A new study by Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), published in Ocean and Coastal Management, finds that the organizing of artisanal fishers and processors from coastal states can enable their participation in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), and by doing so leads RFMOs to more sustainable, science-based, and equitable fisheries management.

“Fisheries policy and management impact the livelihoods of entire coastal communities,” said Enrique Alonso, global fisheries director at SFP and a principal researcher in the study. “Yet artisanal and small-scale fishers are rarely engaged in decision making. This is especially the case in managing the high seas. As a result, fisheries are typically managed without the interests of artisanal and small-scale producers, even when they are the largest stakeholders.”

The research analyzed the formation of CALAMASUR (Committee for the Sustainable Management of the Jumbo Flying Squid in the South Pacific) and its engagement over the past five years in the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO). The study found that participatory governance schemes, as demonstrated by the efforts implemented by CALAMASUR with the SPRFMO, can result in better informed and more equitable outcomes for artisanal and small-scale fisheries.

CALAMASUR, an alliance formed in 2018, comprises prominent artisanal fishing cooperatives and squid processors from Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico. It emerged following a workshop facilitated by SFP, in which participants learned about the SPRFMO and its crucial role in ensuring the sustainability of the jumbo flying squid fishery on the high seas and combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

This fishery, recognized as the largest invertebrate fishery globally, operates within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, expanding into international waters along the South Pacific Ocean, where the SPRFMO manages it.

“When the artisanal squid fishers and processors learned about the RFMO process and how to engage, they knew they needed to have a voice and organize if they wanted a fair playing field,” continued Alonso. “This is the first time artisanal fishers and processors have strategically mobilized and engaged at a scale to achieve policy results in a squid RFMO. We hope this can be an example for other communities around the world.” 

The study found that CALAMASUR was a critical agent in driving attention to the squid fishery and advancing key improvement areas and priorities for management. Prior to CALAMASUR’s participation, there had been little work by the SPRFMO on squid. 

The paper concluded that, during the period analyzed (2018 to 2022), CALAMASUR had the greatest impact in driving delegates’ attention to issues related to compliance and science for management, and was instrumental in advancing the discussion about critical issues such as effort limitations and increasing on-board observers. 

One of CALAMASUR’s keys for success was adopting a proactive approach in SPRFMO Science and Commission meetings, not only presenting position statements, but also proactively developing technical and scientific proposals as an official observer.

“CALAMASUR shows that adequate organization and leadership, coupled with effective engagement by artisanal fishers and processors, can contribute positively to improve fishery management,” continued Alonso. “RFMOs need to enable participation by artisanal and small-scale fisheries if they want to achieve their mandates and produce good policy and management.” 

The paper finds that CALAMASUR was instrumental in triggering proposals by progressive national delegations, such as the European Union and Ecuador, and in garnering support for fisheries improvements by other delegations such as Peru and China, whose engagement has been slower. 

As a result, the first-ever regional conservation and management measure (CMM) for jumbo flying squid was approved in 2020. More recently, in 2023, a second CMM was enacted that sets limits to fishing effort and improves controls over transshipments in the squid distant-water fleets. This is a historic milestone in the management of squid on the high seas.

The unregulated nature of most squid fisheries in international waters poses substantial risks for artisanal fishers, due to the transboundary nature of the stock and the large-scale environmental fluctuations, as is the case in the South Pacific. Coastal artisanal fishers struggle to compete with distant-water fleets that often operate with state subsidies. Additionally, artisanal fishers, such as those in Peru who are the largest producers of jumbo flying squid, face institutional marginalization, further widening the inequity gap between small-scale and artisanal fishers and industrial producers operating on the high seas.

According to Alonso, “local fishing communities are heavily impacted by the actions or inaction of international management bodies. The high reliance on the jumbo flying squid resource within EEZs exposes these communities to significant risks.”

This work was made possible through the support of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and Oceans 5, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Read the study

Background on CALAMASUR and jumbo flying squid