Diagnostic of the Self-Governance Performance of Fishing Organizations in Mexico


We know very little about why fishers organize, how their organizations operate and how they perform on a number of dimensions (e.g., economic efficiency, internal accountability and representation, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability, etc.,). We believe that in order to answer these questions effectively for the uptake of future interventions for their improvement, it is necessary to involve fishers in research. In order to achieve these aims, we developed the National Diagnostic of Fishing Organizations (DNOP for its acronym in Spanish), a participatory research project embodying a groundbreaking collaboration among the artisanal fishing sector, academia, and non-profit organizations on a national scale in Mexico. The goal was to produce information to inform a national program for the strengthening of artisanal fishing organizations, with which to ensure sustainable fishing in Mexico.

Small-scale fisheries offer an unparalleled opportunity to make progress on the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because they lay at the intersection of environmental conservation, poverty alleviation, food security, social well-being, decent work conditions, and economic development. Improvements in these areas are not only priorities to the United Nations but integral for any just and meaningful marine conservation. Progress on any of the issues listed above, however, requires responsible fishing, and responsible fishing cannot be achieved in developing countries without strong fishing organizations.

A participatory action research project

Involving fishers in participatory research projects can increase their capacity to participate in decision-making, as well as their representability in the political arena, particularly when their involvement can be sustained in the long term and there is a true engagement between partners. To achieve sustained collaborations, it is important that research projects increase the fisher's capacity for self-organization and promotes the development of a sense of awareness about how important their participation as a group is.

 During the past 4-years,  we have experienced a participatory action research project focused on strengthening small-scale fishing organizations in Mexico, which aims to increase fishers’ understanding about different dimensions of the performance of their own organizations and to encourage self-consciousness about their own collective action experiences,  which can increase their participation in democratic processes (e.g., greater participation in their organizations’ decision-making processes, greater participation in fisheries councils, informed negotiations with government agencies).

The project entails a kind of collaboration that involves fishers’ participation in the design and implementation of the project. There is co-ownership of the project, including the co-production of knowledge and collective decision-making about how to disseminate the findings, which has led to trust-building among the members.

DRIVERS FOR Long-term collaboration IN RESEARCH
Co-production of knowledge (contributions)
Co-ownership of knowledge (dissemination)
 Fishing organizations Understanding the conditions of their organizations Context (ecological and institutional) and    connections Negotiations with government

Collaborations with other NGOs

NGOs Promoting relevant policies Knowledge about policy and political process, and connections Improving interventions in the field and boosting changes on the political context
Academia Testing and advance theories of collective action Methodological rigor

theoretical focus

Theoretical and methodological contributions


A multi-stage’ project

The project started in 2016 and has evolved in different stages. The first stage of the project, The National Diagnostic of Fishing Organizations (DNOP) consisted of an assessment of the elements that influence the performance of fishing organizations (confederations, federations, and cooperatives), which generated a set of recommendations as an outcome. The second stage, The National Plan for the Strengthen of Fishing Organizations (PNFOP), consisted of the dissemination and validation of the findings from the assessment with fishing organizations, who participated previously in the first stage. There was a sense of continuity and engagement between stages in the project and participants were informed about the findings and asked to validate the recommendations based on the results.

For the third stage of the project, we are developing a work-plan based on inputs about regionalized priorities for capacity building, and specifically those in which the fishing sector is willing to take a leadership role.


We conducted our needs assessment (DNOP) through consultation with fishers and community leaders, and the gray and peer-reviewed literature. The data gathering strategy across the country was designed in close consultation and coordination with the fishing sector in order to build on their convening power.

The validation of the recommendations consisted of a second fieldwork season, where we conducted plenary discussions about the results from the assessment and focus groups to prioritize the recommendations and reflections about the roles of fishing organizations in addressing those recommendations


The prioritization and recommendations coming from the validation stage constitute the baseline for designing a multi-scale pilot intervention plan to improve the performance of fishing organizations (including cooperatives, federations, and the confederation), towards our main goal: The National Plan for the Strengthening of Fishing Organizations.

Research Questions:

  • How and why do fishers organize?
  • What are the determinants of institutional measures of success (such as high operational efficiency, equity, accountability, adaptive capacity, and organizational values, etc.) as well as fishing measures of performance (CPUE, value, etc.)?
  • How do these elements interact to affect the functionality of an organization on land and on the water?
  • What are the priorities in management for the organized small-scale fishing sector?
  • What could be the role of fishing organizations in improving the performance of small-scale fisheries?

Goals and Outcomes:

  • The first stage (DNOP) consisted of a needs assessment through a performance evaluation of fishing organizations (confederations, federations, and cooperatives), which resulted in a detailed technical report and recommendations.
  • The second stage (PNFOP) presented regionalized priorities for action strategies, in the context of developing a national program for the strengthening of fishing organizations.
  • In only two years this collaboration resulted in concrete changes to the rules of operation of the Mexican fisheries agency (CONAPESCA).
  • Fishers themselves have used the findings from the first stage to negotiate with government agencies.
  • The third stage will consist of a pilot program for interventions to improve the performance of fishing organizations. The interventions will be monitored and evaluated and will systematize the lessons learned from the experience.
  • We have started scaling-down our data gathering instrument for appropriate implementation in other geographies through ongoing collaborations with FAO, WorldFish, and Oak Foundation in the context of the global mapping and needs assessment of fishing organizations.


DNOP brings together the fishing sector (i.e. the Mexican Confederation of Fishing Cooperatives CONMECOOP, representing more than 11,000 fishers), two Mexican civil society organizations: Comunidad y Biodiversidad (CoBi) and the Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparajá, and Duke University.





Download the PDF file .

View and download the Executive Report in Spanish here.

View and download the full report here (Spanish). 

Download the PDF file .



Staged I of the project resulted in reports of the results presented to CONMECOOP and CONAPESCA. The second phase (2018-2020) validated collaboratively the results from the first stage and comprise fishing organizations' priorities and proposals towards a basic work-plan for a national program for the strengthening of fishing organizations approved and supported by CONMECOOP.

Papers in advanced preparation

Méndez-Medina C., Basurto X. and García-Lozano, A. In prep. Understanding collective action from Mexican fishers’ discourses: lessons about effective common governance in fisheries. International Journal of the Commons

Méndez-Medina C., Basurto X., Weaver A.H., Nenadovic, M., Rodríguez-Van Dyck S. and García-Lozano, A.  In prep.  Enhancing democratization of fisheries policy-making through a participatory action research project in Mexico. World Development Journal

García-Lozano A, Méndez-Medina C., and Basurto X. In prep.  Ordenamiento: The quest for order in Mexico’s small-scale fisheries. Environmental and planning.

 García-Lozano A, Méndez-Medina C., and Basurto X. In prep.  Problemáticas: Towards a problem-centered performative politics of collective action. Ecology and Society.

For more information contact

Mateja Nenadovic, Research scientist (assessment methodology)


Crisol Méndez-Medina, Postdoctoral associate (participatory research methodology)