Recovering Small-scale Fisheries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape

When small-scale fisheries do not operate sustainably, they can disrupt economically important services and diminish jobs, incomes and food supplies.


Small-scale fisheries employ more than 90 percent of the world’s fishers, and their significance for food security and the alleviation and prevention of poverty is gaining recognition. In the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape — a span of nearly 2 million square kilometers (770,000 square miles) comprising the waters, coasts and islands off the shores of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador — this is no exception, with an estimated 1.3 million people employed as fishers or fish farmers.

The area’s significant marine biodiversity and productivity are threatened by a number of natural resource management challenges. Few of the small-scale fisheries operate sustainably, employing fishing practices that damage or degrade habitats and incidentally catch non-target species. In addition, overfished stocks and the loss of “keystone” species (those that regulate ecosystems) such as lobster cause cascading effects that ultimately reduce jobs, incomes and available food. Despite considerable improvements over the last decade, many small-scale fisheries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape operate unsustainably and fail to benefit coastal communities as much as they could.

To tackle this challenge, Conservation International is implementing a project titled:


Fishing for a Prosperous Future​

​Making the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Protected Area Network a driver of local comm​unity sustainable development.

The Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape​ is a source of livelihoods and resources for coastal fishing communities in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. This project is designed to protect ETPS’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the essential services its ecosystems provide to people.

This project is funded by the Blue Action Fund (BAF)​, an initiative that supports the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to conserve oceans and coastlines in the developing world. The Blue Action Fund was established by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), through the KFW Development Bank in 2016. The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) joined the Blue Action Fund as donors. Conservation International is proud to be part of the first cohort of BAF grantees.


Introduction ​and Project Overview​

For the purposes of this project, MPAs refers to the full range of protection and spatial management categories and governance systems from fully protected to multiple-use marine management areas (MMAs), which covers all six IUCN categories and national management categories, as well as sustainable use zones. Project sites include areas that fall under local (often municipal, but also community managed reserves), sub-national (often state, district, provincial or other subnational categories) as well as national jurisdictions.​

The Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape

“Fishing for A Prosperous Future” is a three-year project (2018-2021) focused on supporting fisheries in eight of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape’s (ETPS) most iconic and ecologically important Marine Protected Areas (see box below). This project aims to incentivize the stewardship and sustainable fishing practices local communities need to adopt to maintain a healthy, biodiverse and productive marine ecosystem. In many cases, these communities are located in remote and inaccessible areas, increasing the importance the fisheries play in their livelihoods and food security.

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, we work with the Ministry of Environment (MINAE); the Viceministry of Oceans and Water; the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC); the Costa Rica Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture (INCOPESCA); and associations of fishers in the communities of Palito, Montero, Paquera, Tambor and Pochote.


In Panama, we work with the Ministry of Environment (MiAmbiente); Panama Aquatic Resource Authority (ARAP); the Ministry of Agriculture (MIDA); the University of Panama’s Regional Center in Veraguas; the Coiba Fishermen Federation; and associations of fishers in the communities of Pixvae and Trinchera.


In Colombia, we work with the Colombian Marine Research Institute (INVEMAR), and with associations of fishers in the communities of Bahía Solano, El Valle, Coquí, Nuquí, Joví and Arusí.


In Ecuador, we work with the Ministry of Environment (MAE); Undersecretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries; Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS); Galapagos Provincial Government Council (CGREG); and associations of fishers in the communities of Puerto El Morro and Puerto Ayora.


The project is being implemented within associations and cooperatives of fishers in eight key protected areas across the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape: Palito-Montero and Paquera-Tambor Responsible Fishing Areas (RFAs) in Costa Rica; the Gulf of Montijo Wetlands Ramsar site and soon-to-be created Pixvae Artisanal Fishing Area in Panama; the Chocó Special Artisanal Fisheries Zones and the Gulf of Tribugá Regional District for Integrated Management in Colombia; and the El Morro Wildlife Refuge and Galapagos Marine Reserve in Ecuador.


The Challenge Ahead

Small-scale fishers are one of the world’s most vulnerable groups. In the ETPS, fishers live and work in harsh conditions — and face immense challenges. That’s why addressing unsustainable fishing practices and promoting the necessary changes can often be a complex and delicate process.

To tackle this situation, Conservation International identified eight areas in the ETPS that possess outstanding biodiversity and productive ecosystems, but whose small-scale coastal community fisheries are generally weakly managed, resulting in ecosystem degradation.

The challenge lies in transforming these areas into drivers of local sustainable development and converting fishers into the stewards of the marine resources they rely on. Conservation International is drawing on a growing global toolbox of innovative solutions to help coastal communities achieve sustainable management of their fisheries.


Project Objectives​

​Based on the needs and challenges of each fisheries, the project will address a series of objectives:

  • To support the adoption of sustainable fishing practices that improve the condition of target stocks, reduce bycatch and improve livelihoods;
  • To strengthen ecosystem-based fisheries management strategies;​
  • To strengthen the organizational capacity of fishing associations;
  • To secure premium markets that reward sustainable fishing in order to promote community stewardship.


The Issues

Unsustainable coastal community fisheries share six key characteristics:

  1. A lack of biological, social and economic information;
  2. Fisheries policies and fisheries management plans that do not provide the provisions to guide and regulate sustainable extraction;
  3. Inability of management to implement, monitor and enforce fisheries plans;
  4. Fisheries organizations that lack the skills and infrastructure to sustainably harvest, store, process and market seafood;
  5. Markets that fail to reward responsible fishing with a price premium or market share;
  6. Poor cooperation between relevant sectors and institutions involved in the fishery.


Our Approach

Key project activities we are implementing to address these problems:

  • Undertake biological, social and economic research to determine baseline conditions, establish targets and identify social barriers to change;
  • Establish spatial management and resource-use policies to improve sustainability, particularly fisheries management plans;
  • Strengthen the implementation of spatial and fisheries management plans, including more effective enforcement;
  • Strengthen the organizational and business capacity of local fishing associations;
  • Improve supply and value chains so fishing associations committed to sustainability are rewarded with price premiums, secure markets and/or a larger market share;
  • Establish multi-stakeholder agreements and coalitions for sustainable fisheries.


Contact us


For more information on the project, please contact:


This project would not be possible without the support of the Blue Action Fund.