapt to a new normal. For Jaka, he wants to get a new boat to make the most of the improving catches. “I hope that fishermen can continue to be cared for and helped,”. Jaka also hopes that in the future he can do activities without being overshadowed by fear again.

“Hopefully in the future, the purchase price offered to fishers who fish in an environmentally friendly way can be valued at a high enough price,” Unu also expressed his hope.

For Unu and fellow fishermen in Gorontalo and other regions in Central Sulawesi such as Banggai Regency, the situation is becoming more challenging with the arrival of the southern wind season. In this season, the risk of going to sea is much higher, as dangerous sea conditions can make fishing more challenging and affect the catch.

Jalipati Tuheteru, a companion of the Japesda field in Uwedikan Village, Luwuk Timur District, Banggai Regency, revealed that fishermen now choose to work on land to supplement their income, for example making boats or repairing fishing gear.

With various crises facing fishermen in the future, it is important for organisations to improve the social security of the communities they support. For example, through the diversification of fishing livelihoods and financial planning programmes for fisher families.

“The challenge ahead for fishermen is to support market access and understand how market conditions in this new normal era can remain stable whilst supporting the economic resources of fishing communities,” said Miftah.

“Then, at the local level there is also a need for diversification of fishery products, so that community economic resilience can still be awakened in times of crisis.”


 

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Thailand

Thailand’s small-scale fisheries are the cornerstone of social, economic and nutritional health for the communities living along the majority of the country’s nearly 3,000 kilometre coastline.
In the southernmost Trang province we are supporting communities reliant on nearshore fisheries − in particular for crab, shrimp and squid − in partnership with the Save Andaman Network (SAN).

We’re providing training and tools to aid organisational development, community led fisheries monitoring and management, and building community-owned social enterprises that fund and sustain local conservation efforts.

Timor-Leste

Since 2016, our work in Timor-Leste has evolved into a dynamic movement supporting community led marine management and coastal livelihood diversification in Asia’s newest country. From our origins on Atauro Island, considered to harbour amongst the highest levels of marine biodiversity on earth, we’re now working with numerous communities on the island and the mainland to ensure that local communities have access to diverse sustainable livelihood options to relieve fishing pressure on critical coral reefs and seagrass ecosystems.

We’re engaging communities in monitoring the relatively unexplored marine biodiversity of Timor-Leste, and managing local marine resources through customary local laws known as Tara Bandu. Alongside our community conservation efforts, we have pioneered Timor-Leste’s first homestay association, which now provides a consistent income from visiting ecotourists and sparked interest in replication by a mainland community. Using homestays as a hub, communities are well placed to host learning exchanges, training events, and act as an outreach platform to engage and inspire communities in fisheries management and livelihood diversification. Exchanges have led to communities of best practice and strengthened associations, and the opportunity to establish a formal network throughout the country.

Our team in Timor-Leste’s capital Dili works closely with government, civil society organisations and NGO partners.

Tanzania

Like its neighbours within the Northern Mozambique Channel marine biodiversity hotspot, Tanzania harbours some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the Indian Ocean.  These habitats are facing unprecedented challenges from overfishing and climate change.

Our Tanzanian team has worked with communities and local organisations to support locally-led marine conservation since 2016.  Our work has expanded from Zanzibar to mainland regions of Tanga, Lindi and Kilwa where our technicians work with local partners to help communities strengthen co-management systems, working through beach management units (BMUs), Shehia Fishing Committees (SFCs) marine parks and Collaborative Fisheries Management Areas (CFMAs).

Our partners Mwambao Coastal Community Network, marinecultures.org and Sea Sense have spearheaded a remarkable acceleration in the uptake of community-based fisheries management and conservation in recent years, notably through the use of short term fisheries closures to catalyse broader community conservation.

Somalia

With one of Africa’s longest coastlines, Somalia’s diverse marine environment supports enormously productive coastal and offshore fisheries.  Decades of conflict have undermined the country’s capacity for fisheries management, with many foreign industrial vessels fishing with impunity, and little regard for the critical importance of Somalia’s coastal fisheries for local livelihoods and food security. 

A period of relative political and social stability unprecedented in recent decades is now presenting new opportunities to address past challenges, and to realise the considerable opportunities that well-managed coastal fisheries and conservation can offer Somalia. We are forging partnerships with community organisations in Somalia to build their capacity and skills to help coastal communities manage their fisheries for food security, livelihoods and conservation.

