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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 297-309

Conserving Poverty: Destructive Fishing Gear Use in a Tanzanian Marine Protected Area

Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

Correspondence Address:
Justin Raycraft
Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal, QC
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_18_53

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Date of Web Publication3-Jul-2019


Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork, this paper attends to the persistent use of Destructive Fishing Gear (DFG) in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in southeastern Tanzania. Based on participant observation, document analysis, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions conducted with villagers, I argue that the MPA has failed to eliminate the use of DFG because of its inability to address the historically-embedded political, economic, and sociocultural dimensions of DFG use in the inshore fishery. I contend that pre-existing and conservation-induced conditions of poverty drive the continued use of DFG inside the MPA. Such circumstances are framed by colonial and post-independence state-level development policies. They are also textured by breakdowns in customary marine tenure practices, changing beliefs about which types of fishing gear villagers consider to be traditional, and community-defined moral rights to fish for the fulfilment of basic material needs. I maintain that MPAs must take into account the anthropological complexities of poverty if they are to be effective.

Keywords: poverty, destructive fishing, marine protected area, marine conservation, ethnography, coral reef fisheries

How to cite this article:
Raycraft J. Conserving Poverty: Destructive Fishing Gear Use in a Tanzanian Marine Protected Area. Conservat Soc 2019;17:297-309

How to cite this URL:
Raycraft J. Conserving Poverty: Destructive Fishing Gear Use in a Tanzanian Marine Protected Area. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Jul 14];17:297-309. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2019/17/3/297/261680

   Introduction Top

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are one of the most utilised marine conservation tools on a global scale (Gray 2010). MPAs involve the reclassification of geographical areas through boundary-making, and the regulation of resource use inside of their demarcated territories (Chmara-Huff 2014; Gray 2018). The primary objectives of MPAs are to reduce destructive fishing practices, conserve marine biodiversity, replenish fish populations, protect coral cover (Selig and Bruno 2010) and promote ecological resilience to climate change (Katikiro et al. 2015; Roberts et al. 2001). MPAs may also be integrated with development and ecotourism goals against the backdrop of globalisation and capitalism (Gurney et al. 2014; Walley 2004; Leisher et al. 2007).

Despite these admirable intentions, however, the extent to which MPAs are able to realise these goals has been thoroughly debated in the literature (Hilborn 2018; Pendleton et al. 2018; Kaiser 2005). MPAs often face barriers to achieving conservation objectives including poor governance and management (Gill et al. 2017; Jones 2014; Bennett and Dearden 2014a), inter-stakeholder conflicts (Gray 2016), complicated legal structures (McLean et al. 2012), and lack of support from local communities (Bennett and Dearden 2014b). Local support for MPAs is largely contingent upon the distribution of conservation costs and benefits (Voyer et al. 2014), participatory MPA planning (Voyer et al. 2015), the cultural congruency of the intervention (Fiske 1992) and the prioritisation of local livelihoods in the conservation model (Oracion et al. 2005). For example, local communities may bear costs associated with MPAs in the form of displacement, dispossession, and food insecurity (Christie 2004; Kamat 2018; Kamat and Woo 2018; Kamat 2014), or benefit from MPA revenue sharing and spillover fish catches outside of MPA boundaries (see Cinner et al. 2014). Unfortunately, in many cases, MPAs are implemented in top-down fashions that infringe on the human rights of local communities (Bennett et al. 2017). As a consequence of these and other factors, MPAs often fail to achieve their conservation goals (Chaigneau and Brown 2016).

Overall, the literature on the efficacy of MPAs is highly mixed, and it is still uncertain in which contexts MPAs are most effective (Woodcock et al. 2017). As Pendleton et al. (2018) suggest, social and ecological monitoring inside MPAs is key to evaluating “what is working, what is not, and why” in any given case (1156). Building from this consideration, this paper contributes to the literature on the human dimensions of MPAs by focusing on the effectiveness of MPAs, defined in terms of their abilities to achieve their conservation goals. As I will show, an anthropological approach, informed by a political economy perspective, can provide important insights into the context-specific factors that impact the effectiveness of MPAs.

Specifically, I suggest that greater attention must be paid to the ethnographic complexities of poverty for people affected by MPAs. Poverty is multi-dimensional and cannot simply be represented in terms of material assets. Lived experiences of poverty are nuanced by sociocultural context and can be associated with community-specific moral considerations about the fairness and legitimacy of social action undertaken with the intention of fulfilling basic subsistence needs (Thompson 1971). Poverty is also socially and politically produced (Farmer 2004), highlighting the need to remain cognisant of wider structural inequalities that may influence the conservation outcomes of MPAs.

