Antonio García Allut
A Coruña, Spain
Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Antonio García Allut was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
By transforming the social, economic, and environmental conditions of small fishermen, Antonio García Allut makes rural fishing communities more viable, and enables fishermen to safeguard the natural environment upon which their livelihood depends.
The New Idea
Antonio is transforming traditional fishers from simple “fish gatherers” with a subsistence mentality to stewards of the marine environment who efficiently manage their resources and guarantee sustainability for future generations. He is developing the tools and institutions necessary to guarantee their economic viability and security. An electronic marketplace owned by fisher organizations increases market transparency and bypasses middlemen to link fishers directly with consumers and restaurants. This integrated marketing and logistics service has converted fishers into stock holders responsible for their own economic future; middlemen, politicians and society in general now see them with a newfound respect. Indeed many of Antonio’s initiatives aim to bring a greater dignity to fishers’ work. He is professionalizing the sector and thereby teaching both fisher families themselves and the broader society to value the fishing profession. Capitalizing on his in-depth knowledge of fishing communities around the world, Antonio is building a model of environmental stewardship applicable to other fishing communities and resource dependent communities. He is working with communities in Europe, Northern Africa and Latin America to adapt the model to local needs.
The fishing sector remains of vital importance for the economy of various regions and countries of the world. Millions of families depend on it to survive, and yet the existence of traditional fishing communities is in danger due to a system of inefficient commercialization, industrial fishing, the scanty diversification of sources of income, and the “gathering” attitude of the fishers themselves who look at the sea’s resources as inexhaustible. What’s more, today’s global market means an increasing demand for sea products and pressure on fishers to extract as much as possible in an unsustainable manner.Traditional fishing, as it is carried out today, is not viable in economic terms. The sector is beset by a highly insecure and unstable income. This is mainly because the prices of fish products depend on an inefficient commercialization over which the fishers have no control. The lack of information on the conditions of the market and an unstable demand hinder fishers from managing their catches in an efficient way in order to maximize their economic value and to calculate an expected value. The commercialization of fish works much like a cartel—the prices reflect agreements made by the buyers rather the real value based on demand. The middlemen work like speculators, for whom the sea and the situation of the fishers are of little concern.At the same time the family economies of these communities are weak and undiversified, since all members of the family tend to work in various activities related to the fishing industry.Within the environmental sphere, the strategy of maximizing the catch is causing a serious exploitation of marine reserves. The majority of the initiatives and proposals in this field come from environmental organizations and the public administration and do not call for the involvement of fishers. Consequently, fishers are not conscious of their responsibility or of their potential for managing in a sustainable manner the natural resources they depend on.The fishing sector in Spain is structured in fishers associations that are managing the lonjas (fish markets). Selling fish through any other channel or directly to consumers is strictly forbidden. Historically, these associations have competed as rivals. Neighboring communities would compete to catch fish in common waters (since there are no dividing lines in the sea there have always been disputes regarding designated fishing areas). They also struggled to sell their catch, to middlemen seeking the best deal. Thus the lonjas developed in a climate of competition over resources and opportunities, rather than one of cooperation.Furthermore, fishing is a sector which is highly protected by subsidies and tightly controlled by public administration. This leads to a lack of initiative and commitment by fishers, who are resistant to the changes needed to make their profession viable. They do not see themselves as a fundamental part of the solution to their problems. Both they and society undervalue the fishing profession. Young people prefer to leave their hometowns for other places to work in more socially accepted jobs which provide more stable income.
