I recently visited the Danajon Bank Double Barrier Reef in the Philippines to investigate what stakeholder groups with interests in fisheries perceive to be the main drivers of fish decline and which conservation strategies are present to mitigate these main drivers.
I conducted this research because fish populations are declining in the Danajon Bank and management is difficult because there are multiple, interacting drivers of decline. Further, time, money, and personnel are limited. To improve this situation, conservation strategies must aim at combating the main drivers of fish decline. However, what if stakeholder groups have different perceptions regarding the main drivers and how to mitigate them? This could result in resource users not complying with laws and regulations, thereby minimizing their effectiveness.
To gather data, I conducted focus group discussions with fishers, local government units, and two environmental groups (Zoological Society of London and Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries) that influence policy and assist in the implementation of conservation strategies. I assisted each group in building a theory of change model to visually connect their perceived main drivers to fish decline and what conservation strategies are mitigating each main driver. I also conducted interviews to gather qualitative data to create a diagram that depicts how stakeholder groups communicate with each other to provide insights regarding why perceptions are different.
The results from this study show that perceptions are different between the environmental groups and the local-level stakeholder groups (local government and fishers). When comparing these results with how each stakeholder group communicates with others, there are distinct differences in perceptions between groups that have difficulty communicating with one another. This could be because the two environmental groups consist of a few personnel compared to the 16 local government units and thousands of fishers. It is difficult for environmental groups to communicate with the disproportionate number of fishers that have a direct impact on fish populations in the Danajon Bank. Therefore, it is understandable that two out of three fisher groups reported having minimal interactions with environmental groups and minimal involvement in the decision-making process at the local level regarding implementation of conservation strategies.
This research highlights the importance of understanding and involving all stakeholders when making management decisions to ensure that stakeholder groups are in agreement and that implemented conservation strategies have the best chance at achieving their intended outcomes.
Although agreement among stakeholders is important, it is not the whole picture. What if all stakeholder groups perceive the same drivers to be the most threatening towards a resource, but are incorrect? Effective conservation planning stresses making a large difference by reducing the most threatening drivers of resource decline. However, how can a community, with limited information about the impact of drivers on a given resource, identify the main drivers of resource decline and ways of mitigating the problem? These questions are subject to ongoing research in the Danajon Bank.