In the Paso del Istmo, oyster harvesting has supplemented family incomes since pre-colonial times. However, overharvesting and poor management practices are pushing native oyster populations toward collapse. As local people, particularly women, lose their supply of oysters, their food security and environmental well-being are jeopardized. Without intervention, local oyster populations will not recover.
In 2013, women from El Ostional asked us for technical and financial support in developing an aquaculture farm for Striostrea prismatica, the tropical rock oyster. Their idea made sense: farming local oysters would their community a secure, sustainable source of food and income while restoring native shellfish populations. Moreover, farming would empower the women and help them play a stronger role in community leadership. Research conducted by Angie Gerst found 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. The Waitt Foundation and the Loyal Bigelow and Jedediah Dewey Foundation are two major partners in this work. 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. As the women learn and refine techniques in oyster aquaculture, we are recording the lessons learned so their successes may eventually be replicated throughout Mesoamerica and the tropics.
The Ostional cooperative celebrated its first harvest in 2016, and each year brings new development. The women of the cooperative are gaining more respect as leaders, fishers, and ocean stewards in their community, and the women from El Pochote are following their footsteps to become sustainable oyster farmers.