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James R. McGoodwin
Associate Professor
University of Colorado


This paper reviews a great variety of indigenous and/or traditional mechanisms of self-regulation employed in unmanaged fisheries. The discussion treats the following categories of self-regulatory mechanisms: unregulated, unmanaged fisheries; passing mechanisms of self-regulation; and active mechanisms of self-regulation. Throughout, these self-regulatory mechanisms are discussed with a regard for their possible relevance and efficacy in future policies for the management and development of small-scale fishermen and fisheries.

Now that it would seem the world's coastal nations have basically secured control over their fisheries to 200 miles from their shores - spelling the end of nearly four centuries of the doctrine of “the freedom of the seas” - there is great worldwide concern for determining new management regimes for these fisheries' future management and development.

This concern comes at a time when the world economy is experiencing great instability, and when many fisheries find themselves in great trouble owing to overharvesting and chaotic competitive pressures. At the beginning of the colonial era - only a little over four centuries ago - the world's human population was only about a half billion inhabitants. Not it is around four to five billion, and by the end of this century will be nearly eight billion (Idyll, 1978). News of acute food shortages in vast world regions appears with increasing frequency. Truly, these are important times for finding new ways to manage and develop the world's fisheries, especially if we are to address the problem of scarce food facing much of humanity.

This paper presents examples of some of the methods by which unmanaged fisheries attempt to regulate themselves, that is, I focus upon so-called indigenous or traditional systems of fisheries management (cf. McCay, 1981; Klee, 1980). By “unmanaged” fishery, I mean a fishery not otherwise regulated under the central authority of a government-controlled managerial regime or a fishery which, while managed by a central external authority, undertakes its own regulation to some degree. I shall also briefly discuss a few examples of unmanaged fisheries which apparently do not regulate themselves, since these provide interesting points for comparison and contrast.

I will begin by looking into the idea that primitive, pre-colonial and/or pre-industrial humanity lived in a state of harmony, balance and/or equilibrium with nature, citing a number of instances where such was decidedly not the case. This is followed by some observations of societies which do or did not regulate their fisheries, and with varying results. Then I will turn to a discussion of “passive” self-regulation, by which I mean situations in which, while it may not be the conscious intent of a people to regulate their fisheries, certain aspects of their socio-cultural system have that effect.

These matters presented, I will turn to the main body of this discussion: active, purposeful self-regulation in otherwise unmanaged fisheries. This discussion will suggest a number of methods which may be appropriate and beneficial in the future management of inshore and coastal, artisanal, peasant and/or traditional fisheries and fishermen, and should also shed some light upon the basic nature and characteristics of such peoples.

The reader is cautioned to bear in mind that my division of examples into the categories of “unregulated”, “passively regulated”, and “actively regulated” fisheries is largely arbitrary and does not necessarily correspond with any such clear distinctions existing in reality. Obviously, an unregulated fishery may also be conceptualized as passively regulated, or an aspect of passive regulation - especially when effective - could be argued to be an active factor in fisheries regulation. Thus, my conceptual sub-divisions should not be taken as particularly important, but rather the reader should focus on the examples themselves, seeing how each factor presented - regardless of how it is categorized - may contribute to fishery regulation, limiting entry, effort or mortality, and so forth.

My units for analysis throughout are tribal, peasant, traditional, artisanal and/or small-scale fisheries and fishing peoples. I will not be particularly concerned with self-regulating practices among large-scale, industrialized fisheries and fishermen, although a few examples of self-regulating behaviour may be drawn from these. Again, the reader should be concerned with process not definition. Obviously, there is no fine line of distinction, for example, between small-scale commercial and industrial-scale fisheries and fishermen.

The reader is also cautioned not to associate my focus upon mostly small-scale fishermen as a focus upon the less important, perhaps more romantic side of fishing. Small-scale fishermen have become of enormous concern as units for fisheries investigation in recent years, as increasing information concerning their relative importance has come to light. No longer are they viewed as merely quaint, colourful, backward or even unprogressive, as compared with large-scale, industrialized fishing enterprise. Indeed, in many circles they are coming to be seen as the wave of the future in world fisheries.

Compared with large-scale, industrialized, company-owned fishing enterprise, for example, small-scale fishing enterprise offers a number of distinct and important advantages. For one thing, they produce about 45 percent of the total world catch, and employ roughly 18 times more fishermen than does the large-scale sector. Nearly all their production is designated for human consumption, and their capital-cost per job provided is roughly one hundredth that of the large-scale sector. Further, the small-scale fishing sector's consumption of fuel oil is only about 11 percent of the total fuel oil used in all commercial fishing, and per tonne of fuel oil consumed it produces nearly five times as much fish. In human terms, the importance of the small-scale fishing sector looms large indeed. While it is estimated that worldwide there are only about a half million fishermen working in the large-scale sector, FAO estimates there are about 10 million small-scale fishermen, each of whom create an additional two to three jobs ashore. Counting the families and dependents of small-scale fishermen, that sector supports the welfare of over 100 million persons worldwide (Thomson, 1980). Given these aspects of productivity, economics, efficiency and human involvement, the small-scale fishing sector would seem of paramount importance in future policies for fisheries management and development.

Unregulated, Unmanaged Fisheries

What of unmanaged fisheries which do not seem to have mechanisms for self-regulation? What is the experience in these?

It has been often presumed that long ago, before the advent of modern technology and high human populations, humanity's impact on nature was small and, having only a rudimentary technology, humanity lived in basic harmony or equilibrium with its food resources. For the most part, as we review the long run of human evolution and history, that would seem generally to be the case. But such has not always been the case in all instances.

Hennemuth (1979), for example, doubts that humanity evolved in harmonious equilibrium with marine ecosystems in the same manner as proposed for terrestrial adaptations. He notes that marine organisms basically did not co-evolve with humanity and states “There is some doubt that man can be a prudent predator (i.e. in the marine environment), taking only what would die or not be produced in his absence”.

There is ample evidence that pre-historic humanity sometimes wasted resources and, through unrestrained effort, may have occasionally jeopardized its precious food supplies. Such behaviour can possibly be interpreted as an exception, if not contradiction, to the behavioural processes foretold in the so-called “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968). Unrestrained effort leading to over-harvesting is only supposed to occur in a common-property, open-access situation in which there come to be too many competing producers, and while in the Pleistocene era, for instance, we may presume human population to be relatively very low, and production technology quite primitive, nevertheless we encounter instances in which Pleistocene-era peoples apparently over-harvested precious food supplies.

Good studies have recently come to light which conclude that early humanity in the Pleistocene era sometimes played a central role in the depletion, over-harvesting, and sometimes total extinction of important food resources. Smith (1975), for example, offers data supporting an hypothesis that over-kill by Paleolithic-era hunters in some world regions led to the extinction of many of the large herding animals upon which such peoples depended for subsistence. Of course, such animals were less numerous relatively than fish and required far longer time to reach reproductive age, both factors which Smith concedes made them particularly vulnerable to both over-harvesting and extinction.

