Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/Community-Based Fisheries Management Between Government and Village Communities in Vanuatu

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Community-Based Fisheries Management Between Government and Village Communities in Vanuatu Vanuatu (officially the Republic of Vanuatu) is a Pacific island nation located in the South Pacific. The country is an archipelago composed of approximately 82 small islands of volcanic origin. However, there are only 14 islands with more than 100 square kilometers. The country extends approximately 1,300 kilometers between the most northern and southern islands. Vanuatu achieved independence from France and the United Kingdom in 1980 and since then, has created a combination of community-based and government-based fisheries management systems. The Vanuatu Fisheries Department (VFD) has been heavily supportive of Community-Based Fisheries Management (CBFM). National fishing policies primarily dictate over commercial species that are heavily valued on the export market and flagship species which are deemed important by national and international conservation objectives. Community-based management generally manage near-shore resources using marine tenure at local-level regimes. CBFM supports subsistence fishing and supplies approximately 50% of the rural population with its protein supply. However, many of the important species in the coral reef ecosystems found in near-shore fisheries are under threat of collapse. Several pressures such as overfishing and climate change have created a catalyst for a widespread increase of small-scale management systems aimed at protecting marine resources. One of the main strategies to combat this issue has been the creation of many small-scale island reserves with partial or permanent fisheries closures to conserve these resources. While the local populations perceive these protected areas to be effective in preserving ecological benefits, the scientific validation to these closures remains uncertain. This case study will analyze the social, biological/ecological, and economic considerations that have gone into the specific forms of CBFM used in Vanuatu, and determine the benefits and disadvantages of their system. It will also apply these strengths and weaknesses to the future challenges that threaten the sustainability of the analyzed management system.

History, Geography, Society

The islands that make up Vanuatu first belonged to the Melanesians for over 2500 years (World Atlas, 2017). European explorers and missionaries began arriving during the 15th century (World Atlas, 2017). In 1774, Captain James Cook sailed through the archipelago and collectively named the islands the New Hebrides after the West coast of Scotland (World Atlas, 2017). The country was under both French and British colonization until 1980 when the country gained independence (World Atlas, 2017). During the transition to independence, a new constitution was formed, and the country was given its now commonly used name, Vanuatu (World Atlas, 2017). The country has a population of approximately 208,800 (World Atlas, 2017) with one of the highest languages per capita in the world (Miles & William, 1998). There are over 100 different village language groups (Johannes, 1998, p.173). Vanuatu consists of approximately 13 large islands and 70 smaller islands with the entire land mass covering 12,190 square kilometers (World Atlas, 2017). The weather is primarily warm and humid, but winter temperatures can drop due to southeasterly trade winds (World Atlas, 2017). As a southern hemisphere country in tropical latitudes, Vanuatu is victim to severe weather patterns, particularly cyclones (World Atlas, 2017). The hurricane season extends from December to March (World Atlas, 2017). Since 1940, 29 cyclones have impacted the country and its communities (Webb et al, 2015, p.408). El Nino and La Nina events have serious implications on water quality, food security, human health, and infrastructure (Webb et al, 2015, p.408). Much of the economy still revolves around agriculture and fishing, but tourism continues to rapidly develop (World Atlas, 2017). Figure 1 of the Figures, Maps, and Tables section shows a map of Vanuatu.

Tenure arrangements

Vanuatu uses a tenure system called customary marine tenure (CMT). CMT can be broadly defined as “localized control over marine resources” (Cinner, 2005, p.1). Defining CMT more specifically is difficult, as the system does not follow one regulated approach, and variations to the system can occur at the local and regional level (Johannes, 1998, p.173). “These marine tenure institutions can range from relatively simple communally-owned marine areas from which outsiders are excluded to the complex and overlapping system of individual and family rights to space, species, gear, and even specific techniques of using gear” (Cinner, 2005, p.1). Water rights contiguous to traditional land holdings are owned by the chiefs, clans, or villages that own the land (Johannes, 1998, p.173). “Primary tenure rights are transferred via inheritance, which may be patrilineal or matrilineal” (Johannes, 1998 p.174). Secondary rights can be possessed to people with relation to the primary right holder either than direct lineage such as marriage or adoption (Johannes, 1998, p.173). While village chiefs usually manage CMT, the tenure is typically accessible to all fishers in the village (Leopold et al, 2013, p.170). Therefore, CMT in Vanuatu is a form of private property, with ownership designated to an individual or small group that excludes others and is transferable. Tenure rights typically cover the shore to the outer reef slope. However, rights can sometimes extend further to deeper offshore waters or offshore banks. The high number of languages is significant, as each language group contains its own differing resource tenure customs (Johannes, 1998, p.173). Sometimes, the details of the marine tenure system are so varied that even neighboring villages of the same language group have differing forms of CMT (Johannes, 1998, p.173). This makes a single classification of the CMT system impossible. Instead, considering the system as a series of diversified, self-regulating tenure systems with their own practices and decision-making management frameworks is more effective. CMT rights are de jure rights, as they are protected by written law in the constitution. “Chapter 12, Article 71 of the Constitution of Vanuatu establishes that ‘‘all land in the Republic belongs to the indigenous custom owners and their descendants.’’ And ‘‘land’’ includes ‘‘land extending to the seaside of any foreshore reef but no further’’ under the Land Reform Act” (Johannes, 1998, p.175). Usually, marine tenure rights are conferred onto men, but are sometimes passed down to women (Johannes, 1998, p.173). There was no timespan or expiry date found for CMT in Vanuatu.

