Who owns the fish?Participatory Approaches in Puerto Rico's Fisheries

  • Miguel Del Pozo

Student thesis: Phd


This dissertation explores why Puerto Rico's primary stakeholders' participation in fisheries management is tokenistic at best. While participation discourses are present in Puerto Rico's fisheries management, a parallel discourse about 'overfishing' and the 'tragedy of the commons' has created an irreconcilable gap between primary stakeholders and the management institutions. As part of this study I collected data in an arena where various key actors (commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen and agency experts) face each other in the consultation processes, i.e. scoping meetings and public hearings. These encounters proved to occur on an (un)common ground where participation in fisheries policy-making was nearly impossible due to: 1) knowledge conflicts between users and institutional experts/scientists, where each party claimed to possess a more reliable body of knowledge about the marine resource, and 2) a generalised distrust based on different conceptualisations about marine resources and different views of whom, how and why it should (or should not) be managed. I argue that the tensions between the actors involved have led to at least two mechanisms to give the fisheries management apparatus an appearance of stability: 1) the institutionalisation of ignorance and 2) the use of fisheries regulations as a 'boundary object' to align the actors, and to fix their identities and responsibilities. In short, participation praxis has been reduced to a minimum given the fissures between scientific knowledge and the primary stakeholders' knowledge and between marine resource conservation and fishing activity. But above all, participation has been restricted because primary stakeholders distrust institutions that restrict small-scale/artisanal fishing while at the same endorsing construction development in vital coastal habitats. Such development, as understood by the fishermen, is against sound environmental management, given that it impacts negatively on essential ecosystems that are crucial to the fisheries well-being.The majority of the ethnographic research was done in a fishing community in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, over an eleven-month period. I collected qualitative data about commercial fishermen's views on the marine resource and its management. I also documented how these fishermen negotiated 'space to manoeuvre' in the non-participatory environmental management scenario outlined above. The 'greening' of commercial fishermen's discourses is a formidable example.Three months of ethnographic research were also conducted on nearby Culebra Island in an attempt to understand the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of El Canal Luis Peña (CLP) that is 'marketed' as a community-based natural reserve and a no-take zone. Although the MPA does not necessarily fulfil all the requirements to be considered a community-based environmental management programme, its creation was definitely a breakthrough in marine resource management participation processes when compared to the main island. Culebra's MPA is an interesting and challenging case-study that not only contributes to the understanding of how environmental management and policy-making is done and transformed, but also contributes to the question of how, if at all, to put together the pieces when informants disagree.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Wade (Supervisor) & Maia Green (Supervisor)


  • Fisheries management, environmental anthropology, anthropology and science, ethnoecology, gentrification

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