Who owns this sea?
There is a tremendous diversity of systems throughout the world
determining who "owns" or has "rights to" coastal resources. However, the
harvest of fish stocks is often subject to a competitive scramble in an open
access system. There are few or no tenurial systems recognized by central
governments outside of the national policies. Informal rules for use of the
resources are sometimes difficult to determine.
Case study: Mangrove degradation
Mangrove forests have sustained some communities for generations
but with increases in population, the threats have mounted. The uses of
mangroves by local communities are often so dispersed as to be considered
unimportant in the national economy. Much of the "value" of mangroves is in non-
market goods and services such as erosion control, nursery for species harvested
elsewhere, providing nutrients, subsistence use of wood and food species, etc.
Nevertheless, the major pressure on the mangroves has been a result of demands
from distant "markets" or users. The open access of most mangrove forests make
them easy targets for removal of wood for charcoal production. The demands of
urban populations create attractive markets which are difficult for local people
to resist in the face of no restrictions on mangrove use. Extensive areas have
been turned over to national or international companies to raise shrimp for
export markets. This free-for-all system results from the "nationalization" of
resources by colonial and subsequently central governments. Local control of
mangrove management has been lost but is essential for sustainability.
The uncertainty of rights of access or tenure of coastal resources
has often left the poor fishing communities with little choice except to take
what they can, when they can. Without assurance that young fish left to grow
will return benefits to the one who practices conservation, there is no
incentive. However, it has been demonstrated that when people have incentives
and reasons to expect that investments in conservation will bring future
benefits, they do protect the environment.
Although the coastal zone is currently seen as being seriously
impacted and fishing is often considered an occupation of last resort, the
potential productivity may be recaptured and provide support for well-being of
local people. This productive area can continue to support many communities but
control and management are