A BOLD EXPERIMENT
Jamaican fishermen take charge of protecting their own waters
||What these fishermen think,
and what they want now
carries real clout.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, Jamaica has the highest rate of deforestation in the world, and her waters are the most overfished in the Caribbean.
The decision by the Jamaican government then to hand over the day to day management of the recently created Portland Bight Protected Area to a non governmental organization, and through it to the 50,000 poor and poorly educated inhabitants of the area, has startled onlookers. "Itís a bold experiment in sustainable development and empowerment", says Peter Espeut, the director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (CCAM), the NGO in question.
The protected area is Jamaicaís largest, covering some 187,615 hectares, and includes coastal forests (41%), wetlands (16%), coral reefs, seagrass beds and more than 20 islands and coral cays. Many of the people there eke out their living from fishing and extracting products from the wetlands and forests. Most of them live in poverty and few have ever had any more than the barest primary education. CCAMís guiding principle is that these people come first.
"It is unconscionable to be more concerned with trees and turtles than about people," says Espeut, who is a chemist/zoologist and rural development sociologist.
"We are not tree huggers. Sustainable use is our maxim, not strict protection. Sure there will be areas zoned for maximum preservation, but the vast majority of Portland Bight will be used sustainably for the sustainable prosperity of the residents. If the environmental management does not lead to an improvement in the standard of living there, then what use is it?"
CCAM has been working in Portland Bight since 1993. Getting residents involved in the management of the area has not necessarily been an easy task..
"There is a natural suspicion which I think is well founded," says Espeut. "There have been too many people who have come along in the past with promises and projects and several fishers have been fooled. So many of the people are watching us from a distance."
Nonetheless, CCAM has already mid-wifed three resource co-management councils made up of stakeholders. The first of them, the Portland Bight Fisheries Management Council, has 32 members who represent mostly organizations of small-scale fishers and vendors, but also includes delegates from relevant government agencies and elite sports fishing clubs.
So far, it has reviewed fisheries laws and regulations, drafted new ones to guide natural resources management in the marine zone, including eight no-take zones, bans on dynamite fishing and drag nets, limited entry and gear (such as mesh size, limits on traps and nets). These were sent back to fisher organizations for ratification and are now before the environment minister for signature.
Honorary game wardens with powers of arrest and search have also been appointed. Under the Fishing Industry Act all such wardens are automatically fisheries inspectors. About 50 have been appointed and trained so far, with extremely promising results.
"The wardens take their task very seriously," says Espeut. "Rather than easing up on their friends and relatives, for example, the general approach has been to warn against causing embarrassment. If friends and relatives of the wardens break the law and get away with it, then it will appear as if the wardens themselves are corrupt. So far several arrests have been made, and the only case to go to court was successful: the offender was fined $2000. There has also been a noticeable drop in dynamite fishing and the killing of turtles and manatees."
The Portland Bight Tourism Council and the Portland Bight Citizensí Council have both been formed under similar conditions to the fisheries council.
With input from these three councils, CCAM has prepared a three-year management plan for the Protected Area, which has been accepted by the Jamaican Governmentís Environment Agency.
UNESCO, for its part, has commissioned a series of socio-economic studies on Portland Bight to better understand the local dynamics. The organization also funded an exchange between Portland Bight fishers and their counterparts from Haiti, during which they visited each otherís countries and swapped knowledge, experience, methods and ideas. UNESCOís Coastal and Small Islands Division has also funded a website for the PBPA and CCAM.
"It is premature to declare success either in terms of achieving protection of natural resources or of improving living conditions," says Peter Espeut. "But a process is in place that seems capable of getting there."
Sue Williams, UNESCO Sources, September 1999 - No.115, p. 22