VIEWPOINT : Marine Protected Areas mean MORE fish and MORE jobs
A recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report estimates that some 4.9 million people work as fishers across Coral Triangle countries in the Asia Pacific region (Coral Triangle countries include: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor L’Este).
Between 2007 and 2009, seafood constituted approximately 20 percent of the animal protein consumed in Coral Triangle countries. Around 130 million people, or one third of the population of the Coral Triangle countries, depend directly on local and coastal marine resources for their income, livelihoods, and food security. As fish comprise a higher percentage of protein for poorer people and with the population of the Pacific islands expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030, more fish will be needed to feed people.
Understanding the link between marine protected areas and food securityRecognizing the critical links between healthy fisheries and food security, the governments of the Asia Pacific region and development partners (comprised of NGOs, other governments outside the region, and funding institutions) have been working with communities and key stakeholders to support the identification, establishment, and implementation of representative networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that would safeguard the ability of ecosystems to continue producing fish and providing livelihoods.
Governments also have begun to realize the importance of investing in the development of aquaculture systems for fish and seafood, and in some cases, have “capped” wild capture fish and seafood production.
Taking a cue from traditionThe use of protected zones (where no form of extraction can stake place) in marine areas and the control of fish production through farming are not new. For centuries, communities have closed areas by tradition or law to protect their resources and livelihoods, or to reduce local conflicts over harvest rights, and various forms of fish farming have been practiced in the region for decades.
But it is only recently that world leaders have started to recognize the vital importance of restricting access through installing no-take areas for safeguarding local economies. MPAs that enclose no-take zones are now considered a powerful tool in combating the overexploitation of marine resources.
Plugging the holes in our food basketDespite the benefits of MPAs, it has been widely noted that many MPAs suffer from inadequate management and a lack of enforcement in no-take zones—areas where fishing is prohibited. Most established MPAs in the region also do not have enough revenues to cover their full costs as there is little understanding of how the return on investments in MPAs could support economic needs such as food security and livelihoods. Funding gaps can reach up to 48 percent in Indonesia, 34 percent in the Philippines, and 20 percent in Malaysia.
Recent and targeted policy advocacy activities have succeeded in an increase of budget and attention to the role of MPAs throughout the region, and various organizations and agencies have supported increasing management capacity for MPAs.
Unfortunately, even with these investments, compliance with no-take zones and MPAs in general continues to be low mainly because MPAs are perceived to restrict people’s access to fish resources for which there is a high and growing local national, regional, and global demand and need (economic and nutrition value) and because they are perceived to limit livelihood options for the rural poor who have few alternatives to make their living (social and economic value).
Reframing the argumentsLooking into these issues around the region and over time, we noted how most of the currently implemented and promoted MPAs were designed in the past for biodiversity objectives or for protection of endangered species. So even while MPAs are socialized today as tools for fisheries management if they encompass no-take areas, most of the existing MPAs struggle to show clear evidence of fisheries and livelihood benefits. Supporters of MPAs who promote additional MPA creation as a fisheries management tool find themselves in a "chicken-and-egg" situation.
Also, fishing effort is often not restricted in areas adjacent to no-take zones, or within the larger MPA as a whole. This causes the effect of no-take zones to be hard to measure and near impossible to control for positive impacts.
Engaging the private sectorThere has been a growing recognition of the need and opportunity to engage the seafood industry and tourism sector in supporting efforts to maintain livelihoods and reduce negative impacts on the ecosystems and marine life. While the value of healthy ecosystems and abundant fish populations to livelihoods and economies is easy to point out, and some progress has been made by the private sector in reducing its negative footprint by adopting best fisheries and management practices, the active engagement and support by private sector in support of functional networks of MPAs and complementary broader marine conservation and fisheries governance strategies is badly needed.
Improving the design of marine management areas for the sole objective of an increased fisheries output, along with the provision of incentives to scale-up successful approaches tested around the region would add tremendous value to on-going work.
Engaging the private sector at all levels will be key to ensure delivery of the correct design and incentives. If we succeed in addressing the tragedy of the commons (wherein individuals act according to one’s self interest despite their understanding that depleting a shared resource is contrary to the group's long-term best interests) across this region with its high fish productivity, marine biodiversity, and dependence on the oceans, the local, regional, and global benefits are tremendous.
Forging innovative collaborationsWWF is initiating a large collaborative program that aims to address the open access status of coastal and marine fisheries resources that sustains the devastating impacts of the tragedy of the commons. The collaboration is envisioned to support the design and implementation of management strategies and harvest control schemes that are specifically focused on producing MORE fish protein and supporting MORE jobs in remote areas that have a high biodiversity and climate resilience value.
The envisioned collaboration can include a focus on those aspects of MPA design and implementation that complement existing MPAs in enhancing their delivery of food security and livelihoods. This will add new management areas for rebuilding and stabilizing fisheries that are key to food security and livelihoods in places where they are needed the most. This will further complement existing work with rights-based fisheries management tools (whereby entitlement to fish is restricted only to a local group), which can greatly help efforts on harvest and capacity control.
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