An important component to tenure is the level of exclusiveness. Exclusiveness can be defined as the “extent to which a tenure holder can prevent others from infringing on his (or her) rights” (Owubah et al. 2001, p.257). CMT in Vanuatu possesses a degree of exclusiveness and self-regulation of each community’s own activities despite each variation of the tenure not being written in state law. There are currently six levels of conflict resolution available to fishing rights owners over questions of marine area ownership (Johaness, 1998 p.174). First, the heads of families within the clans hear the dispute. (Johannes, 1998 p.174). If a conclusion isn’t reached, the dispute is brought to the head chief, then to the council of chiefs of the area should this also fail (Johannes, 1998 p.174). If disagreement prevails, the dispute can be taken to an Island Court under Caption 167 of the Island Courts Act (Johannes, 1998 p.174). Island courts are staffed by justices heavily versed in custom and are also local chiefs (Johannes, 1998 p.174). Decisions made in these courts are enforceable under law (Johannes, 1998 p.174). The Island Courts Act allows appeals from Island Court to be made at the Supreme Court where a chief justice sits with assessors possessing knowledge of the area’s traditions of the dispute’s origin (Johannes, 1998 p.174). The decision made by the Supreme Court is final (Johannes, 1998 p.174). While Vanuatu achieved independence from its European colonists, it is apparent that it has adopted management frameworks used in European systems, particularly the structure of its judicial government.

Administrative arrangements

Across other fisheries, market factors have encouraged users of marine resources to overfish many habitats to stimulate economic growth (Leopold et al, 2013, p.167). This phenomenon has been exacerbated by the rival-based nature of marine resources (Leopold et al, 2013, p.167). Rival goods can be defined as “a type of good that may only be possessed or consumed by a single user, and using a rival good prevents its use by other possible users” (Investopedia, 2017). This rivalry in marine resources further pushes fishing industries to overfish marine resources in an attempt to surpass market competition. Many of the fisheries that have displayed these failures have been run by government-based fisheries management (GBFM) (Leopold et al, 2013, p.167). A desire for a new approach developed in the late 1980s when studies found that marine resource users can self-organize to achieve successful management (Leopold et al, 2013, p.167). Since then, it has been well established that traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) can aid in decision-making processes of conserving marine resources (Leopold et al, 2013, p.167). These findings have become increasingly important given that concerns of overfishing in reef habitats have increased in recent decades (Dumas et al, 2010, p.364) and an upsurge in community natural resources management interest (Leopold et al, 2013, p.167). Combined, increased desire to protect declining resources and findings that support localized knowledge in marine resource management gave rise to community-based fisheries management (CBFM) (Blythe et al, 2017, p.50). CBFM can be described as “the devolution of resource management authority to local communities, allowing fisheries governance processes to be determined locally and often involving community partnership with stakeholders including government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” (Blythe et al, 2017, p.50).

