Policy Letter: Creating effective, sustainable fisheries management in the Caribbean Netherlands

Throughout the Caribbean, like in the rest of the world, the abundance of marine fish species have been declining over the past decades. The health and abundance of fish stocks depend not only on fishing pressure but also on the quality of the marine ecosystems. In the Caribbean Netherlands, coral reefs and the open ocean are the main ecosystems in which the species targeted by the fisheries sector occur. Coral reefs are marine biodiversity hotspots that are not only invaluable for coastal protection but also have a high economic value through associated fisheries and tourism. As healthy fish stocks are essential for the existence of fisheries, concentrating efforts towards more sustainable fishery practices, will not only benefit ecosystems, but also fishermen and other users that contribute to the local economy such as dive tourism. Hence, proper management of the fisheries sector is important for the existence of the profession and for ensuring food security, and also for other sectors which are vital to the economy of the islands. Moreover fisheries plays a very important role when it comes to culture and identity of inhabitants of the Caribbean. As a recreational activity it is a vital source of wellbeing. Hence, it is not only food and dollars that make fisheries an activity to manage well.

As opposed to historical fisheries management in the Caribbean Netherlands, sustainable fisheries management must be a joint effort by the local government, national government, nature NGOs, fishermen and buyers. In addition, adequate enforcement must be in place. Truly sustainable fisheries management requires an active and adaptive approach to the conservation of areas and species, a focus on communication, education and awareness, active research and monitoring, and interaction with stakeholders. Additionally, it requires an integrated approach to address serious anthropogenic threats such as pollution, the introduction of invasive species and climate change, as well as addressing the need for the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems.

Although fisheries management in the Caribbean Netherlands has improved dramatically compared to 10 years ago, many fish stocks are still declining. To make fisheries management more collaborative and sustainable WWF believes that external factors influencing fish stocks should be taken into account. If not, there is a high chance that commercial fish stocks in the Caribbean Netherlands will decline even further to the point where they are no longer economically viable and will be replaced by lower trophic species. This is already happening in the Caribbean Netherlands and is a prelude to ecosystem collapse as seen on other islands in the region, where fisheries management is in an even much poorer state than on the Dutch islands. Lessons should be learnt from places like Jamaica, where badly managed artisanal fishing played a big role in the collapse of the local coral reef ecosystem.


Being aware of the challenges faced by the fisheries sector in the Caribbean Netherlands, both ecologically, socially and institutionally, WWF-NL conducted a series of studies to gain practical insights in these challenges. The aim was to draw up a suggested course of action to strengthen and improve the current fisheries management practices on the three islands. These studies are currently being finalized but due to the review deadline for the sustainable fisheries plan of the ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Safety, WWF-NL decided to share the preliminary findings through this policy brief. The goal of this policy brief is to provide legislators as well as stakeholders within the fisheries sector with a summary of the key findings obtained from WWF-NL‘s fisheries research with the aim to translate these findings into fisheries policy and management. If these recommendations are followed, we are confident that truly sustainable fisheries can be achieved in the Caribbean Netherlands. Of note is that scientific references, details on study findings and other additional information can be found in the associated study reports that will be published in the course of the upcoming few months.


Urgency: Currently the fisheries sectors of the Caribbean Netherlands are not being managed adequately. The sector is not transparent, most targeted or commercial fish stocks are either over exploited or fully exploited and dwindling. And a lot of fishermen are not able to meet their domestic and family needs. However, there is potential to turn this situation around. This would require an investment in time, support, collaboration with all stakeholders and an investment in human resources and capital.

Responsibility: The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food safety ultimately is responsible for fisheries management. This is not limited to having up to date legislation and policy. It is also the minister’s responsibility to ensure that implementation and enforcement of legislation and policy takes place. This requires that the implementing partners (public entities, park authorities, The Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard, police, fishermen themselves, etc.), which do not necessarily fall under the direct responsibility of the ministry, have sufficient resources, skills and support to fulfil their tasks. Given the small scale and limited availability of resources on the islands it is therefore advisable to share the responsibility amongst different stakeholders. This ensures that 1) There are enough resources, both human and financial; and 2) That there will be support for the policy. This does require that the division of roles are realistic and clear for all involved parties.

Integral approach: Collaboration with the different ministries such as the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Ministry of Justice and Security, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry Social Affairs and Employment is crucial to ensure an effective governance structure with and within the public entities. Aforementioned ministries all have a relation to the fisheries sector and are needed and able to make the required positive change in the fisheries sector and should therefore be included in policy development and implementation.

Coherency: Fisheries management should be in line with national, regional and international fisheries and conservation laws, regulations and recommendations, such as the international guidelines from the Western Central Atlantic Fisheries Commission (WECAFC), FAO Small Scale Fisheries Guidelines, 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, CITES, CMS, etc., the national nature policy plans and island laws and regulations. Sustainable fisheries management should use an internationally recommended ecosystem based approach as well as precautionary approach as its founding principles.

Inclusiveness: And last but not least we would like to emphasize that resource management comes down to people management. This means that proper and effective resource management thus not only revolves around legislation, enforcement, monitoring and research. But, more importantly, attention must be paid to the organizations, institutions and individuals assigned with the task to manage the resource. In order to achieve effective management, these entities are required to be well equipped for their executive duties. Even more so, it is of importance that the individuals who are affected directly by the management measures are directly included in the process. This can be done through co-management in which different actors in fisheries are included in the way management is set up and implemented. . The inclusion of local fishers in the management process appears to be most effective and successful when they are able to organize themselves with clearly defined representatives. This tends to aid the efficiency of the co-management process, communication between parties and tends to result in more uniformity and support among the stakeholders regarding the management measures. The option of exploring the ideas of co-management and the inclusion of fishermen can be initiated by organizing workshops with fishermen on every island to identify shared goals and management strategies. It should also be considered that there are new or non-traditional fishing activities on the islands from Chinese, Latin American or other immigrants, therefore these groups should be included in the management structure as well.

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