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Territorial use rights in fisheries (TURFs) have been known to exist for centuries. Traditionally they have emerged (and some are still maintained) where certain conditions permit relatively easy acquisition and defence of exclusive rights. Sedentary resources such as oysters, mussels, and seaweeds have long been subject to property rights. Sergius Orata cultivated oysters in Lake Lucrine during the early Roman empire (Bolitho 1961). Enclosed bodies of freshwater ponds, lakes, and floodplains have also been subject to exclusive use rights for centuries.

However, TURFs have also emerged in areas or situations where ease of acquisition and defence of exclusive rights is not readily apparent. They have developed in marine areas such as lagoons, along beaches, and with regard to coral reefs. And, more recently, TURFs are being established, legally or illegally, in association with fish aggregation devices (FADs) and other new or recently expanded technologies.

As more and more study is given to the culture and organization of fishing communities, there are indications that some forms of TURFs are more pervasive than previously thought to be the case, in both modern and traditional marine fisheries. A partial list of fisheries and techniques using, or permitting, exclusive territorial rights, indicates the range and variety of TURFs in both culture and capture marine fisheries: oyster and clam bottom; seaweed beds; raft culture; fish aggregation devices, both floating (payaos) and fixed on the bottom as artificial reefs; beach seine rights; fish pens and cages; set net rights; bottom fish traps such as lobster pots and octopus shelters; coral reefs; lagoon fisheries; fish traps at stream mouths for anadromous species like salmon; and others less formal such as tacit territorial divisions by some large-scale commercial fisheries.

These kinds of “sea tenure” situations are attracting increasing attention for several reasons - two of which are particularly important with regard to fisheries management. First, they are of considerable interest with regard to efficiency goals. The concept of the “sole owner” as a means for preventing the damaging consequences of open access to common property resources has long been recognized as being of fundamental importance (Scott, 1955). But until the widespread adoption of the extended economic zone (EEZ - a form of TURF in itself) occurred, there has been limited opportunity for, or interest in, practical applications of the concept.

The second reason is that localized TURFs appear to afford an important opportunity for improving (or maintaining) the welfare of small-scale fishing communities in developing countries. It is becoming increasingly apparent that these communities, which produce a major part of developing countries' fish catch, are persistently and pervasively depressed and have not generally responded to conventional attempts to improve their welfare. This is, in large part, due to the common property condition governing the use of the resources. Community control of the means of production, through localized TURFs, may provide an important tool in attempts to improve the fishermen's welfare. The corollary is equally important. If localized TURFs develop on their own, without satisfactory community control, they may create a class of “sea-lords” which could well worsen the plight of the small-scale fisherman.

For these reasons, an increasing number of studies are being devoted to traditional sea tenure systems, especially by anthropolgists and sociologists (Cordell, forthcoming). But modern forms of localized TURFs are also emerging, and these, too, require study. In both cases, the need is to examine the ways in which localized TURFs can be used or adopted to meet both economic and social objectives. This paper provides a preliminary attempt to deal with one aspect of this examination - the natural and social conditions that facilitate or impede the acquisition and protection of localized exclusive use rights in fisheries. It begins with a discussion of the distinctions between common property and exclusive use rights and between generalized and localized TURFs. As a basis for understanding the conditions for enclosure, it examines some of the forces and factors that have supported the open access characteristic of common property. Several natural and social conditions that influence the acquisition of use rights are discussed as a basis for determining the opportunities for creating, re-establishing, or protecting localized TURFs. In concludes with brief discussion of the differences between efficiency and equity objectives and some of the opportunities and dangers that localized TURFs may create for the latter.

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