Using Mexican small-scale fisheries as a case study, researchers demonstrate why it is important to consider a wider variety of aspects when trying to develop more sustainable management of fish. Photo: R.C. Rosman/Unsplash

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RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Fishing is more than just harvesting, time to broaden the focus

Broadening the analytical focus beyond harvesting is necessary in order to imagine new ways of governing the commons

Story highlights

  • Using Mexican small-scale fisheries as a case study, the authors compare two different ways of organizing fishing – fishing cooperatives and patron-client relationships
  • Trust and reliability in interactions influence pre-harvesting choices
  • Actions connected to pre-harvesting, harvesting, and post-harvesting are critical for shaping outcomes

BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER: Fishing is often synonymous with harvesting, yet harvesting is only one aspect of fishing. Pre-harvesting and post-harvesting activities such as preparing the outing, or negotiating with authorities and actors in control of production and commercialization channels, also significantly influence the outcomes of fishing.

In a paper published in Plos One, centre researchers Emilie Lindkvist and Maja Schlüter along with colleagues from the US argue that broadening the analytical focus beyond harvesting is necessary in order to imagine new ways of governing the commons.

Benefits of broadening scope

Using Mexican small-scale fisheries as a case study, the authors compare two different ways of organizing fishing – fishing cooperatives and patron-client relationships – and their effects on the distribution of benefits from harvesting.

Our study highlights the benefits of broadening the scope of inquiry beyond a narrow policy attention on harvesting to move towards a fuller understanding of commons dilemmas.

Xavier Basurto, lead author

Through in-depth interviews with fish buyers, and by gathering data related to the provision of loans to fishers, the authors shed light on how trust and reliability in interactions influence pre-harvesting choices such as access to credit, fishing means of production, or choice of organizational structure.

This circular representation highlights the repetitive nature of a ‘typical’ fishing event with implications for the development of trust among fishers and fish buyers. Not all of these action arenas take place every day, nor are networks of action situations necessarily linked in a linear fashion as the diagram could be interpreted.

Incorporating new concepts

The authors conceptualize small-scale fishing as an array of linked action situations. An action situation is defined as a situation where individuals are faced with a set of potential actions which jointly produce outcomes, and in small-scale fisheries, can be categorized as pre-harvesting, harvesting, and post-harvesting.

Lindkvist and her colleagues argue that these collective action processes do not receive sufficient attention in literature, but are in fact critical for shaping outcomes particularly in terms of benefit distribution and fisher’s well-being.

The authors conclude that conceptualizing small-scale fisheries as an array of linked action situations offers a straightforward way to move beyond powerful imaginaries of fishing as harvesting.

"The risk is otherwise that we obscure considerations of activities and decisions that take place before and after harvesting, no matter how important they are.”

Methodology

The authors first investigate how fish buyers select the fishers with whom to transact, by conducting in-depth interviews with fish buyers. They then assemble two longitudinal databases related to the provision of loans, one comprising data from patron-client interactions and the other from a fishing cooperative. By building a database of repeated interactions with each fisher, the authors assess how stable groups of resource harvesters are constituted. Using two conceptual devices anchored on institutional analysis – the concepts of constitutional levels of analysis and linked action situations – the authors then encourage the analysis of common-pool resources governance beyond harvesting.

Link to publication

Related info

Basurto, X., Bennett, A., Lindkvist, E., Schlüter, M. 2020. Governing the commons beyond harvesting: An empirical illustration from fishing. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0231575. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231575

Link to publication

Emilie Lindkvist’s research is focused on using novel simulation models to understand diverse aspects of sustainability in social-ecological systems.

Maja Schlüter’s research focuses on social-ecological interactions and mechanisms that can explain various cases of social-ecological interactions.

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