The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) is the second largest barrier reef in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. With over 600 miles of essential mangrove, coral reef, and seagrass bed habitats, stretching across the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, the livelihoods of over two million people across the region depend directly on the reef’s health.
The fish populations that these amazing habitats support provide invaluable benefits to coastal communities, including economic development, food security, and poverty alleviation. Community-based small-scale fisheries across the MAR form a crucial part of the regional economy, provide food and jobs for thousands of small-scale fishers, and are a central component of the region’s cultural fabric.
Overfishing continues to jeopardize coastal fishers’ livelihoods and the future of communities across the region. Community-based fisheries, especially those not targeting export species like lobster and conch, have largely operated under little or no effective governance. The dispersed and complex nature of this sector is hard for the traditional central government authority and “command and control” management approach to monitor and regulate. Further, a lack of accurate fisheries data presents an ongoing barrier for effective marine management. Managing these fisheries must focus on local community-level action while also building effective governance across municipal, provincial, national, and regional scales.
Rare’s Fish Forever program seeks to restore the world’s coastal fisheries and the habitats on which they depend. It is a community-led solution to revitalize coastal marine habitats, protect biodiversity, and boost the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide, ensuring an essential source of protein for a billion more.
With program implementation focused at the subnational level, across municipalities in each country, Rare works with fishing communities and local to national governments to:
Adopt more sustainable and better-regulated fishing behaviors
Build and strengthen community-based management of coastal fisheries
Establish managed access areas that provide clear rights to specific communities to fish in certain areas, and protected no-take marine reserves and exclusive fishing zones to replenish and sustain fish populations
Enact policy and financing incentives to sustain change over the long-term
To deliver upon the above, Fish Forever in the MAR aims to:
Establish managed access with reserve areas to guarantee that social and economic benefits from coastal fisheries are retained and sustained by coastal communities;
Ensure that policy and governance frameworks provide the legal, functional, and financial sustainability of managed access with reserves;
Unlock capital to support the costs of adopting sustainable fishing behaviors by coastal communities and mechanisms to fund local fisheries management; and
Integrate behavioral insights and social marketing into program design and delivery to drive the adoption of environmental stewardship and new social norms.
In 2018, Rare began partnering with local governments, fisher associations, fisher groups and other local organizations in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico to catalyze and connect grassroots initiatives that can protect the reef system and improve livelihoods for fishers and their communities—leveraging this momentum into a movement for national and regional adoption of local, community-based coastal fisheries management.
In a new film series, “Bright Spots,” produced in partnership with The Summit Foundation, we’re sharing the inspiring stories behind national and regional adoption of community-led conservation measures to protect the MAR’s coastal communities.
Fish Forever has developed an extensive global partnership network of over 100 organizations and institutions to make change happen. Rare focuses on building the capacities of our implementing partners to sustain this change long after Rare’s involvement ends. Rare partners in the MAR include national government ministries (Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Fishing Directorate, port authority, and navy); municipal governments; fishers and fisher associations (Puerto Cortes, Utila, Guanaja, APROCUS Fisherman association in Honduras, Fisherman network in Guatemala); universities (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras); and civil society organizations (the Honduran Centre for Marine Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Comunidad y Biodiversidad in Mexico, Fundaeco in Guatemala, the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment in Belize , Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development in Belize, Wildlife Conservation Society).