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Species-oriented community-based resource management: A Case study from small-scale fisheries in the Yaeyama islands, southwestern Japan

Tomoya Akimichi
Director, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan

Abstract: This essay discusses reef fish management among fishermen, fisheries officers, and recreational anglers in Yaeyama islands, southwestern Japan. Data is derived from fieldwork in 1998 and 1999, and unpublished reports of meetings held at the Yaeyama Fisheries Cooperative Association (Yaeyama FCA) between 1995 and 1997, concerning the management of lethrinids fish.

These meetings were intended to seek possible autonomous conservation measures for a single species of emperor fish (Lethrinus mahsena), which is one of the most important food fish in Okinawa. Because this project is still being informally promoted at the local level, it is relevant to contemporary questions regarding the implementation of community-based resource management (CBRM). Further, although this case deals with only one species of reef fish, it may contain important implications for implementing CBRM in other fisheries.

In what follows, ideas and practices are recalled from dialogues taking place among local fishermen, fisheries officers, and scientists who were engaged in fisheries administration and research works, as well as from anglers who fish for recreational purposes. To enhance resource management while promoting food security, careful consideration must be given to the role of mediators, as well as the impacts of non-fisheries sectors such as tourism and recreational fishing upon management programs and enforcement.

Key Words and Concepts: Yaeyama; fisheries cooperative association (FCA); lethrinids; spawning aggregation; community-based resource management (CBRM); role of local government; recreational fishing.


During the past few decades, various ideas and practices regarding community-based resource management (CBRM), especially in the fisheries sector, have gained increasing attention worldwide, particularly in various developing countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Basin (Ruddle 1993). Indeed, research on indigenous systems of CBRM in these areas have clarified ecological and socio-economic benefits for the communities sufficiently to merit further application in resource management. CBRM may also be useful for policy-making in sustainable development by modifying top-down approaches while promoting more appropriate co-management programs.


Before describing reef-fish management in Japan, two existing CBRM systems in Indonesia and Japan are first described: sasi, an east Indonesian customary practice, and Gyokyo or FCA (Fisheries Cooperative Association), a Japanese fisheries cooperative institution.

The sasi system is practiced rather extensively in eastern Indonesia (Bailey and Zerner 1992; Akimichi 1995) and is known as an example of a non-western model of CBRM for regulating access to fisheries resources at the community level. Community members are able to exploit such reef resources as beche-de-mer, trochus, and mother-of-pearl shell when a village head declares the opening sasi (sasi buka). Harvests generally proceed for approximately a week. When closing sasi (tutup sasi) for as long as one to a few years, people are not allowed to harvest. Profits gained from sales of the harvest are allocated to both individuals and to the community in general. The sasi system, therefore, is a community-based means for meeting ecological-sustainablity and socio-economic equity goals.

However, sasi is not almighty as an effective measure at the inter-community level. It cannot, for instance, solve boundary disputes between neighboring communities, as respective sasi-holding communities decide their own schedules for opening and closing, nor does it imply sea territory and associated sea-tenure rights. Indeed, territorial disputes often occur between communities, which may escalate to violence and conflict. As I have shown in a case from the Kai Islands of Maluku, Indonesia (Akimichi 1995), the heads of local district governments (camat) play an important role in judging various village proposals for opening sasi. Whether or not the proposal is endorsed is often decided after considering the recurrence of disputes. In fact, in one instance with which I am familiar, camat succeeded in avoiding boundary conflicts between two hostile villages by rejecting their proposals for sasi opening. This underscores the need for a mediator, such as camat, as key to effective community-based resource use.

A core institution for CBRM in Japan, which is similar to that found in the sasi system, is the fisheries cooperative associations (FCAs), or gyokyo (Gyogyo-Kyodo-Kumiai; see Ruddle and Akimichi 1984). In Japan, FCAs have various functions in the fisheries: e.g., implementing fisheries regulations and coordination, and serving as a facilitator for financing and marketing marine products (Kaneda 1980). Opening and closing inshore fishing grounds for benthic resources, such as abalone shell, sea urchin, and seaweeds, is also often subject to an FCA's rules and decisions.

Although the FCAs play a vital role in community-based management, they are not self-sufficient. For instance, opening and closing fishing grounds is decided at the community-level according to the fishery execution rules (Gyogyo-Ken Koshi-Kisoku) of each FCA. On the other hand, such rules as the harvestable size of abalone shells and the season of a ban during the spawning period are applied through fisheries regulation rules (Gyogyo-Chosei Kisoku) at the prefecture levels in which more than 50 FCAs are involved as subsidiaries. Unfortunately, local ecological conditions are not always taken into account, and actual spawning may occur before or after the spawning ban.

Prefecture and local governments therefore often play important roles as coordinators in dispute settlements among FCAs. This is especially true when disputes cannot be settled among FCAs, such as when they occur along prefecture borders, or when non-FCA members and non-fisheries sectors are involved. Thus, when promoting CBRM is considered a desirable goal, external factors and processes relevant to practical necessities must be taken into account. And this is my precise intention here, as I describe Yaeyama's community-based reef-fish resource management, by focusing in particular on the roles of local government in this region's CBRM.


It is not surprising that small-scale fisheries on Japan's coral reefs still play an important role in the local economy. In the Yaeyama islands, which are located at the southwestern extremity of Japan and which count ten major islands, small-scale coastal fisheries are still among the most important commercial activities in this region (Ruddle and Akimichi 1989). Yaeyama forms a part of the Ryukyu archipelago, extending from the southern tip of Kyushu to Yoyaguni island, close to Taiwan, and is characterized by its subtropical environments. Administratively, Yaeyama is divided into Ishigaki City, consisting of Ishigaki Island, and Taketomi-Town, which comprises Iriomote, Taketomi, Kuroshima, Hateruma, Hatoma and other small islands (Figure 1). Yonaguni Island, at the western tip of Japan, forms Yonaguni-Town.

