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PANGAS: An Interdisciplinary Ecosystem-Based Research Framework for Small-Scale Fisheries in the Northern Gulf of California
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This paper is dedicated to the memory of Miguel Fernando Lavín (1951–2014), a pioneer of the PANGAS initiative who dedicated his life to advance the field of oceanography in Mexico. He was a visionary who connected oceanographers, marine conservationists, and fisheries managers.


Small-scale fisheries contribute about half of global fish catches, or two-thirds when considering catches destined for direct human consumption (FAO 2014). Small-scale fisheries play an important role in food security and nutrition, poverty alleviation, equitable development, and sustainable use of natural resources, providing nutritious food for local, national, and international markets. More than 90% of the world’s fishers and fish workers (those who work in pre-harvest, harvest, and post-harvest activities, including trade) are employed by small-scale endeavors that underpin local economies in coastal, lakeshore, and riparian ecosystems. This, in turn, generates multiplier economic effects in other sectors (FAO 2014). These activities may be a recurrent sideline undertaking or become especially important in times of financial difficulty. Small-scale fisheries represent a diverse and dynamic sector, often [End Page 337] characterized by seasonal migration. They are strongly anchored in local communities and reflect historic links to fishery resources and traditions. Many small-scale fishers and fish workers are self-employed and are direct food providers for their household and communities. Most small-scale fisheries lack formal assessment, and the development of the sector over the past four decades has led to overexploitation of resources in several places across the globe. Recent studies estimate unsupervised small-scale fisheries are in substantially worse condition than fisheries where stocks have been assessed (Costello et al. 2012). Furthermore, the health of marine ecosystems and associated biodiversity are a foundation for the livelihoods and well-being of small-scale fishers.

Figure 1. Pangas in the Gulf of California.<br/><br/>Photo by Adrian Munguía-Vega.
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Figure 1.

Pangas in the Gulf of California.

Photo by Adrian Munguía-Vega.

In 2005, the PANGAS project was created with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as part of the Foundation’s initiative to support ecosystem-based management (EBM) for sustainable coastal and marine systems in various parts of the world (mainly the Western Pacific, U.S. West Coast, and the Gulf of California, Mexico). PANGAS is an acronym in Spanish that stands for Pesca Artesanal del Norte del Golfo de California: Ambiente y Sociedad (Small-Scale Fisheries of the Northern Gulf of California: Environment and Society). “Pangas” [End Page 338] also refers to the small skiffs (6–8 m in length), made of fiberglass, with 55- to 150-horsepower outboard motors. These are versatile boats that can use multiple types of fishing gear, hold two to three fishers, and are the primary vessel used by small-scale fishers in the northern Gulf of California (NGC), México (Cudney-Bueno and Turk-Boyer 1998) (figure 1).

From its inception in 2004 as a “fuzzy”—yet ambitious—idea of ultimately coupling biophysical and human processes for management of small-scale fisheries at a regional scale (the NGC), the idea quickly transitioned to the assembly of individuals who could bring a broad, multidisciplinary perspective for research and management of small-scale fisheries. PANGAS was structured as a multidisciplinary and bi-national initiative with the goal of developing and testing an interdisciplinary framework for ecosystem-based research and management of small-scale fisheries in the NGC ecosystem and increasing capacity for ecosystem-based research in the Gulf of California. PANGAS grew as a consortium of six leading academic institutions and nonprofit organizations with experience in the NGC, with the direct involvement of 50+ researchers, students, fishers, and management practitioners. Partners...