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The Asia-Pacific region is home to a diversity of coastal cultures that are highly reliant on the ocean and its resources for sustenance, livelihoods, and cultural continuity. Small-scale fisheries account for most of the livelihoods associated with fisheries, produce about as much fish as industrialized fisheries, and contribute substantially to the economies of countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region. Yet these resource systems and their human communities face numerous local and global threats, and social vulnerability to these pressures places at risk the livelihoods, food security, well-being, and traditional lifestyles of coastal communities and cultures of the Asia-Pacific region. This article and special issue provide an overview of the challenges and opportunities for small-scale and traditional fisheries and the role of human dimensions research in the sustainable governance of these resource systems. It is increasingly clear that sufficient understanding of the social, economic, and cultural aspects of these linked social-ecological systems is critical in determining pathways toward sustainability.
Throughout the Pacific, “subsistence” fishing feeds not only individual fishers and their families but a much broader network of people through the noncommercial distribution, or sharing, of fish. This study evaluated the current importance of this sharing, through tracking subsistence fish catch and distributions (mahele) in one small Hawai'i fishery over an 18-month period. We found that the traditional and customary system of sharing fish, like subsistence activities in other mixed-economy settings, provides benefits beyond provisioning of food. These benefits include perpetuation of traditional and customary skills and practices, social status, social networks, reciprocal exchange, and collective insurance. Taken together these benefits enhance resilience of community-level social and ecological systems.
Social, cultural, economic, and environmental aspects of fishing are central considerations in contemporary fishery management decisions. Yet scientific research supporting such decisions around the United States has tended to focus primarily on environmental and economic aspects of marine fisheries. In this article we report on a project that was designed to improve understanding of social organizational aspects of fishing and potential intercommunity variability in patterns of seafood distribution in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Research methods included an extended period of ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews with networks of avid small-boat fishermen in two communities on the island of O'ahu. Findings make clear that the pursuit and distribution of seafood products are important organizing features of local societies in Hawai'i and that the nature and extent of selling, sharing, and consuming pelagic seafood vary between the study communities, indicating likely variation in the nature and extent of use of seafood landed elsewhere in the Islands. These findings ideally would be taken into account in any future policy-making processes that could result in new strictures on small-boat fisheries in this island region.
Comanagement of natural resources involves shared management authority and responsibility between resource users or community groups at local levels and central government authorities. In data-poor, small-scale fisheries systems, community-based planning efforts can be informed by participatory research approaches that involve community members and stakeholder groups in the design, development, and implementation of research. This article draws upon research in Maunalua Bay, O'ahu , Hawai'i, to illustrate the utility of participatory assessments in communities, institutions, and organizations as they transition toward comanagement arrangements. A community-led survey effort revealed temporal changes in habitat use patterns and declines in key fisheries species and habitats. Fishing activities in Maunalua Bay are primarily noncommercial in nature and many of the direct benefits from local fisheries are distributed through social-kinship networks. The fishing community exhibited a high capacity for engagement in community-based planning efforts and also provided input on proposed management measures. The article concludes by documenting the social and environmental factors that influence the distribution of coral reef fisheries ecosystem services, and assessing sliding baselines among community fishers. Participatory resource assessments hold promise for building local social adaptive capacity, bringing together disparate stakeholder groups, and building place-based natural resource management plans reflective of local contexts and community priorities.
This article draws on anthropological research and long-term observation of regional fisheries to examine sociocultural and resource management dimensions of small-scale and traditional fishing operations in American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Ethnographic and survey research were undertaken in both archipelagos with the principal objective of describing and analyzing the nature and extent of traditional and customary fishing activities and associated seafood distribution practices. The resulting description and analysis focus on factors that trigger fishing effort and facilitate distribution of seafood in extended family and community settings across the study regions. Research findings indicate the ongoing importance of seafood in dietary terms and in terms of social organization and cultural continuity; these are discussed in relation to two ongoing resource management issues in the western Pacific.
We interviewed elder fishermen in American Samoa to better understand their perspectives on traditional use and management of marine resources and changes in the status of certain species over the course of time. Elder fishermen provide an important source of information in a context of limited catch data, declining fishing effort, and evolving local fishing traditions. Most fishermen interviewed during the study described a decline in the quality of various nearshore habitats, a general decrease in abundance of edible reef fish, and diminished abundance of locally valued palolo, atule, giant clams, and octopus. Populations of reef sharks and turtles are typically seen as stable or increasing. Fishermen from the relatively densely populated island of Tutuila tended to report a greater decrease in abundance of marine resources in general than did fishermen from the more remote Manu'a Islands. Elder fishermen commonly reported deterioration of nearshore and shoreline habitats as an issue of concern. Many interviewees also asserted that past use of destructive fishing methods has led to a decline in marine resources in the region. The fishermen generated various recommendations for improving local fisheries, including: reducing runoff-related pollution and sediment, preventing destructive fishing methods, and establishing marine protected areas. Although traditional marine tenure systems are no longer as influential in American Samoa as they were in the past, various rules regarding appropriate use of local marine ecosystems and associated resources continue to be implemented across the islands.