Yesner (1980), discussing pre-historic maritime hunter-gatherers, cites various instances of disastrous over-harvesting in marine ecosystems. His examples come from archaeological accounts: those of Shawcross (1975) and Swadling (1976), for example, describing resource depletion arising from over-harvesting in pre-historic New Zealand, or Kirch (1979) and Reinman (1967), describing similar situations in various parts of Oceania, and Yesner's (1977) own studies indicating how pre-historic maritime peoples in Alaska over-exploited their main food resources.

At a less remote time - the Formative (pre-Inca) era in Peru - Moseley (1975) presents convincing evidence that the coastal civilizations of that time periodically over-harvested their main subsistence resources - marine clams and oysters - to such an extent that they were forced to shift to other modes of subsistence (i.e. agriculture). Finally, Johannes (1978), in an important work concerned with traditional methods of marine resource conservation in Oceania, records a number of instances where unrestrained harvesting practices led to the depletion of important subsistence resources. In the Solomon Islands, he notes, porpoises were harvested for their teeth while their valuable meat was left to rot in the sun; and in many parts of Oceania, poisoning was used as a fish-producing method, a process which indiscriminately killed both fry and eating-size fish. Both the Trobriand and Hawaiian islanders, he further notes, often engaged in wasteful over-harvesting, leading to food-resource depletion. The natives of Satawal over-harvested turtle eggs, depleting that resource, and “horrible waste was sometimes committed by the Tahitian royalty at their feasts” (Johannes, 1978). Johannes is quick to add, however, that these depradations were an exception to the more general pattern of wise resource management seen throughout most of pre-colonial Oceania.

What all the foregoing examples should make abundantly clear is that primitive, pre-colonial and/or pre-industrial humanity did not always live in a state of reverential, harmonious equilibrium with nature, being ever careful to insure itself a sustained supply of vitally-needed subsistence foods. Thus, modern man is not unique in his capacity for wastefulness and greed, even if he is unique in terms of the scale and extent of his wastefulness.

There are many other examples, of course, of situations in which pre-industrial peoples apparently made little effort to regulate their fishing effort, and yet suffered neither the ill effects of resource depletion nor disastrous competition. Firth (1965), for example, in his account of primitive Polynesian economy, notes that the fisheries were common property, that no resources were owned, and that people survived without experiencing resource depletion or severe internal competition. Davenport (1960), in his account of the artisanal pot-fishermen of modern-day Jamaica, states that these fishermen enjoy no permanent sea tenure over prime pot-fishing areas - and perhaps not even temporary preferential access - and yet do not experience resource depletion or competitive conflict over pot-fishing space. Gladwin (1970), in his description of the people of Puluwat, Micronesia, makes no mention of any constraints on fishing effort, and paints a very rosy picture of an open-access, highly productive, unregulated, problem-free subsistence-oriented fishery, by his own account Puluwatan population is small, marine resources abundant, and the possible territory available to them for fishing immense indeed. Finally, Orona (1968), describing artisanal fishermen of Isla Margarita, Venezuela, says these may fish anywhere they wish, without restraint of any kind, and apparently without suffering either resource depletion or competitive conflict.

The problem with such accounts, above, is that many are nearly anecdotal, presenting little data or descriptive material that would facilitate cross-cultural, trans-regional comparisons. They seem almost idyllic in nature, sometimes contradicting our informed intuitions or even common sense, and whatever the case, they are exceptions to the more frequently observed situation in today's small-scale, non-regulated fisheries. The usual case today - the situation we most often encounter in unregulated fisheries - is one of conflict and contention over resources, and severe harvest pressure. This is particularly the case in fisheries' regions where human population is high, the level of societal integration hierarchic or complex, harvest technology fairly advanced, and resources are either relatively immobile, or are confined to a limited number of spots or regions or only available at certain times. Thus, examples of unbridled over-fishing in the small-scale fishing sector are numerous indeed.

In one study, Kesteven (1976) notes instances where whole stocks were wiped out by artisanal fishermen using simple haul-seines in Indonesia, and a similar among weir and bag-net fishermen taking migratory stocks on the Tonle-Sap River of the Grand Lac of Cambodia, or the nearly total depletion of migrating shrimp stocks taken in bag-nets by fishermen operating near the mouth of the Rokan River, Sumatra. Kesteven also cites numerous other similar instances of over-harvesting by artisanal fishermen in diverse parts of the world; Indonesia in general, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and among fishermen employing tuna traps around Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bell (1978) raises the issue of a society's “time preference” concerning whether or not it will undertake the self-regulation of its marine resources. “In simple terms”, he says, “if a society is on the verge of starvation, its members could not care less about over-fishing … there is no tomorrow for such a society … they have a short time preference: they would rather consume the fish today than save the fish for harvest sometime in the future …” (p. 148). I have witnessed this same sort of behaviour myself, in an impoverished region of rural Pacific Mexico, where individualistic artisanal fishermen, seeking to provide food for themselves and their families, take considerable risks to poach in a severely over-harvested, already-regulated fishing territory.

Another well-known case in which unregulated effort led to resource depletion was the widespread practice of dynamite fishing, particularly in the Philippine Islands. Until this practice was finally curtailed in the early 1970s, it had a disastrous effect on both marine resources and marine environments. Arising early in this century, dynamite became widespread among Philippine artisanal fishermen and eventually even became destructive of the highly-productive, long-established corral-fishing sites (Spoehr, 1980).

Fraser (1966), in his account of artisanal peasant-fishermen of south Thailand, describes a situation in which these fishermen were subjected to so much competitive pressure from larger-scale, offshore commercial fishermen, that they soon found themselves in a situation of unrestrained competition (i.e. amongst themselves), a change which not only further exacerbated the scarcity of their main subsistence stocks - mackerel - but which also was a contributing factor in the breakdown of traditional forms of social and economic organization, many of which had relevance to their fishing behaviour. As offshore, large-scale fishing enterprises rapidly depleted the mackerel stocks, the artisanal fishermen operating inshore began to harvest the mackerel stocks as if there were no tomorrow.

