Helping Small-scale Fishermen Reduce Overfishing and Secure Coastal Livelihoods
In Mexico's Baja California peninsula, as in much of the developing world, fishermen are often forced to sell their catch for very low prices. For instance, the market value of fish is 40 percent less for some fish than for recyclable plastic bottles. These low prices drive a vicious cycle of overfishing that is undermining fishermen's livelihoods and communities. As a result of the low quality of the seafood produced, consumers and chefs along the Sea of Cortez are forced to import locally available seafood. Nonprofit organizations and the government in the area are curbing overfishing through various forms of catch reduction, but neither can achieve economic stability from these measures as the artisanal fishers largely bear the costs involved.
SmartFish, a nonprofit social enterprise, fills this gap through the development of new markets for responsibly caught fish. On the supply side, SmartFish empowers fishermen and their families to catch and produce seafood at the highest quality and higher sustainability. In turn, SmartFish cultivates demand for this seafood and facilitates sales to Mexico's growing upper-middle class and hospitality industry. As a result, fishermen can double their earnings while catching less than half as much fish as before and can also provide employment for their wives, who process the catch. Peckham developed this initiative in northwestern Mexico, and his Pew fellowship will allow him to explore how best to expand it regionally and internationally. He will conduct site visits and convene seafood experts with related expertise to build a community of practice, produce practical manuals and other materials, and plan how best to apply the methodology to other small-scale fisheries.
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S. Hoyt Peckham is the director of SmartFish, a nonprofit social enterprise based in La Paz, México, that provides incentives for more-sustainable artisanal fishing. Before founding SmartFish, Peckham led Proyecto Caguama, partnering with fishers, managers, and scientists from Mexico, Japan, and the Indo-Pacific region to reduce bycatch of ocean wildlife while maintaining fisher's livelihoods. Combining participatory research with social marketing, Peckham and colleagues empowered fishermen and other stakeholders to spare thousands of endangered sea turtles per year in Mexico and Japan. Throughout his career, his experiences as a captain, diver, fisherman, and underwater cameraman have contributed to his effectiveness in developing community-based conservation solutions in the northwest Atlantic, the Caribbean, Polynesia, Mexico, and Japan. Peckham is a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions, a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, a technical expert for the U.N. Environment Program, and an international consultant on improving the sustainability of artisanal fisheries. Peckham majored in biology and English literature at Bowdoin College in Maine and earned his doctorate in evolutionary ecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.