Skip to content

Community-Based Management – Up to the Task?

November 10, 2011 

A popular idea in fisheries management is to allow fishing communities to manage themselves.  Common assumptions are that community organization allows better monitoring and utilization of local knowledge.  But I always wonder, can we expect community-based management to adequately respond to the global drivers of fisheries depletion – overcapacity, poverty, greed, and demand that outstrips supply?

Cudney-Bueno and Basurto (2009) present an interesting case where a community fails due to more powerful external forces.  A community succeeds in rebuilding its fisheries through MPAs, which then attracts non-local, illegal fishing and ultimately a collapse of the local management regime as the problem cannot be resolved.  In the authors’ words:

Recently organized fisheries have the potential to develop effective community-based management practices that include the establishment of marine reserves. However, we also show that CBM can collapse when local communities lack linkages to higher levels of governance that help legitimize their organizational efforts.

Here are snippets to tell the story:

Reserves were created by a cooperative of 22 commercial divers of Puerto Peñasco, a fishing and tourism hub located in the northeastern portion of the Gulf of California, as a means to protect and enhance mollusk stocks, particularly rock scallops (Spondylus calcifer) and black murex snails (Hexaplex nigritus), two staple resources of commercial divers. The divers’ cooperative has been harvesting benthic shellfish from rocky reefs and adjacent sandy areas for approximately 30 years

[There was c]lose collaboration between fishers, researchers, and local institutions emerged, leading to the subsequent design, establishment, and enforcement of the network of marine reserves…The network was designed by fishers based on their knowledge of local currents, of differences in densities of mollusks, and recollection of previous abundant sites that the cooperative wanted to see rebound. Researchers worked with fishers to help bridge their local knowledge with experimental design and establish a monitoring program to measure changes within and outside the reserves. Reserve establishment occurred without waiting for official government recognition at a time when other efforts for the establishment and management of marine reserves in the region had been highly conflictive…

These rules and their sanctions were built primarily on foundations of trust and reciprocity and concerns for the group’s well being. Hence, the most effective and usual form of enforcement relied on variations of peer pressure and public shame. This, in essence, could ultimately threaten the rule-breaker’s reputation and his social bonds and norms—also known as social capital.

Only two years after the establishment of the reserve network, populations of black murex and rock scallops had increased markedly on the San Jorge Island reserve, with relative densities of up to 160 individuals per 100 m2 that exceed any others reported for the Gulf of California. As has been shown in other cases, positive effects were also seen in fishing areas adjacent to the reserves.

News about these community-based management efforts and the abundance of resources at the reserves spread quickly at a regional scale. ‘‘Roving bandits’’ from more than 300 km away (along the coastline, eight hours travel by boat) began fishing the island. Since reserves and territorial use rights were not formally recognized by the Government, local fishers did not have the right to expel others from their reserves and de facto fishing grounds. Doing so could put them and the cooperative at risk…

Unable to deter poaching, those local divers who historically had fished on the island the most opted to fish there before outsiders finished reaping the benefits of their own investment. What followed was a rapid cascading effect on fishing resources and locally-designed rule compliance. The island quickly became a free for all. In one month, mollusk populations were reduced in half.

So what might be the big takeaways?  The authors rightly conclude that CBM schemes will have to have support from government to succeed.  The divers simply had no power to apply their rules to outsiders.

Broadening the conclusions to consider the nature of compliance, I find it very interesting that social capital incentivized a high rate of compliance, unlike that found in many formally-managed fisheries.  100% of fishers interviewed said that they trusted that other fellow fishers for the most part respected the reserves.  It’s an imperfect proxy, but still quite revealing.  Meanwhile, the regime fails as outsiders enter since the social capital is local in nature.

I think this article suggests there may sometimes exist a trade-off between compliance and formal monitoring and enforcement.  And yet many enforcement experts push for centralization in fisheries to lower government enforcement and monitoring costs.  Perhaps such centralization might justify itself by lowering the incentives to comply with the rules?   In other words, would such enforcement reforms sometimes just create a problem for the solution?  It would be an interesting question to further explore.


Cudney-Bueno R, & Basurto X (2009). Lack of cross-scale linkages reduces robustness of community-based fisheries management. PloS one, 4 (7) PMID: 19606210

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: