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Sharing Fishing Grounds and Sharing Food: How a Cultural Institution Helps to Protect an Open Access Resource

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Bender, Andrea
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, IN
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1037
Sector: Fisheries
Region: Pacific and Australia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
indigenous institutions
open access--case study
community participation
Abstract: "A long tradition of research has proven that common property resources may be protected by a 'firewall' of regulations. Open access resources, however, seem to be doomed for sure due to their lack of institutions. What happens in between? Can resources be handled sustainably if a user community maintains cultural institutions influencing only the resource distribution while at the same time access to the resource itself is not restricted? "An island community in the Haapai-Group of Tonga has been chosen to illustrate the principle. In Tonga, unlike other Pacific countries, everybody has free access to all marine resources. With a gradual transition from subsistence to more commercial fishery, non-cooperative strategies of resource use are generally arising now as opportunities to sell fish redirect aims towards gain-maximizing. Thus, on the one hand, such non-cooperative strategies are expected to culminate in resource depletion. On the other hand, cooperation (fetokoniaki ) has always been a highly cherished value in the traditional culture, and the institution of foodsharing has been particularly strong among community members (including fishermen) due to a tight social net. Therefore, villages still can be found where the cultural institution of food-sharing enhances cooperativeness and sustainable resource use. "The case study took place in Lofanga. Although having the same opportunities and economic incentives as the commercial fishermen in neighboring Uiha, the vast majority of fishermen in Lofanga still harvests on a subsistence base. The few commercial fishermen hold special positions within the village structure as well as within the social net and try to maintain or improve their position by complying to the sharing rule in an above average degree. Giving all their neighbors access to their yield legitimizes their efforts while at the same time it reduces the efforts of other community members. "Nevertheless, these open access resources are threatened by commercial fishermen from neighboring islands. Some of these have even started to over-exploit their own resources and to compete with other villages for their fishing grounds. It seems plausible that in order to enable traditional institutions in Tonga to work more efficiently, the open access nature of marine resources should be changed to community-based management."

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