A fisherman who has spent his entire life on the Brazilian coast of Bahia, Albino Neves comes from a rich heritage based on a close connection to the water. "The sea for me is like my home," he says. "My great-grandfather was a fisherman, my grandfather was a fisherman, my father was a fisherman, some of my children are fishermen."
Neves lives in Corumbau, a remote village near the Abrolhos Bank. Like most of Brazil's coastal residents, the people of Corumbau are highly dependent on the ocean; for four out of five of them, fish is the main source of protein.
Yet despite this reliance on local fisheries — or perhaps because of it — overexploitation of marine resources beginning in the 1970s led to sharp declines in shrimp, crab and other commercially-important fish species. As the younger generation watched their parents work harder than ever to catch enough fish to support their families, many young people migrated to larger cities in search of other kinds of employment.
In 2000, CI and partners supported six local communities in the creation of Corumbau Marine Extractive Reserve, an 89,500-hectare (221,163-acre) protected area that bans industrial and destructive fishing. The reserve is made up of both "no-take" zones, where fishing is off-limits, and extractive areas, where artisanal fishing is allowed.
As fish populations boomed within the no-take zones, they spilled over into the extractive areas, where they were accessible to fishermen.
As a member of the Pataxó people — an indigenous group native to the area — Neves was among the traditional peoples the Brazilian government consulted while creating this reserve. Although he was supportive of it from the beginning, many others weren't.
"When the reserve was created, a lot of fishermen were unhappy with the no-take zones," he says. Fishers were concerned that restrictions on fishing areas would decrease their catch and reduce the income they depend upon to provide for their families.
In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. As fish populations boomed within the no-take zones, they spilled over into the extractive areas, where they were accessible to fishermen. Since 2000, some commercially-important fish species have experienced increases of up to 300 percent — and support of the reserve has risen exponentially. Many fishermen who left when the reserve was created have returned, now convinced that the protected area is more valuable than unmanaged fisheries.
"It makes me happy to know that I am part of a protected area whose creation I fought for," said Neves. "We needed this protected area, and now it is giving us a positive response, so this is something that I have in my heart to tell other fellow men who are fighting for the creation of conservation areas."
These days, Neves does more than fish; he also works for CI, supervising a fish monitoring program that collects data in nine communities.
The more we learn about the connections between fish populations and the human populations that rely on them, the closer we can get to building truly sustainable fisheries — in Abrolhos and beyond.