Saving sharks through a fishermen’s agreement

Background. For the Save our Sharks project of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, 7Senses conducted Participatory Action Research on Saba for 7 weeks in July/August 2016, focusing on the fisheries component of the project.

Problem statement. As Apex predators of the marine ecosystem, sharks are essential for its balance, variety and health (DCNA 2015). Also Redfish are essential components of the marine ecosystem as important predators; the influence they have on their food sources can even modify the structure of the environment they live in (NIWA 2015). On Saba Island, multiple stakeholders claim that the Redfish population is declining at an alarming rate. Especially fishermen are concerned as for most of them, it is their main source of income. As it turns out, Redfish and sharks depend on each other for their existence. It is in the interest of multiple stakeholders, among which DCNA, SCF and fishermen, to recover the Redfish population.

Objective. To discover, develop and implement together with local stakeholders a joint construct of plans for the protection of sharks in Saba territorial waters, which fits each stakeholder’s needs and goals and which they can execute actively and sustainably. As such, we aim to tackle shark extinction from multiple angles.

Research questions. Main research question: what joint construct of plans can be co- created, implemented and executed by different involved stakeholders, for the direct and/or indirect protection of sharks in Saba territorial waters? Sub questions: 1) What is each stakeholder’s perspective profile with regards to marine ecosystem related subjects? 2) In what circumstances and under what conditions can local stakeholders cooperate best in shark conservation? 3) What activities can be implemented that would help reaching stakeholders’ individual goals while contributing to shark conservation?

Methodology. PAR was executed using the theoretical framework of Argumentative Policy Analysis. Within this framework, the following methodology has been chosen for Saba. Individual, semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions were conducted (N=56) to elucidate each stakeholders’ perspective on the marine ecosystem. Fishermen filled in seasonal diagrams to indicate their fish and/or lobster catch each month of the year (Annex 2). Additional meetings were organized to discuss ideal circumstances for shark conservation –in line with personal needs and goals- and to co-create a joint construct of plans. Structured and unstructured observation was done during interviews and meetings as well as in daily life. A questionnaire (Annex 3) was used to determine priorities and to set conditions for multi-stakeholder cooperation. A simulation game was conducted with SCF to identify and test scenarios to further enhance a healthy marine ecosystem. Other methods such as informal conversations and in-context immersion were applied to further increase understanding of the local context of Saba. The outcome of this action research was presented to the Island Council and Lt. Governor Jonathan Johnson.

Results. The outcome is a fishermen’s agreement on ‘seasoning for Redfish & establishing a fishermen’s organization’. Circumstances in which local stakeholders cooperate best in shark conservation are A) Having established a fishermen’s organization, B) Running a seasoning system for the Redfish C) Applying additional measures to increase the Redfish population, D) Arranging alternative income during closed seasons. Conditions under which these ideal circumstances can be created include advice and legal assistance by government and/or experts (A), Community-up creation of the legal framework of the seasoning system (B), setting a trap limit after the closed season, allowing longlines, arrange patrolling and releasing live-caught sharks (B), arranging FADs for Mahi Mahi, government support (D) and more.

Other outcomes include three scenarios, identified and (partially) tested in a simulation game by SCF, for further enhancing the health of the marine ecosystem: 1) designating three new Marine Protected Areas based on biodiversity, in order to improve sustainable use of the Marine Park 2) addressing the landslide issue to prevent soil from damaging the coral and 3) banning plastic bags and Styrofoam -to prevent them from ending up in the ocean and cause damage to marine life- and/or including this in the current garbage recycling system of the government.

Conclusion. PAR has led to a community based solution that fits the needs of the local stakeholders in its best possible way. As such, the objective of this action research has been achieved. However, additional activities need to be realized in order to enhance the implementation of the closed season system for the Redfish, starting in April 2017. Moreover, although the action research on itself may have raised awareness of the importance of sharks among stakeholders, the actual benefit for the sharks will start when the closed season for Redfish starts. Last, SCF’s scenarios for a healthy marine ecosystem will be included in SCF’s strategic planning, although it is yet unclear when and how the scenarios will be realized. Executing the seasoning system and the scenarios planned by SCF will lead to tackling shark extinction from multiple angles in its most productive form for Saba.

Recommendations include –but are not limited to- 1) Make sure the identified conditions for the seasoning system are put in place, so that fishermen feel well supported in the execution of the seasoning system. 2) Include fishermen in all other procedures that have direct or indirect influence on the livelihoods of fishermen, especially procedures such as law development and arranging the experiment for lionfish traps. 3) Arrange proper law enforcement for the seasoning system and 4) establish in close cooperation with fishermen a fishermen organization.

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