In it Together - Social marketing is shown to help small fishing communities adopt sustainable fishing practices

If you live in a small community where fishing is your primary source of income and nutrition, it’s tough to hear you might have to slow, stop or change your activities to more sustainably manage your fish stocks.

Sustainable fishing is even more difficult when the recovery takes a significant amount of time and this restraint puts you at a seeming economic disadvantage. Such limitations and uncertainty are enough that would-be sustainable fishers may slip back into unsustainable practices.

“I think it is always hard to convince people to do things differently than they have in the past, especially when it might incur some short-term cost,” said Gavin McDonald, a researcher at UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Market Solutions Lab (emLab), a subsidiary of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “It is certainly hard for a fisher when they can no longer fish in a certain area, or when they can no longer use a particular gear type.”

And yet widespread changes to fishing practices are necessary if the ocean is to remain a viable source of food and income for coastal communities. For some it may mean fishing less aggressively to allow stocks to replenish; for others it may mean using different gear to avoid unnecessary bycatch and damaging valuable habitat. Still others might need to adhere to new reporting requirements to track the amount of fish being extracted from their waters. These new behaviors challenge the standard practices and even the social norms of small fishing communities. So how can the necessary changes be encouraged, even in the face of the initial drawbacks?

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