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MPAs for Fish Fillets in the Coral Triangle (2)

A recent Asia Development Bank report estimates that some 4.9 million people work as fishers across a selection of the Asia Pacific region (the Coral Triangle countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor L’Este). Between 2007 and 2009, seafood constituted approximately 20 percent of the animal protein consumed in Coral Triangle...

Fishing vessels in Bali harbor
Fishing vessels in Bali harbor

A recent Asia Development Bank report estimates that some 4.9 million people work as fishers across a selection of the Asia Pacific region (the Coral Triangle countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor L’Este). Between 2007 and 2009, seafood constituted approximately 20 percent of the animal protein consumed in Coral Triangle countries. 120 million people, or one third of the population of the Coral Triangle countries, depend directly on local and coastal marine resources for their income, livelihoods and food security. As fish comprise a higher percentage of protein for poorer people and with the population of the Pacific islands expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030, more fish will be needed to feed people.

Recognizing the critical links between healthy fisheries and food security, the governments of the Asia Pacific region and development partners have been working with local communities and key stakeholders to support the identification, establishment, and implementation of representative networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that would safeguard the ability of ecosystems to continue production of fish and the related livelihoods. Governments also have begun to realize the importance of investing in development of aquaculture systems for fish and seafood, and in some cases, they “capped” the wild capture fish and seafood production[1].

The use of protected zones in marine areas and the control of fish production through farming is not new. For centuries, communities have closed areas by tradition or law to protect their resources and livelihoods, or to reduce local conflicts over harvest rights, and various forms of fish farming have been practiced in the region for decades. But it is only recently that world leaders have started to recognize the vital importance of restricting access through installing no-take-areas for safeguarding local economies. MPAs that enclose no-take-zones are now considered a powerful tool in combating the over-exploitation of marine resources.

Yet, it has been widely noted how many of these MPAs suffer from inadequate management and a lack of enforcement in no-take zones—areas where fishing is prohibited. Most established MPAs in the region also don’t have enough revenues to cover their full costs as there is little understanding of how the return on investments in MPAs could support economic needs such as food security and livelihoods. Funding gaps can reach up to 48 percent in Indonesia, 34 percent in the Philippines, and 20 percent in Malaysia.

Insufficient design of marine managed areas

Recent and targeted policy advocacy activities have succeeded in an increase of budget and attention to the role of MPAs throughout the region, and various organizations and agencies have supported increasing management capacity for MPAs. Unfortunately, even with these investments, compliance with no-take-zones and MPAs in general continues to be low mainly because MPAs are perceived to restrict people’s access to fish resources for which there is a high and growing local national regional and global demand and need (economic and nutrition value) and because they are perceived to limit livelihood options for the rural poor who have few alternatives to make their living (social and economic value).

Looking into these issues around the region and over time, we noted how most of the currently implemented and promoted MPAs were designed in the past for biodiversity objectives or for protection of endangered species. So even while MPAs are socialized today as tools for fisheries management if they encompass no take areas, most of the existing MPAs struggle to show clear evidence of fisheries and livelihood benefits. Supporters of MPAs who promote additional MPA creation as a fisheries management tool find themselves in a “chicken-and-egg” situation.

Also, fishing effort is often not restricted in areas adjacent to no-take zones, or within the larger MPA as a whole. This causes the effect of no-take-zones to be hard to measure and near impossible to control for positive impacts.

Insufficient incentives

Significant investments were made by different donors in the past 5 years to address this situation and these have improved capacity in many countries to implement MPAs indeed. Bringing communities together with government to co-manage MPAs has been another valuable way to enhance management of existing MPAs. Also, some programs for fisheries reform have improved management capacity in important parts of the region, mostly for small to medium scale fisheries. Some very significant regional initiatives have been created to share experience and lessons for coastal and marine recourse management.

However, in large parts of the Asia Pacific region, the incentives for scaling up these successful approaches appear insufficient and the responsibility for reducing over-capacity and establishing harvest control rules continue to be the burden of the governments only.

Insufficient engagement of private sector

There has been a growing recognition of the need and opportunity to engage the seafood industry and tourism sector in supporting efforts to maintain livelihoods and reduce negative impacts on the ecosystems and marine life. While the value of healthy ecosystems and abundant fish populations to livelihoods and economies is easy to point out, and some progress has been made by the private sector in reducing its negative footprint by adopting best fisheries and management practices, the active engagement and support by private sector in support of functional networks of MPAs and complementary broader marine conservation and fisheries governance strategies is badly needed.

