Where Did We Go Wrong? A Critical Assessment of Management in the Bluff Oyster Fishery

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"More than a century of dredging for oysters in the Foveaux Strait, New Zealand has resulted in a decimated fishery. In 1999 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment asked the question: Where did we go wrong? This thesis provides answers to this question by presenting information provided by the Bluff oyster fishermen. In order to gain as much exposure to the community of fishermen as possible, a cumulative period of approximately six months was spent living in the town of Bluff between 2002 and 2007. During this time relationships were built with key informants, and a total of more than 50 community members were interviewed. The thesis describes the practical knowledge of the oyster fishermen, and places it in the context of more that 40 years of modern scientific studies concerned with the fishery. The finding are that since 1996 when the Quota Management System was introduced in the fishery, the most knowledgeable and responsible people in the fishery have been systematically excluded from roles in management. The practical knowledge of fishermen has been discounted in an industry and government led management system, which is an elaborate justification for continued maximum exploitation of the fishery. The theoretical contribution of the thesis lies in its description of belonging as a factor as important as that of property-rights in a sustainable resource system. The practical knowledge and conservation-mindedness of the fishery elders are characteristics of belonging, but not necessarily of ownership. Fishery management should recognize belonging as cultural capital, and make use of it under the present system (i.e. the Quota Management System) by according fishermen rights of management and access to the oyster fishery."
oysters, fisheries