Fishing communities netting their future and protecting natural habitats in Nicaragua

Fishing communities netting their future and protecting natural habitats in Nicaragua

I'm a different woman now, at the start we struggled a lot; we worked hard and sometimes got sick, but now I work and have my own income. I want to save some money and eventually buy my land.

María José Hernández, spokespoerson and secretary of the Marcelino Méndez Cooperative


Nicaragua’s economy depends mostly on its agriculture sector, including fisheries. More than 60% of rural households are poor and 25% are extremely poor. Therefore, one of the key priorities for the EU is supporting economic development with a special focus on rural areas.


  • The EcoPesca project works to preserve the Gulf of Fonseca's marine biodiversity and improve living conditions of coastal marine communities in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador
  • The project aims to improve living conditions of 46 coastal marine communities across the three countries
  • It works also on reforestation, management and conservation and protecting sea turtles


  • The EcoPesca project has created a strategy for the fishing sector to change perceptions around fish farming.
  • Women have been empowered and their income has increased while working in the cooperatives.
  • The number of children and youth in the workforce has been reduced.
  • The project has set the foundations for good trilateral cooperation between Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador for sustainable fish farming and ecosystem protection in the Gulf of Fonseca.


  • There are 2 500 fishermen, more than half of whom work offshore, others in the estuaries, according to the Nicaraguan fisheries census conducted in 2011 by EcoPesca.
  • The census also found that 80% of those working in the estuaries are from female-headed households.
  • The Cooperative Marcelino Mendez has five cages that contain up to 5000 fish. One harvest is expected to raise US $30 000.


Sustainable fishing brings a new perspective to the La Ballona community

María José Hernández is getting ready to start her shift working in the floating cage full of spotted rose snappers that belongs to her cooperative in the estuary of La Ballona’s community.Maria José was born and raised in La Ballona, about 186 km from the capital, Managua. She was left in the care of her grandmother to be raised and had left school by the 8th grade to get married. Now she now works as the Secretary and Spokesperson of the Marcelino Méndez Cooperative.

The cooperative is farming commercial species of fish and shellfish, as opposed to the more traditional methods of fishing in the area. It is supported by the EcoPesca project, funded by the European Union and implemented by Friends of the Earth from Spain, and the LIDER and CODDEFFAGOLF Foundations.

Ensuring that coastal communities are interested in farming commercial species has not been an easy task. The EcoPesca project has created a strategy for the fishing sector to change perceptions around fish farming.

While feeding the fish, Maria José explains how she is contributing to the economic development of both her family and the community. Six months ago, the cooperative obtained legal status, the granting of the five-acre area in which they operate and commercial rights to sell at a better price. With these legal rights, the cooperative feels more empowered. “Now all the authorities, organisations and cooperation agencies give us a prompt response. Without this recognition, it would not be the same," says Maria José.

For Edwin Caballero from the LIDER Foundation and a specialist in sustainable economy, La Ballona is the best place to implement these activities, both due to the environmental conditions and because it ties in with supplying the local tourism economy.  “A single cage would generate US $6 000 USD. In a single harvest, they will handle five cages, generating US $30 000 in six months," says Caballero.

These economic initiatives have even gone beyond improving the families’ incomes; The project has partnered with the Ministry of Education and the Municipal Government to stamp out child labour. "We believe that children and adolescents should be in schools, not working in fisheries,” says Mr. Caballero.

Maria José is very happy with the work of the cooperative and all the changes that have occurred with the EU's support.