Sustainable Fisheries

Special Collection

Worldwide, small-scale coastal fisheries contribute significantly to providing food, employment, and incomes to many very poor people. But these same fisheries, and the ecosystems upon which they rely, are under increasing threat from a combination of climate change, pollution, over-fishing, and the exploitation of resources.


Fisheries management has been a major component in trying to address some of these issues, but with limited global success. The potential of fisheries, if managed well, is considerable but what form that potential will take will depend on how and why fisheries are managed.


This collection of reports and presentations explores just this question, describing some of the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and their efforts to address these challenges and improve the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments.


The collection brings together the "grey literature" of the field, valuable work that is not readily available through academic journals and databases but is instead spread across dozens of organizational websites. This set of reports was initially identified as part of a synthesis review of key lessons commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation's Program on Oceans and Fisheries. We are pleased to make it more easily available for others to use and build on and encourage researchers and practitioners to add relevant work to the collection.

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Development and Diversification: Sustainability Strategies for a Costa Rican Fishing Cooperative

January 1, 1994

This is one case study of 32 in the volume: Case studies in fisheries self-governance which was published as a FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. In this chapter: Over the past several decades, scholars have argued over governance strategies for management for commons and common-pool resources (CPRs). In fact, the theory of the commons has undergone major transformations, moving from the "tragedy of the commons" model, to dealing with small-scale, community-based systems as ways of promoting self-organization and self-governance (Ostrom, 1990; Berkes, 2006). Within the fisheries sector, the use of rights based management strategies to re-establish sustainability in open-access fisheries is becoming increasingly popular. The experience with TURFS in Chile, which was implemented as a way to avoid the collapse of the loco fishery, has been successful in terms of managing some benthic artisanal fisheries in a sustainable way and generating basic incentives for fishers' empowerment. However, if the policy is going to succeed in the future, scientists and practitioners must respond to important challenges. Most published studies on the human dimensions of MEABRs stress the need for fishers to have more liberty managing MEABRs as a way to adapt these to local realities and create incentives for developing institutions of self-governance (Castilla and Defeo, 2001; Meltzoff et al., 2002; Castilla et al., 2007; Gelcich et al., 2005a,b, 2006, 2007; World Bank, 2006), i.e. to shift from the current co-management approach used in Chile (= collaborative co-management; Sen and Nielsen, 1996) towards an adaptive co-management approach. Folke et al. (2002), defined adaptive co-management as "the process by which institutional arrangements and ecological knowledge are revised in a dynamic, ongoing process of learning by doing". Adaptive co-management combines the 'dynamic learning' characteristic of adaptive management (Holling, 2001) with the 'linkage' characteristic of cooperative management (Jentoft, 2000), and collaborative management (Olsson, Folke and Berkes, 2004). The adaptive co-management approach treats policies as hypotheses and management as experiments from which managers can learn (Gunderson, 2000). Most importantly, adaptive co-management theory implies that management practices should be adjusted by the monitoring of feedback signals of social-ecological change (Berkes, Colding and Folke, 2003). This shift towards adaptive co-management would imply the need for participatory research. Small-scale coastal artisanal fisheries with well-demarcated fishing grounds provide ideal situations for experimental management research (Castilla, 2000; Johannes, 2002; World Bank, 2006). In addition, if MEABRs are going to successfully adapt, managers should encourage local communities (associations) to experiment and continuously adapt to changes (social or ecological). These are factors we feel are an essential part of the so-called Ecosystem-Based Management Approach (FAO, 2003; Arkema, Abramson and Dewsbury, 2006; Christie et al., 2007). At present the MEABR policy has left few legal alternatives for community experiments and subsequent governance adaptations. This is unfortunate as participatory research in support of adaptive management is becoming almost commonplace in many developing countries (Edwards-Jones, 2001) under the premise that the participation of resource users and other stakeholders is important not only in the management of resources, but also in research orientated toward the generation of information and innovations that shape how resources are understood and exploited (Johnson et al., 2004). In addition it forms a basic building block for self-governance of MEABR resources.