This paper draws from ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2014 and 2015 in a coastal village located inside of the Mnazi Bay-Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park (MBREMP), a multiple-use MPA in southeastern Tanzania. It focuses on the persistent use of Destructive Fishing Gear (DFG) by inshore fishers living inside park boundaries, despite the top-down enforcement of regulations prohibiting such practices.1 I argue that the park has been unable to eliminate the use of DFG inside of its boundaries on account of its inattention to the historically-embedded political, economic and sociocultural dimensions of DFG use in the inshore fishery. In particular, I focus on the inability of the park to alleviate the underlying conditions of poverty that constrain coastal villagers. I situate the use of DFG inside the park in relation to colonial and post-independence state-level development policies, breakdowns in customary marine tenure practices, changing cultural beliefs about which types of fishing gear are considered traditional, and community-defined moral rights to fish for the fulfilment of basic material needs. In doing so, I make a broader commentary about the (in)effectiveness of top-down MPAs in Tanzania.

In the next section, I provide background on destructive fishing in Tanzania. I then describe the research setting and methods for this study. Following this, I present my argument through ethnographic vignettes, narrative data, and document analysis. In the final two sections, I discuss these findings and conclude with some modest recommendations for marine conservation policy in coastal Tanzania.

Background: Destructive Fishing in Coastal Tanzania

Fishing is an essential livelihood activity for most coastal communities in Tanzania, generating regular food and income for households. The majority of fishing in coastal Tanzania takes place in shallow-water coral reef fisheries by artisanal inshore fishers (Mbije and Rinkevich 2013; Jiddawi and Ohman 2002). Despite their livelihood importance, however, numerous studies demonstrate that inshore fisheries in Tanzania have been overexploited (Wagner 2004; Muhando 2009; Guard et al. 2000; Tobey and Torell 2006; de la Torre-Castro 2012). Scholars have pointed to several reasons for this, including increasing numbers of fishers over the past forty years, lack of appropriate fishing vessels for accessing offshore fisheries, and limits on agriculture in coastal areas due to the salinity of coral rag soils (Silva 2006; Leon et al. 2004). Some have also attributed it to increases in tourism, and the associated rise in demand for fish (Jacquet and Zeller 2007). Conservationists consider one of the most pressing issues to be the use of DFG by inshore fishers (Katikiro and Mahenge 2016; Slade and Kalangahe 2015; Cinner 2010; Wells 2009). [Table 1] summarises the types of fishing gear commonly used in inshore coral reef fisheries in Tanzania, as well as their environmental impacts and legal statuses. As depicted in the table, I follow Silva's (2006) distinctions of which types of gear are considered destructive to coral reef ecosystems from a conservationist standpoint. I focus in particular on the use of beach seine nets, fine-mesh nets, dynamite, and spear-guns.
Table 1: Types of Fishing Gear Used in Inshore Fisheries in Tanzania

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The use of DFG by inshore fishers has been considered by conservationists to be a significant problem in coastal Tanzania since the 1980s.2 To curb such practices, the Government of Tanzania enacted the 'Marine Parks and Reserves Act' in 1994, and subsequently implemented a series of state-run MPAs in coastal waters. In total, Tanzania has 18 (no-take) marine reserves and three (multiple-use) marine parks. The long-term efficacy of this approach to eliminating DFG use in Tanzania's inshore fisheries, however, remains in question (Kincaid et al. 2014; Moshy et al. 2015; Mwaipopo 2008).

   Methodology Top

Study Area – MBREMP

The MBREMP is Tanzania's second marine park, modelled after the well-known Mafia Island Marine Park. The MBREMP is located in the rural Mtwara district, along Tanzania's southeastern coastline. The main objective of the MBREMP is to protect the ecological integrity of the marine environment (MLFD 2011). The park extends from Msangamkuu village on the northern side of the Mtwara Peninsula to the Ruvuma River in the south, which marks the Tanzania-Mozambique border. The park was gazetted in 2000 and currently spans 650km 2. It encompasses both terrestrial and marine areas, including mangrove wetlands, sand dunes, forests, coral reefs, and estuaries (Machumu and Yakupitiyage 2013; Kamat 2014). The marine areas are considered by biologists to be of critical importance for marine biodiversity (Obura 2004). However, the coral reef ecosystems inside the park have been overexploited by inshore fishers (Obura 2004). [Figure 1] and [Figure 2] show the MBREMP's location.
Figure 1: Location of MBREMP. Figure reprinted from Geoforum, 100(1), Justin Raycraft 'Circumscribing Communities: Marine Conservation and Territorialization in Southeastern Tanzania, 128-143, Copyright (2019), with permission from Elsevier

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Figure 2: Map of study area. Figure reprinted from Geoforum, 100(1), Justin Raycraft 'Circumscribing Communities: Marine Conservation and Territorialization in Southeastern Tanzania, 128-143, Copyright (2019), with permission from Elsevier. Map produced by author with spatial information/data from Muir 2004, MLFD 2011, Google Maps 2017

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As a state-run MPA, the MBREMP is governed by the Board of Trustees for Marine Parks and Reserves, a government body which makes all decisions regarding the park's management priorities. Park management is carried out by the Marine Parks and Reserves Unit (MPRU), together with a warden-in-charge, a team of professional staff and six park rangers. The WWF and World Bank conducted initial ecological surveys of the area prior to park formation, and the planning and implementation stages of the park were funded by the IUCN and the UNDP. However, park governance is now squarely under the MPRU, and these non-state actors are no longer involved.

