The sustainable seafood economy–it’s happening

Bottom longline snapper fishers (picture: Erick Lopez)

Our coasts are on the edge.  With a global race being run to exploit coastal resources, we push these areas of economic, environmental, and social importance closer to the tipping point.  Assuming these pressures will not subside in the foreseeable future, we must begin to identify and implement sustainable development strategies for the planet’s coastal areas if we’re to continue to enjoy the treasures they bring to society.  One small piece of the puzzle is the creation of sustainable production methods and responsible consumption strategies.

In Costa Rica fishers are using sustainable techniques to catch snappers.  They then sell these snappers to local hotels whose guests are encouraged to participate in the purchase and consumption of a locally produced product.  The project is beginning to yield sustainable fishing strategies and a responsible tourism industry that benefit one another in environmental protection efforts and the socioeconomic development of local residents.  When replicated, the project will contribute to the sustainable development of entire coastlines.

The project is facilitating participatory management of the Southwestern Nicoya Peninsula’s coastal resources among artisanal snapper fishers and government officials through the identification of responsible fishing techniques that preserve local snapper stocks and the development of marine protected areas that allow for these techniques while prohibiting other destructive ones.

Sustainably caught spotted snappers (picture: Will Parinello)

The environmentally conscious visitor’s desire for sustainable seafood options and willingness to contribute to local development projects is then served through the direct sale of responsibly caught seafood between fishers and tourism establishments.  Local markets between fishers and tourism operators also eliminate lengthy chains of custody that result in meager earnings for primary producers (fisher folk).  Higher fisher earnings will act as incentives for locals to continue to apply their responsible fishing techniques, thus insuring will be ample resources for future generations of fisher folk to extract.

The project is being evaluated for a Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certification, and in February, 2011 project designer Andy Bystrom led a campaign that won National Geographic’s and Ashoka Changemakers’ Geotourism Challenge 2010: Places on the Edge – Saving Coastal and Freshwater Destinations.  The project has also been named a finalist for the Savannah Ocean Exchange’s 2011 Navigator Award where Bystrom will present PRETOMA’s work during the September 7-9 event in Savannah, Georgia.

Hotel interested in purchasing sustainable seafood directly from local fishers (picture: hotelpuntaislita.com)

Summary of project’s key points:

  • Project involves 2 artisanal fishing associations along Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Coast
  • Both associations use a technique known as demersal bottom long lines to target spotted snapper (Lutjanus Guttatus)
  • Researchers are collecting date and finding that bottom long lines are a responsible way to fish because they do not result in the over exploitation of the snapper population
  • The Ministry of the Environmental has established 2 marine protected areas in the study’s area.  These allow the use of bottom long lines but do not allow other unsustainable fishing techniques like shrimp trawls and gillnets
  • The artisanal snapper fishers are beginning to market their “sustainable snappers” to local tourist hotels and restaurants
  • Tourists can help in the sustainable development of coastal communities by buying quality, locally caught, sustainable seafood.  The extra $ they pay goes directly to the fishers and gives them an economic incentive to continue to fish responsibly
  • The project is being evaluated for an international Marine Stewardship Certification (currently there are no internationally certified fisheries in Costa Rica)
  • Project can be replicated to benefit other coastal areas where the fishing industry and the tourism industry interact

Watch the project’s question and answer video:

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