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Small-scale fishers managing the marine ressources in Gabon

Fishers communities become self aware of ressource management

Photo of Floriane Cardiec
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Wildlife Conservation Society, Gabon Program

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Fishers confederation, Ministry of fisheries, Parks Agency

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://gabon.wcs.org/

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

  • 3-10 years

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

Libreville

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Gabon

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

Libreville, capital of Gabon, has about 3,000 km² of fishing areas around the city.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Gabon

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

WCS is the largest and longest-serving conservation NGO in Gabon, having worked in the country for over 20 years. WCS' unrivalled field presence and in-depth institutional experience in conservation and management, combined with a reputation for providing impartial and rigorous technical assistance, means our support is increasingly solicited by communities, private industry and different branches of government such as the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Fisheries. I myself have worked for WCS Gabon for over 10 years on marine issues. I have coordinated a program on small-scale fisheries for 8 years now in Libreville, working with fisher communities on sustainable practices. Libreville is where  more than the half of all small-scale fishing activity is focused along the national coast, due to the fact that this capital hosts almost half of the population of the country.

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.

Libreville is the capital of Gabon, a country with 2,119,036 inhabitants in Central Africa. With its 800 km of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, most of the population lives on the coast in two major cities (89.7% of people in Gabon live in cities). There is 824,000 people living in Libreville, a town surrounded by a mangrove network and three national parks. The uniqueness of Gabon is that it’s a country with an environment well preserved due to the lack of population in rural areas, but also thanks to a governmental strategy in favor of the environment (13 inland parks and 20 marine parks).

Fisher communities can be found in about 30 landing sites in Libreville and are majority, non-Gabonese. They are made up of migrants who came from Nigeria and Benin about 60 years ago. They have kept their cultural heritage and societal organization from West Africa. This foreigner dominance could be explained because Gabon, with an equatorial climate, had abundant and prolific resources in-shore. As a result, Gabonese people fished more in rivers, lakes and lagoons. The marine niche has been taken by foreigners who provide most of the fish for the capital. There is not much agriculture as the country is covered by 80% forest.

Fish is very important in Gabon, as the annual fish consumption per person is about 44 kg, compared to the Sub-Saharan Africa mean which is 6.6 kg. Big fish are found and eaten such as African threadfin, snappers, grouper but the less expensive fish are sardines, which provide a great source of protein for people. This sardine is mainly smoked to help with preserving. This form is particularly chosen for transport of the resource to the rest of the country.

Fisher communities hope to continue to fish and to be recognized by the Gabonese government as co-managers of the resource. They want to be involved in the decision making process. They also expect to improve their work conditions with new materials and smoking devices better for their health.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

3

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

824

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

Environment: One of the challenges is the recent creation of 20 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Gabon that have been designed to exclude some artisanal fishing areas. It is still difficult for fishers to know the borders of MPAs. Also, artisanal fishing can have by-catch of protected species such as marine turtles, sharks and rays.

Diets: Smoke-rooms are very basic, they’re made of corrugated iron and railings. As it is not a closed system, women who monitor the smoking process can develop respiratory problems. Also, with non-optimized smoking-room, the smoke touches directly the fish and it becomes a matter of health for consumers as well.

Economics: The sector is not well structured for sales. Landing sites are not developed in way to favor every step of the selling: women have to go in water to grab fish from the boat, roads to come to landing sites are muddy and it’s sometimes impossible for cars/trucks to come.

Culture: Fishing communities stay close to their boats, in neighborhoods dedicated to fishing, transformation and selling activity. So, it’s also the place where they live. Over the years, they created schools, churches, shops in their places, living in closed communities and very often forgotten by government. They would need more integration.

Technology: As said, earlier, smoking-rooms would need improvement. Also, gears used at sea are quite basic: it is wooden boats, 40 HP outboard engines and manual nets or lines. There is no security system in case of trouble at sea, as there is not mobile phone coverage everywhere.

Policy: As fishermen are mostly illiterate, their opinions and propositions are not well taken into account. Also, it lacks some management plans of fisheries by areas.