Most coastal villagers were not provided an opportunity to participate in park planning processes. During the park planning stages, workshops were carried out with technical advisors from the IUCN, UNDP, government officials and various other stakeholders to produce the General Management Plan (GMP) for the park. Villagers, however, were only provided a forum to discuss the plan once it had been produced.

The park was originally designed as a multiple-use MPA, which afforded park residents resource access rights in relation to a zoning scheme. Zones were classified on paper in accordance with the initial ecological surveys of the area, taking into account marine biodiversity, degree of degradation of each area, and allegedly, the use patterns of local fishers (MLFD 2011). [Table 2] shows the types of fishing gear that are prohibited inside the park, in relation to park zones. However, various management constraints in practice have led rangers to focus on confiscating DFG that is banned throughout the park's entire catchment area (see Raycraft 2019: 137).
Table 2: Fishing regulations for residents of the MBREMP

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The MBREMP also purports to prioritise local economic development through ecotourism and Alternative Income Generating Activities (AIGAs). Villagers are supposed to receive trickle-down income from park entrance fees, and tourism-related employment. Some of the proposed AIGAs include mariculture, bee-keeping, chicken rearing, vegetable gardening, gear exchanges and fishing grants. However, AIGAs have been unevenly distributed across villages. Furthermore, Katikiro (2016) shows that almost all participants in these AIGA projects reported that the AIGAs were 'allocated inappropriately,' and the projects were not sufficient for offsetting losses from fishing (22).

Ethnographic Context

In total, 23 villages are located within the catchment area of the MBREMP. Most villagers practice Islam and self-identify as Makonde, the most populous ethnic group in the Mtwara region (Liebenow 1971). Villagers speak KiMakonde and KiSwahili, often code-switching between the two depending on social context.

The vast majority of villagers live below the poverty line. Social conditions of poverty in rural Mtwara have roots in the colonial era, beginning with the German administration's selective neglect of the region in the early 1900s (Wembah-Rashid 1998). The district and regional boundaries implemented by the colonial administration, coupled with the Rufiji River floodplain that formed a natural boundary between the northeastern and southeastern regions, exacerbated this dichotomy between the development of the north, and the underdevelopment of the southeast (see Wembah-Rashid 1998: 44). This was followed by continued disregard during the British regime, punctuated by an ephemeral bout of interest in the area in the late 1940s given its potential for groundnut production for export. The now-infamous Nachingwea groundnut project of 1949, however, failed entirely, cuing the British administration to withdraw financial resources from southeastern Tanzania, leaving the region utterly underserviced (Rizzo 2006). The result of this colonial history has been the construction of rural Mtwara as a sociopolitical 'periphery' relative to the rest of the state (Seppälä 1998). This historical backdrop, together with the increasing constraints on the peasantry felt throughout rural Tanzania during the post-independence socialist and neoliberal eras, frames the current political economy of everyday life in rural Mtwara.

I carried out this study in Msimbati, a seafront village located between Mnazi Bay and the Ruvuma Estuary, surrounded by an expansive network of mangrove wetlands. Msimbati is the largest village on the Mtwara Peninsula, with a population of approximately 10,000 people. According to oral accounts from elders in Msimbati, the original inhabitants of the village arrived from Mozambique roughly 200 years ago, and have exercised customary rights to fishing and harvesting since then. Nowadays, most villagers engage in livelihoods involving artisanal fishing of coral reef fish (men), shoreline harvesting of crustaceans (women), and small-scale farming (men and women).

Methods for Data Collection

I conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Msimbati between August-October of 2014 and July-August of 2015, where I primarily engaged in participant observation. I lived in a shared homestead with a family of five, and attempted to immerse myself in the intricacies of everyday life in Msimbati. I spent many days observing inshore fishing practices from the beaches of Msimbati, and often joined fishers on fishing trips in their dug-out canoes. Given by background as a scuba diver, I was particularly interested in observing the types of gear fishers were using in the inshore coral reef fishery.

