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close this bookWorkshop on Integrated Reef Resources Management in the Maldives - Bay of Bengal Programme (1997)
close this folderTechnical Papers
View the documentPaper 1: The Maldivian Tuna Livebait Fishery - Status and Trends - By R. Charles Anderson, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 2: The Aquarium Fishery of the Maldives - By M. Shiham Adam, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 3: Exploitation of Reef Resources: Grouper and other Food Fishes - By Hassan Shakeel and Hudha Ahmed, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 4: Exploitation of Reef Resources - Beche-de-Mer, Reef Sharks, Giant Clams, Lobsters and others - By Hudha Ahmed, Sana Mohamed and Mariyam R. Saleem, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 5: Status of Coral Mining in the Maldives: Impacts and Management Options - By Abdulla Naseer, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 6: Tourism and the Environment: Current Issues for Management - By Ismail Firaag, Ministry of Tourism Boduthakurufaanu Magu Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 7: Status of the communities in the four atolls: Their perceptions, problems, and options for participation - By Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Ministry of Atolls Administration Boduthakurufaanu Magu Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 8: Environmental Changes in the Maldives: Current Issues for Management - By Mohamed Khaleel and Simad Saeed, Ministry of Planning Human Resources and Environment, Ghazee Building Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 9: Existing Legal Systems and Institutional Structures in the Maldives: Opportunities and Challenges for IRRM Coordination - By Maizan Hassan Maniku, Marine Research Section, Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture Malé, Republic of Maldives
View the documentPaper 10: Our Performance Indicators for Integrated Reef Resources Management - By Terry Done, Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) PMB 3, Townsville, Queensland 4810 Australia
View the documentPaper 11: Collaborative and Community-based Management of Coral Reef Resources: Lessons from the Sri Lanka and The Phillipines - By Allan T. White, Coastal Resources Management Project No.1, Gower Street, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka
View the documentPaper 12: Traditional Management Options and Approaches for Reef Systems in Small Island Nations - By Robert E. Johannes, R.E. Johannes Pty. Ltd. 8 Tyndall Court Bonnet Hill, Tasmania 7053 Australia
View the documentPaper 13: Traditional Marine Resources Management Systems in the Asia-Pacific Region: Design Principles and Policy Options - By Kenneth Ruddle, Matsugaoka-cho 11-20, Nishinomiya-shi, Hoyogo-ken 662, Japan

Paper 12: Traditional Management Options and Approaches for Reef Systems in Small Island Nations - By Robert E. Johannes, R.E. Johannes Pty. Ltd. 8 Tyndall Court Bonnet Hill, Tasmania 7053 Australia

1 Parts of this paper have been adapted from: Johannes, R. E. 1994. Design of tropical nearshore fisheries extension work beyond the 1990s, pp. 162-174. In: R. South, D. Goulet, S. Tuquiri and M. Church (eds.) Traditional Marine Tenure and Sustainable Management of Marine Resources in Asia and the Pacific. International Ocean Institute - South Pacific, Suva.


Cooperative management of marine resources in the Pacific islands is developing rapidly. Some of the resulting lessons are discussed in the hope that some might be useful in the Maldives. One clearly emerging lesson is that there is a great need for a new kind of fisheries extension officer, one whose training focuses on management and two-way communication, rather than on development and one-way instruction. Another is that local people offer the first and most effective line of defense against destructive fishing practices - provided that they have secure tenure of their fishing grounds.


Can the Maldives learn anything useful about cooperative management reef and lagoon resources from the experiences of other tropical islands? Since I have never been to the Maldives before, I am not in a position to answer this question with confidence. But, in the hope that the answer is “yes”, workshop organizers asked me to describe locally based marine resource management in such Islands. And since the bulk of my experience relates to the tropical Pacific Islands of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, I shall concentrate on these.

The tropical Pacific islands and their peoples have much in common with the Maldives. Many of the islands are small and isolated. The inhabitants are excellent fishermen and seafood figures very prominently in their livelihoods and their diets. Their marine resources are also very similar to those in the Maldives. Coral reef fish and invertebrates are usually the main component of nearshore catches, and tuna dominate offshore catches.