A similar situation is also reported by Dickinson (1974) among artisanal fishermen of Lake Izabal, Guatemala. The fishery - a common-property, open-access resource - has experienced a chaotic rise in harvest pressure, accompanying a similarly chaotic rise in the human population inhabiting the shores of the lake. More effective harvest technology has also been introduced into the fishery and over recent years the catch for a given amount of effort has declined substantially. “The response to a dwindling catch”, Dickinson observes, “has been to fish more diligently, and acquire more nets” (p.396), precisely the type of behaviour foretold in Hardin's description of “the tragedy of the commons” (1968). These are not mere isolated cases. Scott (1952) reports that, in the inshore fisheries of South Africa, artisanal fishermen engaged in such unrestrained effort that they were the main factor promoting resource depletion and severe competition amongst themselves, to such an extent that the central government was forced to impose restraints on types of gear, placement of gear, mandated fishing seasons, area closures, etc. Cordell (1978), writing about marginalized artisanal fishermen fishing in a common-property, open-access fishery of inshore Brazil, notes that these take as their main catches vast quantities of spawning fish, and further, that adherence to tidal timing exigencies concentrates them in the same, limited number of fishing spots, leading to both heavy pressure on these spots, and severe conflicts and competition over access to them. Of course, many of the ills in fisheries such as those described above may be seen more as reactions to some new deleterious factor - the encroachment of outsiders into traditional fishing territories, or the advent of new, more effective technologies - but whatever the cause, they suggest that small-scale fishermen will engage in over-harvesting and contribute to a situation of chaotic competition in an unregulated fishing environment.

A number of researchers have noted the deleterious effects of non-regulated fishing in common-property, open-access fisheries, when traditional subsistence fisheries have undergone a transformation to production for cash income, or to supply a significantly increased market demand. Nietschmann's (1974) account of the Miskito Indians, artisanal turtle fishermen of eastern Honduras (and Nicaragua), and Johannes' (1978) account of the demise of traditional systems for fisheries management accompanying the colonization of Oceania, are both well-documented examples. In both, a traditional, subsistence-oriented economy was subverted by the advent of economic systems emphasizing production for market, and for cash.

When a people produce fish to feed themselves, and perhaps produce a surplus to either barter or sell to their immediate neighbours, a point will be reached beyond which further production has little marginal utility. When people produce fish to sell for cash - cash which they need not only for purchasing life's necessities but also which they come to feel they need in ever-greater amounts to realize the myriad, often illusory dreams which cash-and-market economic systems foist upon them - then there may be no upper bound to their fishing effort.

The foregoing has discussed non-regulation in unmanaged fisheries. In a few instances, being unregulated was seen to have no apparent ill effects but in many more the reverse seemed true. Now I turn my attention to a discussion of “passive” self-regulation in small-scale fisheries, that is, to situations in which, while it may not be the conscious intent of a people to regulate their fisheries, nevertheless certain aspects of their socio-cultural system seem to have that effect.

Passive Regulation in Unmanaged Fisheries

Just because a socio-cultural practice does not have the intent of regulating fishing effort, it does not follow that it is of little consequence for future consideration of fisheries management. In many cases, socio-cultural systems are best appreciated as the result of long-term adaptations to their environments and, if this system was harmonious and sustained a society's members, then it must have features we should consider worthy of retention in any future management scheme. Now some people trust only in intentional action, but indeed the best managed fishery may be one that is not managed at all, but rather one which has developed a well-integrated system of institutions or customs which have the effect of sustaining the well-being of all its members. Whether or not this is the situation in a particular situation must be determined case by case, since as I have already discussed not all unregulated fisheries find themselves in a happy condition of long-term and sustained productivity.

In what follows, I summarize some of the various methods mentioned in various studies which seem to at least passively have the effect of regulating fisheries.

High on the list of passive features which have the effect of preventing over-harvesting or severe competition is simple inability itself: a human population too low to do much damage, a low-impact exploitive technology, or some other combination of factors which add up to a simple inability to over-pressure a fishery. This signals an important consideration in development schemes, that even if a small-scale fishery cannot be left alone, then it should at least be developed very slowly and carefully. The nature of the socio-cultural system, its organization and functioning, as well as an estimate of the state of well-being of the populace, should perhaps be the first consideration in any development scheme, with biologically-based estimates of the fishery's production potential being a secondary consideration (implied in Cordell, 1978). Whatever course of development will be promoted, the developmentalist(s) should keep uppermost in mind the factors that have worked for a society, attempting to retain these (or their analogues) in future management schemes.

Much has been written about the necessity for developmental innovations to be “appropriate” in the socio-cultural milieu in which they are to be introduced, and similarly there are countless accounts now of development projects which brought in inappropriate innovations, much to the target population's detriment.

Extreme caution must thus be exercised in development schemes not to undermine passive means of regulation which seem to have served a people well, whatever these may be. Whether or not a socio-cultural feature is a passive, versus an active, means of self-regulation should not be regarded as an important issue. What is important is a well-informed estimation of its effectiveness.

Not all passive features of fishery-conservation will be desirable for retention: poverty itself, for instance, which prevents people from acquiring sufficient capital to over-harvest their fishery, or poor health or poor education which essentially results in the same.

A human population too low to have a deleterious impact on stocks has already been mentioned as a passive means of fishery regulation. So has an inability to over-exploit resources because of technological factors: having boats or other craft, for example, too small to venture very far offshore or unable to carry large nets or inadequately powered for doing the same. Even the lack of ice, which prevents fishing too far from home port - particularly in warmer climates - has been mentioned as a passive means of limiting fishing effort (Cordell, 1978). Berleant-Schiller (1982), writing about artisanal fishermen in Bermuda, states that “so far, an interaction of environment, artisanal technology, and economy has protected the fishery from depletion and preserved it for local use …”

An interesting anecdote in the vein of simple inability as a means of passive control, is Bowles (1973), noting that harbour-space limitations in certain Maine lobster fisheries effectively restricts the number of fishermen who can enter the fishery, limiting both effort and competition.

Another important passive means of self-regulation, reported in various ways by different authors, is a sort of “lower bound effect”, that is, a situation in which declining productivity in a fishery eventually causes fishermen to turn to other options and leave the fishery alone. The lower bound should not be conceived of as a definite line, which is the same for all fishermen engaged in a fishery, since the relative availability of other options, and differential perceptions of these, will determine the lower bound for each fishermen. However, the idea is that a point will come in a situation of declining yields when stocks become too depleted, profitability too small, or competition too severe - or a combination of such factors - which will deter fishermen from further effort. In its most general sense, this concept is perhaps a universal aspect of fishermen behaviour, and applies regardless of whether the fishery is characterized as “primitive”, “artisanal”, “subsistence-oriented”, “small-scale commercial”, and so forth. The behaviour attending this concept can be inferred from Moseley's (1975) evidence that the ancient inhabitants of the Peru coast turned away from their fisheries (and to agriculture) once they had over-harvested the marine resources upon which they were dependent for subsistence (he also argues that this dynamic process of having to turn away from the fishery for awhile, not returning until it was restored, was conducive of the complexity of pre-conditions leading to the rise of the Andean high civilizations).

