Human Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 395-411

First online:

Navigating Over Space and Time: Fishing Effort Allocation and the Development of Customary Norms in an Open-Access Mangrove Estuary in Ecuador

  • Christine M. BeitlAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of Maine Email author 

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Fisheries are increasingly understood as complex adaptive systems; but the cultural, behavioral, and cognitive factors that explain spatial and temporal dynamics of fishing effort allocation remain poorly understood. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a visualization tool, this paper combines catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) and ethnographic data on the Ecuadorian mangrove cockle fishery to explore patterns in fishing effort and the social production of fishing space. I argue that individual decisions about where, when, and how to fish result in spatial and temporal patterns in effort allocation, ultimately regulating open-access fisheries that typically operate on a first-come, first-served basis. These emergent patterns in the fishing effort are explained by individual-level preferences and adaptations; the development of knowledge and customary norms through the habitual use of resource space by individuals and groups; ecological conditions; and access. New adaptive challenges threaten to undermine such self-organization of open-access systems on larger spatial and temporal scales prompting a likely re-allocation of the fishing effort in the future.


Artisanal fisheries Local ecological knowledge Decision-making Complex adaptive systems Geographic information systems (GIS) Catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) Ecuador