Stakeholder consensus suggests strategies to promote sustainability in an artisanal fishery with high rates of poaching and marine mammal bycatch.
Illegal fishing for high value species in artisanal fisheries drives incidental catch and declines of marine mammals and other large vertebrates of conservation importance around the world. Engaging with stakeholders is essential to understand which strategies will be effective in motivating the development of more sustainable practices, and disengagement from illegal fisheries. Here we present the results of a Q study carried out in autumn 2018 with 50 stakeholders from the Caspian Sea coast of Dagestan (Russian Federation), including fishers illegally targeting sturgeon (Acipenseridae) and Caspian seals Pusa caspica, traders and fisheries managers. We assess viewpoints on biodiversity governance; illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and conservation. Three distinct viewpoint groups emerged from a factor analysis, which we designated as 'Nostalgists', 'Optimists' and 'Pessimists'. Nostalgists were concerned with decline in environmental quality, and emphasised a need for increased centralised involvement of authorities reminiscent of the old Soviet system. Optimists expressed support for a well-regulated legal fisheries sector, while Pessimists were very aware of the negative impact of illegal fisheries and IWT, but felt they could not be controlled. Among all groups we found a strong desire for alternative livelihoods (ALs), improved sustainability and agreement on the potential effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs) and increased regulation, even if some stakeholders felt they were not achievable goals. We used our results to inform three workshops in which Dagestani fishers and fishery experts discussed potential conservation interventions, and the barriers to their implementation. Six action types were identified including enhanced law enforcement, increased regulation, protected areas, alternative livelihoods, reducing demand for sturgeon and seal products and the need for further research to guide policy development. This consensus suggests that communities are willing to reduce participation in illegal fishing given appropriate support. The socioeconomic factors driving illegal fisheries and bycatch for Caspian seals parallel those for other endangered marine mammals such as Vaquita Phocoena sinus and suggest that Q studies could be applied in other artisanal fisheries with high rates of marine mammal bycatch to help identify policy interventions supported by involved communities.