The coral reefs in Yaeyama and other parts of the Ryukyu archipelago are known for their extraordinary marine biodiversity, which exceeds that found in other tropical and subtropical areas such as the Philippines, New Guinea and the Great Barrier Reef (Masuda et al., 1984). For instance, sixty-two genus of corals are found in Yaeyama waters, which is slightly more than the number found in the Malay peninsula (60) and the Philippines (57). Moreover, some 2,200 different species of marine fish are found in the coastal waters of the Ryukyu Islands (Shokita 1988).

3.1 The Yaeyama FCA since the mid-1970s

Unfortunately, these diverse coral-reef ecosystems are now under serious threat. As has happened in many other tropical waters around the world, the coral reefs of Yaeyama are now experiencing environmental degradation. Red soil sedimentation which has been caused by land reclamation for industrial, housing, and agricultural developments has seriously damaged coral habitats, so disastrously that now around 70 % of Yaeyama's coral reefs are reported to be dead, or nearly so (Environmental Agency 1995). This has not only decreased the diversity of this region's underwater marine life, it has also brought about serious declines in the livelihoods of the region's small-scale fishing people.

As this environmental degradation became increasingly apparent over the past few decades, local fishermen in Yaeyama began to recognize the necessity for so-called "management". Before and shortly after 1973, when Okinawa was restored to mainland Japan, the region's inshore fisheries were small-scale, part of a household economy, and characterized by strong economic ties between fishermen and fish buyers. In Okinawa, Itoman city, which is located at the southern part of Okinawa's main island, is known as the homeland of the most active and skilled fishermen in Okinawa (Ueda 1992). These especially skilled Itoman fishermen, or ichimanah, have prompted the spread of their fishing techniques to Southeast Asia, other parts of the Ryukyu archipelago, and the western part of the Japanese mainland. Indeed, a great many of the full-time fishermen in Yaeyama and other parts of Okinawa are immigrants from Itoman, while others are from Miyako Island which is located just between Yaeyama and Okinawa's main island (Akimichi 1984; Ruddle and Akimichi 1989).

Figure 1. Location of Okinawa Prefecture

Fishermen's wives in Itoman work as fish retailers, and as buyers of fish purchased from their husbands (Kato 1980; Akimichi 1984). Also in Yaeyama, women from small-scale fishing families tend to work as shop-owners of sashimi-ya (raw fish shops), kamaboko-ya (fried fish-cake shops), and as middlemen or fish retailers in local and town markets. Yet, in recent years much of this small-scale fish trade has been replaced by the FCA's marketing system, in which fish landings are sold at auction in the Yaeyama FCA's fish market. This trend has therefore greatly diminished small-scale local fish-sale industries in Yaeyama, as described below.

In the past, fish distribution and sales, and dried bonito-fish cake (katsuo-bushi) and fried fish cake processing industries were important in the Okinawan fish economy, and the FCAs were less able to influence these realms than they were in other parts of Japan. Formerly, informal regulations and open access principles in fisheries were more important than the formal enforcement and limited entry rules directed by the FCAs. Thus, agreements regarding territorial use, negotiation, and avoidance of conflicts among fishermen were common practices (Akimichi 1986). Illegal fishing practices such as the use of blasting and cyanide poisoning were also similarly controlled.

But after the region was fully returned to Japan in 1972, programs for helping the region to catch up economically and bring about governmental centralization have brought about drastic changes in the organization and function of the FCAs in Okinawa. Development programs for inshore fisheries were promoted, featuring large-scale investments for the construction of fishing ports, modern fish-landing places, cold storage systems and ice plants, and the introduction of new fishing boats and fishing technologies. Mariculture developments for producing seaweeds and giant clams were also launched. And now frozen fish produced in the region are air freighted to mainland Japan.

Along with these new programs, an institutional reorganization of the FCAs was also implemented to improve the development and management of Yaeyama's inshore fisheries. Thus, the FCAs were empowered to exert a greater influence on individual fishermen, requiring them to abide by the regulations of the FCAs, while the Maritime Safety Agency's prohibitions on destructive fishing practices were more rigorously enforced. Various other regulations also affected, to a large extent, fishermen's activities at sea. And, it should also be noted, around this same time a number of other projects were launched for developing industrialization and tourism industries.

As a result of the technological and socio-economic changes seen in the fisheries in Yaeyama during the past couple of decades, and also as a result of the serious environmental degradation in Yaeyama's coastal zones, local fishermen and fisheries officers alike began to realize the need to better address fisheries-resource declines and various environmental hazards. During the course of the foregoing changes, conflicts between fishermen, farmers, and developers had become increasingly heated. And as large amounts of red soil and pesticides flowed into the sea, local fishermen had become increasingly upset, and increasingly protested that these environmental hazards were threatening their fishing livelihoods.

3.2 The Shiraho community and the Yaeyama FCA

The construction plan for a new Ishigaki airport along the fringing reefs of the Shiraho area also emerged as a controversial project. Shiraho is a coastal community which is located at the southeastern part of Ishigaki Island. In the lengthy planning discussions, environmentalists, NGOs, marine scientists, and many of Shiraho's villagers opposed construction of the airstrip, feeling it would destroy the valuable coral habitat. Development interests, on the other hand, underscored the potential economic benefits that would come from the construction of an airstrip that would enable jumbo jets to land near Shiraho. The development of a robust tourism industry on the remote island of Ishigaki, they emphasized, would ultimately bring the region more benefits than would coral reef conservation.

Although this development plan has been temporarily suspended, it still underscores a controversial problem regarding fisheries rights and the significance of CBRM. This is because the decision regarding whether or not the sea could be filled to make new land for the proposed airport was voted on at a general meeting of the Yaeyama FCA, at a meeting which excluded local inhabitants of Shiraho who were not members of the Yaeyama FCA. This is not an acceptable state of affairs, of course, if we acknowledge the need to respect the rights and sentiments of all of the inhabitants of Shiraho, rather than just the fisheries rights that are retained by the members of the Yaeyama FCA.

