Friday, December 25, 2015

The current political situation of Brazilian fisheries: an interview with Mauro Ruffino

Drawing on recent outcries about the recently decommissioned (October 2015) Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministry (from Portuguese, MPA) in Brazil, we interviewed Mauro Ruffino regarding his opinion. Ruffino is an oceanographer with a lot of experience in Amazonian fisheries, former consultant to the World Bank, and a former Director of the Department of Monitoring and Control of the now extinct Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministry. He also has an extensive list of scientific publications on fisheries.

1. In a recent letter published by Science, Brazilian researchers warned about the risk of ignoring the new proposed list of endangered fish species because of political pressures. Following the government’s decision to not enforce the updated list, a follow up letter also published by Science, researchers this time warned about the ongoing deconstruction of the aquatic/fisheries policy. This has happened for example, through initiatives considered disastrous, such as the suspension of fishers’ salaries during certain reproductive fish seasons, the reclassification of what is considered an artisanal boat (now larger than before) and an apparent increase in the marginalization of de facto artisanal fishers. What might such measures imply in the short and long run for the artisanal and industrial fishers and for aquatic resources in general?

The Interministerial Directive MMA/MAPA[1] 192/2015 suspended ten normative acts regulating closed seasons in continental waters in some Brazilian states for 120 days. Although, the recent Decree no. 293 (Dec 12, 2015) has suspended such a directive, it is still not clear how the closed season salary will be paid. I believe fishers will be able to get their salaries from the period December to March.
Either way, I believe, that both the MMA and the MAPA should use this chance to discuss the usual mechanisms for fisheries management and to implement ways to monitor and evaluate the efficacy of such mechanisms for the sustainability of fishing resources, besides testing other innovative tools.
As for the reclassification of fishers, depending on how it is done, it can be a setback, because the Brazilian fishers have achieved their recognition as a profession through the Law 11.959/2009, which has given them the right to access bank credits, for example. On the other hand, for the closed season salary I believe that only those that actually fish should have the right to it, because those are the ones that extract fish and suffer the economic consequences of having the fishing closed for a period. What we have seen along the last years is a lot of fishing workers that do not directly fish, but are part of the fishing value chain, benefitting from the closed season salary.
Let´s see some definitions below:
Closed season (defeso): the temporary halt in fishing activities to preserve a given species by allowing its reproduction or recruitment. It can also include temporary halts due to natural phenomena or accident.
Closed season salary (seguro-defeso): it is the artisanal fishers’ unemployment insurance benefit; it is paid to professional artisanal fishers for the time they cannot fish due to the closed season. The fisher has to prove that s/he has fished uninterrupted, be it alone or under a family business.
Therefore, the closed season means that fishing activities are put on hold as a political strategy with an environmental goal, protecting the reproductive period of some species as a way to assure sustainable fishing stocks and, consequently, assure the activity and income of fishers. During this period, which is defined by specific legislation according to the region and species to be protected, fishers receive their unemployment insurance benefit. This benefit is paid in monthly installments equivalent to a Brazilian minimum wage for the whole closed season. To receive the benefit, the fisher has to fulfill the conditions established in the Normative Act no. 06, of June 29th, 2012, and present the documents defined by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, which is the institution in charge of paying the benefit.
However, it is crucial that the government develops more efficient and accurate mechanisms to authorize and determine somebody as a fisher.  The number of frauds and fishers´ licenses conceded to those that do not primarily fish is notorious. This mismatch between the legal determination fishers and actual fishers diverts significant amounts of money that would otherwise be used to support the lives of those that actually depend on fisheries and their sustainability.

2. Was the decommissioning of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministry (MPA) and its embodiment by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) done in a proper way?
Certainly not! In the eagerness to respond to political and societal pressure[2] (to cut costs and reduce the number of ministries), the government, at the stroke of a pen, decided to end it without any discussion or involvement of the fisheries sector. As a consequence, the sector has not been really embodied by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA), which has made most of the previous initiatives come to a halt! Among such paralyzed initiatives, we can cite the Committees for Permanent Management (CPGs), and the fisheries statistics program, among others.
After an inertia period (2011-2014) and before its decommissioning in 2015, the MPA had restarted attempts of reestablishing the fisheries statistics and the CPGs implementation, but now everything is back to the start.
The lack of shared management between MAPA and the Ministry of the Environment (the two institutions now responsible for fisheries), the lack of information on stocks that require management, as well as the canceling of important fisheries management tools, such as VMS (Vessel Monitoring Satellite), logbooks, and observers on board programs, only reinforce an already stagnated and inefficient management of fisheries. Cumulatively, these all worsen the deterioration of fishing stocks.

3. What is your opinion about having fisheries being managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA)?
I do not see it as a problem as long as MAPA really absorbs all the fishing activities and gives the same importance to Aquaculture and Industrial and Artisanal fisheries. However, as MAPA is historically a productionist and elitist ministry, there is the risk of having artisanal fisheries as a low priority again, as it used to be, and the same could happen to important management tools, such as VMS, logbooks, and observers on board programs, among others.
The point is that MAPA was not prepared to deal with such a demand and is now incapable of continuing the activities related to fisheries and aquaculture.

4. Why does it seem that society does not care about the fate we are tracing to our aquatic environments? What are you doing wrong?
Because there is no popular awareness of what is really going on, we have some NGOs and institutes doing painstaking work, but the government itself does not feel responsible, and therefore, it just does nothing. There is a shortage of information about the economic value of such environments, the benefits they bring to society and how some economic activities can impact aquatic environments.
Society seems to be touched by big catastrophes only! But it is necessary to join efforts (government, NGOs, researchers, etc.) to anticipate and generate discussion forums that will increase participation and facilitate social pacts targeting the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems, and the resources and socioeconomic benefits they provide. 