In Vanuatu, CBFM has become the most widespread form of fisheries management (Dumas et al, 2010, p.364). A popular form of CBFM practiced by the locals is the development of several, minuscule village-based marine reserves (Dumas et al, 2010, p.364). Village-based marine reserve development was catalyzed by the decline of marine invertebrate species for sale and/or subsistence (Dumas et al, 2010, p.364). Given the proximity between Vanuatu’s independence in 1980 and the increasing evidence of locally influenced resource management in the later 1980s, it appears possible that CBFM was more easily adopted in Vanuatu than other nations as the country was in its genesis of independence, making the constitution more susceptible to newer forms of knowledge and desiring less authoritative forms of government. However, no literature was found to support nor confirm this hypothesis. Another important factor influencing the use of CBFM is the country’s isolated geographical and linguistic structure. The sheer number of islands composed of several small multi-species and multi-gear inshore fisheries combined with the vast number of languages makes conventional westernized versions of government-based fisheries management impossible. In addition, the “limited staff and financial capacities” (Leopold et al, 2013, p.167) of the VFD makes conventional management by government too costly (Johannes, 1998, p.166). Therefore, “it has been widely concluded that there are few, if any, Pacific Island inshore fisheries which are currently managed” (Johannes, 1998, p.165) by this method. There are two commonly used conservation techniques used on village-based marine reserves: permanent closures/no-take reserves, and periodically/seasonal closures (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.673). “Community-based coral marine reserves are commonly implemented and enforced by customary chiefs and village leaders” (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.674). The reserves themselves are not very large, as represented by the small communities that occupy them. Reserves can reach less than 0.05 square kilometers in size (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.674) and be as large as 1.1 square kilometers (Leopold et al, 2013, p.170). Given the country’s total land area, these reserves are quite small and fragmented across villages rather than larger, less abundant reserves spanning multiple villages. Each reserve type has differing motivations for their use. Marine resource decline from overharvest and consumption are the most common village perceptions that incentivize the establishment of periodically-harvested reserves (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.674). Permanent closures are rooted in beliefs that the reefs are mistreated and overly damaged from malpractice (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.674). Other less common motivations for creating closures include improving tourism opportunities, strengthening individual village tenure, promoting reserve initiatives with NGOs, and a desire to be competitive with other village that have more protected areas (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.675).

Affected Stakeholders

The affected stakeholders include members of the various Vanuatu villages that utilize the inshore fisheries and develop the marine protected areas. While the government sets national regulations on fishing of high-value export species and flagship species, communities are the legal owners of near-shore resources (Leopold et al, 2013, p.164). Subsistence fisheries continue to be an important component of coastal community lifestyles. Subsistence harvest provides a considerable proportion to rural community’s protein supply and is practiced by approximately 50% of the rural population (Leopold et al, 2013, p.164). Presently, inshore fishing continues to utilize traditional methods, mainly consisting of on-foot fishing with canoes over power boats (Leopold et al, 2013, p.170). This is a result of the high operation and up-front costs associated with purchasing more modern technology (Leopold et al, 2013, p.170). Primary fishing gear used by communities is a mix of handline, gillnet, and speargun (Leopold et al, 2013, p.170). While legal ownership resides with communities, they still implement national fishing rules. Villages differentiate in which national rules they choose to implement into their management strategy (Leopold et al, 2013, p.170). For example, in 2009 the VFD set a five-year closure for sea cucumber (Holothuria atra) (Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2009, p.12). Communities choose whether they wish to close sea cucumber fishing in their respective marine area.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The Vanuatu Fisheries Department (VFD) “is the government body charged with the implementation and enforcement of fisheries management laws, policies, regulations and principles under the Ministry of Agriculture, Live Stock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (MALFFB)” (Government of Vanuatu, 2014). The mandate of the VFD is “to ensure sustainable management, development and conservation of fish resources in order to achieve maximum social and economic benefits to Vanuatu for the present and future generations” (Government of Vanuatu Research and Aquaculture Division, 2014). The VFD is comprised of six divisions: Administration, Management & Policies, Development & Capture, Research & Aquaculture, Seafood verification and Licensing & Compliance (Government of Vanuatu, 2014). However, information providing further in-depth descriptions of the stated mandate was not found on the governments website, only interactive maps showing locations of surveyed habitat, commercial invertebrates, etc. that have not been updated since 2014 at the latest. This brings into question the reliability of the government’s website to accurately describe what work the VFD conducts in reality. The VFD originally supported CBFM to enhance trochus fisheries (Trochus niloticus), a highly commercially valuable specie (Leopold et al, 2013, p.168). Where village-based marine reserves fail to meet certain marine objectives, national policies created by the VFD can makeup for these shortcomings (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.677).

Successes & Failures of CBFM

Determining the success and failure of CBFM requires analyzing a few key criteria. The first is the ecological criteria, which measures how effective CBFM, and particularly the village-based marine reserves are at regenerating heavily exploited species. The second is social criteria measures the acceptability of the management system, analyzing its acceptance by village communities and the VFD and the level of conflict that arises. The third is the economic criteria, which measures if the management system provide enhancement of livelihoods for both stakeholders. The fourth and final criteria is the temporal criteria, which measures how well the management system addresses and accounts for current and future challenges faced by the communities.

Currently, the local support for marine reserves is quite high (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.675) with some variation. Communities with permanent reserves have significantly higher support than communities using periodic closures (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.675). A study by Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, (2009) asked villagers why they prefer permanent, over periodic closures, one villager stated: “Well, when the chief opens a taboo [periodic closure] and takes out the custom marker, we go catch fish, lots of fish. There are lots of resources when you first go in, but that is only for a short time. After we keep going in, then the numbers go down. So it is always up and down, up and down. But we want up and up —Member of village council” (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.675). Statements like these show a perception that periodic closures do not provide a solution to concerns of resource decline by allowing long-time growth of resources, but instead a temporary solution that provides fishers with enough fish biomass until they decline again. However, the overall use of village-based marine reserves is supported as reserves continue to expand in size and number (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.676).