Steamed grouper sourced from responsible fisheries in eastern Indonesia
Steamed grouper sourced from responsible fisheries in eastern Indonesia

The opportunity

Improving the design of marine management areas for the sole objective of an increased fisheries output, along with the provision of incentives to scale-up successful approaches tested around the region would add tremendous value to work currently going on. Engaging the private sector at all levels will be key to ensure delivery of the correct design and incentives. If we succeed to address the tragedy of the commons across this region with its high fish productivity, marine biodiversity and dependence on the oceans, the local, regional and global benefits are tremendous.

Better collaboration would address the open access status of coastal and marine fisheries resources that sustains the devastating impacts of the tragedy of the commons. It would focus on the design and implementation of management strategies and harvest control schemes that are specifically focused on producing MORE fish protein and supporting MORE jobs in remote areas that have a high biodiversity and climate resilience value. This can include a focus on those aspects of MPA design and implementation that complement the existing MPAs in enhancing their delivery of outcomes for food security and livelihoods specifically and that will add new management areas for rebuilding and stabilizing fisheries that are key to food security and livelihoods of that part of the region’s society that needs this most. It will further complement existing work with right-based fisheries management tools which can restrict catch and effort around no take areas such as various harvest and capacity control measures.

Big eye tuna landed in Bali from the India Ocean fishery.
Big eye tuna landed in Bali from the India Ocean fishery.

Approaches such as building natural assets (BNA) and payment for environmental services (PES) can help secure economic benefits and long-term sustainability. The interest in PES schemes for their potential pro-poor effect in the form of rewards that go directly to communities living in or around key areas for the provision of environmental services is strong. The amount of payments and their effectiveness in making conservation profitable however depend greatly on market mechanisms such as demand (the existence of buyers – think about the consumer awareness for fair trade and sustainable products) and the competitiveness of economic incentives provided to local communities.

Many agencies and experts have focused on sustaining livelihoods that extract common pool resources and have worked to enable conditions that reduce the negative impacts of economic activities. Together we learned how sustainable livelihoods are often premised on a number of tradeoffs between the economic returns of ecologically sound activities and other social benefits that accrue from the sustainable management of natural resources (e.g., tenure security); between foregone short-term higher economic returns and long-term sustainability of the resource bases of livelihoods; between pursuing maximum economic profit and maintaining optimal resource value of forest and marine resources.

We learned that the success of these two-pronged approaches hinges on the level of good governance, which we define as the mechanisms and conditions that ensure power sharing, transparency, accountability, participation, and equitable distribution of costs and benefits. Good governance minimizes the costs of implementation, reduces conflicts, and enhances the confidence and trust amongst stakeholders. This realization warns us of the need to ensure early returns for poor and marginalized communities where development needs are highest and entitlements and tenure systems are most prevalent, while making use of the experience and tools that have been developed to address this issue.

The theory of change that we look at now is that by restricting access or the right of access to fisheries resources to local right holders and facilitating collaborative governance systems, a series of incentives can support protection of key ecological processes that sustain fish productivity and empower responsible harvest and management at the actual locale of the fisheries resources.

For most resource management interventions to be successful, a number of enabling conditions are needed:
– Political will is arguably the single most important foundation required for the profound and lasting changes needed to ensure long-term outcomes.
– Private sector transformation impacts most immediately where it is needed – on the water and in the communities.
– Public awareness provides growing pressure to follow through on public and private sector commitments and the constituency to move to lifestyles that are more within the boundaries of our one living planet.
– And well-resourced, respected and capable organizations are important strategic partners for effecting change in the region.

The objective of more collaboration can be: to develop, test and roll out implementation of models of conservation and fisheries management that combine no-take reserves with territorial or related rights-based fisheries management approaches across the Asia Pacific region to achieve increased fish production and improved livelihoods for the local communities through a greater private sector participation and the up scaling of innovative finance mechanisms.

For those interested, contact me.

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Meet the Author

Lida Pet-Soede
worried mother, passionate marine conservationist, relaxed diver