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Setting Nets on Troubled Waters: Environment, Economics, and Autonomy among Nori Cultivating Households in a Japanese Fishing Cooperative

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Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Author: Delaney, Alyne
Date: 2003
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3575
Sector: Social Organization
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): fisheries
social networks
resource management
Abstract: "Fishing Cooperative Association (FCA) members in Tohoku, Japan cultivate nori seaweed for the personal autonomy and quality of life this maritime-based occupation provides. However, their fishing territories are severely degraded, their occupational income is unpredictable, and their production expenses remain high. Given such uncertainties, more than 85% of the peak FCA nori growers population (1972) made the rational choice (in neoclassical economic terms) to quit nori cultivation. The remaining members made the rational choice (in substantivist terms), to continue this way of life in large part because it enables them to 'not lower their heads' and 'make decisions themselves.' This research, conducted in Shichigahama, Miyagi Prefecture over an 18-month period, employs ethnographic interviews, participant observation, archival research, and a demographic quantitative survey to examine nori growers and their lifestyle. "Research focused on FCA members' use of social ties to gain access to extra-community fishing territories. Since Japanese maritime resources are managed under a common property regime and are not open access, the degradation of fishing territories is problematic. Often, FCA members vote to sell their rights and quit fishing. In Shichigahama, remaining FCA members have instead opted to rent and barter for access to healthy fishing territories. This use of networks and social capital to make use of outsiders' fishing grounds shows a partiality for friendship and horizontal relationships over kinship and hierarchy in this segment of Japanese society. By 'helping one another out' with exchanges of fishing ground areas, FCA members are able to continue working on their own rather than resorting to wage labor and losing their autonomy. "Resource managers and common property theorists often cite Japan as a useful example for developing common property institutions elsewhere. Despite general success, however, Japan suffers from industrialization; this case study provides evidence of the negative impacts of pollution and eutrophication on FCA livelihoods. Yet, the Shichigahama experience also highlights the agency of locals in the management of natural resources. Showing flexibility as they use the informal means of social networking to cultivate nori, these FCA members epitomize the significance of personal autonomy in the lives of Japan's coastal communities."

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