Philippines

The Philippines forms part of the ‘coral triangle’ epicentre of global marine biodiversity, with unparalleled diversity of marine species. Over half of the country’s 107 million people (55.6%) live in rural areas, and approximately three quarters depend on agriculture or fisheries as their primary source of livelihoods.

With our local partner People and the Sea, we are working in the eastern Visayas to support coastal communities to establish locally led marine conservation and fisheries management efforts underpinned by participatory data systems that put evidence in the hands of communities.

Papua New Guinea

The largest country in the Western Pacific Region, Papua New Guinea‘s coral reefs and mangroves are among the most diverse and extensive in the world. Papua New Guinea has a long history of traditional approaches for fisheries management, and huge unmet marine conservation needs.

We have been supporting our local partner Eco Custodian Advocates since 2019 in Milne Bay, notable for its vast mangrove forests and coral reefs. We are now expanding this support to other local organisations in Papua New Guinea, focused on supporting the establishment of customary LMMAs that provide locally relevant approaches to community led fishery management built upon local cultural traditions.

Indonesia

Indonesia comprises almost 17,500 islands stretching across three time zones. This archipelagic nation has the longest coastline − and the largest coastal fisheries resource − of any country on Earth. Ninety five percent of Indonesia’s seafood production comes from small-scale fisheries, which are underpinned by the most biodiverse marine ecosystem on Earth, known as the Coral Triangle.

In Indonesia, Blue Ventures’ partner Yayasan Pesisir Lestari, based in Bali, works with locally-based organisations Forkani, Yayasan LINI, Yapeka, Yayasan Planet Indonesia, Foneb, Komanangi, JARI, Yayasan Tananua Flores, Baileo, AKAR, Japesda, Yayasan Mitra Insani and Yayasan Hutan Biru.

These partners support community-based approaches to coral reef and mangrove conservation at 22 sites across seven provinces. Interventions are customised to each context − the local fisheries, community stakeholders, seafood supply chains, legal frameworks and customary traditions governing fisheries management and conservation.

Since 2019 we have brought these partners together within a peer learning network of Indonesian organisations specialised in supporting community-based marine conservation. The network is based around the shared values of the organisations, including a commitment to promote the rights of traditional fishing communities in conservation. Seventeen of the sites represented in this group are enacting local marine management through customary management regimes and traditions. This group, largely comprising sites in Eastern Indonesia, provides an important opportunity to share learning in traditional marine and fisheries management practices.

In West Kalimantan and East Sumatra we’re supporting mangrove-dependent coastal communities to integrate mangrove fishery and forestry management, alongside activities to develop alternative livelihoods or upgrade existing livelihoods. In North Sulawesi we’re supporting the development of community-owned ecotourism businesses, such as homestays, that diversify local livelihoods and place further value on protected and healthy marine ecosystems. Across our work in Indonesia, where partner communities have an unmet need for healthcare, we’re supporting the integration of health improvement activities into our interventions.

Find out more

India

We continue to work in India with our long term partner the Dakshin Foundation. We are collaborating in three distinct locations; the archipelago of Lakshadweep, coastal regions of Odisha and the Andaman Islands.

Overfishing has led to a reduction in fish catches, challenging the future of many traditional fishing communities.

Our partnership is working to build the capacity of communities to manage coastal fisheries,  and improve the health of fishing communities, for the long-term wellbeing of both the communities and their fishing grounds.

Kenya

Kenya’s coast supports an extraordinary diversity of tropical marine and coastal habitats.  These  waters are threatened by a proliferation of destructive fishing practices and over-harvesting within the artisanal and commercial fishing sectors.

Our approach in Kenya focuses on strengthening Beach Management Units (BMUs) to improve fisheries management.  Since 2016 our Mombasa-based technical team has provided support, mentoring and assistance to local partners including Pate Marine Community Conservancy (PMCC), Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and Coastal and Marine Resource Development (COMRED).

These partnerships have seen notable achievements in community led fisheries management and conservation, including training and mentoring BMU leaders in eighteen communities in Kwale and Lamu Counties.

Comoros

The Comoros islands are located in the northern Mozambique Channel, a region home to the world’s second highest marine biodiversity after the Coral Triangle. This globally important biodiversity underpins coastal livelihoods and food security, but is at risk from climate change and overexploitation of inshore fisheries.

