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.

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