As in the Maldives, nearshore fisheries are typically small-scale and based in small rural communities. Catching methods and target species in the Pacific Islands also overlap considerably with those in the Maldives.

But there are also important differences. Unlike the Maldives, where reef fisheries have become important only in recent years. Pacific islanders have for many centuries relied primarily on their reefs and lagoons for their livelihoods and food. (For them, fishing for tuna and other pelagics although not uncommon, was seldom as important as reef fisheries)

Accordingly, some of the islanders developed an encyclopedic knowledge of their reef fish - especially of their seasonal movements, feeding behavior, and spawning seasons and locations (e.g. Johannes, 1981).

Coral reefs are much easier to overfish than continental shelves. So the results of overfishing became obvious to the islanders long before continent-dwellers. And, in consequence. Pacific Islanders developed all the basic marine conservation methods used by modem fisheries managers today centuries before western scientists even realized the need for marine conservation (Johannes, 1978). These measures include closed seasons, closed areas, and size limits. Most importantly they also included limited entry in the form of what is often called customary marine tenure or traditional fishing rights - that is, the right to exclude outsiders from their fishing grounds.

Human populations have shot up during the past two generations in the tropical Pacific, placing accelerating pressure on marine resources. New technology has been introduced and export markets developed. The introduction of commercial fishing, the rise of trochus, bêche-de-mer, pearl shell as important exportable resources, and the introduction of new fishing gears and faster boats have all brought new management challenges with which traditional arrangements have not always been able to cope.

In addition, colonial governments were generally ignorant of traditional management structures and institutions and they introduced various types of ineffective centralised natural resource management policies which often greatly weakened local authority (e.g. Dashwood, 1991). All these changes put heavy pressure on traditional management of marine resources and its effectiveness declined.

At the same time this was happening, western-trained government fisheries managers tried to apply scientific management ideas, imported from very different sorts of fisheries in western temperate ‘zone countries. The results were typically dismal.

Classical textbook management methods require more data than it was economical or even possible to collect in most such fisheries. It gradually became obvious that it was not just a matter of time before adequate data became available. It is now obvious that the necessary data will never become available for rigorous management according to scientific principles, except perhaps for a few easily studied benthic invertebrates like giant clams and trochus.

In addition, there was often little communication between government fisheries managers and fishermen. Fishermen were often oblivious to the reasons for government fishing regulations, considering them arbitrary and irrational. Moreover, villagers were not provided with adequate biological information on which to base contemporary management decisions. Toloa et al (1991) identified the issue:

“The people of Tokelau (an island group in the central Pacific) feel that the traditional conservation system has served them well over the centuries. They are also aware, however, of the need for modification of the system to reflect recent changes......Although the output from (marine biological research in Tokelau) has been utilised to some extent, a mechanism should be established so that the results are more fully incorporated into the Council of Elders’ management plans.”

Villagers such as these did not always understand the need for certain types of management. Or, if they did, they sometimes did not know how to formulate management plans to address that need effectively.

This ignorance was reciprocal; government managers were often oblivious to vital information about the fishery which only the fishermen possessed. Johannes (1993) documents a case where, despite extensive government research, a looming and very serious fish stock decline, of which fishermen were well aware, was unknown to government fisheries managers.

Government actions were also often culturally inappropriate. Fisheries development schemes based on the mistaken assumption that profit would adequately motivate island fishermen failed repeatedly (Johannes 1989). Fishing cooperatives designed by government personnel rather than by fishermen also routinely collapsed.

The failures of modem management and the decline of traditional management have triggered a reevaluation of marine resource management in the islands. Here, as elsewhere, it became obvious that sophisticated textbook objectives of management - e.g. maximum or optimum sustained yield - are unrealistic. Less elegant but more realistic objectives are to prevent serious overfishing, to ensure reasonably satisfactory allocation of resources and to minimise conflict. We now realize that to achieve even the first of these objectives can be looked upon as a major accomplishment in any fishery.