According to the Fisheries Law, the Yaeyama FCA has the rights to utilize the coastal fisheries and the waters around Shiraho. Thus, fisheries rights claimed by local farmer-fishermen from Shiraho are not acknowledged, because they are not affiliated with the Yaeyama FCA (Kumamoto 1999). Thus, we should be careful to distinguish between the fisheries rights retained by the members of the Yaeyama FCA and those which are claimed by other inhabitants of the Shiraho community. Further, it should be noted that most full-time fishermen reside in the city of Ishigaki, whereas only a relative few live in other coastal communities in Yaeyama.

The Yaeyama fisheries-management question must therefore be divided into two parts: one regarding FCA-oriented management, and the other regarding local community-oriented management. The distinction between these parts is significant because access to fisheries resources in the former instance pertains to all the inshore waters in Yaeyama (Figure 2), whereas in the latter instance it pertains mainly to small-scale fishing and shell collecting, which is done on a subsistence basis and without authorized fishing rights by the Yaeyama FCA. These inherent contradictions surrounding Shiraho's fisheries pose questions concerning whether localized and customary fishing rights can remain valid under a hierarchical legal system in Japan, as well as whether fisheries can be protected in the face of such developments as new airports. And so far the situation around Shiraho suggests that the FCA model in Japan may not always become a unit of CBRM, and indeed may contradict CBRM principles and aims.


In Yaeyama, fishing activities aimed at catching emperor fish (family Lethrinidae) are all essentially small-scale. The fishing boats that are utilized are usually less than 3 tons, with only one or two fishermen aboard each vessel engaged in the harvest. Several species of Lethrinidae are found in the Yaeyama region, mostly in inshore waters. Emperor fish are an important food fish in Okinawa, as are other reef fish, especially grouper (family Epinephelidae), and both are economically important. Although the present study focuses on problems surrounding lethrinids, the ideas and practices that can be drawn from it can also be applied to the management of grouper and other reef-fish species. Indeed, this study may help to inform discussions regarding the sustainable use of reef fish throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

Figure 2. Yaeyama Islands and fishing grounds for the resource management

Major techniques employed for catching lethrinid fish are trapping, underwater spearing, hand lines, bottom longlines, fish-drives, and gill netting (Kuchikura 1975). Traps for lethrinids as well as groupers are called kane-tiirugwa, which literally denotes wire-traps. The large, flat, cylindrical, wire-woven traps, which are about 2 meters in diameter and 80cm high, are usually made by the fishermen themselves. The traps are deliberately camouflaged by corals, with the entrance left open so as to attract lethrinid, grouper, and other carnivorous fish. The heads and internal organs of skipjack fish are preferred baits for the traps. Skipjack is processed as dried fish-cake (katsuo-bushi) in Ishigaki city. Then, as the leftovers are discarded, the bait is made available to trap fishermen. The number of traps an individual fisherman may use is limited to 20 by the FCA's rule. During the spawning season of lethrinids and grouper, fishing sites of 8-15 fathoms are chosen, while in the summer season this shifts to 2-3 fathoms depth. It should be noted that the destructive nature of this trapping lies mainly in its use of live corals to camouflage the traps.

Line fishing for lethrinids and groupers is also a seasonal activity. Here the technique entails a hand line deployed along the bottom with baited hooks. It is an especially effective nocturnal activity between March and May, corresponding with spawning aggregations of lethrinid and epinephelid fish. The technique used during this period is called yuimi-sah, meaning, "to go fishing at night."

Underwater spearing is also a common technique for catching reef fish. In 1971 when I first visited Ishigaki, only twenty fishermen migrated from the Miyako Islands, situated some 200 km northeast of the Yaeyama groups, to conduct underwater spearing. Nowadays there are many more employing this technique. Spearing is conducted at night with waterproof flashlights held by the divers. The technique is called dentoh-moguri, which means "flashlight diving." This is particularly effective when targeting diurnal species that take refuge in the holes and crevices of coral reefs at night.

Several years ago, divers could search for resting fish only for a few minutes, limited by how long they could stay submerged while holding their breath. However, in early 1980s, new techniques were introduced which permitted divers to catch many more fish than before. One was the use of a lighting apparatus connected to a battery on board. Another was the adoption of underwater scuba gear. Unfortunately, these newer techniques have in many places brought about resource depletion as long-time diving with powerful flash lights and scuba gear have made it possible to harvest emperor fish and grouper with ease. Being more effective, and because scuba diving can be conducted all year, a majority of fishermen switched to these new techniques, with the total number fishing in this way eventually reaching around 100.

The fish-drive is perhaps the most dynamic type of fishing in the coral reefs. In Okinawa, there are three different types of fish-drives: pantatakah, chinakakiyah, and agyah. In Yaeyama chinakakiyah and agyah are the most prevalent types seen. The former aims at a variety of reef fish while the latter specifically targets fusilier (Caesio spp.) that form into big schools. The number of drivers working as a group is usually less than ten when the chinakakiya approach is employed, while thirty to forty may work together when the agyah approach is employed.

In the chinakakiyah fish-drive, two boats are utilized, with three to five crew members on board each one. A large net is spread in a U-shaped semi-circle, the center of which will be the final net hauling site. Both ends of the net are attached with long ropes. Drivers chase fish from shallow to deep places or along a fish passage, using long ropes with stones attached at the end as a sinker for threatening the fish. A large amount of catch is expected in a single haul by this technique. Especially during the spawning season of reef fish, channels are most frequently used. There are two types of channels according to the depth: channels in deep water are called yugumuch, whereas those in shallow waters are called ninjabe. And fish drives are typically conducted at night.

When gill nets are used they are made of nylon, and may be several hundred meters long. Trammel nets are also commonly used, except during the closed season between June and September. Pairs of fishermen work together, setting their net in the evening and hauling it up early the next morning. Good fishing sites are seasonally allocated. And during the spawning season, areas along the reef within the large channels are preferred sites.

