For many years, fishes were thought of as infinite natural resources to be exploited at will. We are nowadays witnessing the results of that carelessness: continuous declines of commercially high valuable fish populations, like cod, halibut, flounders, tuna, billfishes and many more. This overfishing endangers the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems and has often shifted them entirely with unpleasant outcomes. One example: jellyfishes benefit from the declining quantity of natural predators, which have been reduced by overfishing. Once jellyfish are predominant, it can be difficult for juvenile fish populations to reestablish that predator-prey relationship, because jellyfishes prey on juvenile fishes.
Not only is the ocean system affected negatively by these changes, but also millions of the world’s poorest people. Living along the coasts of developing countries, they heavily rely on fish as the primary source of protein and income. The significance of small-scale artisanal fisheries— characterized by low level technology, sometimes paired with low levels of organization and industrialization— should not be underestimated, because local communities and economies benefit from these fish trades and its related activities. Moreover these fisheries conserve and maintain cultural/traditional practices and make up to 1/3 of the world’s total catches. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) over 500 million people in developing countries depend, directly or indirectly, on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods.
Many fisheries-dependent communities already live a precarious and vulnerable existence because of poverty, lack of social services and essential infrastructure in addition to overfished natural resources and degraded ecosystems.
Why do we need to improve to small-scale artisanal fisheries?
Small-scale artisanal fisheries in developing countries are often constricted by complex interactions of unfair fishing rights, conflicting policies and weak political representation, inappropriate management, lack of scientific information, absence of infrastructure systems and usually a non-transparent retail system.
Our vision goes beyond scientific investigation about fisheries population dynamics and analysis of fishing techniques, for example. We aim to decrease poverty and insecurity within the small-scale artisanal fisheries sector we are working in. Fishermen usually belong to the poorest and most marginalized members of societies. Through our integrated fisheries research we expect more secure livelihoods for fishing communities, increased gender equity, higher incomes and, of course, a responsible and sustainable use of marine resources in Ecuador.
Besides the improvements, one priority is to implement new management approaches that address the complex circumstances affecting small-scale artisanal fisheries. Management in the last decades has too often focused on aspects of productivity such as maximization of yields only. Today, small-scale artisanal fisheries must be managed with a broader range of socioeconomic benefits for small fishing communities.