What I call the lower-bound effect has also been discussed by other researchers looking at contemporary fisheries' problems. Crutchfield and Pontecorvo (1969), for example, describe the process of “competitive withdrawal”, a situation in which traditionally cooperative fishermen turn to competitive individualism as their fishery becomes over-fished, leading eventually to the withdrawal of some fishermen from the fishery altogether. McCay (1981), who has studied small-scale fishermen in New Jersey (USA), states that, as a fishery moves from a basically private-property, subsistence orientation to a common-property production-for-market situation, corresponding with an influx of more fishermen and/or more effective gear, that we again witness the tragic situation outlined by Hardin (1968) in the “tragedy of the commons”. The point of “economic over-fishing”, she says, will likely be reached before the point of “biological over-fishing” (p.4). Thus, when the lower bound of “economic” fishing is reached, fishermen will leave the fishery, and such behaviour may thus be seen as a passive instrument of self-regulation, no matter how disastrous the situation for the particular fishermen involved. A happier state of affairs, of course, is to maintain a fishery in a state above both the lower bounds of “economic over-fishing” and “biological over-fishing”.

Another important mechanism of passive self-regulation, described in various studies, concerns fishermen turning to other activities because of other exigencies of their socio-cultural systems: economic exigencies, ritual demands, and so forth - all of which entail a turning away from the fishery even during times when continued fishing might be rewarding. Such periodic turning away from the fishery to other activities has the effect of giving the stocks a time for replenishing themselves. Lofgren (1979 and 1982), for example, describes the fishermen-crofters of the North Atlantic fringe who, at certain times of the year, leave fishing for other activities: e.g. agriculture, sheep shearing, timbering, trading activities, crafts, etc. He is joined by other researchers: Leap (1977) and Martin (1979), offering similar observations concerning the rural traditional communities of Newfoundland; Middleton (1977), describing societies of rural fishermen-farmers in Ecuador; Berleant-Schiller (1982), describing Caribbean artisanal fishermen who seasonally turn to cutting, burning, and cultivating their swiddens; and Pi-Sunyer (1977), describing small-scale fishermen in Spain who seasonally leave fishing and turn their attentions to the local tourist industry.

An important idea embodied in nearly all the above works is that it is a rare situation that finds artisanal or small-scale fishermen exclusively reliant upon fishing and, moreover, that a pluralistic occupational pattern is positively adaptive in most cases. Occupational pluralism, most of these writers agree, is not only an important factor for reducing pressure in a fishery, but reduces the risk of disaster that would be possible in any society having only one option for securing its basic livelihood.

Lofgren (1982), describing the transformation of peasant societies in the North Atlantic regions of Sweden, Ireland, and Scotland - from stable, landed peasantry of fishermen-crofters at the beginning of the 18th Century, to landless tenants almost wholly reliant upon wage-labour work aboard trawlers by the 20th Century - provides us with a particularly informative discussion of the disastrous results attending the loss of occupational pluralism among such peoples. Not only has the industrialization of their fisheries left them worse off, but the fisheries themselves are now in a poor condition: too few resources, too much pressure, such that even the industrialized sector now experiences acute problems.

Examples such as the ones cited above should thus provide stern warning to any who would seek to convert a fishery from a system involving occupational pluralism, to one involving fulltime, industrialized modes of fishing enterprise. Craig (1966), for instance, observes that aspirations of the state, particularly a desire for generating foreign exchange through development of export trade, can have disastrous consequences for artisanal fisheries and fishermen (similar observations are recorded in Nietschmann, 1974, concerning the Caribbean turtle fishery, and McGoodwin, 1980, regarding the development of a shrimp-export industry in Pacific Mexico).

Turning periodically away from fishing to other activities may also be prompted by strictly environmental factors, such as severe weather or seasonally high tides. In northern climes, for example, the icing over of the sea or of rivers has been mentioned by Gjessing (1973) as a factor forcing prehistoric maritime hunter-gatherers in northern Norway to turn away from fishing to terrestrial hunting activities. Hewes (1973) similarly notes that icing of rivers and estuarial inlets forced seasonal cessation of fishing activities among the aboriginal inhabitants of the Pacific salmon-fishing regions of the North American northwest.

Certain customs, religious practices, superstitions, or taboos may also cause fishermen to periodically leave their fisheries alone. In much of Europe, fishing effort was long forbidden on the Sabbath (about 52 such days in every year). Both Johannes (1978) and Klee (1980) report abstention from fishing activities in widespread regions of Oceania, because of religious or superstitious beliefs, food taboos during certain times or for certain categories of people, etc., all mechanisms which undoubtedly reduced the extent of fishing effort in any given region.

Information-management behaviour, which is usually discussed as an active strategy of self-regulation, may also be seen as a passive mechanism for limiting fishing effort. Forman (1967), writing about the artisanal raft fishermen of Brazil, notes that secrecy concerning particularly effective spots is for the consciously stated aim of reducing competition at such spots, but doing so may also be seen as a passive means of limiting the harvest effort at these spots. Later in this paper I will discuss secrecy and information management as an active strategy for limiting entry or fishing effort.

So-called randomizing techniques have been argued by a few cultural ecologists as a passive mechanism for limiting effort applied to food resources. A form of divination called scapulimancy, widely reported as a hunting-search technique (although not in fishing) employed by various aboriginal inhabitants of the north circumpolar regions of North America and Eurasia, is one good example. Scapulimancy is a divinatory technique in which a shaman “reads” the char marks on a (deer or reindeer) scapula withdrawn from a fire and, from his interpretation of these, he indicates where hunters should concentrate their effort. Because, presumably, he sends hunters off in random directions, the long-term effect of this socio-cultural practice has been argued to be an important factor in limiting mortality and sustaining vital food resources (Moore, 1957). I am somewhat skeptical of such interpretations, however. Among rural shark fishermen I have studied in Pacific Mexico, while their search for sharks is initially predicated upon resort to a randomizing search technique, once they find shark concentrations they tend to harvest the concentration until their productivity dwindles, only returning to a random-search technique once contact with the concentrations is lost (McGoodwin, 1979). Seen thus, such behaviour would seem more a way to maximize productivity and not to sustain the stocks.

Technology, mentioned earlier as a mechanism for passive self-regulation by virtue of low impact and/or low effectiveness, may also have the effect of reducing harvest pressure by spacing out fishing effort, working against tendencies for fishermen to concentrate in particular spots. Cordell (1978) notes that, among artisanal fishermen exploiting an inshore fishery in Brazil, the mere fact of having different gear naturally causes fishermen to space out their efforts, since each type of gear is only appropriately applied in the micro-environment most suitable to it. The lesson in this case, I suppose, is that a diversity of gear may be a desirable state of affairs, since it avoids the problem of fishermen all having the same gear attempting to fish at the same time in a limited number of highly productive spots.

A particularly interesting mechanism for passive self-regulation of fishing effort is any sort of cultural deterrent to the use of fish and other marine life as human food. Simoons, et al. (1979) reports the existence of cultural deterrents to the consumption of marine foods in widespread parts of the world: among the aboriginal Tasmanian peoples living on the islands off southern Australia, for example, who would not eat scaled fish; or in vast areas of northeast, east and south Africa; in many parts of India and Sri Lanka, where the authors estimate as much as a third of the population never consumes marine foods; and among various indigenous peoples in the North American southwest who, because of religious beliefs and superstitions, avoided marine foods altogether. Klee (1980) also reports instances of marine-food avoidance in parts of Oceania, particularly in the Society and Hawaiian Islands. Whatever the reason for these avoidances of marine foods, undoubtedly they have the effect of reducing the demand for marine food, if not also reducing overall fishing effort in any given situation.