Bottom long lines are also deployed with baited hooks. The length of line is usually two to three hundred meters, and fishing operations are usually conducted by two or three men. The lines are usually set around 45-60 fathoms, but during the spawning season they are shifted to shallow spawning sites.

Each fishing method described above has a different impact on fish populations. In other words, the catch per unit effort may differ greatly according to the techniques that are employed and how these articulate with fish behavior. For instance, underwater spear fishing with scuba apparatus is usually undertaken when lethrinids are in their post-spawning period. As fish tend to be inactive during that period, spear-fishermen can utilize their spears quite effectively. Fish drives and hook-and-line approaches, on the other hand, are aimed at spawning aggregations of lethrinids. And schools of fish migrating from spawning sites to post-spawning resting sites are usually harvested by gill nets. Other than the foregoing methods, fish traps are also used, and the total number of fishermen utilizing all these various techniques is around 300 to 400.

This indicates that the stages of spawning behavior of lethrinids corresponds with certain fishing methods and certain fishing sites. Yet the resource base of lethrinids and grouper are now being threatened due to increasing numbers of fishermen and fishing effort per capita. And worse, apart from the mortality brought about by professional fishermen, recreational anglers have added to the overall fishing intensity, and have come into conflict with local fishermen. These recreational anglers hire Yugyosen (pleasure boats) based at Ishigaki and other local areas of Yaeyama, and usually fish by line fishing.

In addition to these Yugyosen, some fishermen have registered to work as recreational fishing guides, with their clients targeting lethrinid fish. In either case, recreational anglers typically fish in groups having 4 to 8 persons on board. According to the 1996 census of the Agricultural and Fisheries Department of the Okinawa Prefecture Government, Yugyosen owners numbered 89 in Ishigaki City and 49 in Taketomi Town. In all Okinawa prefecture, Ishigaki's figure is the second largest in number, second only to that of Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, where it is 118. Clearly, then, Yaeyama's waters are an attractive place for recreational anglers, and resource management in Yaeyama is not a matter of concern for only local fishermen who are affiliated with the Yaeyama FCA, but also for local administrative institutions and members of the private sector.


In this section I will describe in detail a small project started in the Yaeyama FCA in 1995, which focused specifically on the management of a single species of emperor fish, isofuefuki (Lethrinus mahsena), which is also referred to as kuchinagi in Okinawa. Prior to this project, a top-down instruction was delivered from the Fisheries Agency (Suisan-Cho) in Tokyo to each prefecture in Japan. In 1994, the Fisheries Agency had launched a nationwide aid project to promote stock management in various fisheries. And to implement the project, the various prefecture governments were required to develop practical schemes for supporting management measures in particular fisheries, or for managing certain fish stocks within prefecture territorial waters. Two projects were decided upon for the Okinawa Prefecture, one of which is the present lethrinid stock management project in Yaeyama, while the other is for sodeika, a large squid (Thysanoteuthis rhombus) which is found in offshore waters beyond Okinawa's main island.

As a result of ongoing consultation and dialogues between the prefecture government of Okinawa and the Yaeyama FCA, a new management plan for the lethrinid species emerged. These parties were especially interested in trying some new approaches because of the past failure of a grouper stock-management project which had been initiated by a group of fishermen belonging to the Yaeyama FCA. A few years earlier, noting the declining trend of grouper catches, fishermen who specialized in grouper fishing decided to establish closed fishing sites and closed seasons during the groupers' spawning season. Like lethrinid fish, grouper are especially easy to catch during their spawning aggregation period (April and May), and by similar techniques as those used to catch lethrinids. The regulations were therefore informally disseminated, and were supposed to be enforced by all the members of the Yaeyama FCA.

But, unfortunately, poaching by both full-time fishermen affiliated with the Yaeyama FCA and recreational anglers became widespread, despite the conservation measures that been spontaneously promoted by the local fishermen, and eventually the stock management project ended in failure. This is perhaps the main reason why a subsequent scheme that was proposed for lethrinid stock management was unfavorably received by the fishermen when it was first proposed. Yet, another reason was that only poor information was available regarding lethrinid stocks, leaving fishermen with few incentives to undertake a conservation-oriented project.

Catch trends for the lethrinid mahsena (also referred to as kuchinagi) during the last two decades showed fluctuations, rather than a steady decline (Figure 3). However, the unexpected depletion of another kind of lethrinid fish, taman (Lethrinus nebulosus), around Okinawa's main island had been observed over several years, and thus prompted people to consider new conservation measures. It should be noted that both lethrinid species are commonly found in Okinawa's waters and have long served as important food fish.

In 1995, emperor fish caught in Yaeyama waters constituted almost half of the total landings of these species that were caught in all of Okinawa's waters. Among the techniques employed, scuba spearing (yielding 14.8 tons) and hook-and-line (12.8 tons) were the two major ones, while bottom long lines (3.3 tons), gill nets (4.4 tons), fish-drives (2.7 tons), and fish trapping (3.4 tons) were less productive. Regarding the selectivity to lethrinids of these various techniques, they were fish trapping (20.6 %), bottom long lines (19.3 %), hook-and- line (18.4 %), and fish-drives (16.0%), all of which were much higher than the figures for scuba-diving (5.9 %) and gill netting (4.4 %). Obviously, hook-and-line is selective for lethrinids with a high yield, whereas gill netting is the least selective, with a low yield. It should also be pointed out that bottom lines are selective despite a low yield, while trapping, scuba spearing, and fish-driving are highly productive despite their wide a variety of catch composition. Differences in yields and the selectivity of each fishing technique may therefore affect attitudes towards future management programs among fishermen.