It has also become obvious that centralized government departments generally cannot carry out effective enforcement on the fishing grounds. Once again, the costs usually greatly outweigh the economic benefits. Often the only thing that keeps such activities alive at all is copious foreign aid.

This has prompted government resource managers in the Pacific Islands to give increasing consideration to the decentralization of management, that is, to formally hand back significant management responsibilities to traditional village authorities.

But how is this going to work if the traditional systems of management are in decline? The answer is by shoring them up, with better targeted government assistance. This being done in several ways:

1. giving greater formal legal recognition and support to traditional management.

2. giving villagers the information they need to manage effectively today, and

3. listening to fishermen and integrating their knowledge with modem scientific knowledge to generate a more comprehensive understanding of local fisheries than is possible for either local or scientific bodies of knowledge operating in isolation.

These last two initiatives require a fourth one, that is.

4. redefining of the purpose and function of fisheries extension activities.

Here I will provide some examples of these initiatives. Then, using their results as points of departure, I will then discuss the kind of training that is needed to enable fisheries researchers and managers and extension officers to take better advantage of the opportunities that cooperative management provides for preventing serious overfishing.


Vanuatu’s Fisheries Department realises that managing most of its coastal fisheries from Port Vila is impossible (Amos, 1991). The costs of research, monitoring and enforcement in the multitude of small fisheries associated with Vanuatu’s several hundred coastal villages would outweigh the benefits by orders of magnitude. But the Department has played a vital indirect role in management by working in the villages to help combine local knowledge and management potential with research-based knowledge in order to improve village management.

Cooperative management began modestly in Vanuatu in 1990 when Moses Amos, a trochus specialist with the Fisheries Department, announced over Radio Vanuatu that the Department would provide advice on trochus management to fishing rights owners who requested it. (The shell of this large reef gastropod is used in making expensive shirt buttons, and is the single most important source of cash in many Vanuatu villages). Response was enthusiastic, and Mr Amos and his team began to carry out trochus surveys on village fishing grounds. They also gave the villagers basic information on trochus life history and advice on such things as why minimum size limits on trochus are desirable, where trochus refuges might best be situated, and if, and for how long, their trochus fishery should be closed in order to rebuild stocks.

Amos (1991) gives a brief description of these activities. Mr Amos ensured that information flowed in both directions. Learning from villagers about observed temporal trends in their trochus populations was useful in formulating management strategies. For example, fishermen’s information on local nearshore currents helped him decide if and where to suggest that they set aside trochus breeding preserves.

He did not try to force upon the villagers rigid management plans based exclusively on biological considerations; he recognised the importance of leaving final decisions to be worked out locally, by people who needed to balance the constraints set by trochus population dynamics with local social and economic concerns. In choosing the length of a ban on trochus harvesting, villagers sometimes knowingly opted for a shorter period than would be biologically optimum in order to obtain cash for a planned community project or to rebuild after a cyclone.

During late 1993 I carried out interviews with 27 coastal villages in three areas of Vanuatu in order to investigate the results of Mr. Amos’ efforts. The questions I set out to try to answer included:

1. How well has this advice been received and what have been the practical consequences in terms of improved management?

2. What scope is there for expansion of this approach to other marine resources?

3. What are some of the features of customary marine tenure that influence the effectiveness with which marine resource management can be carried out in such communities?

4. What lessons can be learned from Vanuatu’s experience that might be useful to other countries?

For centuries each village in Vanuatu has claimed the exclusive right to harvest marine resources from the adjacent shallow waters, through its chief or its constituent clans or families. All reef flats are thus owned and Vanuatu’s constitution upholds these traditional rights.

I concentrated on determining how and when, recent local fishing regulations or “taboos” had been designed and implemented, the problems encountered, and the attitudes of village leaders toward the continuing use of this approach to marine resource management.

The interviews revealed that village-based marine conservation experienced a truly remarkable upsurge in Vanuatu beginning in 1990 when the Vanuatu Fisheries Department’s village-based trochus management program began. In the majority of the villages surveyed, explicitly conservation-based fishing taboos had been applied for the first time in living memory only since then.

