Baja’s Approach to Transforming Fishing Culture

Written by Audrey Robertson, ESLLC 2017-2018

Recently, the World Wildlife Fund released a statistic claiming that between 1970 and 2012 the world marine vertebrate population declined by 49 percent. A number of factors can explain this sharp downtrend, but there are three major contributors: between climate change, overfishing, and the destruction of marine habitats our oceans are suffering. Methods to improve the situation can be tricky because long term results can only be projected, as well as the need to feed our ever-growing population. Luckily in recent years, Baja California has begun testing one method and the results are inspiring. Using their simple five-rule strategy, they may have discovered the key to conservation that works.

The first rule states that using isolated sites for fishing (limited to one to two communities) is ideal for success. This idea reminds me of the issue of the tragedy of the commons. Explained as “an economic theory where every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource. As the demand for the resource overwhelms the supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms others who can no longer enjoy the benefits” (Staff, Investopedia. “Tragedy of The Commons.” 2015). By combatting this issue, communities can improve the biodiversity in waters. The second rule states the community needs a resource of high value. With any successful movement, the community needs strong leaders with vision to create a better ocean, stated as the third rule.

The last two rules hold even more significance. Overfishing happens when fishermen fish all year round, increasing the amount of bycatch and wasted resources. The fourth rule states fisherman needing a way to support themselves while resources recover, and Baja has solved this by paying fishermen to watch for poachers and to do biological surveys estimating the amount of certain species in their area during the off seasons. The last rule “For conservation to work, community cohesion and trust are essential.” By creating trust you build community, which helps support and manpower of conservation efforts, specifically when you put communities in charge of small, community-created reserve areas, such as those in Baja California. So by following their example could we create healthier, more biodiverse oceans?

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