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"Mismaloya Bay, Mexico - October 18 2011: A Mexican fisherman casts his bait net on Mismaloya Bay."

Working with Fishers to Protect Oceans – and Their Livelihoods

January 17, 2020
For the health of marine life and coastal communities, we need to change the way we fish.

I was born and raised in Cuba, an island with some of the most beautiful beaches and healthier coral reefs in the Caribbean. I felt a deep connection with the ocean from the first time I put my head underwater and saw the diverse shapes and colors of fish, corals and marine life.

Growing up, my parents instilled in me a deep appreciation and respect for nature. My dad would take my sister and me on mini-adventures to climb trees or snorkel in the reef. These experiences awoke a deep curiosity inside me to learn more about animals, plants and the ocean. Because of that, I decided to pursue a career in marine biology.

The author, Daylin Muñoz-Nuñez, during a trip to Baja California Sur in Mexico.

When I first came to the United States, I worked as a marine observer monitoring the impacts dredge boats have on endangered species. These vessels are equipped with a huge vacuum to suck up sand from the bottom of the sea.

As you can imagine, marine creatures that dwell on the bottom – like corals, fish and sea turtles – were sometimes trapped and killed by the dredge vacuum.

Experiencing these human interactions with marine animals made me rethink my career path. I decided to become an environmental manager, working with people to responsibly use marine resources and protect the oceans.

In my job, I work with fishers in Mexico to find solutions that will allow them to continue fishing responsibly, to secure the future of their business and the well-being of their families without damaging the environment. We are engaging them as thoughtful partners to solve the problems.

Daylin Muñoz-Nuñez scuba dives in the Gulf of California as part of an underwater monitoring program assessing how snapper and grouper populations are improving within Mexico's fish refuges.

When I started visiting the fishing communities in Sinaloa, Mexico, I played a game called “What’s the Catch?” It’s a way to break the ice and raise awareness about the need for sustainable fishing practices.

In the game, we use candies to represent the fish in the ocean. Players act as fishery participants, trying out different types of management approaches. We played the first round of the game open-access style, where fishery participants have zero rules. Usually, players rush to collect as much candy – or “fish” – as possible.

Mexican fishers play a game of "What's the Catch" to simulate different fisheries management practices.

One fisherman, though, set aside a pile of candy that nobody else could touch. He explained that he was leaving that fish in the water so they would be able to reproduce in the future. The experience made me realize we need to include fishers in finding solutions to fishery management issues because they know best what is happening in the water.

We all need healthy and productive oceans to survive and thrive.

Even if people don't live close to the coast, they want to eat a Baja fish taco, a Maine lobster, or a shrimp cocktail.

However, overfishing and illegal fishing are reducing fish populations, threatening the supply of nutritious food and the socio-economic well-being of millions of people.

What gives me hope is the commitment that people have to work for the betterment of the ocean.

There is nothing we can do to change the behavior of fish. Our work is to manage people and change the way they are catching, selling and buying the fish so they can do it sustainably.

What gives me hope is the commitment that people have to work for the betterment of the ocean.

Fishers have stopped complaining about the lack of enforcement of fishing rules and are taking actions to secure their future. Seafood producers, scientists, government, buyers and chefs are forming coalitions to be more effective.

Daylin Muñoz-Nuñez's nephew, Dario, builds a turtle sandcastle on a beach in Cuba.

We all have a personal stake in the future of our oceans.

I have a nephew. His name is Dario and, ever since he was born, all I can think about is how to preserve this amazing submerged world for him to enjoy it when he grows up.

In the Field is a series featuring Walton Family Foundation staff whose commitment and passion for their work is helping create access to opportunity for people and communities.
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