Education for marine conservation in the villages by the Fisheries Department had focussed largely on trochus. The results of implementing trochus conservation were so obvious to the villagers, however, that soon, and of their own accord, they introduced regulations controlling the harvest of many other species. In short, the Department’s efforts were favored by a large multiplier effect.

These new village-based fisheries regulations can be divided into those that involved the total closure of fishing grounds and those that were species or species-group specific.


The Fisheries Department usually advised villages to implement trochus closures for a period of two to three years. Three years is the approximate time from larval settlement to the attainment of legal harvestable size.

Village closure periods for trochus ranged from one to five years. Where one-year periods were chosen, the decision was based at least in part on villagers’ unwillingness to be deprived of income from trochus for longer periods. Four and five year closures seemed to be based on villagers’ reasoning that if two or three year bans are effective, then longer bans should be even better.


Rock lobsters are an important commercial resource in some villages. To complement government size limits for rock lobsters and its prohibition on taking berried females, two villages had imposed closed periods on their lobster fisheries.

Octopus constituted important components of the some villages’ catch. Three villages employed specific closure periods for octopus. Other marine animals for which specific closure periods were reported were limpets, parrotfish, rudderfish, shore crabs and mangrove crabs.


Gillnetting was prohibited in some villages. The explanations given were uniform: “it catches too many fish.”2 Night spearfishing using underwater flashlights was banned in some villages because it enables fishermen to deplete stocks of certain fish, especially large parrotfish which sleep in shallow water at night.

2 Uncontrolled gillnetting has devastated certain reef fish stocks in a number of other Pacific Islands (e.g. Johannes, 1993) and villagers elsewhere in Oceania have similarly banned the use of gillnets (Johannes, 1982; Hviding, 1992).

While a basic awareness of the relation between excessive fishing pressure and declining stocks is lacking in villages in some Pacific island areas (e.g. Carrier, 1980; Johannes and MacFarlane, 1991; Cook et al, 1993), such awareness was quite apparent in many of the Vanuatu villages I visited, and may have had traditional roots in at least a few of them. A few, for example, had employed explicitly conservation-based fishing closures for periods ranging from several decades to as long as anyone could remember. But it was also clear that the recent dramatic upsurge in villagers’ interest in fisheries conservation was due in large measure to the educational efforts made by the Fisheries Department.

Many villagers are convinced of the benefits of the recent regulations on fishing, judging not only by their enthusiastic comments, but also by the ways in which these regulations are evolving. A number of villages decided on the basis of their initial experiences to extend the length of closures. For example, the period of total closure of fishing grounds at one village had been increased from three months to seven months, then to a year. In another village the trochus closure had been extended from two years to five.


Vanuatu’s example suggests some strategies and conditions that would favor the success of government-supported, village-based management of small scale fisheries in other Pacific islands.3 These include:

1. Publicize in fishing communities the government’s willingness to collaborate with villagers on management issues, and invite requests for assistance from interested villages.

2. Start small, not with a comprehensive plan to address many types of fisheries or many villages.

3. Concentrate initially on villages where local marine tenure and local authority are strong and the community is cohesive.

4. Concentrate initially on villages where fishing ground geography facilitates effective surveillance by villagers.

5. Focus initially on a single type or limited number of fisheries - preferably ones that have the following characteristics:

a. They are important commercially or in the subsistence catch.

b. They are relatively easy to obtain useful management information about

- e.g., benthic invertebrate species whose populations are comparatively simple to monitor, such as molluscs (e.g. trochus, tridacnid clams), or echinoderms (e.g. bêche-de-mer, sea urchins).

Where management measures are more urgently needed for other species one may prefer to ignore this last criterion. For some groups, such as groupers, focussing on the monitoring of spawning aggregations offers a short-cut to useful management information (Johannes, 1980). (The author is currently developing a management plan for groupers in Palau based on the monitoring of and control of fishing on grouper spawning aggregations.)

6. Ensure that national law supports local authorities in their regulation of fishing by means of village-based prohibitions and enforcement mechanisms, but does not define these procedures too narrowly.

