The University of Arizona

Shifting policies, access, and the tragedy of enclosures in Ecuadorian mangrove fisheries: towards a political ecology of the commons

Christine M. Beitl


After decades of mangrove deforestation for the development of shrimp farming, the Ecuadorian state began to officially recognize the ancestral rights of traditional users of coastal mangrove resources in the late 1990s. This article traces the trajectory of coastal policy change and the transformation of mangrove tenure regimes from an implicit preference for shrimp aquaculture to a focus on conservation and sustainable development with greater community participation through the establishment of community-managed mangrove areas called custodias. I argue that while the custodias have empowered local communities in their struggle to defend their livelihoods and environment against the marginalizing forces of global shrimp aquaculture, the implementation of common property arrangements for mangrove fishery management has changed the nature of property rights, the distribution of resources, and social relations among collectors of mangrove cockles (Anadara tuberculosa and A. similis). I suggest a need to develop a political ecology of the commons, an analytical approach applied here to examine the fundamental shift in the nature of the struggle over mangrove resources, from artisanal fishers versus shrimp farmers to a struggle between compaƱeros: members of associations versus independent cockle collectors. Such a shift in the struggle over resources threatens to undermine the sustainability of the fishery. I conclude that shifting access may be an important underlying factor contributing to a tragedy of enclosures in Ecuador's mangrove cockle fishery.

Keywords: political ecology; property rights; common property; access; tragedy of enclosures; shrimp aquaculture; mangroves; artisanal fisheries; Anadara spp., Ecuador

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