Community-led Marine Management

The people of the Yap outer islands expressed a desire to learn more about the resources they manage, and to work with western scientists to integrate new knowledge into their existing traditional systems. In particular they wanted to know more about the life histories of the fish they catch, the impacts of the more modern fishing (such as spear guns and nets), and the role aquaculture could plat. They were also very interested in the impacts of export fisheries such as reef fish and sea cucumbers. They were very thankful in general for the support that our One People One Reef team offered, and our method of working closely with them and integrating them into data collection, rather than dictating management schemes. There was a general skepticism of western ‘projects’, which often come and go without long-term support, and there was specific skepticism towards conservation projects and the establishment of prescribed Marine Protected Areas. This seems particularly important to recognize, as outer islanders have been managing their resources for a very long time and have the legal and legislative autonomy to make their own decisions.

They express a desire to work together as an island chain to improve marine resource management and food security. They agreed that area closures, gear restrictions, species bans and by permission only fishing as part of renewed traditional management is working well, and in addition to enhancing the resource is also working to strengthen leadership. They would like the science teams (OPOR) to help provide the data to help them justify management.

We used a knowledge-based approach to facilitate adaptive management planning – flexible plans the people can alter as needed based on knowledge of the system and familiar traditional frameworks. This approach relies on a two-way exchange of knowledge to develop management plans with the best chance for success. The science team gathers information and knowledge from the community about what the main issues are, what approaches have been tried, what works and what does not, what the major barriers are, and importantly what local people see as some of the key ecological changes on their reefs over time. This information is gathered by conducting interviews and community meetings with as many different demographics as possible including leaders, men, women, elderly people, youth, fishers etc. In exchange, the science team conducts thorough surveys of the reefs to assess the ecological state, and some of the patterns that may shed light on the problems at hand. This knowledge is shared with the community to help them make informed decisions. Our approach involves a combination of social science and ecological assessments. Our premise is that the reef management plans themselves and the implementation of the plans will come from the community, and our team of scientists will facilitate by providing scientific information and management advice where needed. We analyze the ecological data and inform fishers and leaders about key patterns we see that implicate overfishing or other human impacts such as eutrophication. We do not suggest a specific approach (such as an MPA) and we do not set benchmarks for the community to meet. Rather, we discuss these needs with the community leaders, and let them come up with the components for an effective management plan. An important aspect of our approach is to identify traditional methods and suggest incorporation of those where possible. MPAs in fact are an ancient method of marine resource management, and when presented as a traditional method, we have found communities embracing them as one of several strategies to enhance the reefs and associated resources.