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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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What happened to all the fish? Why sharing opinions could improve co-management in the Philippines

Jun 2018

Posted By

Lucy Rosamund

Why are there less fish in the sea? How you answer that question depends on who you are.

If you were in an environmental group, you might give a complex understanding of what causes fish decline – like the impacts of climate change.

If you were in local government, you might be focused on whether or not people are following the policy and regulations.

If you were a local fisher, you might describe what you see happening on the water – destructive dynamite fishing and plastic pollution.

New research into stakeholder perceptions about fish decline by scientists at the ARC Centre of Coral Reef Studies, found that stakeholders gave different answers when asked about fish decline, because of their educational backgrounds and day-to-day experiences (link to paper here).

Jeremy Horowitz, PhD candidate and lead author said it is normal for stakeholders to have different opinions, because their opinions are based on different forms of knowledge. But this difference can undermine fisheries management if stakeholders have no common understanding of what is happening and why certain regulations are needed.

“If stakeholders have different ideas about what causes fish decline, they will disagree about what the best solutions are to stop fish decline. For example, if fishers think dynamite fishing is the main cause, but the government thinks it’s people refusing to follow the rules, then each will be focused on addressing different issues,” he said.

Mental models – mapping perceptions

To find out what stakeholders thought was causing fish decline, the researchers created mental models for each stakeholder group.

“A mental model is a map that depicts a persons’ perceptions about what causes fish decline and why. We used these mental models to show us how stakeholders think their environment works,” said Mr Horowitz.

The researchers found that stakeholder groups had different mental models to explain fish decline.

“We found that the fishers perceived less factors causing fish decline and had a less complex understanding about how the factors caused decline,” said Mr Horowitz.

“That doesn’t mean that they know less – while they may not be aware of the full breadth of factors, they identified some things that the environmental groups and the local government didn’t know.”

Mr Horowitz said that sharing perceptions has important implications for how fisheries are managed.

Successful co-management depends on collaboration

In the Philippines, marine reserves operate under a co-management system.

“Co-management is supposed to allow the fishers to speak to the government and the environmental groups, and together they’re supposed to come up with strategies to conserve fish populations,” said Mr Horowitz.

“Ideally, each stakeholder has an equal role in making decisions.”

The success of this approach hinges on collaboration.

“If some people are excluded – either by not being able to share their knowledge, or by being left out of decision-making – then everyone is missing part of the picture,” he explained.

The exclusion of fishers from the governance process is a problem.

“If fishers are not involved in the decision-making process, they’re not going to understand why decisions were made and so they might not comply with the regulations.”

Changing the governance model with knowledge-sharing workshops

The key recommendation from the research is the creation of knowledge-sharing workshops – to get the different stakeholders together so they can share what they know.

“If we can get fishers into a room with government and environmental groups, then they have the opportunity to understand the rationale and reasons behind the rules – and they are more likely to follow them,” said Mr Horowitz.

But even more importantly – government and environmental groups can listen to the fishers.

“Often, local knowledge is dismissed, but that’s a big mistake because the fishers are the ones out on the ocean every day. Their knowledge is vital,” he said.

Mr Horowitz is first to admit that the success of knowledge-sharing workshops is not guaranteed. He says that knowledge-sharing workshops would need to have their impact tracked empirically, to see if they are successful at improving communication, management decisions, and ultimately, result in better fish conservation.

“If the evidence shows that communication has increased and perceptions are being shared, then we can say it’s a success story,” he said.

Credit: ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies/Jeremy Horowitz
Credit: ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies/Jeremy Horowitz

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au