Small-scale fisheries off the Atlantic Coast of Guatemala

Report from Hector Andrade, PhD student in International Fisheries Management, University of Tromsø
Project 200601873-48

Financial support for the project:
“Towards an intercultural community based management regime? Small-scale fisheries off the Atlantic Coast of Guatemala”

Fishing, Nicaragua

Fishing, Nicaragua

Through partial funding from The Centre for Sami Studies and the Centre for Environment and Development Studies, I was able to carry on fieldwork from March 2006 to April 2007 in the town of Livingston, Guatemala. Small scale fisheries operating in a river mouth-bay area of the Caribbean were researched upon. During this period, I collected both social and biological data for my PhD thesis after participating in daily fishermen activities including fishing trips, processing and selling the catch, etc. I was able to gather first hand information which allowed me to improve my understanding on how the fishery system works as a whole. We are on the way of producing papers disclosing our findings.

In the Guatemalan Caribbean alone, an estimate of about 1,415 small scale and subsistence fishermen from four different cultures are targeting fish and crustaceans. Fishing grounds are shared by fleets employing different gear types, targeting various species at different sizes. This situation creates conflicts among fishermen while declining landings and overexploitation of some species. It is believed lack of management traduced in overfishing and bad fishing practices is the main responsible for the current situation. One of the main problems facing managers and users is the lack of specific scientific biological and sociological information needed for a realistic plan. In this research information was generated on target species population biology, their fishery and the socioeconomics.

Fishing boat

Fishing boat

As examples of the ongoing conflicts, the Garifuna hook and line fishery targets mostly lane snapper Lutjanus synagris adults, while juveniles under the commercial size are discarded as unwanted by-catch by shrimp trawlers, the economically most important fishery run by Ladinos. Another case is the most labour intensive sardine-like fishery, where entire K’ekchí and Ladino families participate in fishing activities targeting what it is believed to be the main food item for bigger species like the Scombrids caught again, by Garifunas and Ladinos using gillnets. In the process, shrimp larvae and fish juveniles are also killed before they have reached a commercial size. For both cases, while one fishery seems to be obtaining economical benefits at the present, the others are worst off, with future sustainability been compromised.

The government, willing to improve the ongoing situation under serious economical limitations, has strengthened controls enforcing the fisheries law while giving institutional support to a newly formed “Fishermen Network”; an umbrella organization encompassing all the small fishermen organizations based in the Caribbean. This Network has among its objectives, to look for solutions to the problems affecting fishermen, and to promote conservation and rational exploitation of coastal marine resources. It seems though these actions, the government and the Network are moving tow

Woman selling fish

Woman selling fish

ards a community based management (CBM) regime. In this project we analyze how feasible CBM is under the prevailing conditions: Network structure, how it works, to wha

t extent the Network is able to cope with cultural diversity, the different views of management needs according to each fleet, the decision making processes, etc.

At this stage we do not have conclusive results but our analysis suggests that although the Network is relatively young, it can achieve its goals in the future provided there is strong support from its stakeholders, and most important, that government strongly accompanies the Network at this initial phase.

 

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