Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Coastal region and small island papers 15

4 Final remarks

A fish weir on northern Pentecost

There have been many attempts to generate improved marine resource management in Pacific Island villages and few seem to have achieved such widespread success as the turtle and trochus initiatives in Vanuatu. Although it must be noted that Samoa, using quite different extension methods, has seen a major upsurge in village-based marine resources management in the past few years (Fa'asili and Kelokolo, 1999).

Some of the factors that have influenced the growth in marine resource management in Vanuatu were already identified in the l993 survey (Johannes, l998a). Customary marine tenure provides the foundation upon which village-based marine resource management is built. Strong leadership and village cohesion are important in determining how well marine resource management functions. Villagers can benefit greatly from well directed, culturally appropriate assistance to help focus and refine village-based marine resource management initiatives to fit contemporary circumstances. These conclusions are also relevant to other Pacific Islands where customary marine tenure is found (World Bank, l999). There are several specific factors in Vanuatu that have promoted the recent upsurge and success of village-based marine resource management that demonstrates clearly how outside assistance, properly targeted, can generate major benefits. Certain elements of this assistance are unusual and perhaps unique.

The demonstration of the value of trochus closures by the Vanuatu Department of Fisheries was clearly the original catalytic influence on the growth of community-based marine resource management. This motivated community experiments with other forms of management (such as gear restrictions, quotas, etc.) and on other important subsistence and commercial resources. The Department's extension work continues to the degree that its limited budget allows. Trochus management education has been carried out extensively and juvenile trochus have been planted in over 25 villages around the country. While it has not been proven that trochus planting improves population numbers any more than simple closures, the instigator of the programme, Mr Amos observes that trochus transplants enhances communities’ support for and compliance with the closures.

This is due to the increased awareness associated with training of villagers, along with their participation in re-stocking the reef with juvenile trochus and follow-up monitoring. Part of the increased commitment to trochus conservation may be because the villagers were given something tangible (the juvenile trochus) and in return they feel more committed to regulating the resulting fishery. A strategy for further enhancing the feeling of community involvement is that the Department of Fisheries actually borrows adult trochus, collected by members of the community, for breeding the stock they subsequently plant there.

Furthermore, focusing on a single commercially valuable marine resource such as trochus was another important element in the success of the village-based marine resource management measures. Once villagers saw the benefits of trochus management, it encouraged them to think about how they could better manage their other marine resources. Turtles were another species on which attention was focused, and are of particular interest to coastal villagers since they are an important food and in some areas also have customary significance.

It would probably have been hard to motivate villagers from the start to accept the more complex goal of improving marine resource management in general. As previously described, Wan Smolbag and the Department of Fisheries are now working towards that goal, but only after having gained credibility through the turtle and trochus initiatives. Perhaps noteworthy is the fact that the play, performed by Wan Smolbag in the villages a year before the turtle play, was entitled ‘On the Reef’ and addressed the importance of protecting the total reef environment. It did not seem to have nearly the same impact on village marine resource management as the turtle play, judging by the comments of interviewees.

Assistance from the Environment Unit and the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific has also significantly contributed to village-based management of resources in Vanuatu, through promoting environmental awareness and their support for the establishment of conservation areas on some islands. The Vanuatu Cultural Centre, particularly through their fieldworker network throughout the islands, has also assisted numerous communities to strengthen and revive traditional management systems in response to contemporary resource management needs by promoting awareness of the value and efficacy of these systems so strongly rooted in local customs.

The strengthening and ongoing adaptation of customary management systems is in response to the contemporary need for additional management efforts with a growing population and commercialization of resources, but also part of a broader revival of traditional practices since independence from colonial rule in 1980. With the introduction of various new fisheries like the live reef fish and aquarium trades, there is the ongoing need to raise awareness of the pro’s and con’s of these fisheries to villagers and their leaders and continue to develop their capacity in adapting their customary systems to manage them. 

The effectiveness of enforcement of marine resource management measures in Vanuatu varies with factors such as the strength of respect for village leadership, the respect for customary practices and beliefs including tabus, fishing ground geography and ease of surveillance, and the presence or absence of tenure or leadership disputes. The need of rural villagers to generate cash income for basic needs, including education and medical attention, is an additional factor that may lead people to disobey village resource regulations. A re-occurring theme from this study was that the placement of village-based restrictions must also take into account the subsistence and cash generating needs of rural communities. Closures are more closely respected when alternatives are made available to community members to satisfy these needs. The fact that these village-based resource management regulations are not always effectively enforced does not distinguish them from marine resource management in most other countries.

Irrigated taro patches on Maevo Island where freshwater prawns, fish and eels
may also be collected.

Education – not just for villagers

Another lesson emerging from this study relates to education. When national conservation regulations and their underlying rationale were clearly explained to villagers and were perceived by them to coincide with village interests, they were often incorporated into village management measures. This greatly enhanced their observance according to many informants. Ignorance of these laws, and of the reasons for them, had previously been widespread in rural Vanuatu – as it was in the villages in five other Pacific Island countries recently surveyed by the World Bank (l999).

Effective enforcement of national conservation regulations by central government agencies in developing countries such as Vanuatu is quite impossible. In most cases these regulations must be enforced by village authorities or not at all. Village authorities will not enforce them if they are not informed of their existence, their purpose and their ultimate value to the community. It is much more costeffective for villagers to manage their own coastal marine resources than central governments.

Johannes (l994) argued that fisheries extension work should focus on management rather than development in Oceania. The results of this present survey provide further emphasis for this argument along with the work of Johannes (l998a), Fa'asili and Kelokolo (l999) and World Bank (l999). Yet the World Bank (1999) study of fishing communities in five Pacific Island countries in l998 revealed that only 40% of the 31 communities they surveyed had been visited by a government official to discuss coastal management issues during the previous decade, and that an average of only 25% of Department of Fisheries’ budgets were for extension work (including both management and development components).

Villagers are not the only ones needing more education concerning rural marine resource management. National governments need to understand that nearshore subsistence fisheries in almost every Pacific Island country are worth more than nearshore commercial fisheries (Dalzell et al., 1996). (The value of the subsistence catch was calculated by these authors as the price it would fetch if it were sold.) In the early l990s, subsistence fisheries in Vanuatu provided five times the catch of nearshore commercial fisheries and were worth almost l.5 times the value. If the foreign exchange cost of imports to support higher technology commercial fisheries were factored in, the benefit/cost ratio of subsistence versus commercial fishing would have increased further (Johannes, l998a). Commercial fisheries have often attracted more attention when island politicians and aid donors decide on funding priorities.

Thus on economic and social grounds, extension work in rural fishing communities, where subsistence fisheries often dominates the catch, deserves a larger proportion of fisheries funding than it usually gets.


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