Co-management of fish resource: Prospects and Feasibility

Fish is an important food source worldwide and its demand is increasing due to increase in world population. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (1997), fish provides approximately 16 per cent of protein consumed by the human population, and furthermore one billion people worldwide rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein (FAO, 2000). The aquaculture industry has a pivotal role to play in meeting one of the greatest future challenges, i.e. to nourish and feed around 9.6 billion human population by 2050. Although, efforts have been made in the past thirty years to increase the productivity of fish in order to meet the demands of a growing population, there has been less progress to provide a holistic way for sustainable fisheries management. The problem lies in the fact that we have not been able to address the problems such as reducing wastage of fish resources, increased competition for natural resources, and other issues related to the community involved in the fish industry.

As different approaches have been suggested in recent decades for the sustainable use and management of fisheries, the co-management is seen as a future holistic approach for achieving sustainable fisheries goals. In essence co-management is a realistic way of involving different stakeholders in fisheries management systems, and sharing the responsibility between the government and users. The co-management of fisheries is not only shared responsibility between different stakeholders, but also commitment and power for achieving ultimate goals. The other perspective of co-management is the interconnection of three main components, i.e. human resource, aquatic ecosystem and fisheries resource. It must be emphasized here that our goal of sustainable fisheries management cannot exist if ecological systems are showing deterioration and fisheries resource does not exist. Therefore, there is need that the major principle governing interaction between human communities and fisheries management need to be deeply understood.

The primary reason for introducing and implementing co-management of fisheries (CF) is based on the fact that it is an eco-centric way of fish management which holistically includes all the stakeholders. In addition, CF emphasizes more on local and traditional knowledge which is then integrated with the latest know how. The co-management of fish resource is also essential to maintain the balance with respect to the role played by the state and the community.

In order to start co-management regime, it is to be kept in mind that every stakeholder should be given equal and balanced representation for the success of this important endeavour. The main stakeholders or key parties in establishing co-management include fishermen, government, community members, fisheries traders, non-governmental organization, universities and research institutions. The selection of different stakeholders depends on various factors including their expertise, interest and level of collaboration. It is also important for authorities to unravel the interest or influence (positive or negative) on the fisheries resource. The choice and role given to the stakeholders are an essential step when initiating a co-management regime.

The sustainable management of fish resource is key issue in the North West Himalayan region. As fish and aquatic resource is losing its ground due to various factors, there has been calls from various quarters to start innovative ways for the rehabilitation and management of aqua fauna. There is a great feasibility of co-management of fisheries in our region as our field setting is ideal for the operation for this endeavour. As co-management is another name of co-operation and collaboration, there is need of deeper understanding of this concept among different agencies. Three pronged approach is to be adopted while initiating co-management of fisheries. In the beginning, various departments and institutions, including universities dealing with fisheries in J&K should discuss various ways by which community, especially fish farmers can be fully integrated with the co-management. In the second stage, the framework can be formulated for the assignment of various common objectives and implementation of these objectives. In the third stage, various agencies, including NGO’s should be tied up with the proposed plan and thereafter there should be an intention to fully implement the objective of co-management of fish resource. It is pertinent to mention that co-management of fisheries divided into types according to the role of different stakeholders. These include consultative, cooperative, instructive, advisory and informative.

Co-management of fisheries (CF) has many potential advantages over the traditional management regimes. The first and foremost advantage of CF is that there will be more transparency in the process between different stakeholders who are participating in the co-management. This integrated fishery management will pave the way for the more participation of community and thus will lead to decentralized management. This endeavor will enhance responsibility among different resource users, which has been lacking in our society till date. In addition, CF will integrate and maximize local and scientific information for the sustainable resource management. Apart from advantages, there are also loopholes which hinder the progress of co-management. In ecological terms, co-management if not managed in an organized way may lead to free access and unrestricted demand for a limited fish resource that may further lead to overexploitation. The paucity of funds can halt the co-management regime as it requires huge investment. This concept cannot be applied in the communities which lack organization, leadership and cooperation. In some cases, new management strategy can be disadvantageous due to various local factors. Therefore, it is important to understand various pros and cons of co-management system before giving a nod to its implementation.

Dr Ummer Rashid Zargar is Assistant Professor (Zoology), Govt. Degree College Anantnag