For centuries small scale fishing has been a crucial economic activity and one of the pillars of Mediterranean culture. But collapsing fish stocks are putting this activity in danger. Marine Protected Areas help rebuild the fishing resource and co-management with fishers enables the development of responsible and prosperous small scale fisheries.

Background information on small scale fisheries and MPAs

Small-scale fishing is one of the foundations of the Mediterranean identity and whole communities depend on this activity. Today it represents 83% of fishing boats in the Mediterranean and Black Sea and 57% of employment in the fishing sector (at least 150 000 fishermen and a significant related economic activity) but only generates 14% of the catches for 20% of their value[1].

Small-scale fishers directly depend on the health of marine ecosystems and the abundance of the species they target. Their fishing strategies, coastal and on a limited radius from the home harbors for the most part, aim to alternate zones and selective fishing gear in order to target various species according to the seasons. So when practiced with adaptability in terms of gears and species targeted, with reason (before stocks show signs of exhaustion), as well as with respect of the rules established, small-scale fishing can be much less impacting on the resource and habitats than other types of fishing. But today maintaining small scale fisheries is hindered by the collapse of the resource that is noted on all levels. Indeed the GFCM reports that about 85% of Mediterranean and Black Sea stocks assessed are fished at biologically unsustainable levels[2].

Small-scale fisheries are also affected by a wide range of possible conflicts in the region. These are mainly related to competition with industrial fisheries for target species, space and markets, as well as illegal trawling but also include aquaculture, other coastal users (e.g. recreational fishers fishing on their ground and selling their catches illegally, the tourism industry, polluting industries) and administrations (e.g. construction of big ports and other infrastructures). And despite their substantial importance in the region, they have not been appropriately represented in management processes at national, European or regional level.

Participatory management and multi-level governance approaches are necessary to strengthen small-scale fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In France or Spain for example, Small Scale Fisheries have gotten organised for a long time in professional organisations such as Prud’homies or Cofradias. In other countries such organisations are starting, sometimes on subregional level, and Marine Protected Areas protagonists, among others, have been supporting them.

The importance of MPAs

Indeed, Marine Protected Areas are a type of spatial management measure that has been increasingly used for small-scale fisheries management. Their main objective is the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, and their effects on the regeneration of the resource can directly benefit fishermen. Because of its scale and its practices, small-scale fishing is not incompatible with the sustainable use of coastal resources and thus fishermen and MPA managers have come closer together.

MPAs that contain strongly or strictly protected zones (where access, fishing and other removals are forbidden) are of particular conservation value. If these zones are well positioned and sized and if they are controlled effectively, science has proven that they have invaluable results: they restore the biomass and structure of fish assemblages, and restore ecosystems to a more complex and resilient state.

A recent review of 25 MPAs in the Mediterranean Sea shows that in strongly protected zones, fish are 4 times heavier, bigger, that there are more of them and that they are more diverse. This abundance of life spills over beyond the boundaries of the strongly protected zones and fishers can catch more and bigger fish, which can directly translate into economic benefits for them.

MPAs also have a role of rationalisation of the marine space. By organising and regulating the various usages of their area, they sometimes are able to arbitrate potential conflicts that fishers may have with other users. Illegal trawling in coastal waters, competition from the illegal sale of recreational fishing catches, illegal spear fishing in strongly protected zones are issues that MPAs with staff, funds, and capacity can help manage.

A long standing partnership with fishers

In some places, small scale fishers and MPA managers have been working together for a long time in the Mediterranean. These partnerships have often led to good results for both sides and sometimes to governance models centered around fishers. Significant examples include the Côte Bleue Marine Park or the Bonifacio Strait Natural Reserve in France, the Torre Guaceto MPA in Italy, the Medes,  Columbretes, Cabo de Palos – Islas Hormigas marine reserves in Spain,  the Gökova MPA in Turkey …

A number of meetings and projects focusing on small-scale fisheries and MPAs have taken place in recent years. Many recommendations resulted from these, including the possible compatibility of small-scale fisheries with marine conservation objectives and how to achieve better management of the marine environment. The last meeting took place in Jijel, Algeria in February 2018 in the framework of the MedPAN network. Read about it.

The FAO-GFCM has also initiated work on Small Scale Fisheries in 2013 with the First regional symposium on sustainable small scale fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea followed in 2016 by a conference on the subject. The objective: secure a sustainable future for small scale fisheries in the Mediterranean. The role of MPAs as fisheries management tools and the benefits from involving the small-scale fisheries sector are recognised and encouraged.

[1] Source : CGPM

[2] Based on the FAO classification on the status of stocks, biologically unsustainable levels imply that either fishing mortality is higher than the target fishing mortality, or that biomass is lower than the target biomass level