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SPECIAL SECTION: MEXICO
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 120-132

Conch, Cooperatives, and Conflict: Conservation and Resistance in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve


Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS, USA

Correspondence Address:
David M Hoffman
Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS
USA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.138408

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Date of Web Publication8-Aug-2014
 

   Abstract 

In theory, biosphere reserves link biodiversity conservation with development, primarily through sustainable resource utilisation, and alternative, conservation-compatible economies in the buffer and transition zones outside the core area. Successful management should reduce pressure on natural resources within its core area as well as enable local communities to participate in the management of buffer zone resources in a sustainable manner. The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve was declared in 1996 to protect coral reefs and marine biodiversity, while also enabling fishing cooperatives to maintain their livelihoods based upon the sustainable extraction of lobster, conch, and scalefish. In 2004, eight years after the Reserve's declaration, Mexican authorities struggled to control marine resource use in the reserve, especially the extraction of queen conch (Strombus gigas). This article provides an overview of the long struggle to conserve queen conch populations in the area. Particular attention is paid to describing the various forms of resistance fishermen employed to counter the increasing regulation and vigilance that accompanied the creation of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve. This case chronicles the resistance to regulation and interpersonal violence that erupts when entrenched attitudes and practices are confronted with increasing surveillance. Thus, what was observed in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve parallels other research that depicts the forms of resistance to conservation that local people enact when confronted with conservation interventions. Finally, the plight of queen conch in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve clearly reflects the conflicts and difficulties found across Mexico in the implementation of the biosphere reserve model.

Keywords: conch, marine protected area, resistance, regulation, conservation, Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, Mexico


How to cite this article:
Hoffman DM. Conch, Cooperatives, and Conflict: Conservation and Resistance in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve. Conservat Soc 2014;12:120-32

How to cite this URL:
Hoffman DM. Conch, Cooperatives, and Conflict: Conservation and Resistance in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2014 [cited 2019 Jul 24];12:120-32. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2014/12/2/120/138408


   Introduction Top


Theoretically, biosphere reserves are designed to link biodiversity conservation with development, primarily through sustainable resource utilisation, and alternative, conservation-compatible economies in the buffer and transition zones outside the core area (Batisse 1982; Ericson 1996). Thus, biosphere reserves intend to integrate strict protection inside their core areas and conservation-friendly economic development in the buffer and transition zones (Young 1999, 2000). The concept of biosphere reserves was first promulgated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) 'Man and Biosphere' (MAB) Programme, and was widely implemented as a way to achieve "a sustainable balance between the sometimes conflicting goals of conserving biological diversity, promoting economic development and maintaining associated cultural values" (UNESCO 1995: 2).

Stoll-Kleemann et al. (2010: 228) indicate that biosphere reserves have "three equally important aims: 1) conservation (contributing to conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation); 2) sustainable development; and 3) logistic support for research and education." By the mid-1990s, biosphere reserve management added community participation in decision-making and planning as a more effective means for achieving these multiple goals (Stoll-Kleemann et al. 2010). UNESCO itself stated that individual biosphere reserves should "survey the interests of the various stakeholders and fully involve them in planning and decision-making regarding the management and use of the reserve" (UNESCO 1995). Thus, it is clear that biosphere reserves were theoretically intended to help build local compliance with conservation interventions through both conservation-linked economic incentives and empowerment via inclusion in decision-making about these resources.

The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve was declared in 1996 to protect coral reefs and marine biodiversity, while also enabling fishing cooperatives to maintain their livelihoods based on the extraction of lobster, conch, and scalefish. In 2004, eight years after its declaration, Mexican conservation authorities struggled to maintain control over resource extraction. To rectify the situation, the state increasingly subjected members of the fisheries cooperatives with legal rights to fishing queen conch 1 in Banco Chinchorro to regulation and surveillance that fishermen felt limited their livelihoods. Yet, little pressure seemed to be applied to unabated extraction by illegal fishermen who were referred to locally as pachucheros. 2 This paper describes everyday forms of resistance, what Scott (1985) called the 'weapons of the weak,' employed not only by cooperative fishermen but also by the pachucheros in the face of surveillance by conservation authorities. In addition, this paper discusses how uneven enforcement due to institutional and jurisdictional issues, physical violence between fishermen, and livelihood needs of fishermen themselves framed the moral economy of observed resistant behaviors. Finally, this paper demonstrates that the situation encountered in Banco Chinchorro reflects the difficult and conflictive nature of biodiversity conservation that others have found in conservation across the world and especially in the implementation of biosphere reserves in Mexico.


   Theoretical background Top


This paper builds upon recent work that employs James Scott's (1985, 1990) seminal works on resistance to understand and interpret the actions of local populations in relation to conservation interventions, especially parks and protected areas (Holmes 2007). Scott's work focused on the rural peasantries' resistance against those who were becomingly increasingly powerful and wealthy during the transition to capitalist economies. Scott (1990) emphasises that peasants, when faced with serious potential repercussions for organised and public resistance to those in power, often engaged in more subtle, everyday forms of resistance that challenged those in power via indirect, non-confrontational behaviors. Scholarship in conservation enables us to interpret the behavior of populations on the borders of protected areas as similar, subtle acts of defiance against forces and situations that effectively prohibit organised, revolutionary protest or violence (Neumann 1998; Brockington 2002). In essence, this paper provides evidence that concurs with Holmes' (2007) assessment that park neighbors' livelihoods, in this case caracol fishermen in Banco Chinchorro, are too dependent on continued access to resources of these protected areas to engage in more direct actions. As Holmes (2007: 186) puts it:

Fear of actual, anticipated or remembered violence will dissuade conservation's neighbors from open rebellion. Like Scott's peasants, individuals affected by conservation need to balance protest with gaining a living, and the way locals are affected individually by conservation regulations constrains their ability to take collective organized action.

This understanding of the situation faced by local resource users allows us to reinterpret the continued flaunting of fishing behaviors that were explicitly outlawed by conservation rules as a form of resistance (Neumann 1998; Brockington 2002; Holmes 2007). Brockington (2002: 109) highlights that it is the economic decline and inadequate compensation for exclusion accompanying conservation that drives "peasant resistance and opposition to policies inimical to their survival and prosperity."

This paper provides ethnographic evidence from the case of Mexico's Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve to support the interpretation of the continuation of traditional livelihood behaviors, often dismissed and vilified as simply 'poaching' or 'rule-breaking,' as a form of resistance against forces that limited the fishermen's ability to make a living. In contrast to the typical, dismissive characterisation of illegal resource use in protected areas, this paper seeks to highlight the ways that "the continuation of banned practices is itself a political statement, as it contains, alongside other motivations, an implicit statement that these practices should be allowed" (Holmes 2007: 188). In other words, this paper details the ways in which fishermen in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve broke rules that limited the utilisation of caracol to protest against their increasing exclusion from marine resources. These small acts of defiance can also be seen as a protest against the continued failure of the fishery and biosphere reserve managers to limit the more damaging 'pirate'/pachuchero fishing that thrived within the bounds of Banco Chinchorro. In addition, this paper highlights the ways in which caracol extraction was not the only site of contestation between fishermen and conservation managers, but that the increasingly limited access to this resource also led to conflict between members of the fisheries cooperative and pachuchero fishermen. Further, the cases discussed here not only reinforce Holmes' (2007) review and interpretation of conservation conflicts, but also reflect and provide insight into the conflict-ridden application of the biosphere reserve model in Mexico and other cases of biodiversity conservation worldwide.


