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The challenges of legitimacy for Southern Environmental Certifications in small-scale fisheries: evidence from the Chakay collective brand in Quintana Roo, Mexico

Abstract

The present article analyzes the process of the construction of legitimacy of the Chakay Collective Brand (Marca Colectiva Chakay) that developed in the spiny lobster fisheries in the Sian Ka’an and Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserves, in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The information obtained from 64 interviews with members of the six cooperatives that operate in the study area revealed how the Mexican civil association that promoted this certification initiative placed its own economic interests above conservationist arguments, and how its actions generated problems by (i) excluding diverse local fishers from the design and instrumentation of the certification, and (ii) producing unequal economic benefits for the organizations and localities where this activity is practiced. The study demonstrates that fishing certifications proposed from the Global South (Southern Certifications) can reproduce problems of legitimacy similar to those that conventional certifications (pragmatic legitimacy) confront, with scant benefits for small-scale, artisanal fisheries in developing countries. We conclude that constructing moral (i.e., a balance between strong and weak networks) and cognitive (i.e., sociocultural proximity) legitimacy is crucial for instrumenting certifications that will be more effective in attending to the socioeconomic and environmental challenges of fishing in specific territorial contexts.

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Fig. 1

Source: Elaborated by the authors (2019)

Map 1

Source Elaborated by Geog. Abel Vargas (2019)

Notes

  1. 1.

    The origins of the MSC certification date to 1995, when the Unilever company coordinated with the international NGO World Wildlife Fund to create a certification scheme that would promote conservation in fishing activity through such market incentives as higher prices for products and access to consumers concerned with environmental issues (Ponte 2012).

  2. 2.

    The evaluation of the MSC considers three general aspects of fisheries: (1) the level of exploitation of resources; (2) the impact of the activity on the ecosystem; and (3) the correspondence between the system of governance of the fishery and the national and international norms that promote sustainable exploitation of fishing resources (Ponte 2012; Pérez et al. 2015).

  3. 3.

    In Mexico, only two fisheries with industrial fleets have managed to earn and maintain the MSC certification: the Sardina Monterrey fishery in the Gulf of California, and the South Pacific Alliance for sustainable Tuna, with purse seine set nets in the Northeastern and Central Tropical Pacific Ocean. They are accompanied by an artisanal-communitarian red lobster fishery, in Baja California; and the industrial shrimp fishery of the Pacific Ocean that is currently under assessment to obtain the MSC label (www.msc.org; Bourillón 2017; CONAPESCA, 2019).

  4. 4.

    The fishers we interviewed asked us not to mention their names or the name of the association that promoted the initiative to avoid conflicts with other actors that participate in spiny lobster fishing.

  5. 5.

    Voluntary environmental certifications have acquired an important role in configuring alimentary markets over the past 20 years for three main reasons: (1) the State’s efforts to delegate responsibility for environmental issues to diverse actors of civil society; (2) the State’s inability to adequately attend to environmental problematics associated with food production (e.g. soil erosion, deforestation, and overexploitation of fisheries, among others); and (3) the hegemonic role of large retail corporations in configuring global networks for food production and commercialization (Cadman 2011; Ponte et al. 2011; Glasbergen 2013; Mol 2018).

  6. 6.

    The mechanisms that give the State legitimacy in environmental issues include: (1) processes of electing the government actors that intervene in decision-making; and (2) constitutional laws that endow it with regulatory power to influence the construction of the norms and rules that define the conditions of use, access to, and exploitation of, natural resources (Cadman 2011; Bostrom and Tall Hastrom 2010; Mol 2018).

  7. 7.

    See the studies by Neilson and Pritchard (2009), Vandergeest et al. (2015), Lockie et al. (2015) and Schouten and Bitzer (2015).

  8. 8.

    The concept of moral legitimacy has developed through studies of multi-actor and multi-scale environmental management initiatives with the goal of understanding the conflicts that arise from the co-existence and/or counterposing of the justifications, discourses and actions of the diverse actors that intervene in decision-making processes regarding the exploitation of natural resources in specific territories (Buscher and Dressler 2007; Schouten and Bitzer 2015; Mol 2018; Oosterveer 2018).