During this time, I also conducted in-depth interviews (40) and Focus Group Discussions (FGD)s (4) with villagers. Based on a convenience sampling method, I recruited interviewees and focus group participants in consultation with village leaders. I conducted interviews and FGDs in KiSwahili, with the assistance of a male and a female field assistant. Interviews and FGDs generally spanned around forty-five minutes to an hour. In total, 20 men and 20 women of mixed ages were interviewed, and four FGDs were carried out with six participants in each group (two groups of men, and two groups of women). Study participants were asked about their livelihoods, their perceptions of the fishing gear regulations, and whether they had received benefits from the park. Interviews and FGDs were recorded with a digital audio recorder and transcribed verbatim into written KiSwahili. Key quotes from the transcriptions were extracted, translated into written English, and organised thematically for this paper. In the subsequent sections, I also draw from document analysis of relevant ethnographic and fisheries studies undertaken in rural Mtwara, which I use to situate my own observations of marine resource-use inside the MBREMP across a broader temporal scale.

   Conserving Poverty Top

The Everyday Difficulties of Hand-Line Fishing

While I was conducting fieldwork in mid-July of 2014, a young man named Dula 3 routinely assisted my host family with household chores from Monday to Saturday in exchange for a room to sleep. Dula was eighteen years old and had finished high school, but had not been able to find formal employment. He had no disposable income, and could not afford further education. Every Sunday, Dula walked to Mnazi Bay to fish for chaa (Mojarra), a species of fish that was not available along the shores of Msimbati. On one occasion, he invited me along.

As we began the eight kilometre walk from Msimbati to Mnazi Bay along the beach, I made note of the temperature – 34 degrees and quite humid. The walk took two hours, and along the way, we saw groups of women and children collecting sea cucumbers and crustaceans in the shallow waters, while young men with fishing spears patrolled tide pools in search of octopus. Just a few weeks prior, I had witnessed a pair of young men dynamite fishing from a canoe, about 200 feet from that same shoreline (see Raycraft 2018a). As we walked, I asked Dula whether people here used dynamite to fish. He promptly replied, 'Hapana' (No). I continued, 'Lakini, nilimwona mtu anatumia baruti hapa tu (But I saw a man using bombs right here). I pointed out a couple hundred metres from Msimbati beach. 'Mm wanakuja kwa Msangamkuu' (mm they come from Msangamkuu village). This was the common response that I got whenever I asked someone about dynamite fishing in Msimbati. People always replied that they come from that village just over there, but not this one. Dula gave a small, but telling sideways glance. I asked, 'je, kwanini watu wanatumia baruti?' (why do people use dynamite?). He sighed and gave a somewhat subdued response: 'kwasababu, watu wengine wanahitaji hela. Watu wengi hapa wana njaa' (Because some people need money. Many people here are hungry). Against the backdrop of no formal employment opportunities, dynamite fishing offers a potentially rapid route to earn income that can be used to buy basic life necessities.

When we arrived at Mnazi Bay, Dula walked up to one of the countless coconut trees along the shore (Mnazi is KiSwahili for coconuts). He reached for some low-lying leaves and chopped them down with a machete. He then started carefully carving them into sharp chopstick-like pieces. At first, I did not understand what he was trying to accomplish. After he had produced a couple small, sharp sticks of various sizes, he walked back to the shoreline where the tides were low. He began scanning the surface of the sand for small holes, occasionally stopping and sticking his newly-fashioned tools into some of the openings. The first few times, nothing happened, and he continued searching for more holes. Then, following one of his retrievals, I noticed there was a sizeable sea-worm stuck neatly to the end of the stick. I realised he was gathering bait.

He continued gathering worms for half an hour, before deciding he had enough to work with. He then returned to his palm tree leaves and began carving them into four-foot sticks, with small v-cut notches in the top. He made four of them. When he was finished, he planted them in the sand, about twenty feet apart from each other. He then proceeded to pull out four basic hand-lines, each rolled around a small stick. After hooking a worm on the end of each line and casting them out about ten feet from the shore, he stuck his home-made stick-reels into the notches at the top of his standing rods. 'Sasa tunasubiri' (now we wait).

Curious to understand the conditions he was fishing in, I took to the water with my diving mask. As I swam down the shore, well away from his lines, I noted the sandy substrate and absence of coral. I spotted several chaa along the bottom, not far from the shore. They were small, but chaa were known to be considerably 'meaty' as compared to pono (parrot fish). I saw one up close, and could not help but think, 'all this effort for this little thing?'

As I emerged from the water, I immediately noticed a park ranger on the beach walking towards Dula, so I quietly sat on the beach about fifteen feet behind them. The park ranger either did not notice me, or did not have any interest in speaking with me. The two exchanged words, and the ranger left soon after. I asked Dula what it was about, and he explained 'hamna shida, naweza kupata samaki hapa kwasababu ninatokea Msimbati, na ninatumia mshipi' (it's no problem, I'm allowed to get fish here because I'm from Msimbati and I'm using a short hand-line). Since he was a park resident, and was using a non-destructive type of gear, there was no issue with him fishing there. 'That's great,' I thought to myself, as my mental imaginary of cold-hearted conservation enforcement began to fade from my mind. But as we continued to wait for a bite, I realised that the constraints in this case were not engendered by the top-down enforcement of fishing gear regulations, but by the everyday difficulties of fishing using non-destructive gear. In total, we waited for four hours on the beach without getting a single bite. As he began reeling in his lines, I looked over at him. He shrugged and said, 'maisha magumu bwana' (Life is hard man). Hungry and tired, we spent the next two hours walking slowly back to Msimbati. In total, we had been out for eight hours without catching anything, and by the time we arrived back at the homestead, night had swept over the village.

