Group teaches fishers right fishing behavior

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

IN THE past decades, the Philippines’ marine treasures have constantly been under threat, often from the same people whose livelihoods depend on them.

Overfishing and destructive practices by fishers continue to be cited as leading causes of the ocean’s decreasing yield.

In about 850 coastal municipalities in the country, more than 1.6 million people earn a living from the seas, and 85 percent of them or 1.1 million are near-shore fishers. If you factor in their families, this means that around five million people depend on fish caught in municipal waters for their income and food, and are affected by flux or adverse changes in harvest.


Further down the supply chain, it also affects almost 60 million people, or 56 percent of Filipinos, who get their protein from fish.

FEWER AND FEWR. Note the declining average catch of fishermen from the 1940s up to 2000. (Source: Fisherfolk using hook and line fishing gear from six provinces in the Philippines; Philippine Fisheries in Crisis)

Smaller catch

Yet, the amount of fish caught by local fisherfolk has been rapidly declining since the 1950s. Fishers needed to use more sophisticated technology and exert more effort in order to catch similar or declining amounts, just to keep up with the demands of a growing population and its ever-changing consumption patterns.

In many areas, this has also given rise to illegal practices, like the use of dynamite and cyanide, or the use of fishing gears that are considered unsustainable because they catch fish that’s too small or fish that would just be considered by-catch.

But how do you convert fishers from being the cause of the problem to being the solution?

This is what Rare set out to do in the Philippines. A global organization that has worked in almost 60 countries, Rare differentiates itself from other conservation efforts by focusing on changing people’s behavior. By helping fishers understand how they fit and contribute to the bigger picture, Rare believes they can be convinced to stop destructive or illegal practices and get involved in the protection of the seas to make it more beneficial for them.

Positive behavior

“We want fishers to stop destructive practices like dynamite or cyanide fishing or using the wrong gear. We want them to not fish inside no-take zones or marine reserves. (We urge them to) report intrusions when they see them or become a member of the BantayDagat,” said Rocky Sanchez Tirona, head of Rare in the Philippines.

At the heart of this model is social marketing, or the science of behavior change—similar to how commercial businesses attract consumers to buy products for profit—but in Rare’s case, applied to natural resource management for social good.

“In the past, we would do posters telling fishers something was illegal. But we never thought about things from their point of view,” said conservation fellow Susan Cataylo from Pilar, Camotes. “Social marketing taught me to really understand my audience, and think about what’s in it for them. Now, I can convince fishers that doing the right thing is good for them and for their families.”

From 2010 to 2012, Rare worked with local governments and non-profit partners in Surigao del Sur, Bohol, Negros Oriental, Davao, Cebu, Southern Leyte, and Camarines Sur.

Twelve Rare conservation fellows successfully implemented 12 Pride campaigns resulting in an average of 47 percent increase in fish abundance inside no-take zones, almost five times the target of 10 percent. The level of knowledge about marine protection also increased by an average of 15.3 percentage points.” (PR)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 10, 2014.

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