  9. 9.

    The certification experience of the Handline Yellowfin Tuna fishery in Buru Island Maluku, Eastern Indonesia, is recognized as a successful case of long-term collaboration between public and private actors in building the organizational proximity required to implement MSC certification in developing countries (MDPI 2020; www.fisheries.msc.org; Isawara 2020). However, research by Notohajimoyo et al. (2018, 2019a, 2019b) raises skepticism regarding this case by showing that a large proportion of small tuna fishers in Indonesia does not accept, or trust, external seafood ecolabels, like the MSC, because they are conceived as a form of control by global capitalism over their fishing resources. Consequently, those authors recognized the need to create certification schemes that are properly adjusted to the particular realities of fishing in the Global South.

  10. 10.

    Rapport is a crucial element in studies of the legitimacy of actors in a given context, since only achieving genuine trust with key informants allows researchers to address sensitive topics during interviews, such as social conflict, the reputation of actors and social groups, and the dynamics of power (Bernard 2011; Schulz 2017).

  11. 11.

    The propositive snowball technique consisted in conducting a qualitative sampling of actors based on the contacts established during fieldwork. We began by interviewing one or more actor(s) who later contact others who fit the profile of the interviewees that the research requires, until a point of saturation of the information obtained is reached. The scope of our sample was conditioned by the trust and reputation that was able to develop with members of the social groups interviewed (Bernard 2011).

  12. 12.

    During the instrumentation of PRBC projects, CONABIO coordinates with civil associations and/or NGOs to design strategies tailored to the needs and realities of local producers. Also important are economic donations by private actors (businessmen, national and international NGOs, etc.) to support these initiatives in the long term (Larson 2004, 2003, 2010).

  13. 13.

    The CONANP’s management plan stipulates that only the following fishing technique are permitted inside the Sian Ka’an Reserve: lung diving, the jamo (a type of net used to capture lobsters without hurting them), artificial refuges (shades).

  14. 14.

    CONAPESCA’s law that regulates the size of lobsters that can be caught states that only those with tails 13.5 cm long are allowed, and that all young and ovulating lobsters must be returned to the sea without being hurt.

  15. 15.

    CONAPESCA establishes that the capture of spiny lobster can only take place between the months of July and February to prevent the overexploitation of these fisheries.

  16. 16.

    The system of lobster plots was developed by the Vigía Chico cooperative in the 1970s in an effort to reduce conflict among fishers over access to lobster recourses. More recently, this innovation was disseminated by CONANP in the Cozumel cooperative located in the Sian Ka´an Reserve to guarantee the development of sustainable fishing inside that Reserve.

  17. 17.

    It is important to note that the cooperatives’ representatives, in turn, utilize their geographic and sociocultural proximity with members to construct a cognitive legitimacy that enables them to impose strict rules and sanctions to foster moderate capturing practices and preserve the economic activity that local communities depend on for their livelihoods. Hence, the cooperatives are constituted in the most important spaces of representation for fishers due to the trust that has developed through strong social bonds in the territory (e.g. family, friendship, compadrazgo [ritual co-parenthood]).

  18. 18.

    Lidskog and Sundqvist (2018) point out that constructing expert environmental knowledge based on articulating abstract (scientific) and specific (from the everyday world of the social actors) knowledges can aid scientists in earning the recognition, credibility, and legitimacy that enable them to offer opinions on, and intervene in, environmental problematics in certain territorial contexts.

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Velázquez Durán, V., Ortega, R.R. The challenges of legitimacy for Southern Environmental Certifications in small-scale fisheries: evidence from the Chakay collective brand in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Maritime Studies (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40152-021-00244-z

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Keywords

  • Southern environmental certifications
  • Cognitive legitimacy
  • Moral legitimacy
  • Pragmatic legitimacy
  • Territoriality
  • Local participation