While conservationists emphasise the benefits of fishing sustainably, this ethnographic vignette demonstrates how difficult this can be for villagers in practice. Dula had no start-up capital, and could not afford to buy or rent equipment for accessing offshore fisheries. While short hand-lines are certainly a sustainable form of fishing, they are inefficient in production terms. Dula's 'empty-handed' experience was not an anomaly, but the norm for short hand-line fishers in Msimbati. Most of my participatory ventures in canoes with hand-line fishers garnered minimal to no catches. When I asked fishers whether it was unusual that they weren't getting any bites, fishers often attributed it to the depressed state of inshore fish stocks. “Samaki hamna, kama kawaida” (no fish, as usual) the fishers would remark dejectedly. In a contemporary context, fishing for reef fish using short hand-lines is an insecure livelihood strategy for villagers living inside the MBREMP.

The difficulties of fishing sustainably in conditions of poverty and declining fish stocks render the prospect of dynamite fishing attractive to some youth living inside the MBREMP. Guard and Masiaganah (1997) very effectively summed up this predicament for young fishers in rural Mtwara over twenty years ago, prior to the MBREMP's establishment. As they write,

'local youth now find little reason and motivation to accumulate the capital to purchase conventional fishing gear […] This is further reinforced by the fact that as fish populations are depleted as a result of dynamite use, traditional fishing effort has to increase to maintain catch size. As traditional fishermen struggle to make an income, they see their fellow dynamite fishermen making more money with relatively little effort, and as such the use of dynamite becomes a more attractive option' (Guard and Masiaganah 1997: 761).

This predicament is even more pressing today, despite the implementation of the park. My observations of fisher behaviour inside the MBREMP still reveal a consequential dilemma facing many impoverished youths: fishing with sustainable gear serves to protect the long-term productivity of the inshore fishery, but using DFG can provide a means of generating significant profits in a relatively short period of time. In the case of dynamite, and several other types of gear, very little start-up capital is required. Compared to entire days spent fishing with hand-lines over blast-battered reefs, the decision to use DFG becomes rather simple for many youths living in the park.

Most of the young fishers I interacted with during my fieldwork were less eager than Dula to spend an entire day using basic types of equipment that they felt to be inefficient. These boys were thrifty, clever and highly resourceful. When I joined them on small fishing ventures from the shoreline of Msimbati, I noticed immediately that they were quick in their movements, catching fish swiftly with their snorkeling masks and (illegal) homemade spear-guns, fashioned from the inner tubing of bicycle tires. Unlike Dula, who could not even afford a snorkel mask, these boys generated relatively consistent income from fishing. Their spear-gun catches, usually comprising small reef fish, were fried and sold directly along the streets of Msimbati for 1000 Tsh (50 cents) or less (see [Figure 3]).
Figure 3: Young fishers selling fried reef fish in Msimbati (photo by author)

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Larger pelagic catches, while relatively rare, were brought to market in Mtwara town, where they were sold for higher prices, often to wealthy traders. I occasionally joked with these boys over a bowl of chipsi mayai (chips with eggs) at the small roadside chips stand in the village. 'CCM' we chirped with a laugh, as we offered fries to each other. While the acronym CCM refers to Tanzania's dominant ruling party, 'Chama Cha Mapinduzi,' when used idiomatically, it stands for 'Chukua chako mapema,' which essentially means 'get yours before someone else gets theirs.' Thus, it is playful jab at real, or imagined, governmental corruption. While anecdotal, these everyday interactions highlighted to me a way of thinking that seemed to mirror my observations of DFG use inside the MBREMP. As I interpret them, they provide small social snapshots of the current disintegrated state of customary marine tenure practices in Msimbati, and the short-term mentality of using DFG to 'get yours' before someone else does.

