A recently published study shows that governance for sustainable fishing gear in Chwaka Bay in Zanzibar is a complex matter. Photo: M. de la Torre-Castro

Governance for sustainability

Not geared for change?

Chwaka Bay in Zanzibar struggle to move towards sustainable fisheries

As a response to the modestly positive outcomes of many tropical marine management schemes, a shift from management to governance is taking place.

While management measures are typically designed and implemented on the government level, governance includes a larger number of actors interacting at different levels in society. Governance places emphasis on decision-making processes as well as coordination, interdependence and interaction.

Governance through the looking-glass
Centre researcher Maricela de la Torre-Castro has recently published a paper illustrating how governance is expressed in a tropical setting. She provides an analysis of the difficulties involved in using governance as a steering mechanism towards sustainability, as well as a typology for analyzing governance, presenting the different governance actors and describing how governance is expressed on different levels (hierarchical, heterarchical and anarchical).

She concludes that there are issues that need to be addressed for governance to be successful in areas where there is a high dependence on natural resources, poverty and weak formal institutions.

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Shifting to the wrong gear
The case described in the article is Chwaka Bay, located on the east coast of Zanzibar. The Bay has a seascape with mangroves, seagrass beds and corals; a diversity that has allowed for the development of different coastal activities in the Bay’s communities. Seven villages are found along the coast in the Bay, all claiming rights to fish in different parts.

de la Torre-Castro paints a rather complicated picture of the situation:

Population growth, modernization and management interventions have disrupted traditional systems of access to fishing grounds and the Bay shows signs of environmental deterioration and over-fishing.

The article addresses the different governance expressions in terms of actors involved, behavioral and environmental aspects. One particular example of a governance challenge is how to encourage the use of more sustainable fishing gear, steering away from destructive ones.

For instance, dragnets are forbidden in Chwaka Bay as they cause damage when used, scraping the bottom, destroying important structures in the seascape. However, the nets are popular and have high status among young fishermen who dream of bringing home "the big catch".

Basket traps are a traditional gear type; they do not cause major environmental damage and are allowed in the Bay. However their popularity is decreasing, as the baskets are not considered modern enough.

Many feet on the clutch
Author de la Torre-Castro identifies governance challenges of gear use on three levels:

- Governmental institutions are distant in the Bay, and local monitoring agents have a difficult time enforcing policy. The monitoring agents are often fishers themselves with personal relationships to those they are supposed to monitor. They are also familiar with the problems the fishers face with decreasing catches.

- The self-organized networks of fishers have not been successful in moving towards sustainability. Instead conflicts have developed between the two groups of gear users; young versus old, modern versus traditional, unsustainable versus sustainable. The conflicts have not been resolved, and have even caused casualties among the fishermen.

- On the market level there have been no incentives able to change fishermen’s behaviour and solve environmental problems. Rather the demand for fish has increased with the development of tourism on Zanzibar, and the market in Chwaka Bay is one of the biggest on the island.

The Chwaka Bay-case shows that governance can be tricky and illustrates that steering human behaviour to solve environmental problems and achieve sustainability is not an easy task.  

"Unfortunately, it seems that none of the levels of governance has been able to steer behavior towards sustainability. There seems to be no common worldview or identification of the problem. That has made it difficult to reach a common solution", says de la Torre-Castro.


Published: 2013-02-28



M.de la Torre-Castro. 2012. Governance for Sustainability: Insights from Marine Resource Use in a Tropical Setting in the Western Indian Ocean. Coastal Management, 40:6, 612-633. DOI: 10.1080/08920753.2012.727738