The purpose of this management plan is to ensure the sustainable management and development of the fishery and enhanced benefits to those involved in the market value chain. An additional aim is to establish a co-management plan for the nine oyster and cockle harvesting communities within the Tanbi National Park as a pilot and if successful, then gradually expand this co-management model to other harvesting areas in the country.
The development of this management plan is supported by the USAID funded Gambia-Senegal Sustainable Fisheries Project (Ba-Nafaa). The Ba-Nafaa project is implemented by the Coastal Resources Center of the University of Rhode Island and the World Wide Fund for Nature-West Africa Marine Ecoregion (WWF-WAMER), in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and the Ministry of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters, and TRY Oyster Women’s Association.
The Tanbi Wetland National Park was designated as a RAMSAR site (Wetland of International Importance) on World Wetlands Day in 2007. The Tanbi, though it snakes through the urban area of The Gambia’s capital city, consists of 6000 hectares of mangroves. The Government of The Gambia supports the protection and responsible management of the area, specifically because of its high biodiversity, making it a valuable marine resource. It is important that we all work together to keep the ecosystem healthy, and that we do so by promoting sustainable livelihoods rather than using destructive means of harvesting our country’s limited natural resources.
The economic activities surrounding the collection, processing, and marketing of oysters and cockles within the Tanbi National Park are practiced predominantly by women operating in their individual family units. Prior to TRY’s inception in 2007, there was no form of organization, conflict resolution, or management within or between these communities of harvesters. There were no formal rules or regulations except the annual closure during the rainy season.
Participatoty Rapid Appraisals (PRAs) conducted in the cockle and oyster harvesting communities revealed significant concerns about over harvesting. Research shows that that women have to travel longer and farther to harvest, taking more time to gather their cockles and oysters, and are collecting juveniles in the process. Conflicts between communities are emerging as harvesters start to recognize these realities and discuss, plan, and implement rules for harvesting (e.g. closed season or exclusive community use zones).
Oyster and cockle harvesters currently travel a distance seven times longer than that which they traveled thirty years ago. They also spend more than twice the amount of time harvesting, bringing in a third of what they did in the past. Unfortunately, due to both desperation and, perhaps, ignorance, many of the oyster women are harvesting juveniles: a practice that is both damaging to the oyster population and brings in a product that is useless in the global market. [Note: oysters, when they reach sexual maturity, are males. As they grow older and larger however, they become females.]
As harvesters start to consider these realities, many are thinking about their future livelihoods and discussing what they can do to avoid further degradation of this extremely important resource. Conflicts are arising, however, between different communities over the implementation of various harvesting rules. Participatory Rapid Appraisals (PRA’s) have shown that there is a large amount of concern in the various communities surrounding the issue of over-harvesting.
TRY’s main goal is to improve and sustain the livelihoods of its members; protecting the ecoystem and enforcing sustainable resource management is an imperative facet of this goal. It is our duty to facilitate conflict resolution between the oyster communities, in such a way that guarantees everyone an equal voice. Sustainable development requires intelligent regulations, and though we believe it is our responsibility as an organization to encourage, plan, and implement such rules, it is also our duty to foster ownership and confidence in our members. The co-management plan involves a number of groups, including government bodies, but we believe the creation of these rules should come from agreements made within the oyster women themselves.
Indeed, the co-management of the Tanbi involves working closely with its various stakeholders in order to discuss, plan, and implement measures to ensure the responsible management of our mangroves. Without proper regulations, the ecoystem of the Tanbi will no doubt suffer from human exploitation. We must therefore work together in order to protect it, for the ecosystem itself, and for the hundreds of livelihoods that depend on it.
TRY has already begun co-management planning processes in the oyster and cockle communities within the Tanbi National Park. Each community has its own committee, dedicated and respected leaders within each village. Through our aquaculture trainings and mangrove reforestation projects, to name just a few, TRY has educated its members on the significance of protecting and responsibly managing the ecosystem from which the harvesters benefit.
Now, we have begun the co-management process, discussing and planning with the many groups involved in the Tanbi, hoping to eventually establish legalized regulations, enforced and happily supported by all parties involved.
Under the Fisheries Act of 2007, The Government of The Gambia
“allows for the allocation of property rights for the purposes of community-based management…. Under Section 14 of the Fisheries Act 2007, the Tanbi National Park…is a marine protected area [and] can be designated as a special management area for the purpose of community-based co-management in the interest of conservation, management and sustainable utilization of fisheries resources. In addition, under Section 15 of the Fisheries Act 2007, the Minister of Fisheries may establish Community Fisheries Centres for purposes of community-based fisheries management. Although TRY Association does not constitute a Community Fisheries Center as is found at other coastal fishing communities, TRY Association is an officially registered organization with local committees in each of the nine villages that harvest oysters and cockles in the Tanbi National Park. The TRY Association therefore can be provided exclusive use rights and tasked with responsibilities for the management of the cockle and oyster resources within the Tanbi ecosystem.”
So far, the oyster communities have deliberated on a long list of rules and regulations, they’ve made many forward-thinking agreements, though some disagreements remain. If you are interested in knowing the details regarding the specific regulations put in place, or the specific roles of each stakeholder party, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Regulations include, but are not limited to: no-harvest zones, community-specific harvest regions, frequency of harvesting, open access areas, dates for the opening and closing of harvest season, marketing and pricing requirements, professional ID cards, safe harvesting techniques (for the harvester and the mangrove), mangrove conservation projects, alternative livelihood development, and fines for the breaking of any and all regulations.
We are making drastic strides in the right direction: protecting our countries’ natural resources and improving the livelihoods of its citizens. Now, we are working with the involved government bodies to maintain these agreements, as well as with our members to ensure support of these efforts. TRY, along with the Department of fisheries, will continue to research and develop improved practices of oyster and cockle harvesting, particularly in relation to aquaculture. We continue to be devoted to the improvement of the oyster product, and await further advancement in the realm of raw oyster harvesting and distribution on the world market. We are constantly learning more about the oyster itself, and are now looking into funding and partnering with other organizations in order to learn more about possibly transplanting oysters from areas of high to low density.