Last week I went to visit the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile to meet Dr Stefan Gelcich, one of the principle scientists researching the artisanal fisheries management systems in Chile. I asked him a few questions (some general, some specific) about fisheries, rights-based management and his work and the TURF management system.
With regard to overfishing and the global fishing crisis, is it all just doom and gloom?
I am personally not that negative about our global fisheries. There are some fisheries that are well managed, that have data and that have stock assessments which have been shown to be reversing trends of over-exploitation. There are however other fisheries where we know very little, where we really don’t know what state they are in, and of course there are other fisheries that are heavily overexploited. I think there’s more than one bag regarding the state of global fisheries and we have to start identifying in which category each sits and how we can use different approaches to manage each of the different problems a fishery faces.
Who owns the sea? Who has true rights to the sea? Does everyone have a right to it?
Hmmm this is a hard one. I’m not sure I believe everyone has a right to the sea or nobody has a right to the sea. It might just be Res nullius (nobody’s property) as opposed to everyone having a right. In any case it should be an open access resource.We have to start confronting the fact that in many places it is an open access situation with no property rights and its from this starting point that we have to manage the resource.
What is meant by the terms “open access”?
When we use the term open access regime we are actually talking about a system in which anyone can access a resource, so it’s an open system in which there’s practically no regulations and a system in which an individual gains from extracting a resource. Such systems can actually lead to a situation where the resource becomes over exploited as everyone collectively uses the resource for his own gain.
What is meant by the term “Tragedy of the commons”?
Hardin coined this term of the “tragedy of the commons” many years ago when he was actually referring to the fact that some resources have an open access regime and if more and more people access the resource it can become over exploited. What Hardin said many years ago was that there are two possible answers to this problem; 1) making this resource state owned or 2) privatizing the resource. Then Elinor Ostrom and a series of other scholars, I think rightfully came to the conclusion that there are in fact other alternatives to managing a common pool resource and that civil society can generate their own institutions in order to manage such resources.
What are the options for marine fisheries management other than “open access” management scenarios?
Some alternatives to open access regimes; some are basic things in fisheries management like having fishery registers, other things are a little bit more elaborate such as granting rights that allow user rights or granting quota rights, individual quotas, transferable non-transferable, territorial user rights, but I think even having defined access through fishermen registries, these types of things already are a step towards avoiding the overexploitation of an open access resource. Sometimes those basic steps are things we need, we sometimes try managing too hard and we forget about the simple tools that we sometimes have.
What is rights-based management?
Granting access rights is a way of rights-based management. Managing fisheries through rights-based approaches, other people call them catch share approaches is something that can be done to help sustainably manage a shared resource. It is however not a panacea. There are many traditional, customary, right-based management approaches, even in Chile, you’ve got some approaches that are not legal but they have been going for more than a hundred years. For example, informal access rights over big rocks in certain areas and stones between people of a community. It’s not just something that scientists do and talk about. There’s a lot to learn about how to manage things through rights in existing , traditional systems.
It’s a bit sad that we are losing some of these traditional systems just because of the fact that we want to implement new right-based schemes. It is extremely helpful to know about traditional management systems as they are often based on granting some kind of access rights within the community. We need to understand these fully before we try to implement something new on top.
What do you have in Chile – open access or rights-based or both?
In Chile we have a fisheries registry so in some way it’s not totally open access to begin with, beyond that we also have some spatial planning of our coast and some quota systems depending on the resource being fished. Within the territorial aspects we have a 5 miles exclusive access rights zone given to artisanal fishermen, so industrial fishermen cannot fish within the 5 miles but artisanal fishermen can fish within or outside the 5 miles. We also have another policy that grants territorial user rights (TURFs) to organised groups of artisanal fishermen. This is a policy called the management and exploitation area (MEABR) policy: areas de manejo y exploitacion de recursos bentonicos.
What other fishery initiatives are being employed in Chile to aid the sustainable development of the fishery sector?
In terms of trying to manage open access areas for benthic resources (resources associated with the sea bottom) we have a new policy that tries to create artisanal management plans, that I think is very innovative and it’s about how you can manage sectors of the coast, accounting for one or more species in open access areas. Understanding / deciding who has the rights to fish such areas will be critical in the implementation of these plans. That’s something new that’s coming now I think that’s really interesting.
When did Chile really start to think more sustainably about its artisanal fisheries management?
Chile had a turning point in 1991, when they established the 1991 fisheries policy. I am interested specifically in how this policy created the territorial user rights, and how it granted user rights to artisanal fishermen for benthic resources, but there’s other very innovative parts to this policy including the 5 miles exclusive access zones.
Can the idea of TURFS and ITQs be successfully implemented at larger scales?