The ecological effectiveness of marine reserves contains positive and negative results. Live coral cover increases have been validated by underwater surveys (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.676). However, several species of molluscs that have been fished for commercial and subsistence purposes have not shown significant recovery in suitable habitats (Dumas et al, 2010, p.370). Collapsed species such as green snails (Turbo marmoratus) have not shown to be able to recover in the protected areas. (Dumas et al, 2010, p.369). Measurements of other declined species that have showed recovery such as giant clams (Tridacna maxima) and trochus depend on the features of the reserve. Larger and older protected areas tend to have greater levels of species recovery than smaller and newer areas suggesting an important link between the spatial and temporal components of the reserve areas (Dumas et al, 2010, p.369). The linkage between the size and age is an important determinant in the ecological effectiveness of protected areas to regenerate species abundance. The life-history of species is also important. Fast-growing, early-maturing species show a more positive regeneration response to village reserves than do slow-growing, late-maturing species (Dumas et al, 2010, p.369).

While their ecological effectiveness may be inferior, periodic reserves provide economic benefits that permanent reserves (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.677), a partial opening does provide local villagers with an opportunity to harvest the reefs for their much-needed protein supply and subsistence fishing (Bartlett, Pakoa, Manua, 2009, p.677) which may be inaccessible in permanent reserves. One of the biggest management issues in many villages is poaching from internal or neighboring villages (Leopold et al, 2013, p.171).

Another weakness of CBFM in the case of Vanuatu is the struggle to maintain long-term management goals. Many community rules developed to manage the fisheries did not survive a lengthy period (Leopold et al, 2013, p.172). After support from external agencies ended, the systems eventually failed or were dropped by the community (Leopold et al, 2013, p.172). These included rules written into the village management plans (Leopold et al, 2013, p.173). A possible explanation for the loss of rules was the eventual divergence among community members regarding their belief that the implemented rules were meeting objectives (Leopold et al, 2013, p.174). Given the limited capacity of the VFD and associated government, community-level acceptability becomes the driving factor of creating sustainable measurement frameworks (Leopold et al, 2013, p.174). Therefore, while policies such as temporary closures and permanent reserves have higher acceptability and continue to grow, other fishing regulations, especially those created with support of external agencies such as gear restrictions (Leopold et al, 2013, p.173), have a lower chance of being continually implemented over an extended timeframe.

Assessment of Social Actors

In terms of the logistical ability to determine the level of marine exploitation and resource harvest, the villagers of Vanuatu have greater power over fisheries management. While the VFD and other associated government have legislative authority to create laws regarding fishing regulations, their capacity to monitor and enforce these laws are severely limited. Other countries globally with greater financial capacities also face the issue of monitoring and technologies to enhance monitoring and compliance are continually being developed (Enguehard, Devillers, Hoeber, 2013, p.105). Given the comparatively lower financial and technical capacity of Vanuatu and the dis-connectivity between islands, the inability to monitor compliance is escalated. On top of the government’s limitations, the country has strict laws in their constitution allowing villagers the right to customary fishing practices in their inshore fisheries. Constitutional laws in Vanuatu are heavily protected and have eight written forms of protection (WIPO, 2017, Ch.2 Part 1(2)) making infringement of villager’s rights extremely difficult. Therefore, it appears that at most, the VFD has the ability to create national legislation but provide little enforcement, instead relying on cooperation with the village communities who ultimately decide how to manage their inshore fisheries.


The variation in the structure of fisheries among Vanuatu’s islands makes a standardized management method across the nation impossible. Instead, the continuation of localized management scales that account for variations should increase but with greater co-operation with science and the VFD. For example, allowable harvest should be greater in larger and older reserve areas than smaller and newer areas rather than solely based on the perception of the villagers. The country also has an opportunity to utilize their government for more long-term management objectives. To address the concerns of long-term availability of resources, government should work more with communities to create nationalized gear restrictions (Leopold et al, 2013, p.174). Restrictions such as larger net mesh sizes allow juvenile individuals of given species to have greater escapement and thus, an opportunity to grow into mature, more usable sizes. With these restrictions, the VFD should also train local leaders of villages to properly monitor their own lands and become wardens of their fisheries. The VFD is currently working on an unspecified legal framework that seeks to meet this objective (Leopold et al, 2013, p.174). With greater internal monitoring and enforcement, the villages would have greater confidence in the prevention of poaching from neighboring villages.


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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Alessandro Freeman #33790130.