Inland Fisheries

Fisheries Co-Management in Inland Waters: A Review of International Experience

Managing inland fisheries

The aim of this paper is to conduct a critical review of international experiences in inland fisheries co-management. The paper first reviews the origins of the current move towards co-management systems for fisheries, then presents frameworks for classifying and evaluating such systems. These comanagement frameworks are set within the context of the sustainable livelihoods and institutional change literatures to allow ideas from these fields to inform a subsequent review of co-management experiences in tropical inland fisheries.

The literature on operational experiences of fisheries co-management has tended to emphasise organisational processes and technical aspects of co-management, such as the design and application of regulatory instruments and the creation of partnership organisations and management committees. It has less commonly addressed the political and cultural dimensions of institutional change. The review of background concepts aims to highlight the importance of understanding property rights regimes and ‘rules in use’ (whether formal or informal) that govern access to resources.

Co-management is fundamentally a way of reassigning property rights. As such, it is also a highly political process and an understanding of the distribution and exercise of power is vital to designing co-management that will benefit the currently less powerful – i.e. the poor. After the review of concepts and models in co-management, the paper uses a comparative analysis of co-management experiences, based on 19 case-studies obtained from both the academic and development-agency literature, to identify successful and unsuccessful co-management initiatives. ‘Success’ is evaluated against an efficiency-equity-sustainability framework.

The analysis appears to suggest that a very high proportion of co-management projects are successful. This is, however, likely to be influenced by the tendency to write more about successful cases than failures and to emphasise the positive experiences from a comanagement project, particularly when the authors may have been involved in project design and implementation. These caveats aside, and allowing for our interpretation of success erring on the side of generosity, the existence of a significant number of successful, major comanagement initiatives in tropical inland fisheries is highly encouraging and supports the contention of its advocates that there are few defensible institutional alternatives to comanagement when it comes to improving the management of small-scale fisheries in the global South.