Competition, Cooperation, and Learning in the Marine Commons: Implications for Collective Action

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"Success or failure of governance of the marine commons can be traced to the complex interactions of the natural and the human systems. The coupled human and natural system dynamics that generate the preconditions for collective action, especially the adaptive dynamics that lead to the emergence of informal social and economic structure, are not well known. We hypothesize that competitive interactions among fishers seeking knowledge about resource conditions lead to the emergence of dynamic social patterns and informal structures that reflect the particular circumstances of the natural and social system; the scale and mechanisms of those patterns and structures in turn affect the feasibility and effectiveness of collective action and, through that, the sustainability of the natural system. We examine this hypothesis in the context of the Maine sea urchin fishery. Although currently very small, it was a classic gold rush fishery during the late 1980s and the 1990s until the population became depleted and fishable aggregations became sparse. We conducted semi-structured interviews with key informants from the Maine sea urchin fishery to understand the biophysical circumstances in which cooperation might be feasible and that might form the basis for collective action. We find that the biophysical conditions relevant to sustainable processes in the fishery occur at the scale of individual ledges, a much finer scale than current management. In spite of co-management, limited entry, and a number of input control mechanisms the relevant unit in the fishery, the ledge, is still an open access fishery."



collective action, fisheries, learning, scale, sea urchin, marine resources