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Whose right to manage? Distribution of property rights affects equity and power dynamics in comanagement

Adam L Ayers, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa; Joint Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research
John N Kittinger, Conservation International, Center for Oceans, Honolulu, Hawaii; Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
Mehana Blaich Vaughan, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa; Hawai'i Sea Grant College Program and Hui 'Āina Momona


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Rights-based management approaches are being increasingly applied to global fisheries as an alternative to deficiencies associated with centralized or top-down management. In fisheries, these approaches may include a diversity of methods such as catch shares, territorial user rights for fishing, individual transferable quotas, fisheries concessions, cooperatives, and comanagement. Many of these approaches are being implemented in small-scale fisheries contexts, without full consideration of how the legacy of previous governing institutions or tenure arrangements may affect implementation. Likewise, few case studies examine whether rights-based management approaches are appropriate for given contexts, examine how they fit within a nested administrative hierarchy, or describe their shared property rights components in practice. These knowledge gaps may obscure key stewardship incentives, veil existing power relations, and constrain opportunities for different management models while also prolonging or preventing governance transformations. We illustrate the importance of these factors through a case study of institutional change in coral reef fisheries in Hawaiʻi. We use institutional analysis to examine coral reef fisheries management across two time periods: historical marine tenure in the Hawaiian Kingdom (1810–1893) and under contemporary centralized management (1982–2018). We then compared these management regimes to emerging comanagement in Hawaiʻi (1994–2018). Our analysis reveals that few rights are actually devolved to communities seeking to implement comanagement. We also highlight considerable administrative complexity and variability within historical marine tenure regimes. We conclude by considering several issues relevant to the performance of rights-based approaches such as comanagement, including devolution of property rights to the local level, matching administrative and social-ecological complexity, the importance of historical context and narratives in shaping solutions, and the perceived legitimacy of governance arrangements.

Key words

collective action; common-pool resources; coral reef fisheries; coral reefs; fisheries management; governance; institutional analysis; legitimacy; property rights; rights-based management; social justice; transformations

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087