   Materials and methods Top


The materials presented here were largely gathered during dissertation fieldwork conducted for 11 months in 2003-2004.

This dissertation research was primarily focused on the development of the Xcalak Reefs National Park (Hoffman 2006, 2009) and the co-management shared with the community of Xcalak. However, the research also endeavored to understand the nature of the relationship between the livelihood changes of Xcalak's fishermen and the implementation of conservation interventions. Xcalak served as the base for one of the three fisheries cooperatives that have concessions from the Mexican government to fish in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, and a significant amount of the fisheries cooperative's annual income came from the extraction of lobster, conch, and scalefish in Banco Chinchorro. As a matter of fact, Xcalak's fisheries cooperative, Andres Quintana Roo, was the original concession holder in Banco Chinchorro and the entire southern Quintana Roo coast (commonly referred to as the Costa Maya), and the other two cooperatives were the product of internal political and logistical conflicts that led to the fragmentation of Andres Quintana Roo into three cooperatives. These facts meant that the investigation of Xcalak's livelihood shifts became necessarily entangled with Andres Quintana Roo's extraction in Banco Chinchorro. Thus, research was conducted into the lobster and conch fisheries of Banco Chinchorro in order to gain a better understanding of the tectonic shifts in livelihoods in Xcalak and for insight into the relationship between the community and the management of Xcalak Reefs National Park. It is also important to note here that Xcalak Reefs and Bancho Chinchorro are currently managed under a single office and director from the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, SEMARNAT) in the urban center of Chetumal, which is about three hours' drive from Xcalak. However, at the time that the majority of this research was conducted (2003-2004), the managers of Banco Chinchorro were housed in the state-level offices of SEMARNAT in Cancún, which was at least a five-hour drive from the community of Xcalak.

The bulk of this data stems from a considerable amount of time engaged in the most fundamental research method in cultural anthropology-participant observation. Participant observation of fishermen's resource use, livelihoods, and interaction with conservation interventions included several trips to Banco Chinchorro with members of the fisheries cooperative. A total of 18 days were spent fishing with coop fishermen in Banco Chinchorro; eight of these days were spent fishing (free-diving) for Caribbean Spiny Lobster and a variety of other scalefish (i.e., snapper, grouper, yellow fin, angelfish). The other ten days were spent diving for caracol during two of the four quotas that the cooperative was granted that year. Working alongside, and living with, these men meant that these trips were rich sources of qualitative data regarding fishing, the fisheries cooperatives, and conservation. 3 In addition to witnessing, and engaging in, the extraction of marine resources, participant observation provided unique insights into the processing and marketing of the catch. Finally, the cases that form the bulk of the evidence in this paper were either observed or recounted during the course of every day life in Xcalak. In sum, the evidence provided here is qualitative in nature and based upon lengthy fieldwork as well as participant observation with fishermen both in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve and Xcalak Reefs National Park. Finally, two brief return visits to Xcalak in 2006 and 2010 enabled follow up research on the current state of the caracol fishery, the cooperatives, and conservation in Banco Chinchorro.


   Background and context Top


Banco Chinchorro and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System

Banco Chinchorro is one of the jewels of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS). The MBRS extends from the southern half of the Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands of Honduras, includes the second longest barrier reef in the world, and is unique in the Western hemisphere on account of its size, its array of reef types, and the luxuriance of corals it contains (World Bank 2001). Banco Chinchorro has been one of the focal points of international conservation interventions to conserve the reefs and resources of the MBRS.

Established in 1996, the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve protects 144,360 ha (INE 2000). Chinchorro [Figure 1] is often referred to as a coral atoll because of its ring of coral reefs surrounding an extensive lagoon and several small islands (cayos). As with all biosphere reserves, there are core areas where no fisheries extraction is allowed, as well as zones where fishery extraction and/or tourism use are allowed. Three fisheries cooperatives with a total of 92 members legally, via federal concession, engage in fishing for caracol, lobster, and various scalefish in Banco Chinchorro (INE 2000). Further, fisheries cooperative members were allowed to retain their traditional cabins (cabañas) onshore and palafitos-houses built on stilts above the shallow waters of the lagoon-at the very heart of the reserve at Cayo Centro. The number of fishermen staying at the approximately 10 palafitos and 20 cabañas fluctuates with the season; the maximum, of more than 100 individuals, can be found during quota periods for caracol, and the minimum, of less than 50, during the period when the seasonal closures for caracol and lobster coincide (INE 2000). While few fishermen consider the aforementioned structures as their permanent homes, some do spend up to several months at a time fishing in Banco Chinchorro. Fishermen that do not belong to the cooperatives, also known as free fishermen (pescadores libres), are legally not allowed to fish within the limits of the reserve, but can fish for scalefish a kilometer out from the reserve in the open ocean (INE 2000). Further complicating matters, the de facto reality was that members of fisheries cooperatives were allowed to bring non-members of the cooperatives along with them to fish the quotas for caracol that are described in the following section.
Figure 1: Location of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve (INE 2000)

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The history of Banco Chinchorro caracol fishery

The caracol fishery is emblematic of the struggles to conserve resources and preserve identity in the Mexican Caribbean. Caracol was supplanted long ago by the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) as the staple of the fishermen's economy of Quintana Roo, but it remained a critical part of the cooperatives' annual revenues and an essential part of individual fishermen's livelihoods. More importantly, local identity remains tied to the caracol. This is reflected in a prominent, stylised caracol on the state's flag. Moreover, ceviche de caracol is a regional (and national) delicacy, which is made of raw, fresh caracol marinated in lime juice, onions, salt, and hot peppers. Ceviche consumption literally and symbolically connects the people of Quintana Roo to the sea and the heritage of the region. In fact, caracol has been exploited since people first settled the Quintana Roo coast. Archaeological evidence from sites like Tankah demonstrates significant consumption of caracol by the post-Classic era of the Maya civilisation that ran from approximately 1000 AD to the time of European contact (Saunders 2005).

Commercially exploited in Quintana Roo since the 1950s, caracol was the second most important resource for the cooperative fishermen in the region behind spiny lobster (SEMARNAP 2000). In contrast to the lobster fishery, the caracol fishery was strictly a regional and national product and is not exported (CITES 2003). The vast majority of Quintana Roo's cooperatives' caracol production was split between feeding local demand and that of the markets in Veracruz and Mexico City (CITES 2003). Furthermore, according to the National Fisheries Institute (Instituto Nacional de la Pesca, INAPESCA) the tourist demand for caracol was relatively minor and pales in comparison to this same sector's voracious demand for lobster (SEMARNAP 2000). Despite the lack of foreign and tourist markets, legal supplies of caracol did not meet domestic demand and this created a significant black market, which has existed since the first restrictions were placed on Quintana Roo's caracol fishery in the 1980s

(Miller 1982).

