A fisherman on Green Island in the Philippines.

Sustainable Fishing for Food Security and Resilient Communities in the Philippines

By Barbara Best, Rebecca Guieb

To update an old development adage, rather than teaching a person to fish, the USAID/Philippines Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries (ECOFISH) project sought to teach fishing communities how much to fish, where to fish and how to monitor fish in order to manage their wild fish resources sustainably as a smart development and adaptation strategy.  

Improving the ability of fishers and communities to fish more sustainably not only increases food security and incomes, but also enhances ecological and community resilience in climate-sensitive coastal areas. The key ingredients include a good dose of participatory governance along with building the capacity and willingness of management institutions and fishers to work with nature to conserve critical fish habitat and fish sustainably. Conservation of marine biodiversity and ecosystems can also provide climate co-benefits by increasing coastal resilience to climate variability via an ecosystem-based approach to adaptation.  

The ECOFISH project has shown how successful this combination of ingredients can be. Over the course of the five-year project, communities saw a 24% increase in fish biomass and a 12% increase in economic benefits. In total, ECOFISH helped improve the management of more than 1.8 million hectares of municipal marine waters, an area in size between that of Connecticut and New Jersey. 

Better management of coral reefs and their fisheries will provide greater resiliency to climate impacts, such as rising sea surface temperatures, changes in fish populations and coastal storms. Improved fisheries management has been shown to increase reef resiliency to coral bleaching, while coral reefs can absorb over 97% of wave energy, affording greater protection to mangrove forests and coastal communities. 

ECOFISH promoted an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management and capitalized on the strength of a traditional participatory, decentralized, multi-sectoral governance approach that the Philippines has practiced for decades. The project helped build the capacity of government partners at both the national and local levels, and facilitated increased stakeholder participation in fisheries management. This approach catalyzed management action to increase fisheries biomass and conserve marine biodiversity, striking a balance between ecological and human well-being. In addition, a well-thought out “Theory of Change” guided implementation and a refinement of strategies and activities over the life of the program.


ECOFISH Results Chain

The project team also used science and technology to engage key partners and stakeholders to develop or improve existing fisheries management interventions. Results of hydrodynamic studies, dispersal models, and fish plankton surveys served as vital inputs to determine the ideal location of individual marine protected areas and to reconfigure them to improve the ecological functioning of interconnected networks of marine protected areas, leading to increases in the natural productivity and resilience of fish populations.

Geographic information system tools combined with citizen science were used to design and develop zoning schemes for fisheries uses within the project areas. The project made practical use of forensic science, analytical tools, and scenario planning to build the capacity of national and local fishery law enforcement teams in the project sites.

One of the most ambitious goals of ECOFISH was its attempt to optimize productivity of marine ecosystems through the re-allocation of fishing effort, such as the appropriate number of fishers and gear in each type of fishery. The objective was to determine and agree on the “right size” of fishing effort that can be sustained by the marine ecosystem that supports the fisheries and at the same time provides adequate fish catches for local communities. ECOFISH worked with local partners within each of the project sites to reach a consensus on the ecological and socio-economic management objectives.

Using the agreed-upon targets as the foundation, the local government units were then able to set their own gear limits  through facilitated gear trading and negotiation workshops. Gear limits were continuously worked out by the ECOFISH team with local government units to serve as the basis for the limited  issuance of fisheries licenses in the local government units. This represented the first-ever effort-based fisheries license control intervention in the world and can serve as a model for ecosystem-based adaptation in climate-sensitive coastal areas.   

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Biodiversity, Climate Science, Coastal, Resilience

Barbara Best

Barbara Best, Ph.D., is a Senior Coastal Resource Management and Policy Specialist for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Barbara has over 30 years of experience in marine research and the design and evaluation of international development programs. She provides technical support to USAID missions in strategic planning, activity design and program evaluation related to coastal resource governance, climate change adaptation, fisheries management, food security and marine biodiversity conservation. This year, Barbara helped establish the new Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT), a partnership with USAID and the Walton Family, Packard and Moore Foundations. SALT is a global initiative for knowledge exchange and action to promote legal and sustainable fisheries through improved transparency in seafood supply chains.  Barbara has spoken and written extensively on the importance of wild caught fisheries to sustainable development, marine biodiversity conservation, integration of marine science and policy, international trade and trade policy reforms. Previously, Barbara worked at Duke University, Columbia University, James Cook University (Australia), UC - Berkeley, and Colby College (Maine).

Rebecca Guieb

Rebecca "Becky" Guieb is the Governance and Coastal Marine Management Specialist at USAID/Philippines.  She has more than 25 years of experience on community-based natural resource management, co-management, sustainable livelihoods, and policy development.  She has a Masters Degree on Marine Management from Dalhousie University in Canada.

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