I don’t know, I’m not sure. But TURFs are not a panacea. They have to evolve with time and they have to be linked to the ecological resources that you are managing so they may not be appropriate for everyone and all situations. They also have to be linked to a basic governance system, you can’t just implement them, there has to be a whole process before you establish the TURFs. In Chile I think that TURFs have to continue evolving as well. We have to start managing TURFs maybe for multiple ecosystem services now that there are so many. Maybe we have too many TURFs and we need some more open access areas? I don’t think all problems can be solved only by implementing TURF systems. I think it’s very important to clarify that there is no one silver bullet for fisheries management. There are some good things that have come out of the implementation of TURFs in Chile, but this does not mean that everything is good and we have to stop thinking about it. So now we can start thinking about TURFs for reef fish or TURFs in terms of biodiversity, or maybe there are some places that TURFs won’t work and there are resources that are not well adapted to TURFs, even if they are benthic resources. We have to start recognising this and managing accordingly.
In the past you have written about “critical junctures” when new management measures can be applied?
I believe that there are times that a window of opportunity exists – a time that is appropriate to change the way we manage fisheries or change the way we think about the conservation of marine biodiversity. Many of the changes we have seen have to do with reaching a crisis. But being prepared to look at this crisis and use this crisis as a way to change but I believe it’s not necessary to end up with a crisis in order to change.
How important is science in driving successful changes in marine fisheries management and why? Do we really need thorough science before we make these decisions to change?
I’m a scientist, so I think science is important. It would be very strange for me not to think science is important. Science does have an important, critical role to play. In Chile I think science is having a critical role because there has been historically little participation of other sectors such as NGOs. This is now changing and today there are some very good NGO’s that are working pretty well in establishing the link between science and community. I think that there is a synergy we have to work upon, especially in developing countries. I see this in other countries working better, this synergy between NGOs, scientists and local communities and I think this needs developing further in Chile. Developing academic-based NGOs that can bridge the gap between science and the local community. Historically though, it has been the scientists who have had to bridge these gaps in Chile.
How important is it to have a strong link between fishers, scientists, managers and government in policy transformations? Can we do without one of those parties?
No we can’t. In my opinion, in order to have successful management of resources, irrespective of what the tool is, whether it’s a rights-based tool, not a rights-based tool, whatever it is, it’s all about communication and it’s about a good understanding and a good possibility to adapt your management strategies between fishermen, scientists, consultants and government officials. Good communications is key. We need to be able to generate a setting for management, more than a specific management tool. Every country can generate small changes in the way they manage their resources, you really need to understand the setting to undertake successful management.
Sometimes we think of the setting as the end point and its really the beginning of everything.
In your opinion, what else is needed for successful management?
I believe in establishing learning platforms, case studies, platforms where scientists, fishermen and government officials can all learn about the ecosystem. Systems in which they can work together and try new methods of approaching the management of our natural resources. I think that if we don’t develop good learning platforms before we try scaling ideas up we may run the risk of making big mistakes.
Why is it important to have flexible and adaptable management procedures?
Management should have some flexibility, some capacity to adapt, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of global change we don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of how local communities are going to react to some management measures, so we need some degree of flexibility in our policies. Of course we can’t tailor everything to every place but if we include some flexibility into management policies, revisiting these policies, having options for participation of all local actors in these policies I think we can tailor these things into management.
What do you think is the best way of tackling failing fisheries management schemes?
Solving fisheries crises is more than the biophysical sciences and the fisheries models. Sure, we have to understand them, but we also have to do the social sciences, we have to understand the coupling between the social and ecological systems and the governance setting in which it sits. It’s not only about fish, it’s fish and people. We need to understand how the social-ecological systems interact with each other at different scales. Most of our fisheries are determined by global markets, we can’t forget that there are global markets that are driving some of these things, so how adapted or ill-adapted are our own local institutions to changes in these global drivers is also something we really have to start understanding.
Is there anything you feel that you want to add to what you have said today?
Yes. Territorial user rights are not a silver bullet. There can be some positive implications of there use, but there are also some negative aspects that we have to start dealing with. There’s good and there’s bad behind the TURF’s, let’s be careful with that. We can’t just implement a policy and then forget about it. We have to be very careful of copying policies into other social settings, other countries etc. I insist silver bullets don’t really exist. We have to adapt our management strategies to our own countries and make this an evolving practice. Management doesn’t stop after a policy, it’s an ongoing process.
Why did you choose to be a marine biologist?
I’m a marine biologist, not because of the science, I’m actually a marine biologist because I enjoy the sea. This is how I started, when I was a boy I would spend all my time in the coast with my family, then we started diving and spear-fishing and it’s this inter-disciplinary relationship with the sea that has been important for me. This is why I like marine biology. Marine biology isn’t ecology, it isn’t oceanography, it isn’t sociology or anthropology, I think it’s all that together. I’m a fan of marine biology because I think it allows us to look at the sea from multiple perspectives.