Fishing commercially for caracol in Banco Chinchorro, which was solely accomplished through free-diving snorkel techniques, began soon after outboard motors enabled safe and efficient travel to Banco Chinchorro in the 1960s. The exploitation of caracol was very attractive to the fisheries cooperatives because there was very little expenditure involved. The biggest expense incurred was gasoline for both the voyage to Chinchorro and the local travel on the bank. In addition, they had to cover the cost of ice, food, and other supplies for the few days of the quota. Otherwise, the technology employed was in its very essence simple/artisanal: visor, snorkel, hammer, extractor, and knives. Generally, processing was limited to bringing the caracol to a 'semi-clean' state.

Caracol are native to the littoral zone throughout the state, but Banco Chinchorro represents the southern zone and was the most productive and important region of the caracol fishery in Quintana Roo (SEMARNAP 2000). At the time this research was conducted, both the Cozumel bank and the Chinchorro bank were open to caracol exploitation, albeit in a tenuous state (CONAPESCA 2000). However, in 2009 the caracol fishery in Cozumel was closed for three years by Mexican fishery authorities due to scarcity and the need for the stock to recuperate (Basurto et al. 2009).

The earliest exploitation of caracol was open access, with no rules or regulations limiting capture (Miller 1982; SEMARNAP 2000). Exploitation remained tempered until the 1970s. In general, the caracol fishery of the 1970s can be characterised as a period of severe overexploitation. The state of Quintana Roo registered the highest yearly caracol production in 1975 and 1976 (Miller 1982). In 1973, the Andres Quintana Roo cooperative based out of Xcalak registered over 100,000 kg (100 tonnes) of caracol, which was nearly all from Banco Chinchorro (Miller 1982). The first quotas came in the mid-1970s at the state level. They did cut official registrations of cooperative production in half, but a considerable black-market also developed (Miller 1982). Regardless, quotas were still quite large at this time, being 72,000 kg (72 tonnes), or 6 tonnes per month in 1978 (Miller 1982).

Yet, the boom days of caracol production were destined to bust. Official caracol catch statistics for the entire state show a period of precipitous decline from 1975 to 1978 (SEMARNAP 2000). Officially recorded statewide production spiked again from 1979 to 1981, but steadily declined throughout the 1980s. Since 1981, access to the caracol fishery has been officially limited to cooperatives (Basurto 1997). An increasingly strict regime of seasonal closures, size limits, and quotas for the fishery developed through the 1980s (Basurto 1997). In 1983, the first seasonal closure of 2.5 months was introduced, and in 1987 the first federally declared quotas were published in the Diario Oficial de la Federación (Official Diary of the Federation; SEMARNAP 2000). At that time, the southern region, which is primarily Banco Chinchorro, received a federally declared quota of 50 tonnes (SEMARNAP 2000).

Despite the efforts of federal fisheries managers to limit the decline of the caracol fishery, production continued to decline into the 1990s. In the late 1980s, the fishery's dire state led government officials and fishermen to agree to a closure of the caracol fishery in the entire state except Banco Chinchorro. Until 1998, the quota for the Banco Chinchorro cooperatives remained at a total of 45 tonnes, but the quota was reduced to 30 tonnes that year (Basurto et al. 1998). During fieldwork in 2003-2004, the three cooperatives operating in Banco Chinchorro were allowed a total of 10 tonnes annual quota for a total catch of 30 tonnes. In fact, this level of exploitation was part of an agreement reached during the establishment of Banco Chinchorro as a Biosphere Reserve. In this agreement, the cooperatives voluntarily reduced their quotas in return for a promised increase in vigilance of illegal pachucheros on the part of the authorities (INE 2000).

However, the caracol population continued to steadily decline since that time, and drastic reductions of caracol densities measured in 2009 have led to further reductions in quotas. During a return trip to Quintana Roo in the spring of 2010, cooperative fishermen mentioned that the overall quota for Banco Chinchorro was reduced to 15 tonnes, or 5 tonnes per cooperative. Further reduction of the overall quota to between 6 and 10 tonnes was recommended by INAPESCA (Basurto et al. 2009), and as a result the 2011 quota for the entirety of Banco Chinchorro was set at 9 tonnes, or 3 tonnes per cooperative (Tuz 2010). Finally, in November of 2012, the caracol fishery of Banco Chinchorro was put into a 5-year total moratorium due to the extreme scarcity of the species (CONANP 2012).

The increasing regulation of cooperative caracol fishing within Banco Chinchorro includes the limitation of both the fishing season and the minimum size of caracol that can be caught. The seasonal closure regulation aims to facilitate that caracol are left alone during their prime breeding seasons and minimum size requirements seek to ensure that they reach the age of breeding maturity. A minimum size limit of 20 cm across was put in place by federal authorities in 1995 (SEMARNAP 2000). The mid-1990s also witnessed the implementation of seasonal closures of the caracol fishery. Beginning in 1994, the seasonal closure for the caracol fishery was between May and October, with an open season to collect the quota from November to April. During fieldwork in 2003-2004, federal authorities had further reduced caracol season by setting four precise openings in the months of November, December, February, and March. Put another way, the fishery was closed (en veda) from April to October and during the month of January. In 2003-2004 openings lasted from 3 to 6 days, during which the three cooperatives fished a quarter of their 10 tonne quota. In 2009, openings for the caracol fishery were further reduced with a new regime of closures (SAGARPA 2009). At the time of this writing, the fishery was to be open in January, March, and April, meaning that in 2012 caracol fishing was closed to the cooperatives for nine months of the year. 4

Despite ever increasing control over access, extraction, seasonality, and minimum size in the Banco Chinchorro caracol fishery, biological surveys have indicated that the species is not recovering (Hernandez pers. comm. 5 ; Basurto et al. 2009). One tell-tale sign of the caracol population's continued decline evident during fieldwork was the steadily increasing amount of time cooperative fishermen needed to collect their quotas (Hernandez pers. comm.; Hoffman 2006). In the past they filled much larger quotas in 3 days, but during participant observation of caracol quotas in 2003-2004 it took up to 6 days to fill the much smaller quota, and at times the quota was not filled. Further, biological surveys in 2009 estimated a caracol density of 0.0059 adults per sq. m, which comes dangerously close to the critical density of 0.0048 adults per sq. m at which caracol do not release gametes (Basurto et al. 2009). Many openly question whether the species will survive despite all the measures that have been taken to regulate the legal caracol fishery. Caracol is already endangered in several Caribbean nations, including neighboring Belize (CITES 2003; Hernandez pers. comm.). Quintana Roo's fisheries managers and biologists alike are concerned that if their caracol populations become endangered they will become subject to the international legal mechanisms of CITES.