3 I do not intend to imply that Vanuatu is the only Pacific Island country where government-supported village-based management is being undertaken. It is also occurring in several other countries in the region. But I know of no other country where such numerous and varied examples of it exist, nor where so much might be learned from it by researchers.

Elsewhere I describe the results of this survey in more detail (Johannes, 1993a). Here I simply want to point to Vanuatu as providing an example of cooperative management that seems to be working well. It should, moreover, work even better in future; training government fisheries personnel for modem extension work focussing on cooperative management was introduced in 1995 and is reported to have been very enthusiastically received by the fisheries staff (F. Hickey, pers. comm.).


In 1991 at the invitation of the Palau Marine Resource Division I carried out a perceptions study of village fishermen regarding the state of their marine resources and their opinions concerning management needs.

During these discussions I sought information and opinion in four basic subject areas:

1. what fishermen considered to be the most important marine resource conservation problems.

2. how well existing traditional rules and government laws that address these problems have been working in recent years,

3. what new laws seemed desirable, and,

4. what mechanisms seem most practical for improving the enforcement of marine conservation laws and the observance of relevant traditional customs.

Recently, with the encouragement of Palau’s Division of Marine Resources (DMR), there had been a resurgence in the use of traditional measures by villagers to control fishing in their traditional waters. A bul, or traditional prohibition has been placed on certain fishing grounds seasonally in order to prevent the taking of groupers in their spawning aggregations. (The concern about grouper conservation was triggered by the destruction of a major multi-species spawning aggregation of groupers by a Hong Kong-based live reef fish fishery. In the space of only three years it completely obliterated a large spawning aggregation involving all three of the most commercially important groupers in the country.) The bul are designed and enforced by villagers with significant advice from the Division.

At the meetings we held, village fishermen eagerly volunteered a series of sound suggestions for regulations, some of which would clearly entail sacrifices on their part. For example, there was a widespread call among fishermen for a law restricting the use of small mesh nets. Most of the many fishermen throughout Palau who brought up this recommendation had nets that would be become illegal under such a law. Nevertheless, they felt so strongly about the need for this law that they were willing to give up these nets (after a phase-out period) provided they were confident that everyone else had to do likewise.

They also called for a ban on the commercial sale of grouper and rabbitfish during their main spawning seasons, a size limit on lobsters, a closed season on mangrove crabs and a ban on spearfishing with scuba.

Subsequently a comprehensive new fisheries law was passed which was designed with very significant participation of fishermen in its design.

Other examples of Pacific islands where an indigenous recognition of the need for marine conservation can be found and harnessed by governments include the Solomon Islands (Hviding, 1992, 1993), the Cook Islands (e.g. Sims, 1990) and Fiji (Fong, 1994).


Village fishers are strategically placed and highly motivated to judge the effects of their management measures. In Vanuatu they were quite willing, as my interviews revealed, to modify management by means of trial and error. But some important aspects of the biology of target species are unknown to them, knowledge of which could greatly reduce the number of management trials that would be needed before a satisfactory management regime was established. For example, until Mr Amos advised Vanuatu villagers that trochus take three years to grow from settlement to commercial size, they had little idea of how fast the species grows and thus had rather hazy notions of how long a closure should last to be effective as a conservation measure.

In addition, some principles of fisheries management cannot be easily learned simply through experience on the fishing grounds. For example, unless it is explained to them, fishermen can hardly be expected to know that decreases in catch per unit effort or the mean size of individuals in the catch are not necessarily signs of overfishing. Clearly, then, they could benefit from advice on a wide range of subjects How can fisheries departments improve their performance in this regard? They can start by redesigning their fisheries extension programs (the techniques for which in the tropics are literally decades behind those used in agricultural extension.)

Fisheries extension work in the tropics has focussed largely on instruction for fisheries development. For the purposes of cooperative management, however, a supportive extension program must employ different skills and knowledge. Extension workers must learn how to ask and listen as well as talk and demonstrate - - and these are not simple skills to learn well, as any anthropologist knows. Extension workers need to be taught how to gather and evaluate information on villagers’ perspectives and on their practical knowledge concerning marine resources.