A final note. Hewes (1973) observes that decimation of the aboriginal population brought about by the incursions of new settlers along the North American Pacific coast in the late 18th to mid-19th Centuries, resulted in a “non-deliberate, conservational effort”, regarding the region's salmon stocks such that, with the advent of the commercial salmon industry in the 1860s, those stocks were higher than they had been for millenia. Of course, nobody is going to propose decimation of a human population as a means for limiting fishing effort, but a reduction of the population devoted to fishing through means of re-settlement or re-direction to other (non-fishing) occupations should be considered as one possible means for limiting fishing effort.

Active Regulation in Unmanaged Fisheries

McCay (1978) has observed that most indigenous management schemes have actively attempted to regulate or limit access to space rather than levels of effort or, as Acheson (1981a) states “The object is not to protect or conserve the fish as much as to reserve the fish that are there for one's self”. Of course, many systems of active regulation incorporate means other than merely those which regulate access to space: gear avoidance, not harvesting spawning stocks, information management, and so forth. But rights of access are usually a first or fundamental aspect of self-management in indigenous regulatory schemes. As I shall show, the preponderance of indigenous management techniques involve, in one way or another, the assertion of proprietary rights over spaces in which resources exist. As Andersen (1982) notes, controlled access to fishing space and resources is not new; it is as old as fisheries themselves. The beginnings of fisheries management, he continues, occurs continues, occurs “when the resource is limited and fishing is susceptible to social and economic changes” (p.19). And such is the situation in most small-scale fisheries today: limited resources and profound social and economic changes.

One of the most basic means for limiting access to fishing spaces and resources is the assertion of both formal and informal property rights, mainly to deny “outsiders” access to fishing territories. And we should not assume that the notion of property rights is a relatively recent innovation in human history. Primitive hunter-gatherer bands, while not perhaps placing too much emphasis on personal property, did undoubtedly develop notions of privileged access to certain territories. And certainly, with the advent of sedentism, and especially the development of agriculture and settled life, at least community ownership of productive territory was a certain fact (Andersen, 1974).

In Japan, perhaps for millenia, fishing villages have owned (in common) their traditional grounds and prevented unwanted entry into these by outsiders. Often, the recognition and enforcement of these community ownership rights was through provincial, prefectural governments (Befu, 1981; Chang, 1971; Matsuda, 1972; Nishimura, 1975; and Norbeck, 1954). In the Philippines and throughout most of Oceania prior to European colonization, chiefs, clans, communities or families asserted ownership rights and prerogatives of administrative control over fisheries (for the Philippines see Blair and Robertson, 1903; for Oceania see Johannes, 1973, 1977, 1978; Klee, 1980; Knudson, 1970, Lessa - 1966; and Sahlins, 1958). Similarly, assertion of exclusive property rights has been observed for the highly advanced indigenous chiefdoms of the salmon-fishing regions of Pacific northwest North America (Drucker, 1965; Hewes, 1973). In the North American northwest, in what is now Washington State, individual persons among the coastal Salish Indians apparently enjoyed formalized, inherited property rights over prime oyster beds, as well as some fishing grounds (Suttles, 1974); and in what is now northwestern California, the Yoruk Indians asserted communal rights over certain beaches and coastal fishing grounds (Beals and Hester, 1974).

In Pacific-coastal Mexico, it seems that prime sites for weirs, and also particularly rich oyster beds, were under the administrative control of chiefdoms at least by 1,200 A.D. (Scott et al., 1971).

As early as the 13th Century, and perhaps much earlier, the royal kings of Britain asserted both rights of ownership and rights of administration over prime fisheries (Moore and Moore, 1903). In 17th Century New England (USA), in various towns of the Cape Cod region, the alewife catch was regulated by a warden who established days for fishing and allowed only town residents to participate in the fishery (Hay, 1959).

One should not assume that these “indigenous” assertions of property rights in the preceding examples necessarily became a thing of the past with the advent of colonialism, and particularly with the coming of colonialism's new doctrine, “the freedom of the seas”. Indeed, indigenous systems of property rights and limited entry in fisheries are very much with us today.

In the Philippines, for example, prime sites for fish corrals - some of which were owned and administered by the Tagalog chiefs in pre-colonial times and which, during the colonial era, were controlled by Spanish colonial authorities - are now owned and administered by the municipal governments in their regions, even though most other coastal and offshore fishing grounds in the Philippines have long since become common-property resources (Spoehr, 1980). Furthermore, in south coastal India, villages still assert property rights over particular fishing grounds, even though technically these fisheries too are common-property resources (Norr, 1972). In diverse parts of Oceania, traditional, pre-colonial systems of marine-resource management - particularly those conferring property rights and prescribing limited entry into certain fisheries - are now being reinstitutionalized (Johannes, 1978).

Brox (1964) notes that the assumption of rights to marine territories and resources through mechanisms such as inheritance and marriage are still in effect in parts of northern Norway. Andersen (1976) discusses how small-scale (handline) artisanal fishermen of Bermuda have a system of “positional tenure” over shallow-water fishing areas, particularly those areas they have recently baited.

Just how fishermen and fishing communities enforce their property rights presents an interesting array of behaviour. Probably one of the most interesting means is through extralegal (i.e. illegal) assertion of rights, that is, the assertion of rights, exclusive access, etc., in a manner contrary to formally established legal regimes of a central authority, and often in fisheries which are otherwise legally considered common property. As Andersen (1982) states, the “development of public, legally enacted management schemes often does not stop the exercise of indigenous strategies for self-regulation, not even when the new legal managerial regimes render the indigenous strategies illegal”.

Similarly, Acheson (1972, 1975, 1979 and 1982), in a number of interesting accounts all discussing the indigenous management system employed in Maine lobster fisheries, highlights how extralegal regulatory measures supersede the regulatory regime of the state, which officially asserts the fishery is a common-property resource. Although technically the Maine lobster fisheries are a common property and anybody wishing to fish in them has a legal right to do so, so long as he purchases the necessary licence and abides by various laws and regulations, in actual practice entry into the fishery by an “outsider” would be extremely difficult. In the Maine lobster fishery, each harbour has a “harbour gang” composed of community members who mutually recognize each other's right to work in the fishery. Entry into a harbour gang basically only comes about through birth and/or long-term residence in the community, kinship with a harbour-gang member, starting out while young and not starting out too ambitiously. Furthermore, each harbour gang asserts exclusive rights of access to a fishing territory associated with its harbour. This territory has more or less definite bounds, although it may overlay with the territories of other harbour gangs at some distance from home port.