Clearly, the caracol fishery in Quintana Roo and Banco Chinchorro is overexploited and threatens to exterminate the species. The reasons for the recent drastic decline of caracol in Banco Chinchorro are twofold. The first is that Banco Chinchorro΄s ecosystem was severely damaged by strong hurricanes that passed through the area in 2007. More important and relevant to this paper is the continued existence of a strong and undeterred illegal fishery for caracol in Banco Chinchorro. Most fisheries officials and fishermen believe the root cause is poachers (pachucheros) who respect no closures, no quotas, and no minimum size requirements. One fishery official explained the problem quite succinctly by comparing cooperative production in Banco Chinchorro to the estimated extraction of the pachucheros. He explained that while the cooperative fishermen officially removed 30 tonnes (10 tonnes per cooperative) annually (in 2003-2004), they estimated that the pachucheros remove this much every month. This means that the estimated effort of the black market caracol fishery was at least ten to twelve times that of the cooperative fishermen.

It is widely known that the illegal fishing of caracol has been decimating the fishery for several decades and continues to do so even today (Miller 1982; INE 2000; CEDRSSA 2005; Basurto et al. 2009; Tuz 2010). Miller (1982) stated that a black market for caracol in Chetumal developed simultaneously with the first quotas. While many of the fishermen involved in illegal extraction of caracol do not belong to any cooperative, some cooperative fishermen are also involved. The domestic market for caracol, whether in season or not, was so strong that there was plenty of financial motivation. In 2003 and 2004, fish markets in urban areas, Chetumal for example, openly sold fresh caracol any time of year. Financial gains for both the fishermen and their patrones (bosses) were considerable.

With ever-reduced quotas and strict seasonal closures, earnings from the legal caracol fishery were simply not a stable source of income for members of the fishing cooperatives. In 2003-2004, legal fishing by cooperative members netted 2000-3000 pesos (~USD 200-USD 300) for each of the four quotas, or 12,000 pesos maximum per year. In contrast, according to informants, a regular crewman of a pachuchero operation stood to earn 1,000-2,000 pesos (~USD 100-USD 200) in a few days. Clearly, cooperative membership is not required, which also means that they are able to keep the entirety of their profits rather than having to share part of the profit to cover cooperative costs. Finally, it is important to note that the remuneration from illegal fishing was well above the pay rate of most other jobs in the area; service industry work built around tourism paid the legal minimum wage of 42 pesos (~USD 4.20) per day. Illegal fishing is also available throughout the year, and the promise of a steady wage is a strong draw.

Since the inception of Banco Chinchorro, its management was well aware of the issue of illegal, pachuchero operations within the reserve. In fact, the management plan (INE 2000) frankly addresses the problems they have encountered in limiting the incursion of pachucheros into the edges of Banco Chinchorro to fish caracol. In particular, the document highlights the difficulties that reserve staff had in controlling illegal caracol extraction around the southern most cayo known as Cayo Lobos. In an interesting semantic shift, the management plan uses the word pirate (pirata) to describe these fishermen. It then goes on to mention that they generally arrive at their "preferred site to establish their base of operations, they have fiberglass boats, generally 25 feet, and engines up to 115 horsepower, which facilitate their ability to evade vigilance" (INE 2000: 57). It is critical to note that the only discernible difference between pirate fishermen and cooperative fishermen from this description was that most cooperative members used 70 horsepower motors. It is important to recall that free fishermen have legal rights to fish outside the edges of the bank. Finally, it is important to note that many fisheries cooperative members brought non-coop members along with them as part of their fishing crew.

This background information on caracol and Banco Chinchorro shows that the creation and enforcement of regulations to protect caracol populations, although steadily increasing, did not end practices that threaten both the fishery and the species itself. While much of the blame for the continued decline of caracol can be placed upon the pachucheros, fishermen within the cooperatives were also known to flaunt the known regulations. The following cases discuss the implications of this complex situation upon some of the extractive practices of cooperative members. In short, they detail three things: 1) the ways in which fishermen within the cooperatives bore the brunt of the increased vigilance of caracol, a situation they felt to be unjust; 2) the relationship of this perceived injustice to the reactions and resistant behavior of cooperative members; and 3) the violent results of violating norms that had developed in the complex moral economy of caracol extraction. In the end, these cases demonstrate the limited options present for members of the fisheries cooperatives to openly protest the way they were being increasingly excluded from caracol resources by the combined pressures of the conservation regime and the continuous pachuchero extraction.


   Cases of resistance and violence Top


Resistance to regulation

The previous section provides some background to the situation regarding the caracol fishery witnessed during fieldwork in 2003-2004, and which, according to informal discussions with informants in 2010, continued to exist. The inability or disinterest of the conservation authorities to deter the precipitous decline of the caracol population was a source of considerable frustration on the part of the members of the fishing cooperative. Banco Chinchorro's fishing cooperative members had a largely antagonistic relationship with the conservation authorities and the very notion of biodiversity conservation for several reasons.

First, the cooperatives were being hemmed in by the biological and regulatory reality of the caracol fishery. Fishermen often recounted how the days of unlimited fishing that they and their fathers recalled fondly were now long gone. More importantly, they often complained that what they had given up (e.g., the agreement to voluntarily reduce their caracol quotas as part of the original negotiations for the declaration of Banco Chinchorro) and the rules that they largely followed were not being reciprocated by the increased vigilance promised by the conservation authorities.

Second was the failure of the conservation regime to live up to two mandates of the biosphere reserve model: 1) the support

of local livelihoods; and 2) the inclusion of resource users in the management of the reserve. Theoretically, the reserve intends to support both the conservation of biodiversity as well as the livelihoods of the surrounding communities, which in the case of Banco Chinchorro are the fishery cooperatives. However, fishermen felt that undue pressure was being put on their utilisation of caracol while the pachucheros continued to go largely 'unnoticed' and 'unregulated.' In other words, surveillance was increasingly falling upon the fishing cooperative members for traditional practices and that these small rule transgressions were miniscule in relation to the impact of the pachucheros. The participation of fishermen in the decision-making of the reserve was also minimal at the time. While they did have direct contact with lower level managers stationed at Cayo Centro, they were largely excluded from the decision-making regarding reserve policies that were made at the SEMARNAT headquarters in the city of Cancún (and later Chetumal).

These factors created a situation in which members of the fisheries cooperatives had little respect for the conservation authorities, and frequently flaunted the rules established for the protection of caracol and other species. Put simply, several expressed that if the conservation authorities would do nothing to regulate the illegal extraction then they felt little guilt about their own transgressions of the law. Their rationale for this behavior hinged on the belief that the total impact of their extraction (legal and illegal) was sure to be smaller than that of the pachucheros. At the same time, we can consider the actions described below as a form of protest fishing that the cooperative members could engage in with little fear of repercussions that could seriously hinder their ability to make a living. In contrast, organised protest against the conservation authorities was unlikely because of divisions among them, as well as the potential for further exclusion from resources by the authorities. The following ethnographic vignettes illustrate the types of illegal fishing that the cooperative fishermen engaged in, and briefly discuss how they can be interpreted through the lens of protest and/or resistance.