Figure 3. Catch Trend of Emperor Fish (Lethrinus mahsena) in Okinawa

Without a definite declining trend to point to regarding lethrinids, existing measures for their conservation were few, being limited mainly to a ban on trammel nets during the months of June and September. Fishermen wishing to operate either scuba spearing or hook-and-line from more than 5 ton vessels were also required to obtain permission from the prefecture governor. Obviously, these two measures were not exclusively designed to protect the lethrinid populations, but rather were more general measures taken to slow overall resource depletion. Thus, under these circumstances a strong need for management was felt among government fisheries officers and some members of the Yaeyama FCA, and a new program was proposed in 1995.


Following the proposal for lethrinid resource management initiated by the prefecture government of Okinawa, several meetings were held at the Yaeyama FCA: three in 1996, and two in 1997. To examine the feasibility of the proposal, fishermen affiliated with the Yaeyama FCA, prefecture government officers, fisheries officers from the Ishigaki City Office, recreational anglers, and persons who worked in recreational-fishing shops took part in these meetings. The participants at these meetings did not remain the same through the two years that they took place, and in the second year two additional local fishermen from Kohama Island and Iriomote Island of Taketomi Town attended the meeting as representatives of the western part of Yaeyama waters, which include major fishing spots for lethrinids. Otherwise, six representative fishermen who had participated in the initial planning for the meetings in 1995, and who represented six different fishing techniques, were nominated to continue in 1997, while it was decided that two fisheries officers who had participated in 1995 would serve alternating terms.

The first year of the project, 1996, three meetings were held: on February 3, March 23, and October 19, while during the second year, 1997, two meetings were held: on February 8, and the last on March 19. All the foregoing meetings were held in Ishigaki city and/or at the Yaeyama FCA. In attendance, therefore, were six representatives of fishermen who engaged in the six different types of lethrinid fisheries (scuba spearing, hook-and-line, bottom long line, fish drive, gill net, and fish trapping), specialists and technical engineers from the Okinawa Prefecture Fishery Experimental Station, fisheries officers from the Ishigaki City Office and the Okinawa Prefecture Government, and recreational-fishing shop keepers.

Discussions during the meetings were transcribed as reports and then subsequently provided to me. The following descriptions of these meetings and the discussions that took place are presented below in a contrasting manner to underscore the core issues of various debates, as well as how the final consensus was reached among those who took part. It is noteworthy that the two major issues in the discussions were these: (1) access rights, and the general morality of fishermen and recreational anglers; and (2) the number and location of proposed closed sites and closed fishing periods. The former mainly entailed legal and jurisdictional matters, while the latter were associated with the discourses between scientific and indigenous knowledge domains. Below are described complaints and claims made by different fishing groups, complaints and claims made between fishermen and recreational anglers, and other complaints and claims made by marine scientists, administrators and other local fishermen. My focus is on the reason why these protests and hostilities arose, and how coordination was eventually brought about.

6.1 Inter-group dilemmas among fishermen

Those who engage in lethrinid fishing do not always have the same ideas regarding the impacts of various fishing techniques on fish populations. Because fishing pressure will differ with different techniques employed, and also differ with different target species, this almost inevitably gives rise to antagonism and conflicts among fishermen who utilize different techniques to exploit the same species at the same locations. For instance, during one of the early discussions one fisherman stridently criticized others who had fished at certain spawning sites while utilizing a particular fishing technique, expressing doubts that such fishing could be sustained at those sites in future years. But another fisherman refuted this attack, expressing near certainty that the technique in question did not deplete the fish found at those particular sites, not even during their spawning season, and instead harvested them very selectively.

Following this exchange, the discussion among the participants became even more strident. Fish trappers, for example, claimed that they did not expect to catch groupers and lethrinids in their fish traps during the spawning season, even with the baits that are commonly prepared for alluring these fish. Then, another fisherman argued that a ban on fishing should be imposed only during the spawning phase, and especially on fishermen using such techniques as fish drives, gill netting, and line fishing. Such fishermen, he felt, could unduly diminish the fish population. And in subsequent meetings opinions regarding the best ways to go about stock management continued to reveal differences in opinions among fishermen who used the six different fishing techniques.

After these debates and discussions had gone on for awhile, the participants suggested they should turn to considering how they might implement practical plans for management. But the participating fisheries officer felt these discussions were premature and would be unproductive, because a majority of fishermen in the FCA had not yet reached a consensus. Nevertheless, the representatives of scuba divers, fish trappers, and long liners voluntarily agreed to the introduction of certain regulations for the lethrinid stocks, including certain bans on fishing during the spawning period. Gill netters also agreed to this in principle, although they also insisted that priority be given to instructing recreational anglers as to the importance of complying with the ban on fishing during the spawning season. Moreover, most of the participating fishermen expressed their general willingness to accept a new management program, although different groups of them continued to differ concerning certain details in the program that had been proposed. This illustrates the complex nature of instituting CBRM stock management, even in a single fishery and entailing the management of only a single species, yet where different fishers utilize different techniques to target that species.

6.2 Fishermen versus recreational anglers

Throughout the initial meetings, professional fishermen expressed negative opinions concerning recreational anglers, whom they felt threatened their potential fishing success. The major points they alleged were as follows:

(1) Recreational anglers often catch fish for more people than just themselves.

(2) Because they are not legally bound by them, recreational anglers may not observe FCA-based regulations and policies, especially when these are set forth in an informal manner.

(3) Some recreational anglers are weekend fishers who work during the week as public servants. And some of the participants at the meetings who are participating in their capacities as public servants are also recreational anglers on the weekends.

(4) Some recreational anglers inappropriately use bait fish to attract fish.

(5) Recreational anglers fish during spawning periods, while most professional fishermen refrain from fishing during those times.

(6) Recreational anglers have better fishing equipment and fresher bait fish than do many professional fishermen, and they fish in relatively large groups with more than three men on board, and then take fish home as gifts to others. As a result, their potential catches of lethrinid fish in Iriomote Island may be approximately three times greater than that of the professional fishermen.

