The commitment to halt and reverse the loss of marine biodiversity is a key EU priority, as underlined by the recent international ocean governance communication. One of the main EU tools to achieve that, is the creation and management of marine protected areas (MPAs), in line with its position to reach, in the context of the ongoing global negotiations, an ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework with 30% of the ocean being covered by MPAs by 2030.
Torre Guaceto is one of those MPAs, composing a mosaic of protected areas over the ocean within and outside the EU. It is located in Puglia, southern Italy, and extends over 2,227 hectares and covers a coastline of 8.4 km. It protects an area with some of the highest richness of species in the Mediterranean and includes habitats such as seagrass meadows, sandy beaches and deep-sea Mediterranean coral formations.
Torre Guaceto is a relatively “old” MPA, created in 1991, and at its inception all types of fishing were prohibited for 5 years in order to allow for the regeneration of fish stocks. After that, the consortium managing the area (composed of the two municipalities of Brindisi and Carovigno, and the WWF) worked with a technical team, local fishers and research institutes to experiment and define common rules for fishing in the reserve.
The main aims of MPAs are to provide zones where fish can reproduce and grow; to protect critical habitats from damage by certain fishing methods; to conserve biodiversity and eventually, to protect predators at the top of the food chain, which increase the ecological stability of coastal environments. Given those objectives, it can happen that MPAs entail conflicts with fishers whose activities are reduced or altered. In order to avoid that, the consortium of Torre Guaceto included fishers in its decisional process early on.
Through many meetings with the local fishers the consortium members have agreed on criteria, which are now the key elements of the regulation governing fishing in the Torre Guaceto MPA. In particular, these rules concern the types of fishing gear allowed (more restrictive than the general rules) and the frequency of fishing (only once a week). The regulation also identifies no-take and nursery areas, and limits the number of fishers who have access to the reserve. As a result, fishers in the local community feel highly privileged.
The fishers have accepted these rather restrictive rules because they see that both the number and size of the fish they catch in a single day in the reserve are higher than what they can achieve outside the reserve on the other days of the week.
As part of the process of raising awareness, fishers are regularly involved in ecosystem services and weekly monitoring. This has made it possible to manage the reserve in ways that respond rapidly to changes in the actual current fish stocks.
The consortium has received support from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for several projects, aiming at managing stocks and co-designing with small-scale fishers the rules for activities in the MPA. Moreover, the most recent projects, with the support of the three coastal fisheries local action groups (LAGs), are pushing for an expansion of the Torre Guaceto MPA, and to increase fishers’ and local communities’ sustainable use of marine resources.
The communication on international ocean governance of June 2022 reiterates that fishing activities should respect the principles of long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources and marine ecosystems: the MPA of Torre Guaceto, in a nutshell, represents those principles, while successfully enhancing competitiveness of local small-scale fishery, therefore benefitting local coastal communities.
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