A crackdown on tradition

Throughout fieldwork, when fishermen and community members were asked their opinions on conservation, the topic always turned to one case that they said demonstrated the unbalanced application of the law and the unfair persecution of the legitimate members of the fishing cooperative. In this case, a member of Andres Quintana Roo was returning from a lobster trip at Chinchorro and he brought along with him ~10 kilos of illegal (out of season) caracol. Throughout the history of Banco Chinchorro's exploitation by the cooperatives, it was considered tradition that a returning fishermen would bring a few kilos of caracol home for family consumption or for a special occasion. As he was leaving Chinchorro, he was stopped by a Biosphere Reserve patrol and caught with the caracol. He was put in jail for several weeks, fined several thousand dollars, his boat was impounded, and the authorities threatened to take away his cooperative membership. The fact that his boat was taken away pending payment of his fines was seen as particularly unjust because without a boat he was left with few ways to make the money to pay his fines. In fact, upon a return visit in 2010, nearly seven years later, his boat still sat in a neighboring town wasting away and he continued to make payments towards buying his boat back from the government.

Members of the fishing cooperative and the general community were outraged over this event for several reasons. One, the fisherman was not commercially exploiting caracol. The amount he had on board was obviously not destined for the black market since there would be no real interest on the part of buyers for such small amount of caracol. Two, many people cited that the authorities were spending too much time going after small infractions like this, done by cooperative fishermen, just to make examples of them. Meanwhile, the pachucheros freely took what they wanted right under the nose of the authorities. There were widespread accusations that both the fisheries and the conservation authorities were receiving payments (la pachucha) to ignore the continued extraction of caracol destined for the black market. Lastly, traditions are hard to break, and the idea that a cooperative fisherman could not return home from Chinchorro with caracol for the family flew in the face of their identity.

It was observed throughout fieldwork that the fishermen continued the tradition of bringing a small amount of caracol home to the mainland despite the potential repercussions of being caught by the conservation authorities. Cooperative members never discussed this action as a direct protest of conservation interventions, but instead emphasised the fact that this was a tradition, part of their heritage, and something that should be allowed. However, one can look at the continued defiance of conservation rules regarding caracol as a protest that is within the means of the members of the cooperative; a protest against what they considered was a glaring injustice, a protest against processes that were slowly taking power away from the cooperatives and their members from determining the use of resources, and a protest against rules that were seen as a direct attack on their heritage and the future of fishing in their community. Ultimately, this protest was further rationalised by the claim that these small amounts were not (in their calculation) driving caracol to the edge of commercial extinction.

Who are the pachucheros?

While the case above demonstrates the relatively simple moral landscape of cooperative members' small-scale protests against the conservation authorities, the following example points out that they had a tenuous hold upon the moral high ground. The situation becomes more complex once the fact that cooperative members themselves were involved in la pachucha is brought into the analysis.

During fieldwork, the fishermen missed one of the openings for their official quota times because inclement weather made the crossing to Banco Chinchorro incredibly dangerous. Rather than risk their lives in crossing, they decided to wait out the storm at home on the mainland. They missed their official quota, and following that the caracol fishery was immediately under a closure (en veda), which meant they lost the opportunity to fish the quota. After a few days of tense deliberation about the situation, the cooperative leadership announced that they were given 'permission' to fish in a non-quota month by the fisheries authorities (not the conservation authorities). This decision was clearly out of the ordinary and contrary to the official policies of the reserve as set forth in its management plan as well as the federal fisheries law regarding caracol seasons. On the surface, this seemed to be a rare occasion when the conservation authorities were flexible in their desires to meet the needs of biodiversity conservation and the livelihood needs of cooperative fishermen. Yet, this naïve interpretation of events was soon to be shattered.

While at Chinchorro, the cooperative met on their mothership (nodriza) where they were notified of the quota that each member was to bring in over the next three days. When we went back to the palafito, I made some calculations and realised that if each member obtained the quota as assigned by the cooperative leadership they would exceed the 2.5 tonnes officially permitted to the cooperative by about half a tonne. I mentioned this to the patron of the crew I was working with, and he said with incredulity at my naïveté that it was clearly 'for the payoff' (para la pachucha). He went on to explain that the proceeds from this extra half tonne were going to pay some unnamed officials that permitted them to fish during a time that was actually a federally mandated fishery closure. In the end, all of the members of the cooperative met the quotas assigned by the cooperative leadership and the pachucha was sold apart from the 'legal' harvest.

In an interesting turn, I visited the management offices of SEMARNAT in Cancún several weeks later and casually mentioned my participation in the quota and its irregular timing. The manager reacted that this was 'not possible' because the timing clearly placed the quota during the closed season. This reaction indicated that either the manager was 'unaware' that the cooperative had been given permission, or was well aware of the illegal nature of the quota and was feigning disbelief. It is difficult to know which of these alternative explanations is true since the topic was not pursued by either of us.

This second case demonstrates that the cooperative fishermen were far from innocent in the overexploitation of the Banco Chinchorro caracol fishery. An extra half tonne of caracol is a significant transgression of the legal allotment and clearly represents added pressure on the species. The breaking of regulations for both the quota limits and in the closed season are serious infractions and represent an interesting counterpoint to the position of most members of the cooperatives, that they do not engage in illegal behaviors that endanger the caracol.

This case shows the ways in which the moral economy of the fishermen was influenced by the social and political conditions of natural resource management in Banco Chinchorro. One can interpret this illegal activity through the lens of protest in that the cooperative fishermen framed the cooperative's engagement in pachucha as a result of the inflexibility of the conservation authorities as well as their disinterest in the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen. The timing of the quota was delayed into an illegal season because of inclement weather (although the conservation authorities blamed the cooperative members for not making an effort to get to Chinchorro earlier when weather was better and the crossing was feasible), which gave them no choice but to follow the known illegal channels via la pachucha. In addition, although the caracol fishery no longer supports fishermen throughout the year, the fishery was still an important source of income for fishermen and the cooperative. Between 1995 and 2002, official catch statistics reported by the Andres Quintana Roo cooperative indicate that annual caracol production ranged between 28% and 50% of the cooperative's annual income (Hoffman 2006). The loss of access to a quota would have meant the loss of ~7-12.5% of the cooperative's annual income in 2004. Thus, fishermen viewed engaging in la pachucha as a necessary act to sustain their livelihoods, the cooperative, and the tradition of fishing in the community.

Engaging in la pachucha, then, was a way for them to not only gain some form of official permission, but it also openly demonstrated that they know the illegal pathways and will use them unrepentantly to protest against inflexibility. It can also can be seen as a protest against the perceived injustice of cutting off access to what they conceived of as 'their' resource, livelihood, and tradition.

The violent repercussions of cooperation with the conservation authorities

The last case that will be discussed illustrates the ways that increasing control over caracol extraction created conflict and violence between fishermen. Violence in rural Mexico (Romanucci-Ross 1973; Greenberg 1989; Villareal 2004) as well as violence related to Mexican fishery resources (McGoodwin 1987; Young 2001; Cruz-Torres 2004) is well documented in the social science literature. So the occurrence of interpersonal conflict in itself does not warrant much attention. The relationship of this violence to the exploitation of caracol and the impacts on members of the fisheries cooperatives, however, makes it important to discuss the following relevant event. The following case shows some of the consequences of more direct, organised action against pachucheros. The case also reinforces why cooperative fishermen's discontent with the continued encroachment of conservation and with illegal fishing could only be expressed through the 'weapons of the weak.'

