WILL MY COLLEAGUE Robin Mahon get his wish for reef fishers?
In the Daily Nation of February 17, 2015, he lamented the sorry state of reefs around Barbados and the absence of effective management. He wished that fishermen would tell the fisheries minister that their livelihoods depended on good management and that they were prepared to take drastic measures to improve the health of reefs to benefit all Barbadians. So why have we not heard from the fishermen? Who would do the speaking?
Therein lies a problem. Fisherfolk may be unable to speak with a collective voice or take collective action. Why? There are no really well functioning fisherfolk organisations. What difference does that make? Few fisheries anywhere in the world are sustainable without active and effective industry organisations to speak and act on behalf of the resource users. That is what the reef fishers, other fisherfolk and the general public need – an active, effective national level fisherfolk organisation in addition to smaller fish landing site groups.
Such a national organisation could address not only the reef issues that Professor Mahon raises. It could also address the broader concerns of how to fix the fisheries management plans and fisheries legislation that he identifies are deficient. Fisherfolk simply complaining to Government is not enough. They must take some responsibility for fisheries management. Fisherfolk can help to shape and implement plans and legislation from which their livelihoods benefit.
Fisheries contribute to food security, foreign exchange, tourism, culture and much more. Can this level of participation happen here? I don’t see why not. When the University of the West Indies (UWI) hosted a major fisheries conference here in November 2014, we had Barbadian fisherfolk (men and women) at technical sessions, discussing matters with international fisheries experts, being pursued by scientists to share their knowledge, and being praised for their understanding of fisheries and fisheries management. Our fisherfolk are good. What if they were organised?
What would a national organisation that represents the reef fishermen and other fisherfolk look like? It could look a lot like the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisations (BARNUFO) if it was rebuilt better than ever before. Rebuilding BARNUFO better is one of the quests for 2015 being pursued by UWI, fisherfolk leaders, Fisheries Division, and some concerned citizens. BARNUFO is restructuring membership with new benefits, doing new activities, seeking fisherfolk leaders, and aiming to be as strong and successful as fisherfolk organisations in other Caribbean countries. Whether we succeed in fulfilling the wish for reef fishery improvement, indeed for all fisheries, depends a lot on the support from fisherfolk, Government and the public.
Over the last five decades few fisherfolk organisations have persisted for more than a few years. BARNUFO is already 15 years old. To survive from adolescence into adulthood, it needs the guidance of capable fisherfolk leaders and, just as important, strong support from all fisherfolk. Lack of support has been the main downfall of previous fisherfolk organisations. Why pull down what you can build up? But there are few incentives for collective action.
This brings us back to Government. We need Government to provide the policy environment and assistance for organisations such as BARNUFO and others of small business people to prosper. We need collective action to properly manage reefs and all other fisheries for the benefit of the people of Barbados as the Fisheries Act calls for, assisted by a functioning Fisheries Advisory Committee and scientifically sound fisheries management plans.
– PATRICK MCCONNEY, Senior lecturer, Marine Resource Management Planning Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies, UWI Cave Hill.