Fishers near Zembra island, Tunisia © Louis Marie Preau

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Like every local fishing community, the fishermen from Al Huwariyah in Tunisia also have their legends – like the fisherman who could only navigate the Cap Bon Sea with “invisible landmarks”. Like legends, they also pass on traditional knowledge, such as that overfishing or taking too small a fish not only harms the environment, but also harms the community itself. These are the communities that need support and encouragement when large, destructive and illegal trawler fleets devastate their fishing grounds.

Local communities are the vital foundation and essential element in ensuring that ambitious global, regional and national initiatives actually bring about the change that will save the planet. Without their consent and commitment, efforts by civil society and government to address issues such as the destruction of biodiversity through unsustainable practices such as overfishing will continue to be the subject of high-profile project proposals and pledges.

For this reason, BirdLife and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) * are pleased to be working with the local fishing community around the breathtakingly beautiful waters of the Zembra & Zembretta National Park off the shores of Cap Bon, Tunisia. Here, the Cap Bon-Meer is considered to be one of the most important fishing corridors in the Mediterranean, which runs in the middle of the west and east coast of the Mediterranean.

Although coastal communities could rely on abundant marine resources for their way of life for centuries, the growing demand for seafood has posed a real threat in recent decades. Some of the region’s most well-known species and the marine ecosystems they depend on stand due to the unfair and illegal Competition from destructive trawler fleets that ignore local laws protecting the restricted areas around the islands of Zembra and Zembretta, under extreme human pressure.

The artisanal fishing sector in the region employs the most local fishermen while causing the least damage to the environment. With a grant from the CEPF, the Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Environnemental et Naturel (ASPEN, a local NGO) has set itself the goal of helping local fishermen to compete while promoting sustainable fishing that complies with the laws of the protected area.

Over 40 local fishermen were equipped with selective fishing gear such as nets, lines and hooks that comply with the minimum sizes for fish retention. This, combined with education, reduces the pressures of overfishing in the Zembra waters by promoting an environmentally friendly community that is able to maintain their traditional way of life while ensuring sustainable use of marine resources over time.

Fishermen prepare their new equipment - © Khaled Ben Othman

Awareness raising will also shortly include the threat of so-called ghost nets that have been torn and abandoned in the waters, wreaking havoc on marine life trapped in their deadly traps.

This work is also related to the current National Park and the Exclusion Zone, which will become a new marine and coastal protection area in 2022, the ASPEN together with PIM (Initiative for the Petites Îles de Méditerranée – a CEPF grantee of a larger project) will be involved in the management – to ensure local fishermen are involved. Treating local fishermen as co-managers of their sanctuary is the cornerstone of ensuring the long term sustainability of the area as they are ultimately the real custodians of the ecosystem.

It was Moncef Miladi’s father, whose navigational skills mentioned above were legendary. Miladi himself has been a fisherman in love with the sea since childhood. He captures the principles of the project when he says: “The Zembra Islands are a haven for migratory fish and a kindergarten that ensures the sustainability of resources. Protecting them is the responsibility of all of us – fishermen, organizations and the National Guard. “

Wahid Balagha, a fisherman with more than 25 years of experience, also says: “… the initiative is very important to us … because Zembra is a national and international treasure. The support brought us together to keep our website safe. “

© Khaled Ben Othman

© Louis Marie Preau

* The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of the l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Japanese government and the World Bank. Additional funding was provided by the MAVA Foundation. A fundamental goal is to ensure that civil society is committed to conserving biodiversity.

CEPF is more than just a financing provider

A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (local experts) directs funding to key areas and even the smallest organizations. Building civil society capacities, improving conservation outcomes, strengthening networks and sharing best practices. In the biodiversity hotspot of the Mediterranean basin, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International and its partners: LPO (BirdLife France), DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia) and BPSSS (BirdLife Serbia).