Global FISH Alliance Reforms Honduran Lobster Fishery

By 2009, Honduran coastal communities recognized a growing crisis in their spiny lobster fishery. Lobster stocks had declined 35% due to overfishing, habitat degradation from destructive fishing practices and removal of critical fish habitats such as mangrove forests and coral reefs. About 1,500 divers suffered disabilities due to unsafe diving practices and 300 men had already lost their lives pursuing lobsters at greater depths. When US demand for lobsters dropped in the economic recession, prices fell lower than the cost of catching them. After generations of harvesting lobsters for food and export, coastal communities faced the harsh realities of growing poverty and food insecurity resulting from the loss of a productive fishery.

USAID responded to the crisis with an ecosystem-based management approach to restore habitat and rebuild lobster stocks. In partnership with the Academy for Educational Development (AED) and Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service restaurant company, the USAID-sponsored Global Fish Alliance (G-FISH) created the Spiny Lobster Initiative (SLI) to reform the fishery. SLI used the SCALE (System-wide Collaborative Action for Livelihoods and the Environment) methodology to encourage public participation and build collaborative partnerships across the entire fishery value chain.

By working with multiple stakeholders from governmental, private, social, and environmental sectors, SLI made remarkable progress in their first year to improve fishery management. As part of the SCALE process, AED organized a Whole-System-in-the-Room Workshop to define goals to reform the fishery and gain commitments to achieve them. “We created a space for stakeholders across the whole value chain to reach common ground and to determine the changes they wanted to see,” said Bette Booth, AED/SLI Project Director.

As a result of a 2009 workshop, stakeholders identified ten goals to reform the fishery and made commitments to work together to achieve them, for example: 

  • The SLI focused on keeping information flowing among participants via several channels including a monthly bulletin.
  • The Merchant Marines, Fisheries Directorate, and Navy began working in closer coordination and communication to ensure compliance with fishing regulations.
  • The Roatan Marine Park and the Honduran Hotel and Restaurant Association implemented a campaign to increase responsible serving and consumption of lobsters in restaurants.
  • The Roatan private sector initiated the idea of holding a technical symposium to discuss marketing strategies and best management practices and pledged $10,000 to sponsor the event.

SLI then successfully hosted the Technical Symposium on the Sustainable, Profitable, and Safe Management of the Spiny Lobster, in June 2010. This Symposium attracted more than 200 Honduran stakeholders and 15 from Nicaragua. It promoted the ecosystem-based management best practices needed to achieve the ten goals set in the 2009 workshop, including certification, trends and access to new markets, restoration and management of critical habitats, rights-based management, and economic alternatives for displaced lobster divers.

Throughout this process, the Honduran government played a growing and important role to support the SLI. A new Honduran government in 2010 made fisheries reform among their top priorities and asked SLI to organize their first meeting with the fisheries sector. Earlier, in May 2009, the government had signed a Regional Fishery Ordinance on Spiny Lobster that recommended new fishery regulations for Caribbean nations. Among other laws, the Ordinance bans scuba diving for lobster beginning in July 2011. The scuba diving ban will affect about 3,000 active divers and promises to create challenges to find alternative livelihoods, especially among Mosquitia indigenous communities. To address this problem, the SLI helped the government set a vision for fishery reform that keeps fishers working. Also, a recently developed Mosquitia Master Plan outlines guidelines for sustainable development of this region so rich in biodiversity.

By supporting strong demand for a sustainable lobster fishery, Darden Restaurants has served as a critical private partner in the success of the SLI. As a major buyer of spiny lobster, Darden has committed to sustainable fisheries and only purchases lobster caught in traps. In the NGO community, the World Wildlife Fund has served as an important partner to bring good science to the process. Their knowledge of local conditions has been invaluable to the SLI.

In reflecting on the SLI process, Jimmy Andino, SLI Chief of Party attributes the success of the program to an approach that gives everyone a chance to speak out. “At first we worried about losing control,” he said. “But the SLI Working Group took ownership of the process and showed real leadership in their willingness to transform the fishery into a sustainable one based on principles of ecosystem-based management.”

As a result of the SLI, the fisheries sector is poised for major reform. Stakeholders have agreed on the need for good management, best practices, marine zoning, and ecological reserves to restore the stocks and protect the rich biodiversity of the Meso-American reef off Honduran shores. “An upcoming focus will be to help connect the sector to the markets and secure the capital and technical assistance needed to make the shift,” said Ms. Booth. “But to support this process into the implementation stage, we hope to secure additional funding to transform the fishery into a sustainable model for coastal development.” Based on the initial success of the SLI, it seems likely that investors will continue to support the program through the transformation ahead.

S. Nelson

For more Information about the Global FISH Alliance, visit:

Last updated: October 02, 2013

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