(My brief inquiries in the Maldives indicate that tuna fishermen, tuna bait fishermen, aquarium fish collectors and grouper fishermen all possess valuable knowledge that cannot be found in any scientific treatise. A concentrated effort to collect and record this knowledge would undoubtedly enrich our knowledge of the Maldives’ marine resources and the history of their exploitation.)

Extension workers must also learn how to provide the complementary biological knowledge and education that villagers need in order to manage their resources better. Villagers often want answers to questions such as “What management measures are there for us to choose from, and where, when and for how long should we apply them?” To handle these responsibilities fisheries extension officers need not only different training, but a lot more training than they typically get now.

An appropriate extension program must, moreover, be concerned not only with transferring technology and explaining conservation to villagers, it must also be concerned with explaining village fishermen’s customs and knowledge to the rest of the Fisheries Division.

Training on how to carry out the appropriate interviews, discussions and other activities with fishers should, moreover, be made available not only to fisheries extension officers but also to those who supervise them.


In the past, many fisheries managers have used lack of sufficient scientific data as an excuse - a sincere but misguided excuse - for lack of management action. The time is long overdue for some of us to come to grips with the fact that adequate scientific data will never become available for the textbook management of most reef and lagoon fisheries.

Unfortunately some fisheries researchers are still not predisposed to think about what is, for them, the unthinkable - that is, data-poor or even data-less management. Their efforts to improve their research performance tend to focus narrowly on designing more quantitatively rigorous biological data-gathering programs. Tragically (I use the term advisedly) the brainwashing generated by narrowly trained and dogmatic teachers entranced by the theoretical appeal of statistical analysis of data collected by random sampling, has tended to blind a whole generation of graduate students and young researchers to the virtues of other approaches.

Here again we see the need for better training. Data-less management need not be information-less management. One doesn’t need data to protect a spawning aggregation or a giant clam population that fishermen agree is badly overfished.

If biologists and fisheries managers fail to act because scientific proof of depletion is unavailable, and if village authorities cannot cope by themselves, severe depletion is often inevitable. Indeed, as we all know, examples of severe depletion and even of local extinctions that are cropping up with increasing frequency in tropical nearshore fisheries. Many of them could have been prevented or minimized or if fisheries biologists had just listened to fishermen, and helped them establish village-based controls rather than continuing to fine-tune their theoretical models - of fiddling while Rome burns.


A great deal of lip service is paid today to the value of local knowledge. Nevertheless little effort is being made to actually record (let alone act on) it. Why is this? At least in part it is because fisheries researchers are not taught to seek knowledge from people; they have been trained to go first to books, then directly to nature for their answers. This has to change, and appropriate training is essential in order to change it.

Admittedly questionnaires are sometimes given to fishermen, but these can be a real barrier to effective communication. Questionnaires addressed to randomly selected fishermen are fine for obtaining some types of valuable information. But they are quite inappropriate for the study of local knowledge about the state and nature of marine resources (Johannes, 1993b).


The value of experimental marine resource management research is increasingly recognized (e.g. Alcala and Russ, 1990; Hilborn and Walters, 1992). Whereas conventional fisheries management requires gathering data on catch, effort and stock sizes literally endlessly, while formulating management principles based on extrapolations from this data, experimental management, in contrast, is an iterative pragmatic process which involves trying out various management strategies and basing subsequent management decisions on the results. It is based on a practical learning process which we refer to by the unglamorous term “trial and error” The “trial” in trial and error means taking action now, rather than delaying until after years of data collection.

Trial and error remains the most important rational decision-making strategy used by our species. But it has been wrongly denigrated in some scientific circles in this century because of the superior decision-making strategy of scientific hypothesis-testing. Superior, that is, when it is applied to a limited, although important, range of issues - a range which does not, I stress, include most of the issues confronting natural resource managers.

Experimental management, starting with taking action now is vital in seriously threatened fisheries. Unfortunately very little experimental management research has been done around the world, despite widespread recognition of the need for it.