Interlopers who intrude into a harbour-gang's territory risk reprisal in various forms: everything from verbal or physical abuse to loss and/or destruction of their gear. Thus, each harbour gang along the Maine coast asserts common ownership and exclusive access to the lobster-fishing territory associated with its harbour.

A similar state of affairs is reported by Andersen (1982), who notes that small-scale fishermen from villages along the Newfoundland coast exercise various extralegal sanctions against outsiders encroaching in what they assert are their exclusive territories. Again, these sanctions range through verbal abuse and “sheer aggressive dominance” to such measures as cutting away the trawl lines of interlopers.

Pi-Sunyer (1977) records an instance in which artisanal fishermen in Spain physically barred large vessels from landing their catches in their town. In 1979, artisanal fishermen from Goa, India, after suffering years of declining catches in their traditional coastal fishing grounds because of the incursion of industrial-scale trawlers, eventually took matters into their own hands, seizing two trawlers and setting them on fire, a move which undoubtedly diminished trawling effort in their region (Osamu et al., 1979).

This author has also observed various instances of extralegal assertion of property or territorial rights, or rights of exclusive access, in certain fisheries of concern to artisanal-peasant fishermen in rural pacific Mexico. The entry of new middlemen (marketeers) is particularly discouraged in various rural villages, with sanctions ranging from verbal abuse to sabotage and violence. The entry of outside middlemen is also effectively discouraged by local middlemen's practice of “tying up” the catches of local fishermen through the ages-old system of debt peonage. Furthermore, sabotaging and stealing gear set by fishermen from neighbouring villages, who have set their gear in territories that a particular village (extralegally) asserts is reserved for itself, sometimes occurs. Although national-governmental laws have set aside formerly traditional fishing grounds for the exclusive use of local fishing cooperatives, impoverished fishermen who are not members of those organizations openly fish in the cooperatives' reserved territories, and more than once have committed violent acts against governmental agents dispatched to such areas for purposes of enforcement (McGoodwin, 1980). Furthermore, prior to Mexico's assertion of its exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles, foreign longliners often set their lines fairly close to the Pacific coast and artisanal shark fishermen I have studied for years have often shown me such gear they took for themselves, stating they took whatever gear they encountered, both to save on gear costs and also to reserve resources for themselves.

The exclusion of “outsiders” is thus a very common strategy in indigenous systems of fisheries management, and methods for excluding them range from definition of the “in” or member group, through schemes of informational management to acts of sabotage, verbal abuse, and/or physical violence.

Among small-scale oyster fishermen in a rural community on Apalachicola Bay, Florida (USA), kinship ties define possible participants in the fishery. This community exhibits a type of insularity or “clannishness” typical of many rural fishing communities throughout the world (Rockwood et al., 1973), and similar observations come from diverse other small fishing communities; in Newfoundland (Andersen, 1979 and 1982; Martin, 1979), Maine (Acheson, 1979), Sweden (Lofgren, 1982), north-western Washington (Suttles, 1974), and Oceania (Johannes, 1978).

A number of researchers have commented upon how systems of informational management also may serve to spatially separate fishermen, exclude others from a fishery, or effectively limit their effort (Acheson, 1981; Forman, 1967 and 1970; McCay, 1981). Fishermen often form alliances - “code groups”, for example - in which a sub-set of the total number of fishermen engaged in a fishery share information while otherwise denying important information to other fishermen not part of their alliance (Orbach, 1977; Stuster, 1976 and 1978). Various writers have urged that information management, particularly that which maintains secrecy about good fishing spots, confers a temporary, defacto property right upon those having the information (Forman, 1967 and 1970; Lofgren, 1972; Stuster, 1978). Andersen (1972) speaks of how “informational capital” is concentrated in patrilineally-related fishing groups of small-scale fishermen in Newfoundland. These, he states, employ a diversity of strategies of informational management: e.g. hoarding information on especially good fishing locations, giving misleading information to others - mainly in the form of under-statement - in order to lead them away and/or cause them to waste time and effort, or not landing all of one's catch at any one time or place in order to understate its extent.

Kottak (1966), discussing artisanal fishermen at Arembepe, Brazil explains that, while fishermen there view the sea as an open-access resource, they keep information about good spots secret.

Informational management of this type is elaborately discussed in two well-known studies by Forman (1967, 1970). In his description of artisanal raft fishermen who fish along the Brazilian coast, he explains that these view the fishery as an open-access, common-property resource. Information concerning good fishing grounds among these fishermen is more or less common knowledge, while information concerning particularly good spots within these grounds is a highly guarded secret. The common knowledge of good grounds, he argues, guarantees at least moderate success for everybody, while the secret knowledge about particularly good spots prevents excessive competition around these.

Similarly, discussing the value of information-management systems in artisanal fisheries, Cordell (1974) describes a complex system of knowledge employed by inshore artisanal fishermen working in an estuarine region of Brazil and laments that the loss of this knowledge through the demise of their traditional fishing systems will be a serious loss for the science of fisheries management, since these systems encode and are based upon years of accumulated experience in that particular marine ecosystem. He further states, however, that he is not certain whether these fishermen's specialized knowledge is a definite factor preventing over-harvesting, since most of them eventually learn the system. I will return to the matter of the salience of these and other methods for excluding or limiting “outsiders” in the final paragraphs of this section.

In my own research in Pacific Mexico, I have recorded a marked contextual difference in informational management among that region's artisanal fishermen. Basically, what I have observed is a greater tendency for secrecy and giving misleading information while fishing inshore waters and a practically opposite sort of behaviour - i.e. cooperative sharing of information - while fishing offshore (McGoodwin, 1979). This brings to mind Cordell's observation, that most traditional inshore fisheries are inherently “fixed-territorial” in nature, necessitating relatively greater regulation of specific spaces, than is the case with fishing offshore (Cordell, 1978). This observation, incidentally, is congruent with Andersen's (1982) observation that offshore Newfoundland fishermen show a greater desire for limiting effort in harvesting pelagic, as opposed to demersal species, feeling fishing activity has a greater tendency to disturb pelagic species. McCay (1981) similarly observes less tendency to limit effort on migratory as opposed to more fixed-territorial resources. A general conclusion thus arises, that the more confined, territorially limited, immobile, or vulnerable the resource is to being disturbed, the greater will be the tendency on the part of fishermen to create mechanisms for limiting fishing effort on that resource. Indeed, it is now generally accepted that, as a fishery becomes highly pressured, rights of access are usually the first and most fundamental aspect of any innovations in its managerial regime.

A number of researchers studying aspects of self-regulation in fisheries have argued that skill differences may be far more important in limiting productivity than any differences in effort per se (Acheson, 1977 and 1981; Andersen, 1973 and 1979; Cordell, 1974; Forman, 1967). Differences in skill imply differential access to information, and the reluctance of fishermen to share information concerning skills has been widely observed (e.g. Acheson, 1977; Andersen, 1980; Drucker, 1965; Farris, 1972; Forman, 1970; Nemec, 1972; Paine, 1957). One of the astounding observations of this author during early field studies in Pacific Mexico was to note the great differences in fish harvested by various fishermen from the same village. Much of the difference could be attributed to differential knowledge of special spots, but one particularly amazing observation was to note great differences in yield among fishermen all fishing at the same spot, and using the same methods, bait, gear, etc.

