Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 597-609

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The Emergence of Access Controls in Small-Scale Fishing Commons: A Comparative Analysis of Individual Licenses and Common Property-Rights in Two Mexican Communities

  • Xavier BasurtoAffiliated withDuke Marine Lab, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Email author 
  • , Ana CintiAffiliated withCENPAT, CONICET, Centro Nacional Patagónico
  • , Luis BourillónAffiliated withComunidad y Biodiversidad
  • , Mario RojoAffiliated withComunidad y Biodiversidad
  • , Jorge TorreAffiliated withComunidad y Biodiversidad
  • , A. Hudson WeaverAffiliated withSociedad de Historia Natural Niparajá


Addressing global fisheries overexploitation requires better understanding of how small-scale fishing communities in developing countries limit access to fishing grounds. We analyze the performance of a system based on individual licenses and a common property-rights regime in their ability to generate incentives for self-governance and conservation of fishery resources. Using a qualitative before-after-control-impact approach, we compare two neighbouring fishing communities in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Both were initially governed by the same permit system, are situated in the same ecosystem, use similar harvesting technology, and have overharvested similar species. One community changed to a common property-right regime, enabling the emergence of access controls and avoiding overexploitation of benthic resources, while the other community, still relies on the permit system. We discuss the roles played by power, institutions, socio-historic, and biophysical factors to develop access controls.


Small-scale fisheries Gulf of California Comparative analysis Fishing concessions Marine tenure Tragedy of the commons Individual licenses Mexico