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Customary Marine Tenure in Palau: Social Function and Implications for Fishery Policy

Abstract

This research examines the form, social function, and policy implications of customary marine tenure (CMT) in Ngarchelong, a rural and fishery-dependent state in the Republic of Palau. Using ethnography, we find that CMT in Ngarchelong persists in a state of legal pluralism, expanding the normative space for asserting and contesting fishing privileges. Flexible administration of CMT provides benefits to the resident community, including material support from nonresidents and the strengthening of social bonds and networks. A fishery permit system under consideration would redefine fishery access as a privilege granted by government, thereby potentially impacting the social benefits supported by the community’s administration of CMT. With applications beyond Palau, we discuss an alternative management approach that could better harmonize fishery policy with local social context, thereby preserving the social functions of contemporary CMT.

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Data Availability

The data generated and analyzed in connection with this study are not publicly available in order to protect the confidentiality of individuals who participated in this study. Reasonable requests for data that would not compromise confidentiality will be considered by the corresponding author.

Notes

  1. In the institutional analysis literature, the term “institution” would include formal state laws, such as statutes, as well as traditional laws issued by traditional leaders pursuant to decision-making rules or procedures. For analytical clarity, however, in this paper we generally use the term “law” to refer to formal state laws and laws issued by traditional leaders, reserving the term “institution” for informal rules, norms, and strategies.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to thank The David and Lucile Packard Foundation for supporting this work. We also wish to thank our host community in Ngarchelong and all of our research participants in Palau who generously gave of their time and expertise and without whom this research would not have been possible. An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the 15th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado in 2015, and we thank participants for their comments and feedback.

Funding

This research was funded by a grant from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

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Correspondence to Keith M. Carlisle.

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The Colorado State University Institutional Review Board reviewed and approved the research protocol (Ref. # 14-4942H).

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Carlisle, K.M., Gruby, R.L. Customary Marine Tenure in Palau: Social Function and Implications for Fishery Policy. Hum Ecol 47, 527–539 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-019-00094-8

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Keywords

  • Customary marine tenure
  • Palau
  • Oceania
  • Small-scale fishing
  • Legal pluralism