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Small-scale fisheries (SSFs) in developing countries are expected to play a significant role in poverty alleviation and enhancing food security in the decades to come. To realize this expectation, a better understanding of their informal self-governance arrangements is critical for developing policies that can improve fishers’ livelihoods and lead to sustainable ecosystem stewardship.
The goal of this paper is to develop a more nuanced understanding of micro-level factors—such as fishers’ characteristics and behavior—to explain observed differences in self-governance arrangements in Northwest Mexico. We focus on two ubiquitous forms of self-governance: hierarchical non-cooperative arrangements between fishers and fishbuyers, such as patron-client relationships (PCs), versus more cooperative arrangements amongst fishers, such as fishing cooperatives (co-ops).
We developed an agent-based model of an archetypical SSF that captures key hypotheses from in-depth fieldwork in Northwest Mexico of fishers’ day-to-day fishing and trading. Results from our model indicate that high diversity in fishers’ reliability, and low initial trust between co-op members, makes co-ops’ establishment difficult. PCs cope better with this kind of diversity because, in contrast to co-ops, they have more flexibility in choosing whom to work with. However, once co-ops establish, they cope better with seasonal variability in fish abundance and provide long-term security for the fishers.
We argue that existing levels of trust and diversity among fishers matter for different self-governance arrangements to establish and persist, and should therefore be taken into account when developing better, targeted policies for improved SSFs governance.