(7) Declining yields are not due to professional fishermen over-fishing, as the total number of professional fishermen is not large, but rather more because of fishing pressure by recreational anglers. Ultimately, we need to reduce fishing effort by recreational anglers.

(8) If, out of a total of eight major spawning sites, three are designated for special conservation measures, intensive fishing by recreational anglers at the designated sites may bring about even greater depletion.

At the second meeting held in 1996, some 150 people, including fishermen belonging to the Yaeyama FCA and other official participants assembled. Fishermen were distinguished in five groups corresponding with the residential areas around Ishigaki City, with the five groups designated as follows: "East-1"; "East-2"; "Middle-1"; "Middle-2"; and "West." Various opinions that were expressed by members from each of these groups regarding recreational anglers are summarized below (it should be noted that these residential groups do not correspond with particular fishing techniques):
(1) The most important concern is how to coordinate with recreational anglers.

(2) It is important to organize night patrols, especially to prevent recreational anglers from entering protected areas at night. And, generally speaking, it is more important to limit entry among those who fish for recreational purposes than it is to limit the entry of professional fishermen.

(3) The ratio of recreational-to-professional fishing boats is around 8:2, meaning recreational-fishing boats are far more numerous than those of professional fishermen-especially at the time of spawning. Limiting the entry of recreational anglers would therefore address most of the current conservationist problems. Moreover, not only should the quantity of fish that can be harvested be limited, but there should also be a pricing policy regulating where fish can be sold, and at what prices.

(4) Recreational anglers are the line fishermen's main concern, because they interfere with line fishermen's activities and pose serious competition over resources and fishing grounds. Appropriate measures should be taken to prevent these part-time recreational anglers from disturbing FCA fishermen.

Through the long discussions, hostile relations between professional fishermen and recreational anglers were apparent. Yet, the professional fishermen also suggested constructive measures to mitigate problems that are posed for them by the recreational anglers. For instance, a management-information program was proposed for informing recreational anglers about fisheries problems and management policies by direct-mail, leaflets, and announcements through the mass-media. Also proposed was to inspect recreational fishing boats to ensure that they had the required licenses, and to take a census of recreational anglers by enlisting the cooperation of owners of fishing-tackle shops. Less radical proposals included having some fishermen promote public awareness of the stock-management project through public activities. Fishermen also requested that a unified association of recreational anglers be established which would have stronger connections with fishermen and management authorities than did the existing informal club for recreational anglers.

6.3 Fishermen versus fisheries scientists and government fisheries officers

Debates between fishermen and fisheries scientists from the prefecture government were more technically and practically oriented than they were legally and ethically oriented, and before reaching agreements regarding the closing of certain fishing sites during the spawning period, several discussions took place. Regarding the scientific report on the stock assessment of lethrinids that had been prepared by the Prefecture Fisheries Office during 1996-1997, questions were raised by various fishermen groups. One question entailed whether the yield of isofuefuki (Lethrinus mahsen) had increased, and the fisheries officer explained that while there had been an increase in yields which could be attributed to the rise of fishing effort and/or numbers of fishermen, the C.P.U.E. (catch per unit effort) had decreased. A slight increase in unit price was also observed between 1995 and 1997, but did not seem correlated to the increase of the catch. Also, while the existence of spawning aggregates of isofuefuki were confirmed, one fisherman underscored the practical difficulties that would be entailed in closing certain fishing grounds for certain periods of time to protect these. Imposing more general closed times, similar to those which prohibit large squid (Thysanoteuthis rhombus) hooking on Saturdays, might be more effective, he urged.

Regarding the number of fishing sites for which there would be regulatory measures, fishermen were initially opposed to total bans on fishing at spawning sites, and also tried to narrow the size of the areas that would be regulated. Then, there was the critical question of how much time a site should be given to recover after it was fished during the spawning period. The amount of time needed for recovery following human exploitation is an interesting question, which may be informed by knowledge from both modern science and the indigenous folk-knowledge of fishermen (Akimichi 1984). During the meetings, neither fishermen nor the fisheries officer had definite answers for this question, although one fisherman did propose a recovery period of ten years. Fisheries scientists at the meetings also asked how many spawning sites there were in Yaeyama waters, and one fisherman replied that there were around twenty, and that among these ten particularly large ones could be identified. Thus, the fishermen's knowledge about specific spawning sites was very informative for the fisheries scientists.

Government fisheries officers continued to play important roles as mediators between fishermen and recreational anglers, striving to move them to a consensus. Regarding some of the fishermen's complaints about recreational anglers, they sometimes sided with the recreational anglers, noting that regarding grouper regulation it was not recreational anglers, but rather professional fishermen who had incurred penalties. On the other hand, they also often supported the fisheries scientists' claims that the spawning season was not synchronized, and instead took place at different times at different locations. And, on the question of the number of spawning sites that should be closed at a particular time-something which most fishermen remained opposed to-the fisheries officers proposed approaches that would close different sites at different times, so that not all of the regulated sites would be closed at the same time.

Even then, many fishermen found it difficult to understand these new and strict management measures. Pointing to certain fishing sites, for example, one fisherman stated that during the spawning season some fish disappear to around 100m depth. The fisheries officer acknowledged that it might be scientifically true that lethrinids retreat to deeper places for spawning.

6.4 Discussions regarding practical means for resource management

The following general suggestions eventually emerged from fishermen participating in the meetings:

(1) Intensively study only one spawning site as a test case.

(2) For a quick assessment of regulatory impacts at specific sites, try a closed season rather than imposing spatial restrictions.

(3) Economic equity should be carefully taken into consideration when any regulations are enacted.

(4) An implementation program should be launched and then assessed two years later.

(5) An intermediate experimental program should be launched now on an experimental basis, with final decisions regarding the future program to be made in the final stages of these meetings.

(6) Other than spatial and temporal measures, consideration should also be given to regulating with respect to fishing techniques, size restrictions, mesh size, number of hooks, and quota systems.

