Fellow Since 2001
Prainha do Canto Verde
This profile was prepared when René Schärer was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
René helps traditional fishermen–those who sail or row their boats and use small, handmade nets–protect their livelihood from dangers such as water pollution and overfishing practiced by mechanized fishing vessels or predators. Building on eight years of work on the Ceará coast, René teaches traditional fishermen how to take responsibility for their future as co-managers of marine resources. They work together to establish fishing regulations, mark their coastal territory, preserve adequate fish stocks, monitor violations, and share technical know-how with each other and with government officials and technicians. What differentiates René's work is that he has enabled communities to create and manage an extractive marine reserve. Unlike the technocrats who usually undertake such large-scale, ambitious, resource management plans, René has cultivated government partnerships and secured the community's support and cooperation. Looking to the future, René is creating a system to professionalize and modernize low-impact fishing. He has started a fishing school to refine the concept of traditional fishing in managed reserves and transform it into a replicable model for sustainable development. Managing fish stocks is only the starting point: health, education, and ecotourism also fit into René's plans to help modest fishing families survive and prosper.