Some other interesting methods for regulating access to fishing space merit mention here: basically, various forms of fishing etiquette, such as taking turns or honouring first-come, first-served at a fishing spot where the number of fishermen desiring to exploit it greatly exceeds the availability of fishing space (see examples in Britan, 1979; Cordell, 1978; Catarinussi, 1973; Orbach, 1977; Alexander, 1977). In his account concerning artisanal beach-seine fishermen in southern Sri Lanka, Alexander (1977) describes a rather elaborate system of taking turns in the deployment of a relatively large number of beach seines in a limited number of good spots. While the Sri Lanka fishermen perceive their fishery as an open-access, common-property resource, they are also aware that chaotic competition would ensue if all groups owning beach seines competed simultaneously for the limited number of good fishing spots. Hence, their local society has developed a system of taking turns based, according to Alexander, upon “the moral principle … of equal opportunity”. Similarly, artisanal net fishermen in a crowded, inshore-Brazilian fishery described by Cordell (1978), employ a complex system for asserting at least temporary property rights at prime fishing spaces: e.g. spacing, if possible; honouring the principle of first-come, first-served; or, if a number of fishermen arrive simultaneously at a good site, then lots are drawn to determine the order in which they will get to shoot their nets. Andersen (1982) also discussed analogous sytems of internal management which were formerly employed by small-scale, traditional fishermen in Newfoundland: e.g. “gentlemen's agreements” and holding drawings for named sites for placing cod traps.

Assertion of property rights - whether through legal or extra-legal means, informational management or mechanisms of “etiquette”, etc. - are only the main methods by which fishermen attempt to control fishing space. Certainly, concerted political activism is another important method employed for achieving that aim.

I mention political activism in a singular context in order to counter the often heard ideas that most small-scale fishermen are not politically inclined, are rugged individualists, are not particularly given to cooperative action or, because of the linearity of coastlines, they are naturally isolated from one another, making concerted political action difficult (Nishimura, 1973; Hewes, 1948; discussion such characteristics in fishermen's cultures). Nonetheless, in many instances small-scale fishermen have taken politically effective action - both legal and extralegal - in order to secure exclusive or preferential access to fishing space. The formation of fishing cooperatives, for instance, is probably the best example of effective political action, with too many cases to mention here. However, in the following I will mention a number of noteworthy examples of politically effective action (other than cooperative formation) having importance in this discussion of self-regulation in fisheries.

Pi-Sunyer (1976) notes a case in which small-scale fishermen in Spain were effective in barring a yacht club from building on what was traditionally the fishermen's beach. The importance of the beach to the local fishermen was more symbolic - a matter of their history and traditions - than it was economic by the time the controversy arose. Nevertheless, the fishermen took their case to the central government and won a judgement in their favour.

Thomson (1980) reports an instance in which gillnet and driftnet fishermen in North Yemen's Red Sea fisheries, after suffering years of depradations by large-scale trawlers which had entered their traditional fishing grounds, politically organized and got their central government to withdraw permission for the trawlers to operate there. Furthermore, in another case reported by Thomson (1980), small-scale fishermen in the Malacca and Bali Straits, East Java, Indonesia, who had suffered similar depradations of their traditional fishing grounds due to the efforts of trawlers and purse seiners, were influential in securing a governmental decree stating that they (i.e. the artisanal fishermen) would be the priority group in Indonesia's future fishery-development programmes.

These are not mere isolated examples. Throughout the world small-scale fishermen are becoming less isolated, owing to advances in communications and transportation, and also more politically aware. Gradually also, their significant contributions to their national cultures is becoming more widely understood. Increasingly, in a variety of important fishing regions, they are becoming successful in getting legal frameworks established which limit access to their fishing grounds (Andersen, 1974; Charest, 1979; Johannes, 1978; Klee, 1980; Martin, 1979; Osamu et al., 1979).

Control of fishing space, while perhaps the major means of self-regulation in unmanaged fisheries, is not the only means of importance. The practice of biologically sound conservationist principles has also been widely recorded in a number of indigenous systems of fisheries management. Johannes (1978), for example, states that “Almost every basic fisheries conservation measure developed in the west was in use in the tropical Pacific centuries ago”. These measures included closed seasons, banning fishing during spawning periods, allowing a portion of the catch to escape, deliberately not taking all the available stock of certain species, holding excess catches in enclosures until needed, a ban on taking small individuals (particularly slow-moving or sessile organisms, though not small fish), restricting the number of traps in an area, and even avoiding the harvest of seabirds and/or their eggs, particularly species of birds which help indicate the locations of fish. “Gear restrictions” he observes, however, “probably the oldest form of fisheries regulation in the west, seem to be the rarest form of conservation in Oceania” (p.355). These observations are augmented by Klee (1980), who records the use of master fishermen in parts of Oceania in the role of “conservation officers” and “fishery ecologists”. In many Micronesian fisheries, he notes, these masterfishermen were empowered with the authority to permission and/or organize fishing parties, lead communal efforts (especially turtle hunts) and restrain fishermen's efforts so as to conserve resources.

Moore and Moore (1903) write that, in 13th Century Britain, Royal Regulations governing salmon fishing in the Country of Cumberland required riverine nets to be spaced far enough apart to allow some of the spawning fish to pass upstream. Such spacing was referred to as “The King's Gap”.

In the aboriginal salmon fisheries of Pacific North America, the various chiefdoms there attempted to limit both effort and mortality through imposing limits on the times of day and the seasons in which harvesting activity could occur, imposing catch limits or quotas in view of needs and the removal of traps at certain times so salmon could proceed upstream. These measures were well-known features of the salmon fisheries at Celilo (near the present-day Washington-Oregon State boundary) and at Kettle Falls (near present-day Spokane, Washington). It is clear the aboriginal peoples enacted these self-regulatory measures for the conscious purpose of sustaining the resource (Walker, 1983), and one researcher in this fishery suggests they may have also allowed salmon to escape upstream in order to maintain alliances with and/or forestall the aggression of people living upstream (Hewes, 1983).

