Study: Small Fisheries Provide Economic Boost for Community

Aug 6, 2015

Credit Flickr/Thomas Shahan 3

New research suggests small-scale fisheries could have big benefits for local communities. That’s according to a new study that highlights the economic impact of community supported reef fisheries. HPR’s Molly Solomon explains.

The economic benefit of small fishing communities has largely been anecdotal, until now. For the first time, a multi-year study has been able to put a different value on the coastal resource. Lead author Jack Kittinger is the director of Conservation International’s Hawaii program. He says a single reef fishery is worth nearly $80,000 a year. “These are dollars that the community would otherwise have to spend in a supermarket,” said Kittinger. “It’s a good way to estimate the exact economic value of the fishery in terms of what people are able to gain and how it supports household economic budgets.”

Credit Conservation International/Kosta Stamoulis

Kittinger estimates the seafood haul from a small scale fishery provides more than 30,000 meals a year. And he says the majority of fish caught are staying in the community. “These reefs are feeding local people,” said Kittinger. “They want these reefs to continue to sustain them.”

“The communities really rely on these resources,” said Alan Friedlander, a co-author on the report and the director for the Fisheries Ecology Research Lab at the University of Hawai‘i. He says studies like these are rare in the state and involve collaboration with those that actually do the fishing. “It takes a very long time, you really need to work with them,” said Friedlander. “You can’t just come in and leave. It’s a long term commitment.”

The team spent the past four years studying the Kīholo Bay fishery in North Kona on the Big Island. They worked closely with Hui Aloha Kīholo, an organization of lineal descendants of the area that care for the coastal resource. “What we find is places that are managed by communities,” said Friedlander. “They tend to be in better condition than those that are unregulated.”

While the research is ongoing, the team says behaviors are already beginning to shift. Since the study began, illegal fishing in the area has gone down and the community has become more engaged with caring for the reef. “If you want to change the outcomes for these fisheries you have to affect behavior on the ground,” said Kittinger. “And with these kinds of efforts, you get an understanding of how people interact with the resource. That tells you what type of management options might be the best for this place.” Which Kittinger says goes a long way toward long term goals of sustainable fishing.

The study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE. Read the full report here.