Waves lapped the glittering sand while children giggled as they splashed in the surf. The warmth of freshly made tortillas wafted through the salty air as fresh fish crackled on the grill. It was the perfect setting for a community meeting.
On the morning of April 18, fishers and authorities gathered on the beach in Loreto Bay to discuss sustainable fishing and fortify an influential alliance. The recently-formed Federation of Fishing and Tourism Societies of Loreto declared and signed a conservation agreement to successfully manage fishing interests and preserve natural resources. The declaration promises to uphold the sustainable management of the ornamental fish trade as well as recreational and commercial fishing in Loreto Bay. The fishers hope their unprecedented collaboration will help get approval for a zoning plan they created. The new plan calls for nearly a 1000 percent increase in no-take zones in the bay.
Five years ago, many of Loreto Bay’s fishing cooperatives operated illegally, overfished their waters and fought among themselves. Something significant has changed.
Rare Conservation Fellows distributed 3,000 bumper stickers with messages about marine reserve benefits, organized 26 mural painting events, took 200 Loretanos into the park for the first time. Community knowledge about marine reserves increased by 75 percent. The fellows showed Loretanos how to more responsibly manage their fisheries while still maintaining a viable income. Four years later, can fishers make a living wage?
Before any of the assembled fishers at the meeting could respond to the question, a woman in the crowd jumped to her feet with an infant on her hip. She excitedly explained that Rare’s influence (she and her child proudly wore the campaign t-shirts) has helped them tremendously. She said the campaign gave the community access to training, opportunities and resources to protect their livelihoods. “Absolutely!” she said. “Fishing is a viable future.”
“I think what’s going on in Loreto is a potential model for the rest of the world,” says Amanda Leland, Vice President for Oceans at Environmental Defense Fund.
“Change in fisheries is slow,” says Cynthia Brown Mayoral, Rare’s Latin America marine program director. “The conservation agreement is the culmination of four years of work and it shows the sustainability of Rare’s methods.” After Rare’s initial campaign, fishers and community members wanted to continue the efforts and raised the funds on their own to extend the program for another two years. The collaboration has paid off. The value of the fishers’ catch has increased. They now sell 20 clams for $150 pesos, whereas they used to earn just $20 pesos.
After the official signing, everyone grabbed a tortilla, savored the freshness of local fish and danced. That’s living!