Opportunities have been few; it is hard to find, or establish, suitable experimental conditions and controls because this usually requires persuading or forcing fishermen to carry out the experiments.. But the small size of many managed village fishing grounds and the management control afforded by local marine tenure and traditional authority make them exceptionally attractive for this purpose. I am confident that many Pacific Island villagers would welcome such projects in their waters if they were presented to them and carried out with appropriate sensitivity and in a genuine spirit of collaboration. The likely responses of Maldivian villagers is something concerning which I am not qualified to comment.

Simple before-closure-and-after surveys of species abundances would be very useful, although many other valuable research projects are conceivable under these conditions.

Studies of effects of experimental management on bêche-de-mer stocks are needed (e.g. Preston, 1993). Research on the effects of closures of varying lengths on finfishes, rock lobsters, mangrove crabs, giant clams, and other species that are important in large areas of the tropical Indo-Pacific would also be of particular value.

Fisheries departments could also profitably devote more time to synthesizing published information on the life histories and responses to exploitation of various important local species. Such analysis would help us present villagers with rough cost/benefit calculations for management and provide improved advice concerning optimal duration of closures and the desirability of other forms of management - all without the need for further expensive and time consuming data collection.


Some Pacific Island peoples clearly possess a traditional conservation ethic, by which I mean an awareness that they can deplete or otherwise damage their natural resources, coupled with a commitment to reduce or eliminate the problem (e.g. Johannes, 1978a). Other Island peoples apparently perceive little or no relationship between their activities and the state of their natural resources (e.g. Carrier, 1980; Johannes and MacFarlane, 1991). Still others appear to have had a traditional conservation ethic, but one which has been eroded by external influences (Johannes, 1978a).

Determining whether or not a traditional conservation ethic exists in particular area is important when developing cooperative management. Where such an ethic exists, it provides an excellent foundation on which to build resource management programs; they can be planned around accepted local values and associated customs. Where a traditional conservation ethic is weak or non-existent, fisheries extension workers need to be aware that a big education job lies ahead.

The fact that this ethic is widespread in Oceania but not so in the Philippines may help explain why culturally sensitive, low cost, short term efforts on the part of single extension workers, such as Moses Amos in Vanuatu, can have a major impact on locally based management, whereas teams of dedicated people typically have to work for years in Philippines villages (see White, this volume) to achieve similar results4.

4 Two other important differences: In the Philippines reef and lagoon resources are severely overfished, and local control over the fishing grounds was not observed until very recently..

In my experience people who have never been faced with marine resource limitations in their history tend not to recognize the importance of marine conservation. Indeed, how could they be aware of its importance if their marine resources have always been functionally unlimited? I hope I am wrong, but I would hazard a guess that Maldivians would tend to fall into this category. The reason is that, unlike many Pacific Island peoples, they have probably never, until very recently, been confronted with serious marine resource limitations. It would not have been possible for them to have overfished their pelagic tuna stocks, and their reef and lagoon resources were only very lightly exploited.


It is dangerous to extrapolate lessons learned in one location to another. Cultural, political, social, economic and environmental variations loom too large. How much and what kind of responsibility should devolve from governments to fishing villages will vary from place to place - even within a single small island group.

If at all possible, fisheries extension programs should work through existing social structures and-institutions rather than idealized community structures. Attempts to promote community based action have greater chances of succeeding the greater the previous history of collective action in that community and the authority and public support of its leadership. If an extension program does not have a healthy sociopolitical structure through which to work, attempting to create one is fraught with problems. The widespread failure of fishing cooperatives, typically planned from the top down, is a well-known example.

Other problems include:

- inappropriate attitudes of government staff - arrogance, lack of communication skills

- lack of coordination between government agencies

- middlemen controlling the actions of the fishermen by controlling their finances

- politicians and businessmen flouting environmental regulations and interfering with rational resource management

During my short visit to the Maldives it has become abundantly clear that fisheries managers here have to contend with the last of these problems, especially as it relates to uncontrolled, ill-designed dredging and filling projects. Tourism developers are slowly but surely killing the goose that lays the golden egg.


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