columnBy Mariatou Ngum-Saidy
Hello and a warm welcome to another edition of the Women's Forum, a weekly column publication that creates the platform for women to tell their stories in relation to their daily struggles, achievements and issues that help to advance their cause.
In this edition, we bring you deliberations at the Try Oyster Women Association (TOWA) annual review meeting on the Cockle and Oyster Fishery Co-management Plan for the Tanbi Special Management Area, held at the National Nutrition Agency.
The Co-management Plan was approved and signed by all concerned agencies on January 17th, 2012 at the Kairaba Beach Hotel. By approval of the Co-management Plan, Try Oyster Women Association was allocated exclusive rights to harvest cockles and oysters from the Tanbi Special Management Area and is responsible for the co-management of the oyster and cockle fishery in partnership with other stakeholders, including governmental and non-governmental organisations and local authorities. As outlined in the Co-management Plan, it is to be reviewed on an annual basis to assess and evaluate the progress made in meeting its objectives.
Some of the management measures include designation of certain Bolongs in the Tanbi Wetlands National Park (TWNP) as exclusive zones for individual oyster communities. Within exclusive use zones, communities can restrict access by individuals from outside the community and establish additional rules for management of the oyster and cockle resources in these areas as they deem necessary (e.g. closures longer than 8 months for all or part of these Bolongs, daily harvest quotas, etc.). Areas outside the exclusive zones are open to harvesting by all members of TRY Oyster Women Association.
TRY Association may restrict access to non-members or allow access under certain conditions such as after paying a user fee. TRY, through its Tanbi Cockle and Oyster management committee, can establish rules and penalties within these open areas that apply to all harvesters and as detailed in the section on institutional arrangements.
No harvesting of small sized cockles (25mm in length) and oysters (6cm in length). Closed season for harvesting Oysters for 8 months (July - February) and open season for 4 months (March - June) for all areas including exclusive community use zones. No closed season for cockles.
Axe must be used to remove oyster from prop roots of mangrove to avoid harvesting small-sized oysters and at the same time preserve the mangrove. No oyster harvester shall operate for more than two days at harvesting sites, but should adopt a shift system. School children should not be engaged in the marketing of cockles and oysters and banned from selling at markets and roadsides as well as hawking in town.
The handling, processing and marketing of cockles and oysters shall be performed under hygienic and sanitary conditions. Alternative livelihood activities will be promoted by TRY for young generations to ease harvesting pressure on the mangroves and shellfish resources.
TRY via this co-management plan will have exclusive rights to oyster farming in the TWNP and can establish rules if necessary, concerning designation of individual or group farming plots.
Community committees will establish rules concerning aquaculture plots within the community's exclusive use zones. "We are witnessing the first ever annual review of the Cockle and Oyster Fishery Co-Management Plan which was signed by the Hon. minister of Fisheries and Water Resources and the Hon. minister of Forestry and the Environment on 17 January 2012 and concurred by the director of Fisheries Department; executive director of the TRY Association; the director, Department of Parks and Wildlife Management; director, Department of Forestry and the executive director, National Environment Agency respectively," explained the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources, Amadou Saine at the review meeting.
"The Cockle and Oyster Fishery Co-management Plan," he posited, "was developed through a process that included community meetings, Participatory Rapid Appraisals (PRAs) in cockle and oyster harvesting and processing communities, workshops on co-management, institutional and capacity building activities and the participation of government institutions and local government authorities throughout the process."
"The Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources is very happy that all stakeholders are supportive of the co-management plan including the management objectives, which are based on biological, ecological, social and economic issues, as well as measures to achieve these objectives. The Ministry is also happy that TRY Oyster Women Association has been given exclusive use rights to the cockle and oyster fishery in the Tanbi Wetlands National Park," he stated.
PS Saine described the signing of the co-management plan by government to ensure sustainable management and development of the cockle and oyster fishery and enhance benefits to those in the value chain as very important, timely and a welcomed development.
On behalf of the government and people of The Gambia under the leadership of His Excellency the President, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh and on behalf of Axi Gaye, the minister of Fisheries and Water Resources, he extended sincere appreciation and profound gratitude to the USAID/ Ba-Nafaa project for providing all the necessary support to the development of the Cockle and Oyster Fishery Co-management Plan and the Sole Fishery Co-Management Plan.
Maria Dacosta, chairman of the TRY Association Board of Directors revealed that 2012 was a very good year for TRY Oyster Women Association. According to her, on January 17th, 2012, the government approved the Cockle and Oyster Co-Management Plan. This, she said, is a great achievement not only for the women of TRY, but also for The Gambia as a whole, as this Plan makes Gambia the first African country to give women exclusive rights to manage natural resources (fisheries).
The Co-Management Plan, however, Dacosta noted, has not yet been gazetted and therefore they urged the government to gazette the plan. Dacosta disclosed that in June 2012, TRY Association won the Equator Prize 2012 for its work in sustainable livelihoods. This, she indicated is a great accomplishment for The Gambia and Africa as a whole. "We are very proud that now the tiny country of The Gambia is on the map for a community-led initiative for natural resource and environmental management," she said.
As the chairperson of the board of directors, she pledged to continue to offer advice, guidance and all forms of support to the Association so that they can achieve their aims and objectives.
The executive director of the Try Oyster Women Association, Fatou Janha welcomed and thanked the participants for attending the meeting, whilst assuring them that in the coming years people will see a lot in the activities of the women oyster collectors and the Association.
Anna Mbenga-Cham of the Fisheries department explained that the Tanbi Wetland National Park is located at the mouth of the River Gambia, occupying the southern portion of the estuary with low mangrove forest. One of its valuable resources, among others is the fisheries. According to her, fisheries are a source of livelihood for women, who dominate the collection of oyster and cockles.