One day about nine months into fieldwork in 2004 there was a commotion in the middle of town during the mid-afternoon siesta. There were some audible shouts and a police vehicle from a neighboring town suddenly tore by at a speed unusual for the sand roads. They were in pursuit of a car with several subjects, non-residents of the community, who had entered town and beat a local fisherman in broad daylight without any known warning. The police chased the subjects through town as they headed for the only paved exit. The perpetrators of the crime became trapped near the community soccer field and fired shots, oblivious to, or uncaring of, the fact that their bullets went directly over the heads of the terrified group of women that were training on the field for their upcoming soccer game. Their tactic worked as the under-armed police allowed them to escape justice for the moment. In their wake, they left one bloodied fisherman, and a town terrified, agitated, and upset by this 'outsider' violation.

Talking with informants about the incident revealed that the reasons cited for the conflict revolved around caracol, the biosphere reserve, and a violation of the unspoken rule that fishermen cooperate with one another in opposition to the surveillance of the conservation authorities. In short, the attacked fisherman had used a radio supplied to him by Banco Chinchorro's conservation authorities to report the presence of illegal fishing for caracol. He had reported their boats, not so much because he was in agreement with conservation management in Banco Chinchorro, but because the pachucheros had abused their privilege to use his palafito. They had destroyed his palafito after several weeks of fishing, with at least part of the time dedicated to the illegal extraction of caracol. Therefore, the owner of the palafito informed the conservation authorities that they were pachucheros, which led to a confrontation. In retaliation, three men were sent to the community to exact revenge for his report.

In essence, the owner of the palafito dared to violate the understanding that legal cooperative fishermen had with the pachucheros. This understanding, while never overtly stated by any informants, was that they were both being hemmed in by conservation, and that they did not tell the authorities about known illegal extraction of caracol by members of both the cooperative and the pachucheros.

The preceding case is relevant in that it provides further insight into the complex moral landscape that framed the fishermen's decision-making and actions regarding the caracol fishery of Banco Chinchorro. The message that this violence sent to the community and the members of the cooperative was clear; collaboration with the conservation authorities to stem the pachucheros would result in violent retribution. In essence, organised political alignment with the conservation authorities to protect the resource for their own benefit was effectively eliminated as a political option for members of the cooperative.


   Discussion Top


The extraction of caracol in Banco Chinchorro and the cases presented above echo many of the findings from research that has already been conducted around conservation and natural resources. The ensuing section weaves together a discussion of: 1) how resistance and violence around caracol relates to the existing literature on conservation conflicts, and how the actions of fishermen can be interpreted as 'weapons of the weak'; and 2) how the case corroborates existing scholarship on biosphere reserves and marine conservation initiatives in the specific case of Mexico.

As has been highlighted in the vignettes presented above, access to caracol to supplement the livelihoods of fishermen of the Andres Quintana Roo cooperative was being increasingly controlled by outside forces in the form of biodiversity conservation, and also the organised, illegal extraction by black market pachucheros. This section will discuss the contextual elements that drove the fishermen's engagement with 'implicit' resistance via the emblematic species, caracol. Before moving forward, it is important to note that 'resistance' was not limited to the extraction of caracol out of season. Participant observation and interviews indicated that members of the cooperative and pachucheros alike were guilty of incursion into closed zones and taking of illegal sized caracol. Further, the rules regarding several other species were also flaunted on an almost daily basis. Thus, the centerpiece of implicit resistance among these fishermen was the continuation of banned practices, particularly around caracol.

The fact that fishermen continued to engage in extraction that they had traditionally practiced is consistent with much of the literature on conservation conflicts, and is the most common form or resistance found. Holmes' (2007) study of 34 case studies of conservation conflict found that 27 cases included continued engagement in banned practices, but he cautions us to not conflate these actions with explicitly political actions (i.e., the intentional slaughter of elephants for no commercial purpose) that have been highlighted by other scholars (Igoe 2004). As was stated in the theoretical introduction of this piece, continuing banned practices can be seen as a form of protest in itself, and can be interpreted as a statement that these practices should be allowed to continue. Illegal caracol extraction, both the small amounts taken by members of the cooperative upon their return to the mainland, and the more significant 'extra' amounts taken by the cooperatives during quota periods, can be interpreted in this fashion. The questions then become: why do fishermen feel that there is a need to protest, why does it take the form of everyday resistance, and how does this mirror the existing literature on conservation conflicts?

As should be clear from the cases presented above, members of the fisheries cooperatives engaged in everyday resistance largely because they felt that the biosphere reserve, and conservation in general, was not interested in, or capable of, defending their livelihoods from the pachucheros, who they felt were culpable for the precipitous declines in caracol populations. It is critical to also recall that during the negotiations regarding the founding of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, the cooperatives agreed to a reduced quota in return for the enforcement of their rights to the fisheries, particularly caracol. Yet, this promise had been largely broken due to the limitations of the reserve. While the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve was a 'jewel' for international conservation NGOs and Mexican conservation authorities, the realities of funding, jurisdictional overlap, and the presence of official corruption made enforcing the exclusion of pachucheros a difficult proposition.

Institutional confusion and jurisdictional overlap

It is a well-known fact that Mexican marine reserves face a number of daunting challenges that differentiate them from similar land-based reserves. In particular, the problem of enforcement is an issue that is frequently mentioned in the literature on fisheries and marine reserves in Mexico. Bezaury-Creel's (2005) overview of coastal zone management in Mexico illustrates an institutional and governance problem that contributes to confusion, corruption, and generally makes achieving the aforementioned dual mandate of biosphere reserves more difficult. Bezaury-Creel (2005) shows that eight of the 19 cabinet level agencies of the Mexican government have some jurisdiction in the coastal zone. He astutely points out that access to marine resources is difficult to control not only because of staffing issues, but also because the organisation (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente, Federal Attorney of Environmental Protection, PROFEPA) charged with the enforcement of reserve rules does not directly overlap with the staff of the park who work for another organisation (Comisión Nacional de Αreas Naturales Protegidas, National Commission of Protected Natural Areas, CONANP). Regardless, the officials with PROFEPA cannot technically arrest rule breakers, and instead must call in a firearm-bearing federal or state level official that has jurisdiction (Bezaury-Creel 2005). In the case of Banco Chinchorro, this entails bringing officials out 30-50 km into the ocean, or bringing violators to the mainland.

