Mobility in the mangroves: Catch rates, daily decisions, and dynamics of artisanal fishing in a coastal commons
This paper integrates institutional theories of the commons with insights from geography and human behavioral ecology to explore the spatial and temporal dynamics of artisanal fishing in Ecuador's coastal mangrove swamps. The focus is on the cockle fishery commons characterized by a mixture of formal institutional arrangements and an informal division of fishing space that partially influences fisher decisions about where and when to fish. Individual decisions are further explained to a certain degree by the patch choice model since fishers often move on to new grounds when their catch rates fall below average. These optimizing strategies requiring rotation within a socially produced fishing space may contribute to resource renewal, perceived reliable returns for individuals, and a relative stability in fishing effort, potentially mitigating against resource depletion in open-access areas not managed as a common property regime. This study of the interaction between shellfish harvesters, cultural institutions, and the environment contributes to a spatially explicit theory of the commons and points to the crucial role of resource user mobility and dynamic cultural institutions for the ecological sustainability of shellfish fisheries. A better understanding of feedback between individual decision-making and the self-organization of a social-ecological system has critical implications for policy design and fisheries management at similar scales.