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Researchers and community partners at a Kīholo Bay community consultation: Jack Kittinger, Daniela Kittinger, Hal Koike, Bart Wilcox, Uʻilani Macabio, Jenny Mitchell and Mahana Gomes.

Small-scale reef fisheries—those used by local communities, rather than large commercial fishing operations—have important value that goes beyond the purely monetary, according to a study published by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers and co-authors. The study, published in PLOS ONE, focused on a single artisanal coral reef fishery in Kīholo Bay, showing that it produces over 30,000 meals per year, with an annual economic value of more than $78,000. Just as important, however, are its other values.

The authors found that the small-scale Kīholo fishery provides large-scale benefits to communities—social and cultural as well as economic. “The true value of small-scale fisheries is poorly understood and chronically under-reported globally,” explained Kirsten Oleson, an ecological economist in UH Mānoa’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. “This results in policy failures that lead to resource degradation and depletion. Empowering local communities by co-creating knowledge about their resources can help them develop local solutions that are tailored to the place and community objectives.”

The study was conducted by Conservation International, the community-based stewardship group Hui Aloha Kīholo, the National Geographic Society and The Nature Conservancy, as well as researchers in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and the Department of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The authors found that 58 percent of the caught seafood is kept for home consumption, 34 percent is given away and only 8 percent sold to commercial markets. Surveying fishers for an entire year, researchers were able to estimate that the fishery produces more than 7,300 pounds of seafood per year for the community of people who rely upon it. Nearly 60 percent of the catch is used for subsistence, contributing to community food security and 20 percent is used for sociocultural events that build and strengthen social ties.

A community-based approach was used to assess the factors affecting resource sustainability and food security. The community is already seeing benefits from the study, including increased willingness to engage among the fishing community, improved fishery knowledge, and evidence of decreased illegal fishing.

“The participatory approach for this project—where the community took a lead role in the design, implementation and use of the findings—provides a model for conservation science,” said Lida Teneva, science advisor for Conservation International’s Hawaiʻi program. “By developing the project with community management priorities incorporated at the outset, the potential for this information to influence on-the-ground stewardship was embedded in the project.”

—By Frederkia Bain

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