Another important player in the management of fisheries resources in Banco Chinchorro was the regional office of CONAPESCA (Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca, National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries), which is a sub-division of the national government agency SAGARPA (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca, y Alimentación, Secretariat of Agriculture, Ranching, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food Supply). The fisheries management and development authorities were often referred to by my informants simply as 'Pesca.' Pesca administered permits for fishing seasons in Banco Chinchorro, as well as provided technical and financial support to the cooperatives and their members. Historically, the interest of CONAPESCA and its antecedents was the development of fisheries, but had shifted to a policy of sustainable use in the 1990s (Hernandez and Kempton 2003). The issue of overlapping jurisdictions becomes even more relevant once it is understood that fisheries were temporarily under the same federal bureaucracy as the conservation authorities (SEMARNAP) from 1994 to 2000, but were removed and placed under SAGARPA at the end of this period. Thus, at the same time that Banco Chinchorro was established and in its first few years of existence, there were significant shifts in the bureaucratic management of fisheries that produced both confusion and opportunities to exploit the lack of clarity over resource management.

The coordination of institutions is a consistent problem found within Mexican biosphere reserves (Haenn 1999, 2005; Durand and Lazos 2008; García-Frapoli et al. 2009) and particularly within the marine setting (Bezaury Creel 2005; Fraga and Jesus 2008; Peterson 2010). Not only are there overlapping jurisdictions of institutions, but their mandates often contradict and they are poorly coordinated with each other due to institutional competition or the lack of communication. As García-Frapoli et al. (2009) discuss in relation to the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, the sheer number of development institutions and conservation institutions involved led to competing mandates, incentives, and uncoordinated public policy. In addition, institutions are often competing against one another for funds, so inter-agency relationships become competitive rather than cooperative (Haenn 2005; Peterson 2010). Thus, it is not surprising that this confusion can lead to weak social and ecological results (Durand and Lazos 2008).

The case of the fisheries cooperative's ability to garner permission to fish in a prohibited season discussed above not only demonstrates that individuals and groups exploited the lack of coordination that existed in Banco Chinchorro, but also that the situation is ripe for those wishing to bribe officials. It was relatively clear that the conservation authorities were likely unaware of this activity, and discussions with fishermen indicated that it was officials at Pesca that had granted them the permission to fish out of season, and to whom the cooperative paid la pachucha. Finally, Peterson's (2010) analysis of the effect of competing jurisdictions in Loreto Bay parallels what was occurring in Banco Chinchorro. Peterson (2010) found that overlapping jurisdictions and the inability of park staff to prosecute illegal fishing led to frustration and a turn of their attention towards other activities (i.e., capacity-building) that they could develop fully. At Chinchorro, significant efforts of the conservation authorities were put towards the gathering of basic biological data rather than policing of the fisheries.

Legal versus illegal fishing

Institutional and jurisdictional difficulties were not the only limits faced by conservation authorities in enforcing the rules and regulations aimed at conserving both caracol and the livelihoods of the members of fisheries cooperatives. Another significant problem was the fact that the distinction between legal and illegal fishing was not easily determined. This is an issue highlighted frequently in the literature on Mexico's fisheries in part because of the ways in which many fisheries have both fisheries cooperative members alongside 'free' fishermen (see McGuire 1983; McGoodwin 1987; Vásquez-Léon 1994). As was stated earlier, the fishermen in the pachuchero operations used the same style of boats and fishing techniques as members of the cooperative making easy identification somewhat difficult. More troubling for the authorities was the fact that certain members of the cooperatives moved back and forth between the pachuchero fishery and the legal cooperative fishery, and/or actively cooperated and colluded with one another on a frequent basis. For example, the case presented about the violence in the community of Xcalak discusses a cooperative member who was allowing known pachucheros to use his palafito. Furthermore, the case of the cooperative fishing out of season and paying la pachucha further indicates that the cooperatives were well aware of the channels to the black market, and were willing to transgress the rules. Lastly, the third story involving the fishermen transporting caracol to the shore for domestic consumption is further complicated by the fact that the individual involved, while operating legally for lobster at the time, was rumored to be involved with the pachucheros at some point of time in the past. In sum, the distinction between legal and illegal fishing was difficult because the lines between them were porous and indiscreet, which makes prosecuting illegal behaviors difficult for the authorities.

The lack of clear distinction between illegal and legal fishermen became particularly salient to the conceptualisation of continued resource extraction as a form of 'resistance' when the authorities did decide to act. Holmes (2007) points out that conservation authorities often label any illegal use of resources as 'encroachment', and in so doing fail to recognise the political statement being made via small-scale everyday resistance. The case of the jailing, fining, and impounding the boat of the fisheries cooperative member caught with 10 kilos of caracol is a clear example of this type of misreading. Importantly, the existing literature on conservation conflicts points out that this sort of misreading can actually lead to more violent protests (Neumann 2000; Haenn 2005). Of particular relevance to this case is that crackdowns or tightening of vigilance of this sort can lead to local peoples further colluding with 'poachers' (Peluso 1993; Holmes 2007). This sheds light upon and reflects the unspoken agreement of cooperation in the face of increased vigilance evident between members of the cooperative and the pachucheros. Further, the serious prosecution of traditional practices can delegitimise the conservation authorities in the eyes of local people, and drive more pervasive 'weapons of the weak' resistance due to the perceived injustice of the tightened vigilance.

The moral economy of Banco Chinchorro's fishermen

The previous sections highlight the fact that limitations of vigilance, participation, and enforcement facilitated a worldview among fisheries cooperative members in which transgressions of caracol management rules could be rationalised despite the fact that they were conscious of the increasing scarcity, the threatened status of the species, and a potential complete closure of the fishery. In other words, they rationalised their transgressions via the failures of the state to limit those people they believed to be an even bigger threat than themselves. Banco Chinchorro's 'everyday resistance' demonstrates a moral economy that can be found in the literature on Mexico's biosphere reserves and global conservation in general.

Peterson (2010) found in Mexico's Loreto Bay National Park, that when fishermen are confronted with this sort of situation they often see opportunism and cheating as the best choice. Young's (2001) work also suggests that the existence of a black market, corrupt regulators, and undeterred poaching creates a disincentive for self-restraint, and can turn poaching into an act of defiance that is quite meaningful for those least powerful in the situation. As Holmes (2007) astutely points out, these acts of everyday resistance are frequently encountered where the fear of retribution limits the ability of park resource users to openly express their sentiments, and they instead choose to register their complaints via culturally symbolic acts.

In the case of Banco Chinchorro and the continued illegal exploitation of caracol, we can see that speaking about, and acting out, frustrations is doubly limited. First, fishermen fear reprisal and increased surveillance (along with the threat of losing their livelihood) for speaking or acting against the conservation authorities. Second, fishermen fear speaking out about or acting against the pachucheros because of the threat of violence as was clearly indicated in the case study discussed above.

Ultimately, Holmes (2007) implores us to look at the manipulation of culturally important symbols in these acts of everyday resistance. It is no accident that caracol is the resource that members of the cooperatives and pachucheros continue to extract; at times they openly flaunted their transgressions of conservation rules. As was stated earlier, caracol is something that has a long history of exploitation, was a significant element in the creation and maintenance of fishing livelihoods, and its consumption literally and figuratively connects fishermen and fishing communities to the Caribbean. Holmes (2007) goes further by asking us to rethink acts of resistance to conservation not only as economic reactions, but to also consider that these transgressions are about the meanings of resources and the identities of the people that use them. Thus, the acts of everyday resistance are not only done because they feel that they are unjustly persecuted by conservation authorities, but also because they want to retain the traditions that sustain their identities as fishermen and fishing communities.