Antonio has created a model that protects the profession of traditional fishers and at the same time supports the values of ecological sustainability connected to traditional fishing methods. At the heart of Antonio’s work is a new system of direct distribution, Lonxanet, which connects supply and demand more efficiently and precisely. It eliminates intermediaries by selling directly to individuals and restaurants all over Spain. Lonxanet takes advantage of information about demand and pre-sales and bids at the fish market like any other buyer. But since Lonxanet is a direct sales channel, the fisher gets a higher price than through other intermediaries. Moreover, Lonxanet´s clients make their orders in advance based on the previous day’s prices thereby fomenting stability in prices.The economic benefits for the fishers are twofold. On the one hand, Lonxanet pays more for fish products than the intermediaries since the demand and the price are known in advance. On the other, the fisher communities receive an extra 3 percent for the purchases made by Lonxanet, as well as their corresponding profits as share holders of the commercial enterprise.Involving communities and associations as shareholders in Lonxanet is a core strategy for changing the attitude of fishers. Despite the difficulty of structuring a multi-owner operation, Antonio recognizes its importance for triggering a true transformation in the sector and enabling the survival of traditional fishing. By showing them the benefits of collaboration and the enormous potential of the proposed changes, Antonio has led the fishers associations to collaborate on the basis of common problems and interests leaving behind centuries of confrontation and competition. In addition, each fishers is shaping the fishing and social policies that affect him.The resulting economic improvement has been fundamental in transforming the attitude of fishers and has converted them into true protectors and managers of the marine ecosystem. As Antonio suspected, once fishers were given economic incentives that they understood they willingly participated in conservation work.This transformation and the collaboration between fishers associations has, among other things, led to the establishment of a “Protected Maritime Area of Fishing Interest” which for the first time was founded, defined, and regulated by the fishers themselves rather than by outside environmental groups or by the public authorities. The regional administration of Galicia has pointed to this Protected Area as an example to be followed by fishers associations in other regions. Antonio is also promoting a variety of initiatives to increase the value of the catch. He is introducing a system for traceability (from the catch to final consumer) in order to guarantee the quality of fish. He put into operation a Seal of Ecological Quality, as well as the Denomination of Origin, which will make it possible to distinguish a product according to where its origin and the methods used for catching it. Furthermore, he is creating a Network of Restaurants for the Conservation of the Marine Ecosystem. All of these initiatives are aimed at encouraging the consumer and the restaurants to demand this kind of product and so underscore the value of traditional fishing. Once accomplished, this will serve as an example to other fishing areas that decide to carry out a more efficient and sustainable system.In order to diversify family income and to obtain greater economic stability, Antonio is initiating a series of projects related to tourism, such as homestays in rural houses and boat excursions, and to education—more than 8,000 children and young people have taken part in visits and workshops. These initiatives familiarize the general public with the life of fishers, their challenges, and the importance of the fishing industry for economic and environmental sustainability. The Galician regional administration has identified these projects as a useful instrument for supporting fishers associations and their communities; and the European Union has chosen them as models of best practice.Antonio is convinced that his model is applicable to traditional fishing and agricultural communities around the world since they share similar challenges. Each region needs to adapt the different initiatives to its context, but the fundamental elements of the model are perfectly applicable in dealing with this global problem from a local perspective. To prove it, Antonio has created of the Network RECOPADES with traditional fishing communities in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil. Besides replicating a successful model, this network is succeeding in breaking the local mindsets of the fishers and helping them grasp the global nature of the problems they are faced with.
In the 1960s Antonio spent his early childhood in the fishing village of Carnota. He would accompany his father, a doctor, as he visited the families of the fishers—typically the poorest in town. He witnessed the hard life of fishers and the struggles they went through every day. His love for the sea and for snorkeling, his admiration for Jacques Cousteau, and his family’s refusal to let him study marine biology all led him to spend a few months as a fisher. He was determined to understand why society did not value the work of people he admired so much, and why they seemed trapped in such difficult and impoverished lives.Under considerable family pressure, he went to university and majored in economics, for which he had no liking. He quickly decided to give up economics and major in philosophy. He did well; and for the first time he felt liberated and finally began to understand and put his thoughts and ambitions in order. Upon graduation he had the opportunity to go to the United States where philosophy majors had more professional opportunities. But his father was not well, and he had to begin making a living. He won a fellowship to complete a doctoral program and decided to specialize in fishers, their lives, their problems and challenges. In Spain there was no specialization in marine anthropology; and everything to do with the sea and with fishing was studied in biology departments. This was no obstacle to Antonio’s zeal and determination, and he made an arrangement to study traditional fishing communities as an anthropologist. For his field work he lived seven months in a fishing community where he met many fishers, gained their trust, and began understanding their plight. Because of its internal politics and power struggles, the university system was not the right atmosphere for Antonio, but he had a family to support so he accepted a position as professor of Anthropology at the University of A Corunna. With the conviction that it was essential to involve fishers in the identification and solution of their own problems, he managed to establish the first Chair dedicated to Marine Anthropology in Spain. He also helped set up the first interdisciplinary university department—combining biology, economics, and social anthropology—which made possible an integrated study of traditional fishing.Antonio came to understand that an inefficient commercial system was preventing fishers from improving their situation and damaging the marine environment. In 2000 Antonio and a marine biologist set up an electronic marketplace for fish products. This market raises the price of every catch and shows fishers the benefits of managing marine resources in a sustainable manner. Lonxanet was the first of a series of initiatives, tools, institutions, and new roles developed by Antonio to make possible a model of sustainable traditional fishing both economically and ecologically.