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Sustainable Manjua fishing in the communities of the Caribbean Coasts of Guatemala.

From Caribbean Coasts to Western Highlands: Contributing to food security in Guatemala through sustainable management of the Manjua fishery

Photo of María Amalia Porta
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

World Wildlife Fund, Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Guatemala City, Guatemala (WWF Guatemala/Mesoamerica Program Office)

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Guatemala Western Highlands and Izabal, covering a total area of 34,661 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

WWF-Guatemala/Mesoamerica has a long-lasting effort in the Mesoamerican Reef Ecoregion (MAR) . For more than 30 years, WWF has carried out the “ridge to reef” approach to support the conservation and sustainable use/management of the natural resources of this ecoregion, from freshwater to the coral reef. This work has included working with fishers for the adoption of better fishing practices, compliance with law as well as alternative livelihoods, such as community-based tourism, and climate change adaptation actions. Also, through different projects, WWF has carried out actions in the Western Highlands related to early warning systems for small scale agriculture and disaster risk reduction. Having work experience and humble knowledge of the cultural and socioeconomic conditions in the two areas, finding more details about the connection between them through the Manjua fishery, which support the livelihoods of the communities in the Caribbean coast and contribute to food security in the Western Highlands, was an incentive to support both areas through contributing to the sustainable management of this important fishery. Promotion of sustainable fisheries is one of the conservation strategies WWF works in MAR, in small- and large-scale fisheries, promoting alliances and joint work between fishers and government, as well as along the supply chain. Important to mention that the Western Highlands are culturally rich, as many ethnic groups have their home there, and is the most vulnerable area in face of the climate change, as well as is one of the poorest regions in the country: immigration to the United States of America generates in the departments that form the Western Highlands (Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Quiché, Quetzaltenango, Totonicapan, Chimaltenango and Solola).

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Manjua is a salted anchovy that is consumed in Guatemala’s Western Highlands (WH). The anchovies are fished and salted in the Caribbean coast and then commercialized 300 miles inland in the landlocked territories of Guatemala’s indigenous Mayan groups. For the people of the WH salted fish is not only a food staple but also a culturally valued element of the local diet. The Manjua’s cultural value dates back to pre-Columbian times. The dried-salted Manjua represents a key element of the Mayan food security strategy. Is an inexpensive and accessible food stuff that supplements protein and key nutrients not easily accessible especially to the rural poor. The rural Mayan inhabitants of the WH are among the poorest and most vulnerable of Guatemalans. Kaqchikel, Mam, Ixil, K’iche, Chuj, Popti´, Sakapulteco and Tzutujil are the indigenous Mayan groups that consume Manjua in the WH. Rural livelihoods in this area rely on subsistence agriculture and vegetables and coffee for commercialization. The rural poor migrate seasonally in search for employment in commodity agriculture operations (coffee, sugarcane, oil palm, etc). The Manjua is a family-community artisanal fishery run by fishers with limited education. Most fishers are among the poorest members of their Mayan or other indigenous groups and thus the Manjua is an economic strategy for poor vulnerable coastal communities. The fishers are of Q´eqchi’ and Poqomchi´ descent (indigenous Mayan groups) as well as Garífuna -afrodescendants. Artisanal fishery is complemented with subsistence agriculture, seasonal agricultural labor and tourism services. The region is the main source of commodities for export (bananas and oil palm) and has several protected areas which protect its key forest remnants and biodiversity. From a social standpoint, the Manjua fishery is one of the few fisheries that allows women to participate actively in the fishing activities and following process. This fishery has had a role in strengthening the bonds between the community and among communities. From the commercial standpoint, compared to other artisanal fisheries, this fishery has advanced in their value chain by adding value to their product, as Manjua is dried and salted. From a food security standpoint, the Manjua fishery is one of the most important protein sources for the indigenous communities of the Guatemalan WH: it is cheaper than other forms of animal proteins; its dried-salted form allows it to be available at all times physically and economically; and a smaller amount provides more protein that other more expensive options. It has been identified as strategic for food security of the country, especially for indigenous communities of the Guatemalan WH. The Manjua fishery is the one with more landings in the Caribbean coast. At ecosystem level, Manjua is a foraging especies for many species in the Gulf of Honduras. However, the Guatemalan government places little emphasis on improving its management.