We have maintained a permanent presence supporting locally led marine conservation and fisheries management in Comoros since 2015, providing support to local partners, governmental institutions and communities.

On Anjouan, the second largest and most densely populated island in the Comoros archipelago, we work closely with national NGO Dahari. Our partnership has developed a replicable blueprint for community-based marine management, which has seen the creation of the country’s first locally managed marine areas − including temporary and permanent marine closures − designed to safeguard the coral reef ecosystems underpinning the archipelago’s coastal economy.

This approach, which is expanding rapidly across the Comoros, is also demonstrating the importance of inclusive conservation in empowering women − through local women’s fisheries associations − to play a leading role in fisheries monitoring and decision making.

On neighbouring island of Moheli and the french island of Mayotte, we’re supporting the Moheli National Park and the Mayotte Marine Natural Park with efforts to strengthen community engagement in fisheries management and conservation.

Belize

Belize’s marine environment encompasses some of the most important marine ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea, including vast coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass ecosystems. We have maintained a permanent presence in Belize since 2010, supporting diverse fisheries and conservation efforts from our base in Sarteneja, Belize’s largest fishing community.  

We work in close partnership with the Belize Fisheries Department, MPA managers, fishing cooperatives and fishers’ associations, and are actively involved in promoting the establishment of a national scale domestic fishery for invasive lionfish.  We’ve worked with coastal stakeholders to develop a national strategy for lionfish management, including launching the National Lionfish Working Group.  

We’ve led a ten year MPA monitoring and evaluation programme in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, and provide training in coral reef monitoring methods to six MPA authorities in Belize, including helping establish management targets for Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Belize’s largest MPA. 

Our team supports community-based fisheries and conservation groups across the country to ensure local interests are mainstreamed in the design and implementation of marine conservation and fisheries management, improving the effectiveness of co-management of conservation areas.

Mozambique

Our Mozambican team has worked with communities to develop locally led approaches to fisheries management and marine conservation since 2015.

Our approach is focused on supporting and strengthening local organisations and Community Fisheries Councils (CCPs) to better understand their local fisheries, make informed management decisions to rebuild fisheries, and assess the impact of management actions.  This work is developed in close collaboration with our partners Oikos- Cooperação e Desenvolvimento in Nampula province and African Parks in Inhambane province.

Ongoing security challenges have devastated many coastal communities and emerging marine conservation efforts in several areas of Cabo Delgado, where our work is regrettably now on hold.

As in Madagascar, given extremely high levels of coastal poverty and a pervasive lack of access to basic services, alongside our work in conservation we facilitate partnerships with specialist health providers, through an integrated health-environment approach.

Madagascar

Blue Ventures’ journey began in Madagascar in 2003, and we’ve been supporting communities in marine conservation across the country ever since. We have five regional field programmes along Madagascar’s west coast, as well as regional offices in the towns of Toliara and Ambanja.  Our national headquarters is located in the capital Antananarivo.

Across all these sites we support communities with the establishment of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), and work with government partners to secure national recognition for community conservation initiatives.  First developed in Madagascar by Blue Ventures in 2006, the LMMA concept has since been replicated by communities at hundreds of sites over thousands of kilometres of coastline, now covering almost one fifth of Madagascar’s inshore seabed.  Our research in Madagascar has demonstrated globally important evidence of the benefits of LMMAs to fisheries and conservation.

Our work focuses on strengthening community institutions in marine management and governance, and pioneering new approaches to catalyse community engagement in ocean conservation.  These innovations have included establishing the world’s first community-based sea cucumber farms and the country’s first mangrove blue carbon project.

At a national level, we incubate the LMMA network MIHARI, which brings together 25 partner conservation organisations in supporting 219 LMMA sites across the country.  Our policy team is also actively involved in advocating for more robust legislation to safeguard the rights and interests of fishing communities, and to remove destructive industrial fishing from coastal waters.

Given the lack of basic services in remote coastal regions in Madagascar, we also help communities access basic healthcare through training and supporting women to serve as community health workers. We do not replace government health systems, but work to strengthen existing structures in close collaboration with government health actors and specialist NGOs.  We also incubate Madagascar’s national health-environment network, which brings together 40 partner organisations to address the health needs of communities living in areas of conservation importance across the country.