However, the advent of outside religions eroded the authority of the traditional chiefs and upset the balance between the increased number of fishers and available fish resources: children follow their parents as fishers in the lake and lagoon areas. The ecological equilibrium has therefore been disrupted, and the rapid increase in fishing gear and the employment of illegal practices have resulted in:
- a smaller size at recruitment for the main target species;
- the destruction of natural spawning grounds;
- a lower catch per unit effort;
- more disputes between fisher groups.
In 1992, recognizing that the legislative framework had not enabled the fisheries board to bring about rational fisheries management, and acting on the instigation of the local authorities, the government set up some 20 Fishing Committees on an experimental basis in villages or groups of villages bordering the lagoon of Porto-Novo. Each committee is made up of fishers' representatives who are democratically elected for a three-year term, which can be renewed in the General Assembly. Each committee has nine to 15 members, including an executive of five elected members who are briefed on fisheries legislation by the administration and are expected to pass on the information to the other fishers.
Committee members must be full-time fishers of sound character and good social standing. They receive no payment. Each fisher in the village has to pay a minimum monthly contribution of 150 CFA francs (about US$0.3) towards the committee's operating costs. The basic function of the committee is to see that the lagoon is used rationally for the conservation of its resources and ecosystem. More specifically, the Fishing Committee is expected to:
- raise awareness of fisheries rules and regulations;
- ensure compliance with traditional practices that are aimed at protecting resources and the aquatic environment;
- in conjunction with the Fisheries Administration, ensure that the regulations and the decisions reached in the fisher's general assembly are applied;
- serve as a forum of discussion, analysis and conciliation for the settlement of disputes;
- support any lagoon management and use programmes considered necessary by the administration.
The Fisheries Administration gives its support to all the committees' activities so long as these comply with regulatory provisions. The committees cannot apply sanctions; their role is more to alert their respective communities to the possible dangers of failing to observe fisheries regulations.
In August 1996, in an effort to ensure sustainable fishing on Benin's inland waters, the Fisheries Administration adopted a plan of management with the following strategic thrusts:
- the implementation of institutional mechanisms for participatory management;
- the management of fisheries resources within an appropriate legal framework;
- the identification and promotion of activities to develop alternative sources of income.
In 1997, the government issued Interministerial Decree No. 312 on the institution, organization, functions and operation of the Fishing Committees in the Republic of Benin in order to give them juridical status. There are now 90 Fishing Committees involved in co-managing the principal water bodies of three southern departments of Benin.