After the foregoing comments were duly noted, data on the locations of spawning sites was collected from individual fishermen. This revealed that a majority of spawning sites were found in the western part of Yaeyama FCA's territorial waters, corresponding administratively to Taketomi-cho, and as a result two more committee members were added from Taketomi Town. It was also suggested that the onset of the regulations should begin before the month of March, as the spawning season generally starts in early March. Another important proposal was to control the sales of fish during the spawning season so that poachers would not be able to sell fish to middlemen or wholesalers during that time.

The discussion then focused on the feasibility of rules and restrictions, jurisdictional matters, and management goals. Although many of the difficulties inherent in making new rules stemmed from differences of fishing techniques, the fisheries officer still stressed that social equity must be guaranteed, regardless of the fishing techniques employed. And for delineating the spawning sites for regulation, fishermen continued to press for only minimum-size closed areas. However, the fisheries officer urged an extension that would be large enough to ensure that the conservation goals would be met. For delineating these areas, it was recommended that flag poles and buoys be used as markers. Yet, because there were several important spawning sites in Yaeyama waters, how to choose the particular sites for implementation of the new regulations remained a central issue, and various proposals continued to arise in this regard.

Among the six fishing techniques commonly used to capture lethrinids, scuba diving was considered the most effective, and there was also a general feeling shared by diverse participants that the scuba divers, as a group, would be reluctant to accept new conservation measures. However, the leader of that group assured the participants that he could persuade most members to accept new regulations, as most were still young and fairly flexible in their fishing practices. Finally, one fisherman proposed that six sites should be designated for closure, while at the same time new size regulations should also be applied.

6.5 Final consensus

Twenty-three people attended the final meeting in 1997, including several recreational anglers and owners of fishing-tackle shops. And, although an overall consensus was not reached, significant progress was still made. Some of the important points emerging from this final meeting are summarized below.

For example, one fisherman, recalling his experiences in lethrinid fishing before recreational angling had become popular, stated that he could catch as much as 200-300 kg per day, and that he usually found the densest aggregates at around 30 meters depth. He said he also sometimes found fish in the shallow layer, at around 5 meters depth, just underneath the bottom of his fishing boat. Overall, this suggested there had been a great abundance of fish during their spawning season in these earlier times.

Abundant fish and good catches in former times were therefore commonplace perceptions among many fishermen. However, the declining trend of fish catches since then had made them acknowledge the need for new conservationist measures, such as bans on fishing at certain times and for periods as long as a month. Otherwise, most fishermen continued to reject these ideas, citing their need to earn their livelihoods during the time periods proposed for closure. Moreover, another fisherman suggested that the regulations should be applied in all the coastal waters of Okinawa. However, because the coastal waters of the Yaeyama islands are the major production area of the lethrinids, this proposal was rejected by the fisheries officer.

Hook-and-line fishers also expressed anti-conservationist sentiments, claiming that closure of five or six spawning sites would deprive them opportunities for continuing with their normal fishing activities. In response, the authorities tried to persuade these fishermen to agree with the proposals, saying they would help them in the long run by supporting sustainability goals, and in the meantime they could target other non-regulated sites.

Few explicit proposals were made by professional fishermen regarding the regulation of recreational anglers. Other than the "Marine Club," there was no organization that could speak for the region's recreational anglers, and according to one recreational angler that club had been organized only to enhance social activities, organize angling competitions, and provide general information to its members. Nor was there any official organizational body for the owners of the fishing tackle shops. However, the fishing-tackle shop owners who had attended the meetings agreed to cooperate with the proposed regulations by providing information to recreational anglers about the management program and to encourage their compliance with it. These shop owners agreed to do this voluntarily, noting that otherwise they had no legal authority to participate in enforcement.

But then fishermen asked for an opportunity to further explain their thoughts and feelings about the recreational anglers, and the fisheries officer consented to this request. And, following that, several important steps were taken. For one, the Fisheries Office prepared a leaflet underscoring the need for stock management of kuchinagi and distributed this to the recreational fishing-tackle shops. The leaflet stated, "Everyone should conserve kuchinagi!", and "Do not catch too much !" And, overall, this measure seemed well received by recreational anglers and the general public. Thus, the prefecture government implicitly showed its willingness to take on an expanded role in stock management by reaching out to professional fishers, recreational anglers, and the general public alike. And because it became clear that the management problem could not be addressed solely by the community-based regime, it was increasingly acknowledged that local government would have to play a more important role in the future in resource management.


From the series of debates and dialogues among professional fishermen, fisheries officers, recreational anglers, and shopkeepers during the years 1995 through 1997, several important findings emerged for evaluating and implementing community-based resource management. Although this case focused on a single species of fish, the experience here provides new insights concerning the development of fisheries- management programs within a community-based framework.

7.1 Indigenous knowledge vs. scientific knowledge

Dialogues between fisheries officers of Yaeyama and professional fishermen revealed that these two groups held two distinct types of knowledge concerning marine fish and practical approaches for their management. For the most part, the knowledge of the fisheries officers stemmed from conventional science and the management traditions associated with their offices, whereas the fishermen's indigenous knowledge was more often based on oral traditions and their considerable experience in fishing on the sea and under it. Yet it was also clear that the fishermen's knowledge merited respect and serious consideration regarding its potential for being applied to contemporary resource management (Johannes 1978, 1982). Indeed, because indigenous knowledge is closely linked with local conditions, it may suggest important guidelines for developing community-based resource management (Bailey and Zerner 1992).

Today, the characteristic behavior of lethrinid spawning aggregates is fairly well known among fishermen, fisheries officers, and fisheries scientists. And increasingly, recreational anglers have also become knowledgeable about spawning aggregates of kuchinagi fish and good fishing "points," learning this through observation, and advice from friends, fishing-tackle shopkeepers, and sometimes even from professional fisher-folk. Yet, this is not to take away from the importance of the indigenous knowledge of the professional fishermen, for their knowledge concerns not only spawning, but also myriad other ideas concerning marine-ecological phenomena. In other words, there is still plenty of need to further examine how this indigenous knowledge can be used, and how it can provide practical information for developing appropriate conservation measures.