Breakdowns in Customary Marine Tenure Practices

To understand how and why this mindset has become entrenched in the subjectivities of these young fishers, it is important to consider the historical political economy of inshore fishing in Msimbati. Prior to, and throughout the colonial era (1884-1960), fishing in Msimbati was characterised by the use of traps, weirs and hooks, and was carried out mainly for subsistence purposes (Katikiro et al. 2014). During this period, the inshore fishery centred on the subsistence harvest of sea cucumbers, lobster, fish, shrimp and shoreline crustaceans (Katikiro et al. 2014). Access to the fishery was governed by customary institutions, and fishing activities were carried out communally by families, rather than individual fishers (Katikiro et al. 2014). During my conversations with elder artisanal fishers in Msimbati, some elders recalled these customary dimensions of marine management, which involved reciprocity, rotation of fishing spots, and selective fishing. Nowadays, young fishers are less specific in the species they target, largely as a consequence of declining fish stocks (see [Figure 4]).
Figure 4: Multispecies fish catch in the inshore fishery of Msimbati using seine nets and gill nets (photo by author)

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Marine resource-use during this period was regulated based on family and tribal affiliations, and practices of environmental care were passed down inter-generationally. As Katikiro et al. (2014) write, 'emphasis was given to reciprocal rather than individual resource accumulation' (103).

The traditional social fabric of the inshore fishery in Msimbati remained relatively unchanged throughout the socialist period. Constrictive state policies limiting foreign exchange rendered the import of fishing equipment difficult. Trade restrictions also minimised the export of marine fish. Increased in-migration of fishers from inland during this time began to increase pressure on the inshore fishery in Msimbati. However, overall, it remained underexploited (Katikiro et al. 2014).

Structural adjustment policies at the state-level in the 1980s were associated with significant changes to the inshore fishery in Msimbati. Liberalisation of trade increased fish exports and facilitated the import of more efficient types of equipment (Katikiro et al. 2014). As the local economy became monetised, fishing became an important source of income (Cinner et al. 2011). The fishery became an 'open-access business' (Jiddawi and Ohman 2002: 519). Liberalisation promoted an ideology of individual 'responsibilisation,' that emphasised individual agency, and the imperative for citizens to take direct measures to pursue personal prosperity and health security (Shamir 2008). Customary institutions that shaped the inshore fishery in Msimbati in pre-colonial and colonial times became replaced by individualised models of fishing catered towards the generation of material benefits for fishers. Katikiro et al. (2014) show that the changes in the inshore fishery of Msimbati were intertwined with diminishing respect for customs and elders. As they write, since the 1980s, 'customary marine tenure practices have been abandoned' (106).

As a consequence of this transition to an open-access fishery, spurred by marketisation, notions of stewardship and communal ownership of marine resources became replaced by a youthful mentality of 'getting yours before someone else does.' In their paper on dynamite fishing in coastal Tanzania, Slade and Kalangahe (2015) present a key quote from a Government Fisheries Officer in Mtwara, which effectively outlines this open-access mindset among young fishers. As quoted in the text, 'they feel the natural resources are not theirs. People don't cut down their own cashew trees to get cashew nuts. We need to convince people that the resources are theirs. The message is not “not to use,” but “to use wisely” as it belongs to them' (492–493). As this quote suggests, young fishers attempt to extract benefits from the fishery through destructive means, thinking that they are not the ones who bear the costs of such actions. This way of thinking has become etched into the subjectivities of many of the young fishers I interacted with in Msimbati. Because of these changes, DFG use in the inshore fishery of Msimbati has increased significantly since the 1980s (Katikiro et al. 2014). As inshore fish stocks began to decline, competition for scarce resources began to rise, further increasing local anthropogenic pressure on the fishery.

Also bearing on the situation is the lack of alternative income-generating opportunities for people in Msimbati. Since the 1980s, fishing has been the primary source of income for most villagers. As one of my interviewees explained, 'Our main job in this village is fishing. This provides our only income.' Declining inshore fish stocks, coupled with a general lack of other income-generating activities for people living in rural Mtwara created widespread conditions of economic hardship in Msimbati that are still present today. With limited formal employment opportunities, most coastal villagers on the Mtwara Peninsula are forced to exercise their agency in relation to the structural constraints established by state-level policies by relying heavily on marine resources for food and income. Young fishers in Msimbati, who have grown up in this new political and economic climate, and who have little 'capital invested in the fishery,' (Cinner 2010: 21) may resort to spear-guns and dynamite as a direct means of attaining income used for securing basic material needs. Income generated from fish sales can be used to buy rice for 1500Tsh (70 cents) per kilo, or red kidney beans for 2000 Tsh (90 cents) per kilo in the village shops. While such practices may have short-term gains, however, they can have lasting negative social and ecological consequences for the inshore fishery.

My point here is that the observable use of DFG inside the MBREMP is embedded within a wider political economy that has shaped marine resource-use throughout history. In particular, marketisation of the local economy over the past 30 years has led to breakdowns in customary marine tenure practices (Katikiro et al. 2014). Long-standing conditions of poverty further exacerbate the need to engage in short-term survival strategies to generate income.

