Mind the gap between aspiration and practice in co-managing marine protected areas: A case study from Negros Occidental, Philippines
A commonly held view is that co-management enhances the success of marine protected areas (MPA). The idea of co-management is to create a permanent forum in which a common strategy is initiated, negotiated and exercised in a collaborative way. It explicitly emphasizes the inclusion of wide ranging stakeholder interests and the attempt to balance those. The related literature maintains that the ideal state of co-management is a situation where government institutions and non-governmental stakeholders are equal partners. This study focuses on a co-management arrangement for a Philippine MPA from a critical perspective and systematically analyzes the formally granted rights of local fishers in co-management, and their actual influence on the management. The results show that, despite the legal stipulation of an equitable co-management arrangement including governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, the local fishers’ influence remains low. This discrepancy is mainly caused by i) flaws in the procedural rules of the co-management arrangement, ii) existing power imbalances emanating from local socio-political realities, and iii) drawbacks in non-governmental stakeholder organization and representation. Points of leverage are identified through which the legal design of co-management can be improved for helping to provide the grounds for equitable marine resource management in practice.