The Vitality of Local and Indigenous Stakeholders in Fishery and Marine Policy Making: Ground Truthing from First-Hand Accounts
Greetings to our faithful blog readers and to Professor Erin Bryant!
It seems like forever ago that we were sitting in the Madden Center on our Woods Hole campus, discussing the ways in which we would be applying the material we learned in our Ocean Science and Public Policy course to our time in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI). Now, in our final days aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, I find myself (Victoria) reflecting upon the many learning experiences we’ve had throughout our journey at SEA. In November, Macy and I wrote our OSPP policy brief on the vitality/importance of uplifting local fishermen and Indigenous stakeholder voices when creating ocean-use and fishery management policies in the USVIs. Our research in Woods Hole elucidated the fact that fishers’ input in policymaking has been largely under- or misrepresented in the Gulf and Caribbean region since the mid 19th century. Similarly, the participation of Indigenous groups, such as the local Taíno people, has been virtually non-existent despite these groups having deeply rooted cultural ties to the land, the sea, and its stewardship.
From analyses of success stories regarding coral reef ecosystem/fisheries management and current theory on stakeholder representation, we wonder whether a holistic, multi-faceted approach to marine policy making in the USVIs would best serve the local communities and their marine resources. Specifically, our policy brief detailed the promising nature of a marine multi-use planning strategy for Virgin Island coral reef ecosystems; traditional methods such as no-take zones have proven to be exclusionary and often unsuccessful in the past. It is our belief that bolstering the voices of those whose livelihoods and heritage rely upon coral reefs and their resources would produce the most equitable and enforceable modes of conservation. Moreover, the integration of multi-use zoning in nearshore environments would help to foster a more holistic and less authoritative relationship to conservation in local communities.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s relatively easy to come to such harmonious conclusions when all you have to base policy on are scientific papers, well-designed websites, and the research of others. However, when politics and in situ complications to such policies arise, measuring the functionality of different management strategies becomes a much more difficult task. Such was the case for us while onshore in St. Croix earlier this month, during which we had the opportunities to speak with several local experts in the field of USVI coral reef management.
These professionals included Matt, Caroline, and Pedro from St. Croix’s East End Marine Park and the USVI Coral Reef Initiative; their scientific research and public outreach initiatives supported and informed the establishment of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on St. Croix. Having the opportunity to speak with the folks who actively create, enact, and manage these protective policies allowed us to gain a better insight into how complicated marine management truly is. Matt helped show us that from a purely scientific and ecological perspective, MPAs serve as the most effective mode of conservation – this could be inferred from our own research and experiences already, and we sought the perspective of Caroline to understand her experience trying to enforce this upon the local community. She described a certain level of division and mistrust with regards to local support for the East End Marine Park. On the one hand, their new visitor center is filled with interactive activities meant to inform young visitors and foster an appreciation and enthusiasm for their conservation efforts – a level of community outreach that required an abundance of effort and thoughtfulness. Conversely, Caroline explained there was also a certain level of local animosity towards their MPA which they have been dealing with since the beginning of their conservation efforts. She described how within a week of posting new signs about the marine park around the island, many of them had been torn down, crunched by cars, or had bullets shot through them. What’s more is that holding violators of MPA guidelines accountable is almost an impossible task – if someone is fishing on a protected reef, the chances that they will be caught and fined are slim to none.
Despite being an island community, seemingly dependent on the ocean for so many things, many locals don’t enter the water. Very few snorkel and some never learn to swim. In some cases, it is a lack of resources and time. For others, it may simply be a lifestyle choice. This aspect of the local community was echoed to us many times with each interview we conducted and poses a unique challenge when it comes to trying to fill conservation and management positions with locals. Our policy brief emphasized the need for conservation and management efforts to be informed by, if not completely run by, members of the local community. However, accomplishing this becomes difficult when there is a disjointed relationship between the local community and the ocean. It is important to note that almost all of the people we interviewed were white and did not grow up on the island. It is difficult to discern if this inability to staff locally is symptomatic of true lack of human resources or simply a perceived deficit in local’s competency by outsiders. Expert guests Dr. Kim Waddell, of the University of the Virgin Islands, and USVI charter boat captain Wes O’Dell emphasized a need for education for children to get them passionate about the ocean at a young age.
Hearing this first-hand accounting of reef management in an MPA allowed us to ground truth our suggestions detailed in our policy brief – as it turns out (at least on St. Croix), creating areas which bar local communities from benefiting from their natural resources truly does create obstacles for effective outreach and management. This is not to say that the efforts of the East End Marine Park are ineffective or should not be recognized but rather that the disconnect between policy makers and those who must abide by their policies, which we interpretated from our research, could be confirmed by a first-hand account. Now I find myself wondering if our suggestions for representation in the development of multi-use reef zoning could serve as a practical solution. Would encouraging and utilizing local fishers’ input help to remedy this issue of law abidance and enforcement, or would someone who would shoot an MPA sign just to make a point be willing to even negotiate their needs?
In our discussions with Dr. Kim Waddell, University of the Virgin Islands professor and director of the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, scientist, and analyst of fishing regulations in the USVI, we learned a different side of the struggles to set fair fishing limits. In one of our sources, we read the transcripts of a meeting of the eight fisheries management councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the US federal law governing fishing in US waters. The representative from the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council (CFMC) said the fishermen would ask when they will stop being unfairly limited in their fishing because of the council’s inability to obtain and process data. From our reading, it seemed as though the lack of resources given to the CFMC made it so they couldn’t set accurate catch limits. Dr. Waddell explained that the lack of data comes in part from the lack of reporting when it comes to fishing. We also heard this concern from the staff at the East End Marine Park. Fishermen aren’t reporting the species they are catching or how many, thus analysis and implementation of sustainable catch limits and fishing practices cannot be established.
Reoccurring in every interview was this theme of trust, or lack thereof. Governmental officials in charge of conservation and sustainable fishing don’t trust the locals to report what they catch or follow the legislation put in place. In turn, the locals don’t trust that these laws are being created in their own best interest or that their stakeholder perspectives are heard and respected. Community outreach and education efforts might go a long way to bridge this gap and improve collaboration between the local community and the governmental officials. Conservation and sustainable development are only achievable when taken on by the community itself. It is paramount that the local community is given the resources to engage in conservation and that they are able to work collaboratively with officials to inform policy.
- Victoria Scott, A Watch, Bates College/ Macy Littell, B Watch, Wellesley College
P.S. Macy to Mom, Dad, Dusty, Abbi, and Mary Anne: Don’t fret! I am well and rehydrated! I got to have an amazing snorkel day today. Don’t worry about me. I am happy and healthy (no longer seasick), and I will tell you all about it soon. Love you all! Find Baha’i Writings that mention the ocean to study with me when I get back. <3
P.S. Victoria to family and friends: I can’t wait to be home for the holidays and update you on all the adventures I’ve had with some of the best people I’ve ever met. I love you guys to pieces, see you soon!!