Community-based governance of artisanal fisheries, Ngazidja Island, Comoros




Hauzer, Melissa

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Tropical small-scale fisheries represent the main livelihood and protein source for a substantial portion of the global population. Growing pressures on marine resources, however, have left many fishing communities faced with declining catches and increased environmental degradation. Effective management strategies and governance institutions are thus critically important. Conventional top-down, exogenous approaches to fisheries management have been ineffective in more traditional and small-scale fisheries. Yet, there remains little understanding of the effectiveness of alternative approaches and few studies offer feasible solutions for managers in lesser developed nations. This case-study of artisanal fisheries in the Comoros examines how effective local fishing associations are at managing common fisheries resources, and provides some understanding of the underlying characteristics of effectiveness. To do so, qualitative methods were used to collect data on fishing practices, local knowledge and beliefs, governance structures, and livelihoods in male and female fisheries in five villages on Ngazidja island. The results of this study are organized into three papers. The first paper focuses on current fisheries trends on Ngazidja and the implications of the gradual shift from traditional to modern fishing practices. This paper contributes to the overall goal of this study as the modernization of the fishing sector may affect both the ecological sustainability of the fishery and the ability of local fishing associations to effectively govern fisheries. Results show that although the fishery sector is not undergoing a rapid modernization, loss in traditional practices, beliefs, and values are occurring and may be linked to corresponding declines in marine resources. Improved monitoring systems will help inform local governing institutions about the need to develop enhanced management practices. The second paper examines the effectiveness of community-based governance of artisanal fisheries and addresses the overarching goal of the study by improving understanding of the key elements of success of the community fishing associations. These fishing associations collectively design, monitor, and enforce local regulations. Decisions are based on local knowledge and experience, and management strategies are based on low-cost, practical solutions. Compliance with local regulations is high, primarily due to participatory decision-making, community-monitoring, and strong feelings of solidarity among fishers. The last paper looks at fisherwomen on Ngazidja and focuses specifically on documenting their fishing practices, livelihood contributions, and potential participation in fisheries management. This paper is critical to enhancing understanding of the impacts and potential of the fishery on Ngazidja as the sector has so far failed to take into account all marine harvesting activities, particularly those undertaken by women. Moreover, authorities have recently attempted to ban women from fishing as their practices are considered destructive to near-shore reefs and juvenile fish populations. Results from the study indicate that women’s fishing methods can be destructive and may have contributed to localized declines in intertidal marine resources and habitats. Yet, fisherwomen also provide substantial contributions to household livelihoods. Thus, banning the fishery altogether is not an acceptable solution. Instead, authorities should work to empower fisherwomen with the tools necessary to manage their fishery sustainably, which will eventually lead to improved conservation measures. Overall, this case-study provides a unique example of how collective governance of common-pool resources can be achieved within communities, and how feelings of empowerment and shared responsibility among users can lead to effective management practices. There are a number of clear lessons learned from the successes of this fishery that can be applied to other similar small-scale fisheries. Future research priorities should concentrate on assessing the ecological sustainability of current fishing and management practices, and paying particular attention to the recognition and inclusion of fisherwomen. Marine conservation and sustainable fisheries systems are only facilitated when all users are recognized and engaged in management and policy decisions.



Small-scale fisheries, Governance, Livelihoods, Marine conservation, East Africa, Fisherwomen, Grande Comore