In various contemporary fisheries, fishermen have been observed to employ conservationist measures in order to sustain stocks, at least so long as access to the fishery is limited and neither dwindling yields nor chaotic competition is being experienced. Johnson (1982) has observed artisanal fishermen in Honduras returning small fish to the water so they can grow to larger size. Acheson (1982) notes that small-scale lobster fishermen in Maine impose internal restraints on their own members' fishing behaviour: e.g. directing verbal abuse at “harbour gang” members, for example, who are seen as over-zealous in their production effort (fishing in bad weather or setting too many traps) and in a few instances avoiding the use of more effective gear (metal traps), feeling it might lead to over-harvesting. Furthermore, Berleant-Schiller (1982), describing artisanal lobster divers in Barbuda in the Caribbean Sea, notes these spare gravid females and also consciously turn away from fishing activity when they feel declining yields indicate their resources are being over-harvested. In.that study, the author strongly argues that the artisanal fishery meets the needs of subsistence and also redistributes money among the island's populace, while never enough money is earned to finance more mechanized modes of fishing. “So far”, Berleant-Schiller states, “an interaction of environment, artisanal technology, and economy has protected the fishery from depradation and preserved it for local use”, a “working balance”, which could easily be upset by mechanization aimed at increasing production (p.134).

McCay (1981) also reports instances of voluntary restraint and/or application of conservationist measures on the part of clam-fishermen she studied in New Jersey. These fishermen, she recalls, state that if they did not exercise restraint they could “send the clams to the same fate as the American buffalo” and that they selectively “thin the stocks for a better harvest”. She also reports that these fishermen intentionally limit their own productivity, not only to sustain stocks but also to support or drive up their price in the marketplace.

Are indigenous methods of asserting private property, limited entry, excluding outsiders, extra-legal action, informational management, etc. effective means of fishery management? Good studies show that when fishermen have property rights there is less tendency to over-exploit marine resources (Acheson, 1975; Berkes, 1977; Johannes, 1973; McCay, 1980; Wilson, 1977). Johannes (1973), for instance, notes that in Micronesia the ownership of reef and lagoon sites by chiefs and families is today a viable means of control “except around population centres”, whereas in Western Samoa and the Cook Islands, where such sites are now common property, the stocks are over-exploited. However, a contradictory conclusion may be drawn from Andersen (1982) who notes that, while Newfoundland fishermen have been mostly successful in excluding “outsiders” from entry into their fishing grounds, they have still over-harvested their fishery. Local strategies for excluding outsiders, he concludes, have been ineffective over the long run to sustain resources. Of course, the Newfoundland fisheries have been extensively exploited for a long time, and have also been subjected to various unstabilizing forces in more recent years, such as the introduction of more effective gear and changing managerial regimes.

Concerning informational management and/or secrecy as a possibly effective strategy for fisheries management, the opinions of various researchers seem inconclusive. For example, while Forman (1967) asserts that among Brazilian raft fishermen secrecy accords temporary property rights over prime spaces, minimizes competition and prevents their over-exploitation, McCay (1978) and Cordell (1973) both caution - in essence - that quantitative substantiation is lacking to prove whether secrecy accomplishes such aims and, furthermore, it is certain that secrecy is conducing to inefficiency and wasted effort.

Summary and Conclusions

As I have shown, in the unmanaged fisheries of early, primitive, pre-colonial and/or pre-industrial humanity - fisheries which may not have employed any mechanisms for self-regulation - it was not always the case that their human inhabitants lived in a state of harmony and balance with nature. Although some instances of persisting harmony were noted - cases in which there seemed to be neither self-regulation nor over-exploitation - these cases were seen to be rare, and it seems more generally the case - particularly in fisheries where the human population has become dense and its technology highly effective - that, unless means for controlling access and effort are developed and implemented, the phenomenon known as “the tragedy of the commons” will almost inevitably arise.

Important aspects of passing self-regulation reviewed in this paper included simple inability to over-harvest, by virtue of low human population and/or technological inadequacy to over-harvest, and also the existence of plural economic systems, in which fishing is only one of a number of essential economic activities available. Also important as a means of passive control is the lower-bound phenomenon, a point at which fishermen decide fishing is no longer worth the effort and turn to other activities. Economic pluralism, it is concluded, seems a healthy, positively adaptive state of affairs in small-scale fisheries, and this observation should provide a stern warning to any who would seek to transform a pluralistic economy into one in which fishing - particularly highly-mechanized fishing - becomes the exclusive occupational activity.

Other passing restraints on fishing effort were mentioned - food taboos, religious or ritual practices, randomizing strategies, reduction of the human population devoted to fishing, etc. - all of which may be seen as possibly effective indigenous mechanisms for passive self-regulation.

Most active means of fishery regulation arising in indigenous systems of management entail limitations on access to fishing space through various means: the formal assertion of property rights and/or administrative control, exclusion of outsiders by both legal and extralegal means, information management, political activism, etc. An important point seems that localized fishermen will enact their own strategies for fisheries management, even when doing so may be illegal or even when their fisheries come under the aegis of a higher, centralized authority.

Most data-based studies having quantitative salience in the evaluation of fishery-management strategies apply to large-scale, highly industrialized modes of fishing and, although tremendous progress has been made over recent decades, most experts still agree that mathematical approaches to fisheries management are still in their infancy and are at best a very inexact science. The situation concerning the scientific management of small-scale fisheries is even less well developed, perhaps only embryonic, with very few studies now available quantitatively testing the salience of various strategies of indigenous management systems. Such studies are badly needed if we are to have informed policies for the future management of small-scale or artisanal fisheries. As Kesteven (1976) stated a few years ago, “I know of no systematic and comprehensive study of an artisanal fishery in which catch and effort have been measured, mortalities estimated, and the value obtained for the exploitation index…” However, he does state that good data-based studies may soon be available concerning the artisanal fisheries in lagoonal Pacific Mexico, and in Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Thus, the lessons or suggestions I offer below should be taken as little better than well-informed hunches or intuitions.

Concerning the appropriate management of small-scale fisheries and fishermen, I offer the following suggestions, most of which have been deduced from the foregoing review of the various studies going into research for this paper. First, to the extent possible, future schemes for management should rely heavily upon the incorporation of indigenous strategies, especially when these seem to be effective and are in accord with accepted biological principles of fishery management; second, in many fisheries the possibility of rescinding common-property regimes should be given a high priority, with an eye toward substitution with regimes featuring limited entry. This seems particularly true in inshore and coastal fisheries - especially in any fisheries in which marine resources are basically immobile or environmentally circumscribed. Similarly, to the extent possible, these limited-entry regimes should correspond to the existing domains of both socio-cultural regions and marine eco-zones; third, as a matter of general policy, emphasis should not be placed on the retention of indigenous mechanisms of informational management (such as secrecy, etc.) nor upon gear restrictions, since both are conducive to inefficiency and wasted effort; fourth, every attempt should be made to conserve and/or revitalize subsistence-oriented effort and effort for supplying regional markets, even if this is at the expense of larger-scale and export-oriented fishing enterprise. The idea here is the creation of a sort of upper bound on productivity, which is congruent with a fishery's sustainable supply; fifth and finally, continuing emphasis should be placed upon the formation of fishermen's cooperatives and upon political activism in the service of just causes.


An intellectual debt is acknowledged to the following published works, each of which was especially informative in conducting research for this paper: Acheson, 1981a; Johannes, 1978; McCay 1981; and Pollnac, 1976.


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