Sustainable Tourism on Fogo Island

Photo by Fogo Island Inn

Photo by Fogo Island Inn


Communities and organisations around the world are making an effort to develop sustainable marine tourism to preserve their heritage. Fogo Island, along with the Shorefast Foundation, provides an ideal example for how we as residents, travellers, and entrepreneurs can support and develop sustainable tourism.


Fogo Island

Located off the east coast of Newfoundland, Fogo Island has proven to be a prime example of what sustainable tourism can do for a community. Tourism is primarily focused on cod fishing and the beautiful landscape of the Newfoundland coast. The island’s history and culture is rooted in cod fishing. European settlers began fishing the area as early as the 16th century and finally settled the island by the late 17th century due to the lucrative benefits of cod. Today, the industry remains community owned and fishing remains a main component of the economy.

Unfortunately, the cod stocks that were once plentiful in the 16th and 17th century, were depleted and almost driven to extinction by 1992. The fisheries were affected as early as the 1960s due to factory-scale fishing. The response to declining catches was to intensify efforts and increase quotas to industrialise the fishing industry, worsening the conditions of overfishing. In 1992, the fishery for the stock of northern cod was closed and an entire way of life was almost destroyed. The population decrease reflects the aftermath of the decline. More than one third of the population left the island to search for work; from 5000 residents in 1992 to less than 3000 by 2009.  

Due to the efforts of Zita Cobb, the creator of the Shorefast Foundation, Fogo Island has transformed from a depleted fishing island to an inspired community driven by mutual social and economic benefits. Their initiatives are not only providing monetary benefits for the community, but are helping to restore the stock of cod around the island. Fishers are encouraged with higher than normal wages to catch small quotas using hand line fishing which causes zero environmental impact.


Social Business for Economic and Environmental Change

The Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island has created businesses in order to reinvest capital into the community. Charitable initiatives are supported by earnings from the businesses and supplemented by donations and grants. The result is community focused business model which promotes the preservation of a local culture and environment. Tourists that visit the island support the community by using these businesses, such as the Fogo Island Inn and Fogo Island Fish.

Fogo & Fish

The holistic approach used by Shorefast also benefits the marine ecosystem. A new approach to business and fishing tactics are restoring the balance between marine life and the fishing industry.

Although the total spawning biomass of cod is 333,000 tons compared to the 800,000 tons caught in the 1960s, cod stocks are making a slow recovery. Today, the foundation encourages certain regulations to avoid past mistakes of overfishing and industrialisation. For example, fish are only caught in the late season from September onwards because cod gain about 20 to 25% in weight from July to October. Fishers are also encouraged to use the hand line method, using one line and one hook to catch one fish at a time. This method produces zero by catch and since the fish are prepared and iced on board, there is no impact to the surrounding environment.

Fogo Island Fish, created by Todd Cobb under the Shorefast Foundation umbrella, solely buys the best quality of fish for more than twice the market rate. Through monetary incentives, the business encourages fishers to follow the aforementioned regulations. Part of the foundation’s mission is to be fair to the fishing industry and does so by buying a few fish from more fishers in order for more people to enjoy the monetary benefits. Fishers are encouraged to use the hand line method, as they know they will be paid fair, high wages. The Shorefast Foundation also hopes to give a chance to young people to contribute and benefit from the economy. For many, working in the processing plants is their first job.

Cod fishing is ingrained in the culture, history, and traditional practices of Fogo Island and drives the interest in tourism. Tourism then drives up the demand for fish, as people taste the high quality cod at Fogo Island Inn and return to their home countries to tell others about it and to ask for it at their restaurants. Chefs that serve Fogo Island Fish in their restaurants are also invited to visit Fogo Island and accompany fishers on their boats to learn about how the cod is caught and prepared. Those that come to the island are shown the importance of cod to the local community.


The Fogo Island Inn

Fogo Island Inn is a luxury hotel for tourists visiting the island and highlights the holistic approach adopted by the Shorefast Foundation. Designed by Todd Saunders, the inn represents the fishing culture on the island and reflects the architecture of local homes and fishing structures. The furnishings within the Inn have all been handcrafted using traditional boat and woodworking skills as well as traditional quilting and knitting. Food served in the restaurant comes from local farmers and fishers. The inn even has its own waste treatment facility and solar panel system that heats rooms and water for most of the year.

Since its original construction, the inn has continued to provide jobs to local residents. The construction of the Inn created job opportunities and allowed young residents to learn traditional skills. Local residents work at the Inn as guides and are known for their amazing hospitality. For instance, guests are treated as friends and taken on hikes or to residents homes for meals. As of 2016, the Inn employed about 193 people and of course paid well above the market wages.

In line with the Shorefast Foundation ideals, the inn shares the benefits generated through tourism. Their practices encourage positive relations between locals and tourists, all in an effort to promote stewardship and celebrate the local culture and community. A conscious effort is also made to include islanders in activities that would otherwise be aimed at tourists. When the Inn was first constructed, residents were welcomed by the Shorefast Foundation and invited to stay for free.


Tourism Preserving Culture

The Shorefast Foundation develops economic opportunities and always aims to preserve the local culture and heritage of Fogo Island. The arrival of tourists brings awareness to culture and helps preserve knowledge of the environment specifically known by the community. In this way, local customs and resources are strengthened rather than destroyed by the arrival of tourists. All of the activities at the Inn offered to tourists are relevant to the island and culture.

The local people are always taken into account and are provided a fair chance to get involved in the economic benefits. Payments for fish, produce and craft goods are above the market rates and decisions are made to benefit more residents than fewer. Each business uses “economic nutrition labels” to display the distribution of financial benefits. For example, the cost of ones’ stay is broken down into wages, operations, administration and contributions to the foundation which is reinvested into the community.

The Shorefast Foundation and Fogo Island provides an ideal example of how tourism can be used to benefit the community financially, while preserving their heritage and environment. Although the foundation was only created about a decade ago, time will reveal the progress of this amazing endeavour to maintain an island’s way of life.


What Can We Learn from Fogo

The initiatives made by the Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island demonstrate that sustainable marine tourism which benefits the environment and the local community is possible. Factors that are usually ignored in regards to tourism development have proven to be the reason that Fogo Island is successful. For instance, the community has been involved in the development process from the beginning; they have been the sole focus of every initiative.

The foundation and the community on the island have taught us that sustainable tourism development requires extensive collaboration with the community. By involving them in the process, the community gains economic and cultural benefits. In return, they accept and welcome tourists that visit their home. A seemingly small gesture such as allowing residents to stay in the luxury hotel for free, demonstrates the willingness of the foundation to collaborate with local residents.

In regards to the marine environment, the community is willing to cooperate with regulations because of monetary incentives and to retain fishing traditions. By understanding the traditions of the local community, the foundation was able to successfully restrict the amount of cod caught in the area and create a luxury brand of fish with a low supply and high demand.

Fogo Island is an ideal example of sustainable marine tourism and how it can be implemented in more isolated areas. We as residents, travellers, and entrepreneurs can look towards this example to understand how we can support sustainable tourism.



Paul-Chowdhury, Katy. 2017. Sustainable Tourism Development on Fogo Island.

McCay BJ, Weisman W, Creed CF. 2011. Coping with environmental change: systemic responses and the roles of property and community in three fisheries. In World Fisheries: A Social-Ecological Analysis, ed. R Ommer, I Perry, P Cury, K Cochrane, pp. 381–400. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell!ocean-ethic