No-Take Fishing Zones Can Protect Fish Populations & Empower Local Communities

No-take fishing zones in the Caribbean’s near-shore and reef areas may be an important strategy for sustaining marine ecosystems and conserving fish populations, according to preliminary research. Meanwhile, the increasing use of no-take reserves calls for recognition of the vital role that local communities play in natural resources management and their rights to benefit from that management. Shared management of ecosystems and resources requires equitable and appropriate distribution of both responsibilities and benefits among all stakeholders.

In order to protect the Caribbean’s highly threatened near-shore and reef ecosystems, local communities must be engaged in decision making and stewardship of natural resources. If the community is not consulted, there can be significant local opposition and non-compliance because no-take reserves prohibit the main livelihood of these communities. In order to continue to earn a livelihood, fishermen have been known to sneak in at night or dynamite the reefs in order to push fish to the surface.

On the other hand, with sufficient resources, no-take areas have the potential to serve as tools of empowerment for the adjacent community. If the right to manage marine resources is recognized and local people are consulted in the establishment of reserves, the community can be an active partner in effective monitoring of human activities and ecosystem conditions. The state may help communities restrict access and enforce prohibitions by deploying coast guard, marine police, or other resources to patrol extensive open waters and coastlines.

This has worked in Jamaica, where subsistence fishers represented by organizations such as the Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society advocated for the establishment of a reserve in Bluefields Bay with strict enforcement of no-take restrictions.

When effectively monitored, no-take reserves provide an area for populations to recover free from fishing pressure. In the above cited study, fish grew bigger and laid more eggs and coral grew faster within the reserve. Rebounding populations then expanded into habitat outside the no-take areas. In the mid-1990s in St. Lucia, the total catch around an extensive closure of coral reef fishing grounds increased significantly, in some places by as much as 90 percent.

The gain in fish harvested and lives improved around the no-fish zones depends on government authorities working side-by-side with community leaders to agree on strategies for implementing codes of enforcement and rules of engagement.

Read more about a related USAID project: The Indonesia Marine and Climate Support (IMACS) is a four-year project that aims to improve marine resources management in Indonesia.