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Guatemala’s fisheries are currently overfished and vulnerable due to lack of sound, enforceable regulations. In Guatemala, fisheries management is of low political priority, with limited budgets. Although there have been recent attempts to improve the laws and regulations governing fisheries, there appears to be little political will to support effective enforcement. Marine fish catches in the Caribbean are mostly Manjua anchovies (59.4%) for both industrial and artisanal fleets. Most of the catch is artisanal as industrial industrial fishing is partly banned in the Caribbean coast. The Manjua fishery has shown a decrease in the catch volume and an increase in operation costs, resulting in low profitability. Guatemala lacks organized fishing harbor facilities for either the industrial or artisanal sectors, making accurate reporting of the catch extremely difficult. The majority of fish is landed through privately built wharfs with only a minority passing through the dilapidated naval or commercial port facilities. Furthermore, many artisanal fishers, such as the local Garífuna on the Caribbean coast, will sell their catch directly on the beach, thus completely bypassing any monitoring option. The reduced catch and profitability of the Manjua fishery is due to lack of adequate administrative and resource management practices. These resource-dependent, vulnerable fishers require better management practices and other tools that can allow them to make better decisions about their fishing and commercial activities, which in turn can increase profitability, support livelihoods, and ensure the sustainability of the fishery. The availability of the stock in the coming years is highly uncertain, due not only to overfishing but also due to climate change. If the management of this fishery is not improved the livelihoods of the coastal communities of Guatemala’s Caribbean coast and the food security of the ones in the Western Highlands will be at greater risk. Another key challenge is the fair commercialization of the Manjua salted-dried fish. The Manjua fishery provides an important source of work and family income. Women and elder people participate in the process of salting and drying the catch, as well as its storage. They are in charge of landing the product, the salting process, laying it in the sun, monitoring the drying process and its storage. Men take over at this point, sometimes transporting themselves the salted-dried fish to the Guatemala city for its commercialization. The price fishers receive for selling the dried-salted Manjua is a small percentage of the sales price in the markets of the Western Highlands; the intermediaries keep the biggest percentage and they usually set the price they are willing to pay the fishers for the product. This affects the capacity of the fishers to negotiate and to cover the costs of the fishing activities, and in turn, to have an income that will allow them to support their family properly.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision is to support food security in the Western Highlands of Guatemala and fisher livelihoods in the Caribbean, while ensuring that coastal marine ecosystem host healthy populations of a foraging species that supports fin fish populations of commercial and ecosystemic importance in the wider Caribbean. To achieve this the management of the Manjua fishery must improve. WWF aims to improve this fishery in a participatory way having the Manjua fishers and salting-drying processors actively engage in the process of: 1) designing improved governance and management arrangements for the fishery and 2) improve the supply and value chain of the fishery. For the governance and management of the fishery, the stakeholders will: a) lead the resource analysis by carrying out economic games (based on game theory games applied to the piangua fishery by WWF Colombia); b) provide inputs and catch information through citizen science engagement; c) design a sustainable fisheries management plan that responds both to their livelihood as well as ecosystem needs. To ensure an effective implementation of the management plan, local capacities at the community level will be built and strengthened. To improve the supply and value chains of the Manjua products, several options have to be identified and evaluated together with the fishers as well as other relevant stakeholders of these chains. Some of the options that can be evaluated include different Manjua presentations that can access specialized markets, fisher association to collectively commercialize the Manjua and to find direct market access to reduce intermediaries.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

