Case Study: Isla Natividad, Mexico

In August 2006, a marine reserve pilot project was begun in the waters of Isla Natividad through a partnership between a Mexican environmental group, Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), and a fisheries cooperative, the Cooperative Society of Fishing Production Divers and Fishermen of Isla Natividad (Sociedad Cooperativa de Producción Pesquera Buzos y Pescadores de Isla Natividad).

The cooperative had made a commitment to sustainable fisheries management, joining a federation of cooperatives that received Marine Stewardship Council certification for their lobster fisheries in April 2004. This cooperative had even experimented with closed areas to protect shellfish, hired its own biologists, and set up routine monitoring of lobster and abalone stocks for management purposes.

Isla Natividad, a fully protected marine reserve (that is, closed to all fishing and tourism), is a pilot program handled as field experiments with controls and scientifically designed monitoring to provide data that can be used to decide whether benefits of closures warrant continuation at the end of a 6-year agreement. The cooperative will use the results to help to decide whether to include fully protected marine reserves as part of its management strategy in the future.

Scientific partnerships are an important aspect of the effort. COBI engaged the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), a four-university consortium with substantial expertise in marine ecology and oceanography working on the California Current ecosystems of the U.S. west coast. The project is highly participatory, and local fishers perform much of the scientific monitoring. Equally important for the future success of the project is the fact that the program was developed by a local institution. The assessment and evaluation part of the program will include anthropologic exploration of incentives, motivations, social relations, and legal and cultural frameworks that influence this level of engagement by the cooperative and its members and by the partnerships.