One of our most exciting projects is the women’s oyster cooperative. This cooperative is made up of 18 women in the village of El Ostional, Nicaragua. After harvesting wild oysters for generations, these intrepid pioneers are working with us to begin sustainably farming tropical rock oysters (Striostrea prismatica). By its very nature, the project is innovative: not only are women-owned cooperatives rare in Central America, but this species of oyster has never been farmed before. Paso Pacífico is proud to harness economic forces, tradition, and science to empower women and replenish the coastal ecosystems.
Success in this project can give these women and their families great economic opportunity, improve the status of women in the community, and help restore health to the coast. The lessons we are learning together can help other cooperatives form and succeed, multiplying our impact and improving thousands of lives. We are also helping form a second oyster farming cooperative with the women of El Pochote, a neighboring village. We are developing a best practices guide to help record the lessons we learn with these two groups so that others will be able to use this project as a model for sustainable aquaculture in the tropics.
Observe and listen
Wild oysters are an important part of coastal ecosystems and economies. Through conversations with locals and our own scientific surveys, we learned that wild oyster populations are severely declining along the Paso del Istmo.
Identify a focus
In 2013, women from El Ostional asked us for technical and financial support in developing an oyster farm. Their idea made sense: farming local oysters could give local communities a secure, sustainable source of food and income while restoring native shellfish populations. We decided to investigate.
Study the problem’s context
In early 2014, Paso Pacífico volunteer Angie Gerst studied the current economic and cultural systems surrounding oyster cultivation. Her results indicated a strong potential for the development of a women’s oyster cooperative.
In March, 2015, the women legally incorporated, forming the Cooperativa La Ostra Sonriente (The Smiling Oyster Cooperative). We have supported the women in learning business, management, and technical skills that are essential for success. We have also worked with innovative experts to develop a long line system on which to grow the oysters and begin working on an oyster hatchery – the first of its kind for this species of oyster.
The Cooperative celebrated its first harvest in 2016 and is working hard to nurture its current crop of 2000 oysters. They are gaining more respect as leaders, fishers, and ocean stewards in their community.