Fisheries co-management in the Lakshadweep Islands: Participatory approaches for sustainable solutions

Ishaan KhotMahaboob Khan, Ajith Raj R, Prerana Gawde, Abel Job Abraham, Fousiya CK , Meera OommenKartik Shanker, Naveen Namboothri

The Lakshadweep Islands, off the southwest coast of India, are India’s only coral atolls. These islands are home to about 90,000 people that are directly or indirectly dependent on the ocean around them. The main fishery practised here is the inherently sustainable “live-bait pole and line” tuna fishery that targets the resilient, oceanic skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) through selective and low-impact harvest methods, keeps fishing pressure away from coral reefs and provides livelihoods to many islanders. Our work in Lakshadweep since November 2012 is aimed at preserving the pole and line fishery, buffering it from unsustainable transitions and creating a model of participatory and rights-based governance of fisheries.

This work began with ecological surveys of baitfish populations that are critical to the pole and line tuna fishery. In January 2014, we launched a unique community-based fisheries monitoring programme in collaboration with the local fishing community. This programme involves active fishers and boat owners in regular monitoring of day-to-day pole and line fishery dynamics. This approach not only helps generate valuable data on a large spatial and temporal scale but also enables fishers to see patterns in their fishery over time and creates a foundation for knowledge-based, local-level decision-making. Participation in the programme is entirely voluntary, without any monetary incentives attached. Over the years, a total of 50 fishing boats have participated in this programme using logbooks that were co-created with fishers, generating over 4000 fishing records, demonstrating fishers’ potential to monitor and manage their fisheries and resources. We are also developing a prototype mobile application in order to scale-up and streamline data acquisition and information dissemination.

This sustained engagement over the years has given us a good network within the local community enabling us to have larger conversations with fishers and the local administration and transition from monitoring to management. At present, our efforts are geared towards building in Lakshadweep a platform for fisheries co-management, an approach in which multiple stakeholders such as fishers, government agencies and civil society, work together for sustainable resource management at the local level. Our research activities are complementary to our interventions such that they inform our approach and actions on the ground. The key focus areas of our current research include baitfish ecology, fisheries monitoring, coastal commons, traditional knowledge systems, stakeholder studies and fishery economics. In addition to research, we have also been engaged with contextualized community outreach through our Fish for the Future calendar series since 2015. Our long-term goal is to create inclusive, holistic and scalable models of resource governance that can be replicated in other parts of the country and the world.

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