Sustainable Fishing


This is the second in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer. 

I sometimes struggle to define the work that interests me. I know what it is, but I have to spin it differently depending on my audience:

“Conserve marine ecosystems and habitat.”

“Assist local artisanal fishermen in maintaining their livelihood.”

“Help communities secure exclusive rights to specific marine resources.”

“Find ways to incentivize fishermen to protect the coast and ocean.”

“Live in interesting coastal communities in developing countries.”

I’m learning though, that quite simply, I want to promote sustainable fishing. The phrase “sustainable fishing” involves that loaded and sometimes misused word, “sustainable”. My favorite definitions of sustainability specify the importance of a triple bottom line: people, profit and planet or a focus of the social, economic and environmental outcomes. I recently learned that the two Spanish words for sustainability—“sustentable” and “sostenible” initially had different definitions. One pointed towards the gentle use of a resource with an understanding that the resource would be used up. The other meant finding ways for people to thrive while utilizing their natural resources, but ensuring that the resource would be available for future generations. I prefer the second definition. I think our grandchildren should be able to know pristine coastal areas, healthy fish and thriving coral reefs.

Basically, my work is about finding ways to promote the social, economic and environmental well being of fishing communities.

Grupo Tortuguero has a project in Lopez Mateos that does just that. It was a treat to tag along with their team over almost two weeks to experience their work and offer some recommendations. The project, “PROMAR: Productos Marinos Sustentables SPR de RL” is a partnership between Grupo Tortuguero, the fishermen of five local fishing cooperatives and their wives. PROMAR is developing a program that promotes changes that should benefit the environment, the local economy and the community. The environment benefits because the fishermen will transfer their gear from gill nets to hook and line. This change will essentially eliminate bycatch and should increase the quality of the catch because only certain species will be targeted. The local economy profits because fishermen will immediately place their catch into coolers of ice (currently, catch sits on the boat, sometimes going bad due to the hot sun), then bring the catch to a collectively-owned air conditioned and sanitized processing center to be cleaned (currently, fish are cleaned on the beach). The sustainably caught, responsibly processed fish will be sold to gourmet seafood buyers in Cabo san Lucas via a coordinated transportation system that guarantees that the fish stays on ice the entire time. These buyers offer a much higher price that what is currently paid to fishermen for the fish caught my gill nets and cleaned on the beach. Finally, the community benefits because it involves women in the production. The fishermen’s wives are currently taking computer classes to learn basic skills on Microsoft Word and Excel. They are the managing partners of the program and also responsible for the processing of the fish. This partnership is unique and one of few in the world that so equally involves and benefits women in a traditionally male dominated sector. The distilled and lovely end goal of the PROMAR project is empowered families, protected ecosystems, conserved turtles, financial security.

PROMAR, as expected, is in the process of defining itself. I hosted a small workshop on building a successful cooperative. During the workshop, I described a cooperative organization as a living organism. Although a coop is comprised of individual members, it has its own identity and its own way of being in the world. I encouraged PROMAR’s members to consider their organization as a baby. A baby needs quality food, attention and care to grow to be a successful adult. As a child, it needs monitoring and guidance. My message to PROMAR was that as members, they are the parents of this baby. If they invest the proper time, energy and effort into organizing themselves well now, their “baby” will grow to be a very successful adult.

I am so excited to see how PROMAR grows!

21 thoughts on “Sustainable Fishing

  1. Eloise Cooper

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