An improved and collectively agreed upon management plan for the fishery and a revised supply and value chain will offer a road map that fishers can voluntarily agree to follow to sustainably use this resource and for its stock to remain healthy. If these improvements are based on a participatory and inclusive approach that strengthens local governance and are recognized and collaborately defined and implemented with local and national authorities, they will offer sustained income generation opportunities for rural, resource dependent indigenous and non-indigenous men and women of Guatemala’s coastal Caribbean communities to thrive. These positive results will in turn secure a culturally and economically important protein source of the indigenous populations of the Guatemala’s Western Highlands. Strengthening the food and cultural linkage that connects coastal communities with their landlocked peers 300 miles away is the foundation that will ensure the sustainability of this initiative in time, as well as, proving once again WWF’s ridge to reef approach and bringing priceless benefits to vulnerable, poor, and often forgotten Guatemalans.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

As mentioned before, from a social standpoint, the Manjua fishery is a family and community activity, allowing women to participate in the fishing activities and following processes. This fishery has had a role in strengthening the bonds between the community and among communities. From the commercial point of view, compared to other artisanal fisheries, this fishery has advanced in their value chain by adding value to their product, as the Manjua is dried and salted. From a food security standpoint, the Manjua fishery is one of the most important protein sources for the indigenous communities of the Wester Highlands of Guatemala: it is cheaper than other forms of animal proteins; its dried-salted form allows it to be available at all times physically and economically; and a smaller amount provides more protein that other more expensive options. So, this fishery is very important from several points of view. However, it is overexploited and its unsustainable management puts at risk the livelihoods of the communities in Izabal and the food security in the Western Highlands. This partnered with or enhanced by climate change, becomes a greater risk. Some control rules are in place for the Manjua fishery: There are no-take zones established, such as in Punta de Manabique Marine Protected Area, where this fishery is limited to the artisanal effort and others where the fishing gear used and approved by the Fisheries Law for fishing Manjua is forbidden, such as Graciosa Bay and Rio Dulce. Also, a two and a half months closed season is established every year, from May to mid-July, and the fishing gear characteristics are regulated. However, this fishery lacks catch control rules: it is open-access, no fishing quotas are established, and there is no control and surveillance. So, on one hand, sometimes fishing activities take place in forbidden places or during closed season and using illegal fishing gear; and on the other, during the fishing season, the catch volume sometimes exceeds the demand in the market, making the price of the product decreases to levels that don't cover the costs of the fishing activities. Given these conditions, the first steps are to identify the laws and regulations that are applicable to this fishery, gather existing information on the fishing effort, fishing gear, historical catch data and costs related to the activity, and a stakeholder mapping to identify relevant stakeholders for this fishery. These will be the basis of two processes: 1) Strengthening capacities of fishers and 2) Achieving their engagement for the development of the Manjua fishery management plan. The first will focused on educating the fishers on the laws and regulations that they must comply as well as to provide them with information and training on better fishing practices and sustainable management of fisheries, and administrative/economic tools to help them carry out their livelihood in a sustainable way, based on information and scientific data. All this knowledge will create conditions to start discussion and development of the Manjua management plan, in which the fishers (men and women) and local and national authorities will participate, as well as other identified relevant stakeholders. This process will strengthen the participation of the fishers in the governance of the fishery, and the implementation of the plan needs their continuous and active participation. In that sense, a governance mechanism, such as a committee to follow up on the implementation of the Manjua Fishery Management Plan, will be established. This plan will also include: the participatory effective enforcement of current regulations and better systems of recording catch data, to improve management, lower illegal and unreported catches and provide better information for decision making for the sustainable management of this fishery. All this in view to allow for the Manjua stock to be maintained healthy and continue to be a source of livelihood in the Caribbean coast of Guatemala and a source of protein for the indigenous communities of the Western Highlands. The sustainable management of this fishery will also allow for the Golf of Honduras to keep healthy as the Manjua is an important foraging species for others in this ecosystem. Also identified as a challenge that must be addressed is the inequitable share of the profit that the fishers receive. Consequently, a focus on improving the supply and value chain of the Manjua, as well as its food safety, have to be considered. In parallel to the activities related to the governance and management plan for the Manjua fishery, the analysis of the supply and value chains will be carried out. This will be carried out through several activities: 1) interviews with fishers but also with several of the identified stakeholders, 2) following the product during the fishing season through the supply and value chains, and 3) discuss the finding with fishers and other relevant stakeholders for validation. Once the supply and value chains are identified, analyzed and validated, several options to improve the safety of the product and to increase the percentage of the price of the sales price the fishers receive will be identified. The options may include: new presentation for the Manjua products, improved ways to dry and salt the Manjua, direct access to Guatemalan Western Highland markets, identification of new markets, fisher association to collectively commercialize or transport the products, among others. Some of these options will need building additional capacities in fishers, that will allow them to carry out the new activities. The identification of options has to be done in a participatory way, in order to ensure their feasibility and sustainability. Through workshops with the fishers the identified options will be discussed, analyzing their feasibility and carrying out their prioritization. The top three options of the prioritization list will be evaluated further to define what is needed to implement them and what are the next steps to advance them. Additionally, given the Manjua is a migratory species and that the fishing activities occur only 4 to 6 months during the year, this drives fishers to focus on other fisheries or other activities, such as agriculture, cattle raising, carpentry, commerce, or others as alternative for this livelihood. In the same way, when other members of the community are facing difficulties achieving the income to take care for their family, they take a turn to the Manjua fishery as an option, increasing the fishing effort. Consequently, the identification and evaluation of alternative livelihoods in order to contribute to other sources of income generation, especially for women and elder persons have to be addressed. Some of these options can/will be related to the new markets or presentations options identified through the analysis of the supply and value chains, but also to other economic activities that are present in the Caribbean Coast. The identification of these alternative livelihoods will be carried out with the active participation of the fishers, especially women and youth, through workshops and interviews. Also an evaluation of the economic dynamics in Izabal will be carried out, related to other activities such as agriculture, tourism and commerce, including the analyses of the potential of these alternative livelihoods to sustain the fishers during closed and out of Manjua fishing season. Once potential alternative livelihoods have been identified, they will be presented and validated with the fishers, as well as prioritized. The top three options of the prioritization list will be developed furthermore, to define what is needed to implement them and what are the next steps to advance them. The full vision is based on achieving the following results: ● Food security in the Western Highlands improved through active and participatory management of the Manjua fishery in the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. ● Improved income of the coastal Caribbean communities of Guatemala participating in the Manjua fishery, that in turn will improve their food security. ● Improved management of the Manjua fishery to conserve this natural resource important for the ecosystem, livelihoods and food security in Guatemala.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi, María Amalia Porta ! Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Thank you for sharing your project. Perhaps it would be interesting to see how the six Prize Themes (Economics, Diet, Technology, Policy, Culture, and Environment) fit in your 2050 Vision. Our 04 Food System Map and 02 Prize Statement can offer some inspiration in that regard:

Remember, this is the moment when you can connect with other Visionary teams, provide feedback and get inspired by other submissions. As I can see, you have already some start!

I look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming days.



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