With all those challenges, on a longer term, the risk of fish stocks depletion arise.  It’s already noticed that the size of fishes decreases in the market.

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

The vision is to have development plans for both at sea and in landing sites.

At sea, with management plans written by all stake-holders, it will be possible to set up rules on gears, fishing area and seasonality to have a sustainable exploitation of the resource. Also, fishers should have GPS systems to launch alerts in case of trouble and it should integrate a map with fishing area borders.

On land, developed landing sites should be organized in three spaces: the landing area with pontoons, the selling area with scales and tables, and the smoking area with improved smoking-rooms. The number of landing sites in town should be reduced and only ones with road access should be kept. Living area should be integrated with neighborhood around, so fishers’ children attend to the same schools as other kids.

In this way, with an increased consideration, communities will take in charge to manage and keep sustainable the resource. With developed landing sites, they will be able to help administration to monitor catches, to be in charge of the selling process in a healthy and hygienic environment. They will be more involved in the neighborhood life and their children will break the illiterate circle.

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.

Landing sites will become a place where people feel good. It will be better for fishers, as they will be managers of their own activity. It will be better for women who process the fish as they will work in healthier conditions thanks to new smoking rooms. And finally, it will be better for buyers who will have easier access to the market.

The quality of the fish will be better and it will be fished in a local and sustainable way. Improving work conditions will lead people to be proud of their activity. Children will have access to education and will have the choice to continue the work their parents are doing.

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

The ideal vision for the future is to address organization at every level of the small-scale fishing sector.

At sea, fishing access will be regulated by management plans. There are two areas fished around Libreville (North and South, see the map). As we already supported fishers to be organized in cooperatives (there are 30 in Libreville), this mechanism will allow their elected representatives to be part of the management plan process. They will themselves decide which fishing techniques are authorized in their area and will be able to do surveillance. One of the management measures we expect is to push industrial fishing farther from the coast, so there is no interaction between the two types of fishing at sea and, in this way, to increase fish availability for artisanal fisheries. Fishers will be also equipped with GPS, with an alert system, allowing them to have help at sea if they have a mechanical issue or if there is a storm, for instance. We will also think together about a solution to decrease by-catch of sensitive species and add those measures in management plans.

On land, on the first action will be to select main landing sites to decrease the total number in town. Indeed, with 30 landing sites (welcoming from 3 to 200 boats), it’s not easy for buyers and authorities to have access to catches, so we hope to decrease the number of landing sites to less than 10. As fishers have already their h  ouses close to landing sites, we will propose a system where they land in main landing sites but they still can dock their boat in their usual place. In this way, main landing sites can be developed harmoniously. The current selling process has several middlemen, which increases the price of the fish for the final client. Fishers sell to women (often their wives or women from their community). Those women hire boys to carry basins. Those basins are weighted and can have different destinations: they are sold directly to buyers who are at landing sites or they are sold to other women who smoke the fish (mainly sardines), or they take the fish to different markets in town. When they take the fish to other markets, they have to hire another person to carry basins and also a taxi/car. All those stages make their work complicated and increase the costs. In an ideal organization, it would be:

  • The landing place, where land and water meet. Some pontoons will be put in place to allow women to buy fish from boats, without having to go in the mud and water.
  • Directly close to pontoons, an open area would be use to weigh the fish in standardized basins. Fisheries administration could be there to monitor catches and have national statistics.
  • A market would be organized behind this space, so women could carry the fish themselves on their own stand. There will be some basic installations such as running water and toilets.
  • On the side, the place for smoking-room would be built but not too close, to avoid to have smoke in the market. Women would use new smoking-rooms. Gabonese researchers already designed a smoking-room with a system where the smoke doesn’t touch the fish, and with a chimney, so women don’t breathe the smoke. This local and improved system would improve fish quality and women’s health.
  • As some fish would have to be taken to supply other markets in town, road will be tarred to allow cars to come in to the selling place.

With this futuristic vision, every level of the fish road from water to plate will be covered. Price of fish will decrease and environment and health will be better.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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