According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, almost 80% of the world’s fish stocks are now fully exploited, over-exploited, or depleted.
The planet’s marine life has been severely damaged by our warming oceans, and the global demand for cheap seafood continues to grow, putting enormous pressure on what’s left.
In January 2020, I travelled to Honduras, a developing nation in Central America where fish and seafood account for more than 9% of total exports, to look at how a sharp decline in fish populations affect those most dependent on them.
With the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, at least 350 thousand Hondurans depend on the health of their waters to support their livelihoods.
The decline in the numbers of fish has made life increasingly difficult, dangerous, and less profitable for vulnerable communities along the Honduran coastlines. Far out to sea, in small boats unfit for deep waters, fishers here rarely haul in a catch they can make a decent profit from. Increasingly, they’re forced to fish areas to depletion to feed their families.
Environmental protection isn’t a priority for politicians in the central government. Improved regulations on industrial and artisanal fishing are a good start, but there are no enforcement mechanisms in place, and often, NGOs are left to fill the gap. Where they have been working, a significant improvement in marine life has been seen, some even witnessing fish populations bounce back, reef cover improving, and communities successfully diversifying their incomes with a variety of activities.
On Roatán, an island off the northern coast of the country where tourism has been detrimental to the health of its reef, the Roatán Marine Park works with locals to find more sustainable ways of living.
Where fishermen were pulling out as much fish as they could before, education and training has proved successful in transforming the mentality towards marine resources.
In Barras de Cuero y Salado, a stunning area where the Cuero and Salado rivers meet the sea, different issues yield similar consequences. Today, here too, locals voice their concerns that marine life is deteriorating, and that there are less fish in their waters. They point to illegal fishing and the destruction of mangrove as primary causes.
Together with Fundación Cuero y Salado, an NGO that manages the refuge, locals play an integral role in making decisions and strategies to protect their habitat from further harm.
In the La Moskitia region, indigenous people were helped to access outside markets that they would have considered completely impossible just a few years ago. Interim reports show that GOAL’s MiPesca program has helped increase their sales by 70% in the last year.
“We provide institutional support to fishermen’s associations, promoting access to fair markets and market niches. Species that were previously considered to be of low value can now be profitable, thereby reducing the over-exploitation of popular species, and reducing pressure on the ecosystem,” says Luigi Loddo, Country Director for GOAL in Honduras.
Although their work is having a positive impact, NGOs can only be a catalyst for what is necessary – a major change in our global consumption behaviour and awareness.
When it comes to helping vulnerable coastal communities survive major social and economic difficulties, in Honduras and around the world, it’s vital to build upon and invest in the capabilities of local governments and fishing authorities – to sustainably manage the waters and industries that their livelihoods depend on.
With the 2020 UN Ocean Conference coming up, a new chapter in global ocean action aims to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
My project, supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund, can be found here in Independent.ie.