[1] MMA – Ministry of the Environment
MPA – Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture
MAPA - Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply
[2] In 2015, amid a stagnated economic period, there was political and social pressure to force the government to cut costs and reduce the number of ministries. Note of the bloggers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How many women fish in Brazil?

Sarah Harper, PhD Candidate, Fisheries Economic Research Unit, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia, Canada. 
Supervisor: Dr. Rashid Sumaila.

Women in fisheries: overlooked and undervalued.

In many parts of the world, including Brazil, fishing is considered a male domain. The generally accepted division of labour has men going out to catch fish while women stay onshore to process and sell the fish, and to do various other fishing-related activities. However, looking a little deeper, we can see that this division is neither clear nor stable.  There is a growing body of literature which highlights that women also fish, but major gaps exist in our understanding of the varied and dynamic nature of the roles and contributions by women in fisheries. In some regions of the world, because of a focus on the role of small-scale fisheries in food security and poverty alleviation, the contributions of women have been made more visible, while for other countries and regions these contributions have been largely overlooked. From an economic perspective, this understates the important role that women in fisheries play in food security and local economies, while from an ecological perspective, this underestimates human pressure on marine ecosystems (Harper et al. 2013). In an effort to raise the profile of women in fisheries, I am interested in quantifying these contributions on a global scale. For some countries data exist, while for many others, information is sparse. To fill these gaps and as part of my PhD research, I am asking, on a country-by-country basis, how many women participate directly and indirectly in fisheries.
Studies that highlight women in Latin American fisheries are limited in contrast to other regions such as Asia and Africa. However, the gender dimension of fisheries is receiving increasing attention around the world, from local community groups all the way up to national policy makers. 

So what do we know about women in fisheries in Brazil?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations publish online fisheries profiles for countries all around the world. The country profile for Brazil, estimates that in 2008 women represented 34% of fishers, numbering approx. 238,000 out of a total of 694,000 fishers, with the majority of fishers located in the North and Northeast of the country. Interestingly, women represented a larger percentage of total fishers in the North and Northeastern regions (34-38%), than in the Midwest, South, and Southeastern regions (19-28%). However, it is not clear whether these numbers refer only to direct fishing activities or may include some indirect fishing activities such as processing. Furthermore, these numbers may fail to reflect participation by women in fisheries activities that are simply considered household duties. In any case, women do fish in Brazil (Rocha and Pinkerton 2015).
In the State of Bahia, over 20,000 women participate in shellfish collection as marisqueiras, while in the state of Maranhão, women have been recognized for their role in the capture of shrimp from shore using small nets, a practice that also occurs in other Brazilian states (Diegues 2008). Women have also been recognized as participants in shrimp, crab and mollusk fisheries in the south of Bahia (Di Ciommo 2007). To highlight the significance of women’s role in one particular fishery, a study conducted on the Northeast coast of Brazil (Ponta do Turbarão) found that Venus clam (Anomalocardia brasiliana) harvesting and processing is an activity dominated by women (i.e., two thirds of active clam harvesters were women, accounting for 80% of the registered clam harvest activity). Based on a survey of 20 families, a total of roughly 450 tonnes of clams were harvested annually, the majority being collected and processed by women (Rocha 2013). Men also participated but only as a secondary fishing activity when other target species were unavailable or in times of economic need. 

In addition to direct capture activities, women are also involved in various other aspects of Brazilian fisheries, including processing and marketing activities and to a lesser extent in fisheries management and decision-making (Di Ciommo 2007).  A study that investigated fish processing in Southern Brazil found that 57% of plant workers were women (Josupeit 2004).  Interviews with fishing families at Itaipu Beach, Rio de Janeiro also found that women are involved in fish processing and net manufacturing. However, the study went on to highlight women’s important role in providing social and economic stability within the community, especially in response to changing local conditions and external pressures (Barbosa and Begossi 2004).   
These are only a few examples, covering only a portion of the country and its fisheries. While these indeed highlight the varied roles of women in the fisheries of Brazil, they provide only snapshots of an often overlooked aspect of fisheries-the role and contributions of women. I am curious what other examples exist that would help provide a more complete picture of women in the fisheries of Brazil as a whole.  If you have any information on participation by women in the marine fisheries of Brazil or any other maritime fishing country of the world, please contact me so that it can be included in a global assessment of women in fisheries.

Dona Vera fishing in Bahia. Photo by Laura Honda
Dona Vera. Photo By Laura Honda

  • Barbosa, S.R. da C.S. and Begossi, A. (2004) Fisheries, Gender and Local Changes at Itaipu Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: an individual approach. MultiCiência 2, 1–14.
  • Di Ciommo, R.C. (2007) Pescadoras e pescadores: a questão da equidade de gênero em uma reserva extrativista marinha. Ambiente & sociedade 10, 151–163.
  • Diegues, A.C. (2008) Marine protected areas and artisanal fisheries in Brazil. Samudra Monograph. Chennai. 
  • Harper, S., Zeller, D., Hauzer, M., Pauly, D. and Sumaila, U.R. (2013) Women and fisheries: contribution to food security and local economies. Marine Policy 39, 56–63.
  • Josupeit, H. (2004) Women in the fisheries sector of Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil. FAO Fisheries Circular No . 992. Rome.
  • Rocha, L.M. (2013) “Ecologia Humana Manejo Participativo Da Pesca Do Búzio Anomalocardia brasiliana (Gmelin, 1791)(Bivalvia: Veneridae) Na Reserva De Desenvolvimento Sustentável Estadual Ponta Do Turbarão (RN).”
  • Rocha, L.M. and Pinkerton, E. (2015) Comanagement of clams in Brazil: a framework to advance comparison. Ecology and Society 20, 7.