The Performance of Mexico’s Small-Scale Artisanal Fisheries: A United Fishing Sector

Complex problems challenge solutions that address a problem from only one point of view. No organization or sector that works in isolation can solve them.

After a boat ride of just over half an hour from somewhere on the unique Baja California Sur peninsula, you will reach a small island in the Mexican North Pacific. This island, populated by a few hundred fishing families, is dedicated to small-scale fishing for various resources such as lobster, abalone, finfish and seaweed. It is a well-organized, resilient community that has managed to overcome numerous challenges thanks to its high degree of organization and its relationship with other sectors with which it collaborates. This community is so far from it all that there is hardly any tourism, except for a few brave surfers. Its inhabitants depend on the sea, men and women dedicated to the fishery for as long as the largest can remember.

Some of these resources, such as lobster, have a high economic value and therefore their fishery has a great impact on the local economy and social welfare. A few years ago, fishers began to find lobsters with softened exoskeletons. Buyers thought they were sick, giving up on buying this product. Such a thing had never been observed, not even older people remembered something similar. The fishermen and women asked the groups with which they collaborate: civil society organizations, academia … but with no success finding the answer. Meanwhile, they were still unable to sell their lobster at the usual price, resulting in economic losses for the island community. One organization decided to share that unusual fact with another lobster fisher, but from the Caribbean. Immediately, the fisher said: “We have also seen it, after heavy rains or hurricanes. That happens when there is an excess of fresh water in the sea, they just have to put them in a tub with salty water to regain their normal appearance”. Weeks later, researchers came to the same conclusion, and linked the event to atypical rains in the Pacific.

A Caribbean fisher was able to solve a disturbance that a fishery suffered 3,000 km away thanks to the fact that they were able to connect and exchange knowledge. There are local solutions developed by communities for complex and specific challenges. However, coastal communities lack efficient mechanisms to share and scale local solutions. Social impact networks are spaces for agents of change to connect and create opportunities for exchange and collective learning.

Imbalances derived from environmental and social change are inseparable and mutually aggravate. It is no coincidence that, at the time of greatest pressure for the planet, the tension that societies endure is also titanic. Many of these inequalities have been and will continue to increase, exacerbated by climate change. Social mobility decreases, affecting traditional connectivity, while social instability increases. The context of social fragmentation, increased by the COVID-19 pandemic, hinders collective action in all areas.

However, a society that works in an organized manner, generating collective impact, is a more resilient society. This applies to fishing communities, where the small-scale fisheries sector has traditionally been fragmented. Historically, ways have been sought to bring these fishers together and recognize the important contributions that fishing communities offer to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals within the framework of the 2030 Agenda, for example.

A shared vision to inspire change

Actions are not always co-designed considering the voices of fishing communities. The network of fisherwomen and fishermen was born in 2020 with the following shared vision:

Mexico’s small-scale artisanal fisheries have a single voice in which all people are included, and no one is left out.

“We are a group of women and men united for the common good of marine conservation and sustainable fisheries in our communities. We produce science, we transmit knowledge and we join forces to share good practices and achieve social well-being through the generations”.

This network gives its members the ability to launch a social enterprise, come together for the common good, and tackle complex issues like climate change. But how do they do it? Social impact networks have a clear framework that includes a common vision, a shared plan, and collective values.

Collective construction contributes to achieving systemic solutions while fostering a supportive environment to work. While the formation of a social impact network is very intentional and has a definite purpose (the common vision), magic really happens organically when brilliant minds come together. Each participant brings a unique and individual experience and perspective on the sustainability of fisheries or marine conservation. That perspective varies from person to person, and that is the power of networks: the recognition of individualities in a collaborative environment inspired by a shared vision. In other words, social innovation is not just limited to the work of social entrepreneurs, it needs the full support of the community to examine the problem from all angles, find solutions that promote well-being in space, and leverage the resources to put those solutions in action.

Social innovation is achieved by promoting collaborative activities (that is, thematic groups), the measurement of collective impact, a backbone group that intertwines the nodes of the network and requires an efficient communication mechanism. PescaData offers the opportunity to promote these exchanges in a simple and intuitive way. The thematic groups of the network (i.e., underwater monitoring, oceanographic monitoring, community photography, sustainable fisheries, COVID-19) favor the exchange of community solutions through a Forum, while also recognizing the experience of each of its members. With the help of PescaData it is also possible to measure the contributions of users to global agendas, which is essential to strengthen a unified and inclusive discourse with all traditionally forgotten voices.

Collective action has proven to be a powerful tool for fostering collaboration, cooperation, equity, justice, inclusion, and equality in society.

Do you want to add your voice to that of the small-scale fishermen and women in Mexico? Contact us through the PescaData forums or email hola@pescadata.org

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