In November the 64th annual meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) took place in Cancun, Mexico. This event is the largest annual gathering of scientists, researchers, fishers and natural resource managers in the wider Caribbean region, with over 300 participants from 38 countries or island groups. The meeting served as a unique opportunity for fishers, conservationists and scientists to come together to exchange current information on the use and management of marine resources in the Gulf and Caribbean region and to work in partnership to develop effective solutions to the many challenges they face.
Acknowledging the invaluable leadership role fishers play in successful management of fisheries resources, the GCFI and other partners developed the Gladding Memorial Award (GMA) in 2004 to annually recognize fishers who demonstrate, through word and action, their commitment to the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources. Named in honor of patriarch Florida Keys fisherman Peter Gladding, the award is part of GCFI’s larger Fisheries for Fishers Initiative which also includes the Fishers Forum and the Small Grants fund for Fisher Exchanges and Alternative Livelihoods for Fishers. This year, Martha Gongora from Cozumel, Mexico was the recipient of the award.
The Fisheries for Fishers Initiative or F4F is founded on the principle that fishers must be engaged and empowered to be part of the process of managing marine resources. Mitchell Lay, the Chairman of the GMA committee and a fisher from Antigua, put it this way: “The Fisheries for Fishers Initiative represents a regionwide opportunity for us, the fishers, to be able to shape policy so that we can ensure that our livelihoods and fishery resources remain sustainable for future generations.”
This year’s F4F focus in Cancun was the involvement of fishers in fisheries governance (highlighting case studies from Guatemala, Belize and the Lesser Antilles) and the continued development and capacity-building of leading individuals and communities within the fishing sector committed to sustainable use of their resources. An annual activity valued by all, the F4F field trip took a group of about 30 fishers and managers to visit the Quintana Roo Federation of Fishing Co-operatives so that the visiting fishers could learn from their Mexican counterparts about how they manage their lobster, conch and reef fish fisheries. The next day a smaller group of attending fishers met to take decisions on priority issues and actions raised at the Fishers Forum general session and in support of the wider F4F objectives. Fishers also actively participated in research and management sessions on lionfish and conch and lobster.
The GCFI F4F program represented a unique forum for Gulf and Caribbean fishers to influence and drive sustainable fishery activities and foster efforts within the fishing community to think, act and educate peers towards more sustainable fishing practices. Now in its fifth year, F4F participants are leading the way in ensuring a future for the region’s fisheries and its fishers.
This year’s F4F activities were made possible with funding from the Regional Activities Center of the United Nations Environment Programme, GCFI, FAO Subregional Office for the Caribbean, CRFM and The Nature Conservancy.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.