Material Needs and Moral Rights to Fish

Simply pointing to poverty as the core driver of DFG use inside the MBREMP, however, runs the risk of overlooking important sociocultural nuances that are nested within this political and economic landscape of development. As stated previously, most inshore fishers in Msimbati strongly feel that they have customary rights to fish, given the presence of Makonde people in Msimbati for almost 200 years. However, the kinds of equipment deemed to be traditional have changed throughout history. While villagers accept spear-guns and dynamite to be non-traditional and destructive, many elder artisanal fishers assert that seine and gill nets are traditional because they have been using them from dug-out canoes for approximately forty years. As Cinner et al. (2011) show, inshore fishers in Tanzania generally 'amplify,' rather than 'dampen' their fishing activities in the face of fish stock declines (7). When inshore fish stocks began to decline significantly in the 1980s, nets became increasingly necessary for fisher livelihoods (Katikiro et al. 2014). This is particularly significant because, as I realised through my everyday interactions with villagers, most people in Msimbati assert a general community-defined moral right to fish using gear that they deem necessary for subsistence. Elder artisanal fishers in Msimbati have been invested in the inshore fishery for most of their lives, and uphold an ethos of sustainable marine resource-use. They maintain that two-inch mesh-size nets are wholly necessary for their livelihoods, and that they use them in sustainable ways. Thus, they consider the use of such nets to be both traditional and a moral right (see [Figure 5]). This, however, undermines the conservationist claim that small mesh-size nets create conditions for 'fishing down' the food web by targeting smaller fish (Silva 2006).
Figure 5: Fishers using beach seine nets in shallow waters near Msimbati (photo by author)

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Women, who are also actively involved in the inshore fishery, have been using cloth-dress nets to gather prawns and small fish in knee-deep water for at least a century. This form of shallow-water harvesting, or tandillo fishing, is also considered traditional. Villagers and conservationists generally accept the use of traps, basic spears, hand-lines, and large mesh-size seine and gill nets as traditional and sustainable (Gawler and Muhando 2004). However, villagers also consider fine-mesh nets to be traditional, though they are considered by conservationists to be destructive. From villagers' perspectives, these nets are essential for the fulfilment of basic material needs, so they exercise a moral right to use them.

Tandillo fishing offers a particularly textured focal point for this discussion in that its drivers are diverse and interwoven. Many women in Msimbati continue to tandillo fish along the shores of Msimbati, despite the prohibition of fine-mesh nets inside the park. Rather than hiding such actions, women form large groups in the shallow waters near Msimbati beach and harvest in broad daylight. As Asha, a female elder, explained during an in-depth interview, many people in Msimbati continue to tandillo fish out of economic necessity,

We continue using fine-mesh nets, even though the marine park put restrictions on this because we have so many financial responsibilities, like paying school fees for children and buying household supplies. For these reasons, we will continue to use the nets of two inches [mesh-size].

On one level, Asha's response emphasises economic hardship as a driving cause of non-compliance to the mesh-size regulations. Her perspective mirrors that of many other interviewees, who also alluded to the conditions of poverty that shape their everyday lives. Asha mentions the important considerations that factor into her private calculations of the material benefits of tandillo fishing, such as the cost of school fees for children and household supplies. The need to pay school fees in particular must be contextualised relative to state-level neoliberal reforms.

At the same time, however, it is important not to underestimate the implicit symbolism of these acts, given their public visibility and location inside the MBREMP; tandillo fishing also reflects a political stance on the moral rights of villagers to engage in subsistence livelihood practices. While focused on the economic drivers of tandillo fishing, Asha also went on to criticise the purported legitimacy of the mesh-size regulations. In doing so, she makes a moral commentary on the rights of villagers to utilise marine resources to fulfil their subsistence needs. The regulations on fine-mesh nets violate their basic rights to subsistence, and thus the decision to continue to use prohibited nets is morally justified. Asha continued,

Even if the marine park catches a fisherman today and takes his net, the next day that same fisherman will buy another net, so there is no end to this. But what can I say? Our husbands don't have the equipment to go fishing in deeper waters, so we have a difficult life. The problem is with the marine park because they restrict the fishermen, and yet offer no solutions. So, this will continue.

By stating that 'the problem is with the marine park,' Asha implies that people's decisions to continue using prohibited nets are legitimate, while the restrictions on such practices are not. In her view, villagers are not committing wrongdoings by not adhering to the mesh-size regulations, as they are exercising their moral right to engage in basic acts of subsistence. Most people in Msimbati feel that they should be entitled to fish and harvest as needed, as these are fundamental components of their livelihood and way of life; from villagers' perspectives, engaging in such practices is a moral right, while overly regulating them is immoral and unjust. Thus, villagers simultaneously make an assessment of the potential material benefits of using fine-mesh nets, while also exercising their community-defined moral entitlement to engage in basic subsistence practices. In this way, the use of fine-mesh nets inside the MBREMP can be both morally and materially motivated.