Relevance to the literature on Mexico's biosphere reserves

The case of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, its fisheries cooperatives, and caracol is illustrative of the resistance and conflicts that are often characteristic of Mexico's biosphere reserves. Banco Chinchorro's caracol fishery suffers, despite being managed as part of a biosphere reserve, from the symptoms of combining biocentrism and anthropocentrism. Specifically the Mexican conservation model, and more generally the biosphere reserve model carry the difficult burden of this dual mandate (García-Frapoli et al. 2009). The ensuing discussion, however, will demonstrate that the issues presented here are in no way unique to the case of Banco Chinchorro. Instead, we will see that this case reflects several other cases and the analyses of Mexican conservation initiatives.

The Banco Chinchorro case echoes other scholars' work regarding the feelings of resources users, particularly fishermen, towards the implementation of conservation-oriented resource regulations in Mexico. Fraga and Jesus (2008) point out that the fishery sector often feels that marine protected areas are prejudicial towards fishermen. Mendez-Contreras et al. (2008) discuss how 'traditional' resource users within the Celestún Biosphere Reserve felt that the restrictions on, and prohibition of, resource extraction, particularly small-scale fishing, were unjustified. García-Frapoli et al. (2009) suggest that the loss of control over resources associated with the development of conservation initiatives is perceived by fishermen and other resource users as a concern of elites that can be interpreted as yet another form of imperial domination. Furthermore, frequently there are few non-resource based benefits of conservation initiatives (Mendez-Contreras et al. 2008), which can produce a negative or resistant attitude among resource users. Again, the Chinchorro case is illustrative of this process. Cooperative fishermen felt that they were being unfairly persecuted and that few non-extractive livelihood alternatives (i.e., tourism) existed for them. This made illegal caracol fishing not only an economic opportunity, but also an act of resistance against conservation rules and processes that they believed were slowly separating them from access to, and control over, the resources upon which their livelihoods depended.

It is important to discuss the fact that the possible extinction of an emblematic species of a biosphere reserve, i.e., the caracol of the Banco Chinchorro biosphere reserve, is not the only such case in Mexico. Durand and Lazaros (2008) show that in spite of its declaration and management as a biosphere reserve, Los Tuxtlas has seen several localised extinctions due to the inability of the reserve to stop deforestation and illegal hunting. Further, illegal timbering and legal deforestation threaten the very existence of the monarch butterfly within the Monarch Butterfly Reserve of Michoacán (Róses 2009). An important thing to note about both of these cases is that they both involve an illegal trade that is quite sophisticated and that is backed up by violence. While it is certain that better coordination of institutions and improved alternative livelihoods would help the situation, we cannot forget the strong motivations, sophisticated operations, and violent retributions that black markets can spawn.


   Conclusion Top


The combination of corruption-weakened enforcement, overlapping institutions and jurisdictions, difficulty in identifying legal versus illegal fishermen, lack of resources and incentives for more effective monitoring and enforcement, and livelihood incentives has helped push the caracol of the Banco Chinchorro biosphere reserve to the brink of collapse. These factors led the people with the most direct interest in conserving the resource for their livelihood, the fishermen, to contribute to its continued demise through acts that can be interpreted as forms of everyday resistance. The fact that caracol continue on a path towards extinction within the borders of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve is clearly inconsistent with the aims of the biosphere reserve model, which is intended to foster the conservation of species by encouraging local livelihoods via sustainable resource extraction and the participation of resource users in the management of said resources. This paper is in no way an attempt to defend these behaviors as morally correct or superior to those on the conservation side of the equation. What it is intended to do is to provide insight into the conflictual nature of conservation, even in those forms that are intentionally designed to maintain human livelihoods as a critical part of their mission.

In sum, members of Banco Chinchorro's fisheries cooperatives felt increasingly hemmed in by conservation, and worse, that the authorities were ignoring the real problems (pachucheros) and persecuting the cooperative members instead. While far from innocent in the situation, the scenario around the exploitation of fishery resources at Banco Chinchorro was one fraught with conflict that also produced real violence. In the end, the limited budget, enormous territory, and limited capacity of the conservation authorities to deal with the systematic illegal extraction of caracol was, and remains, a critical problem. Unfortunately, this problem infiltrated the relationship between the conservation authorities and those who had a legitimate claim to a partial livelihood from caracol. Thus, poor management of social relationships was pushing these legitimate players towards a short-term mentality that is the antithesis of resource and livelihood sustainability. 6

In sum, it is clear that the issues faced in the management of the Banco Chinchorro caracol fishery are not unique. Biosphere reserves throughout Mexico, and beyond, have struggled to achieve the dual mandate of conservation and community development, and the confusion left in its wake can be easily exploited to the detriment of both.


   Acknowledgements Top


I owe special thanks to the people that opened their hearts and their homes to me during my dissertation fieldwork on the coast of Quintana Roo; you are too numerous to mention here, but I appreciate all that you taught me. In particular, I want to acknowledge Fidel for teaching me about life and fishing at Banco Chinchorro. Sadly, he passed away in 2010 and I will sorely miss his love of life, laughter, and fishing. My dissertation research was funded by a Fulbright-Garcia Robles fellowship, and I am deeply indebted to the Institute for International Education and the Fulbright Program for their support of my fieldwork. Finally, I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers whose questions and concerns vastly improved the content and clarity of this paper's argument.[48]


   Notes Top


  1. The scientific name is Strombus gigas, the local vernacular name is caracol rosado; hereafter referred to as caracol.
  2. The term pachuchero is an adjective used to describe those involved in a system of payoff similar to the more well-known idea of la mordida or 'the bite' in Mexico. In the most basic sense, pachuchero is a transformation of the word pachucha meaning overripe or off-colour. Thus, pachucheros can be understood as individuals involved in 'off-colour activities' (i.e., illegal) that avoid fines or jail by paying/bribing (la pachucha) officials involved in the policing of said activity.
  3. Cooperative membership was exclusively male.
  4. Indeed the continued crisis of caracol management led to a five-year total closure of the caracol fishery of Quintana Roo in November of 2012 (CONANP 2012).
  5. Hernandez, A. Personal communication. April 14, 2004. Puerto Morelos, Centro Regional de Investigaciónes Pesqueras (Regional Center for Fishery Investigation, CRIP).
  6. It is important to note a significant shift that occurred in November 2012, after this paper was originally written. At that time, an agreement proposed by the three Banco Chinchorro cooperatives to SEMARNAT and CONANP, which called for a five-year permanent closure of the caracol fishery, was entered into the Diario Oficial de la Federación. This represents a change in attitude and tactics among cooperative fishermen that was not apparent during the author's field research. It also represents a clear statement that prior policies to protect fishermen's livelihoods and caracol were failing.


 
   References Top

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    Abstract
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