From Monitoring to Management: Big words for the bigger picture
By Ajithraj R. and Ishaan Khot
We have been conducting a community-based fisheries monitoring program in the Lakshadweep Islands since 2014. Our presence in the islands over the past few years, interactions with the fishing community and outreach activities such as the Fish for the Future calendar series have opened up a new array of opportunities and challenges for us.
From this year, the ongoing project of fisheries monitoring is expanding in its scope. The plan now is to keep monitoring running in the background, but actively take steps towards sustainable fisheries management, particularly towards co-management – a system where local communities and decision-makers share powers and responsibilities to manage resources. Achieving this is easier said than done and is something that will take long years of patience and sustained engagement.
As a first step we are going to try and address what we know from our fisheries monitoring and fisher interviews – the baitfish crisis. Baitfish are small, plankton-feeding fish in the reefs and lagoons of Lakshadweep that fishers use to catch skipjack tuna through the unique pole and line technique. Due to unsustainable practices such as “light-fishing” (capturing baitfish using torches at night, before they have had a chance to spawn) and targeting only one particular species, baitfish stocks have taken a hit and everyone is now feeling the heat.
Our team is currently in the field, doing fisher interviews and engaging with the Fisheries Department in order to figure out solutions that are feasible and sustainable. This work is an attempt to mobilize the community in order to be able to initiate the long-term plans for co-management. Once we have a good sense of what’s possible, we plan to conduct a joint meeting that brings fishers and government departments together to discuss problems and solutions. This, we hope will also see the creation of a platform(s) for these stakeholders to interact with each other even if the issues themselves change with time.
In addition to this, we have been engaging with the octopus fishery in Lakshadweep in collaboration with CARESS, Chennai and Blue Ventures, UK. We have made some changes to our fisheries monitoring logbooks based on fisher feedback, to reflect changing fishery trends and to make it applicable to a broader range of fisheries.
In the time to come, we will be starting action research on social, economic and ecological aspects of Lakshadweep fisheries to inform our management interventions. For now, we have started expanding our team to bring the right expertise on-board and launch a full-fledged project for fisheries co-management in the Lakshadweep Islands.