7.2 Intra-group conflict and coordination

Closing spawning sites will prompt conflicts between groups who take different approaches to fishing. Thus, while it may be generally hoped that community-based fisheries management can inform the development of effective management measures, this can also hide, or be complicated by, intra-community conflict. In essence, few fishing communities are comprised of homogeneous groups of fishers who take the same approaches to fishing, and who target the same species at the same places and times. And, as can be concluded from the foregoing discussion concerning closing fishing grounds, many fishermen can be characterized more as resource destroyers than as resource managers. Intra-community competitiveness in fishing activities, therefore, is a fairly commonplace phenomenon worldwide (see Acheson 1975, Akimichi 1984, and Acheson and McCay 1989).

Nevertheless negotiation and coordination processes are also commonplace in fisheries conflicts in Japan, where mediation is often achieved through a particular FCA as a nucleus-that is, through a community-based unit (Ruddle and Akimichi 1984). In this regard, the mediator exists within the FCA, and can play an important role in mediating conflicts and in coordination. On the other hand, if the conflict extends further and involves neighboring communities and FCAs, joint meetings can be held at which officials from the various FCAs work together to find mutually acceptable solutions. And, when conflicts arise concerning fishing resources in regions that border various administrative jurisdictions, higher level authorities can play an important roles as mediators and coordinators, while, similarly, in trans-boundary conflicts between neighboring prefectures the governors of these often play a decisive role for resolving conflicts.

At the Yaeyama meetings attended by fishermen, fisheries officers, and recreational interests, fisheries authorities played a decisive role in promoting acceptance for new regulatory proposals, remaining sensitive to the sentiments of professional fishermen who were reluctant to abide by any new top-down management policy, and to the sentiments of others who were concerned about the decline of resources and willing to give a new management program a chance. A formidable problem fisheries authorities also had to overcome was most fishermen's desires to keep secret their favorite fishing sites, their specialized knowledge about fish behavior, and the extent of their catches. Such information would be crucially important for developing the new management program, and would also have to be made public.

7.3 Tourism and commercialism

In Yaeyama's case, strong desires to exclude recreational anglers from the fishery were expressed by professional fishermen. Yet, under the region's general coastal management policies recreational fishing cannot be eliminated in the interests of improving resource management, no more than the recent industrialization, land reclamation projects, and tourism could be eliminated. All of these factors, therefore, are externalities impacting the fisheries which have to be taken into account. Thus, no longer can exclusive use of coastal waters be claimed by the fishing communities.

Disputes over coastal resources between FCA-based fishermen and recreational divers, surfers, jet-skiers, shell collectors, and even beachcombers from urban areas have become increasingly prevalent over the past two decades. Especially regarding coral reefs in Japan, conflicts between professional fishermen and divers have prompted serious conflicts, some even resulting in physical violence, such as recently happened in the Miyako islands. Problematic in the foregoing conflicts are that the coastal waters and their organisms are, according to the National Fisheries Law (1949), exclusively utilized by fishermen and FCAs while nowadays a clear discrepancy in the perception of utilization and possession of marine waters exists between fishing and non-fishing citizens. Indeed, while the National Fisheries Law does not stipulate that the coastal waters are "owned" by the FCAs and there is no rule which deals with ownership of these marine waters, it otherwise confers exclusive rights regarding the utilization of particular coastal waters and marine organisms to certain FCAs that depend on these for their livelihood. Thus, while FCA fishermen feel "the sea belongs to us," various non-fishing people (e.g., swimmers and scuba divers, recreational anglers, beachcombers, and those interested in land reclamation) feel the sea is within the public domain.

Nowadays, therefore, this ambiguous legal regime prompts challenges from non-fishing citizens who question why coastal areas are open only to registered fishermen, and why they can not also be used for other purposes by people who are not affiliated with the FCAs. The Shiraho case, mentioned earlier, is just one example of this problem.

The justification for this among fishers who are affiliated with the FCAs is simple: outsiders should be excluded to ensure responsible and sustainable use of fisheries resources. But there are also other complexities and subtleties. In Yaeyama's case, for example, recreational anglers can be distinguished into two different groups: one consisting of local inhabitants, the other consisting of tourists who come from more distant regions. And these too are important distinctions, because the involvement of community members is vital for developing community-based management and practical means of enforcement. But for now, at least in Yaeyama's case, the non-FCA sectors remain disorganized, insufficiently informed, and individualistic. Nevertheless, the impact of these non-FCA sectors will remain important considerations when contemplating future management initiatives.


In March, 1998, four spawning sites were declared as sanctuaries for resource management of lethrinid fish during the months of April and May (Figure 4). One of the fisherman on the committee confided to me that he wished more sites would be designated for conservation, but he also said he could not urge that at the meeting because several of his relatives also worked in the fishery and needed to sustain their main means of subsistence. Subsequently, despite the designation of these four fishing sites as sanctuaries, a fisheries officer later confided to me that while there seemed to be a high degree of compliance during the daytime, he did not know what was going on at night, and that sources that he could not disclose had told him that they had detected several instances of poaching. So, at this point it is difficult to say with certainty whether the establishment of the sanctuaries will achieve their intended result.

During the ban on fishing in these sanctuaries, a coast guard ship operated by the prefecture government has patrolled the four closed fishing areas. And thus far there have not been any reported instances of poaching, although coast guard officials state that they suspect several local fishermen of poaching. Responding to that statement, one of the conservationist leaders among the fishermen stated that the idea of stock management has not yet been fully understood among all fishermen, and that it should be continued.

Figure 4. Location of Four Sanctuaries for Reef in Yaeyama

Each site is indicated by four yellow flashing buoys at four corners, and one red flashing buoy in the center. It is closed between 1 April and the end of May and being enacted since 1998 until 2003.


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