Paso Pacifico Empowering Nicaraguan Women to Build a More Sustainable Future

Women from the COPEOSTRAS Women’s Oyster Cooperative monitor sub-adult oysters in El Ostional, Nicaragua (Photo credit: Paso Pacifico)

Women’s History Month is often celebrated by reflecting on significant achievements from the past, but for one group of women in the coastal town of El Ostional, Nicaragua, the focus is squarely on the future.

In Nicaragua, as well as many other parts of Central America, opportunities for women to find work are few and far between. Commercial fishing is a significant part of the economy, yet women are mostly excluded from any managerial decision-making. With help from Ventura-based biodiversity conservation group Paso Pacifico, women from El Ostional, a fishing village in Nicaragua, have taken their futures into their own hands and acquired the skills needed to go into business as sustainable oyster farmers.

Oyster harvesting in the Paso del Istmo biological corridor has supplemented family incomes for hundreds of years, but due to overharvesting and poor management practices, native oyster populations have been pushed toward collapse. Without a supply of oysters for local women to harvest, their food security and environmental well-being are jeopardized.

In 2013, the women from El Ostional reached out to Paso Pacifico for technical and financial support to develop an aquaculture farm for their population of rock oysters. The team from Paso Pacifico researched the idea and concluded that it made sense both for the women of Ostional and the long-term health of their environment.

Creating a sustainable oyster farming program would provide a secure, sustainable source of food and income, while restoring the threatened native shellfish populations. Additionally, by empowering women as the lead farmers, this strategy would give women a platform for leadership in their community. Finally, these women would also benefit economically by building an enterprise that can sell sustainably-raised seafood to local and international markets. According to government statistics, in the rural area of Nicaragua where the project originated, more than 60% of women live in poverty, of which 40% are in circumstances of extreme poverty.

“The oyster aquaculture project in the marine zone of Ostional, on the south Pacific coast of Nicaragua, is operated by 18 women of the COPEOSTRAS Cooperative who dedicate themselves to the collection of oysters and clams in the Bay of Ostional,” said Juliana Galeano, Coastal Marine Program Coordinator at Paso Pacifico. “Due to the decrease of mollusks in this area, they see the oyster aquaculture as a way to provide a sustainable food supply and an opportunity to improve their income. This project fosters a feeling of belonging to the community and a connection with the surrounding natural resources, while also generating a source of work for women that otherwise does not exist in the area.”

The group of sustainable oyster farmers legally incorporated in 2015. Paso Pacifico provided the business, management, and technical training the women needed to succeed, and the women have never looked back.

The Ostional oyster cooperative celebrated its first harvest in 2016, and the local women continue to gain more respect as leaders, fishers, and ocean stewards in their community. As the women learn and refine their oyster aquaculture techniques, Paso Pacifico is expanding its impact by also working with a second group of women in the fishing village of El Pochote, Nicaragua. Those 23 women have advanced quickly and already have five longlines sustaining bags of growing oysters. As these two groups of women prosper, Paso Pacifico aims to record the lessons learned and eventually replicate this program throughout Mesoamerica.

Paso Pacifico’s Smiling Oyster Initiative is funded by the WAITT Foundation and other private donors who believe that sustainable seafood and women’s empowerment can go hand in hand. To learn more about Paso Pacifico and the Smiling Oyster Initiative, visit pasopacifico.org.

About Paso Pacifico

The mission of Paso Pacifico is to restore and protect the Pacific Slope ecosystems of Mesoamerica. These habitats include the endangered dry tropical forest, mangrove wetlands, and eastern Pacific coral reefs. By working with local communities, landowners, and partner organizations, Paso Pacifico restores and protects the habitats that form building blocks for wildlife corridors. Paso Pacifico also lends its expertise to help migratory wildlife on the Central Coast of California, including threatened migratory birds and whales that overwinter in Mesoamerica. Through its high-impact programs, Paso Pacifico has established itself as one of the world’s leading biodiversity conservation organizations.

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