ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Wealth and Waste

While instances of resource over-appropriation are in evidence in different settings globally, the error of a narrow tragedy of the commons analysis is to assume an original natural state of open access to resources. In all social forms, humans have created institutions to restrict individual access to resources so that they may be preserved for collective benefit. Tragedies of the commons occur when such collective institutions are undermined and individuals lose the sense that their long-term interests in resource preservation are being assured. The case of Gujarat's fishery presents one such instance where development overlooked local institutions that may have been able to restrict resource over-exploitation by fishers.

The second half of the 20th century has seen the intensification of fishing effort in all areas of the globe, whether through the mechanisation of indigenous fishing fleets or through the efforts of deep-water fleets from industrialised countries.1  Community-based small-scale fishing has come under pressure and frequently given way to production that draws on industrial principles of organisation and complex technology to feed international markets. Enormous wealth has been invested into fishing, and fortunes have been made from it. At the same time, however, the modernisation model of fishing that has dominated fisheries development since the 1950s has helped generate deeply wasteful practices. There has been the obvious material waste of unsustainable fishing practices but also the waste entailed by the marginalisation of indigenous social, cultural, and economic practices related to fishing.

Fisheries development in Gujarat since the 1950s has been deeply influenced by the global pattern of modernisation. State promotion of industrial techniques of fishing and fish processing, a vibrant international market, and enthusiastic fisher response to favourable conditions have combined to result in rapid and widespread income gains for those involved in the industry. Among the important fishing states in India, Gujarat’s development trajectory is distinctive for the central role that members of fishing communities have assumed in the modernisation process. Despite a favourable alignment of state and fisher interests in modernisation, however, there has been a failure to support and strengthen local social institutions to monitor fishing intensity and restrict unsustainable activities and effort. As a consequence, the fishery of Gujarat has become subject to an open access problem, which could result in a tragedy of the commons if not immediately addressed. The first indications of an impending common property problem have occurred in the 1990s with increasing signs of resource depletion and tension among fishers.

Global Spread of Fisheries Modernisation

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