Numerous studies have explored the “shifting baseline syndrome” (SBS), which suggests that individual perceptions of environmental health are formed by comparing the environment to a “baseline” from the past. Understanding social perceptions of environmental conditions, especially where they differ from ecological assessments, can help guide environmental management efforts. In this study we compared ecological assessments of coral reef health with perceptions of reef health from surveyed residents in five villages in Solomon Islands and Fiji. Comparative analysis suggests that respondents from Solomon Islands perceived their reefs as being degraded, yet based on ecological measurements actually had healthier reefs, while in Fiji fewer people perceived their reefs to be declining in health, yet ecological measurement showed them to be more degraded than Solomon Islands reefs. We found no evidence of baselines “shifting” relative to respondent age in this instance and suggest that these differential baselines and the inverse relationship between local perceptions and ecological measurements may be a result of: (1) differences in the rate of environmental change experienced at local scales; and (2) may also be related to differences in respondent perceptions of “quality of life” at each site. If the success of conservation approaches such as marine protected areas (MPAs) are dependent on local social consensus that natural resources are diminished or degraded, then tracking broader social indicators like “quality of life” and “rates of change” (real and perceived) alongside ecological assessments of environmental health may prove beneficial to conservation practitioners.
Understanding human drivers of exploitation within the context of historical baselines can assist in better management of natural resources. Retrospective studies provide insight into the scale, nature, and timing of human influence on reef ecosystems. Using Papua New Guinea as a model, we assessed human influences on the historical status of reef resources through time. Reef resources were divided into seven ecological guilds, assessed over seven cultural periods and in reference to seven types of human influences. Ranking of ecological status and human influence was performed based on extensive bibliographical research. Evidence for periods of sustainability and depletion were found throughout historical and modern periods. More recently, acceleration in the rate of resource depletion has occurred as a result of increasing pressure at unprecedented scales. Subsistence lifestyles are becoming unviable or unattractive since the introduction of the cash economy during colonial times. Current challenges such as providing livelihood options and sustaining replenishment rates of reef resources have arisen from a long history of overexploitation that preconditioned the current status of reef resources under an economic climate of increasing demand for these resources. Studies of past human exploitation of reef resources can help to overcome the shifting baseline syndrome for fisheries management in marine ecosystems and help characterize the scale and intensity of human drivers influencing resource exploitation.
The Hawaiians of old depended on the sea for survival and, as a result, developed a sophisticated understanding of the natural processes regulating resource abundance and effective strategies to manage those resources. After Western contact, sociopolitical upheaval led to the breakdown of the traditional Hawaiian fisheries management system, though practice and knowledge continued. Even today, subsistence fishing is culturally and economically important to many communities throughout Hawai‘i, but declining resources over the past century have raised concerns about their sustainability. To confront this issue, a number of communities are currently strengthening local influence and accountability for local marine resources through revitalization of local traditions and resource knowledge. This renaissance of traditional community-based management and rediscovery of traditional techniques offers great promise for improving the condition of Hawai‘i's coastal marine environment and the management of its fisheries.
This review article synthesizes the authors' several decades of multidisciplinary natural and social science and applied marine resource management experience in the Asia-Pacific region to examine the strengthening of coastal and marine resource management and conservation using alliances between local communities and external institutions. The objective is to assist the design of resource management and conservation programs that enhance the capacity of coastal communities in Oceania to confront both diminishing marine resources and the effects of climate change by providing guidelines for protecting marine biodiversity and vulnerable ecosystem functions. This article describes a management framework that hybridizes local beliefs and institutions expressed in customary management (CM) with such modern management concepts as marine protected areas (MPAs) and ecosystem-based management (EBM). Hybrid management accommodates the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts of Oceanic communities and, compared with recent or conventional management approaches, can therefore better address fundamental local concerns such as coastal degradation, climate change, sea level rise, weak governance, corruption, limited resources and staff to manage and monitor marine resources, and increasing poverty. Research on the hybridization of management systems demonstrates opportunities to establish context-appropriate EBM and/or other managerial arrangements that include terrestrial and adjacent coastal-marine ecosystems. Formal and informal CM systems are widespread in Oceania and in some parts of Southeast Asia, and if appropriate strategies are employed rapid progress toward hybrid CM-EBM could be enabled.
Fish stocks in many parts of the western Pacific are increasingly being subjected to a variety of environmental and human pressures. Resource managers are responding to the situation by limiting and allocating catch across the various fisheries. There is a corresponding need to appropriately classify fishers and fishing fleets to ensure that all sectors are fairly considered when catch allocation decisions are undertaken in the region. But discrete classification of small-scale fishing sectors is challenging because commercial, recreational, and food-gathering motives often overlap. Moreover, despite the known importance of small-scale fishing in the western Pacific, the manner and extent of such activities are not well understood or thoroughly documented. This paper seeks to elucidate the nature of subsistence or consumption-oriented fishing and its relationship to other forms of small-scale fishing activities in the region. A conceptual framework of potential utility for assessing the degree to which small-scale operations are moving toward or away from subsistence fishing is developed with the intent of optimizing the resource allocation decision-making process. The discussion is based on review of pertinent literature and on findings from research recently conducted in Hawai‘i and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.