Marine Conservation and Increasing Socioeconomic Constraints

Given the multiplicity of factors underlying the use of DFG inside the MBREMP, the question of how to curb such practices from a conservation standpoint is deeply challenging to address. My practical stance is that marine conservation efforts in Msimbati should aim to fulfill villagers' basic material needs. While the MBREMP's management plan claims to prioritise poverty alleviation in the form of AIGAs and ecotourism-related employment, almost all study participants reported experiencing no economic benefits from the establishment of the park. Other studies have demonstrated similar findings in the Mafia Island Marine Park (MIMP). As Moshy et al. (2015) show, fishers living inside the MIMP reported increasing poverty as a result of the livelihood restrictions. Unfortunately, such insights were not applied in managing the MBREMP. As one of my interviewees lamented, 'Our main livelihood activity here is fishing. Now we have the marine park in our village. This project has caused our income to fall because we are not getting many fish anymore.' None of my study participants reported experiencing significant benefits from park AIGAs. Most said that they were not receiving employment through the park, and were not receiving trickle-down benefits from park entrance fees and tourism revenue. One of the park's major development interventions for villagers, a community bank (VICOBA), was initially proposed as a means for villagers to pool money together to fund village development. However, several study participants explained that VICOBA has had mixed success thus far because many villagers lack the start-up capital to make contributions.

Furthermore, rather than addressing the underlying causes of DFG use, the park's fishing gear regulations exacerbate villagers' lived experiences of poverty. Study participants continually explained that the regulations made life much more difficult. Elder artisanal fishers particularly resented the fact that their two-inch mesh-size nets were prohibited inside the park, and would be confiscated by rangers if used. While park rangers are required to replace confiscated nets with ones that are deemed sustainable by marine biologists, one elder fisher described the fundamental problem with this process for villagers,

Sometimes, they give a net of four inches [mesh-size]. But these nets can only be used in deep waters, and you cannot fish in deep waters with small boats. We cannot afford to buy big boats, so these big nets are useless to us.

As this statement reveals, most villagers cannot afford to buy or rent the bigger boats that are prerequisites for fishing with nets deemed ecologically sustainable by park officials. Put differently, those without access to adequate boats are disproportionately affected by the restrictions on net mesh-sizes, as they are unable to effectively utilise the larger nets (see [Figure 6]).4 As such, the acts of repossessing small-mesh nets can serve to deepen pre-existing inequalities by increasing the economic burden on those who are already impoverished.5
Figure 6: Boat sizes in Msimbati determine fisheries access, given the potential for rough seas. In Msimbati, most fishers use two-man dug-out canoes like the one pictured in the foreground, and are limited to the shallow-water fishery (photo by author)

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The negative socioeconomic impacts of these regulations ripple throughout the families of fishers. Somoye, an elder woman in Msimbati, explained how the net confiscations have in turn hindered her grandchild from attending school,

The marine park does not bring us any benefits, only disadvantages. My son is a fisherman. He depends on fishing activities to get income and pay his child's school fees. One day, when my son went fishing, the marine park rangers caught him and took his nets. This meant that he lost his source of income. At school, the teachers asked for the school fees so that his child could write exams. Because he could not pay, the child was not able to write exams [...] this is a loss for the child and for the whole family.

Somoye's narrative depicts the ways in which the confiscation of fishing nets affects entire families, both economically and socially. While the confiscation of nets has immediate economic impacts, it also carries significant socioeconomic consequences for future generations. Income generated from fishing contributes to educating children, potentially preparing them for formal employment in adulthood. Significantly, very few students proceed past primary school. During my fieldwork, I continually noticed large groups of children loitering around the village on weekdays, yet another visible indicator of poverty and structural constraint.

   Discussion Top

This case study shows the limitations of protectionist MPAs. Top-down fishing restrictions are likely to have limited long-term success unless they effectively consider the social, political and economic contexts in which they are situated. In this case, the fishing regulations are incongruous with the socioeconomic landscape of the local inshore fishery, and have been implemented in a manner that fails to take into account the historical context of DFG use. In short, my emergent perspective on top-down MPAs is a critical one: I believe they are short-sighted, high-handed solutions to complex issues.

Thinking practically about potential amendments to the park, some immediate rectifications may help it realise its overarching goals. First, park officials must reconcile their relationships with local elders. The two sets of actors share some common ground in their views of dynamite and spear-gun fishing. Given this shared basic objective, there is potential room for negotiation to meet mutually shared objectives moving forward. For example, less restrictive regulations on net fishing may foster greater compliance from local fishers. Additionally, long-term examination of the exact ecological impacts of net fishing in the study area, carried out in collaboration with local fishers who view nets as traditional, could help determine the degree to which the classification of nets as destructive may be overblown, and perhaps political (Roeger et al. 2016; Clifton and Foale 2017; Gray 2016). The endeavour could help to refine the fishing regulations in a way that is mutually accepted by local fishers and park officials, perhaps ensuring greater social-ecological sustainability in the long-term.

Second, the process for establishing future conservation interventions must be rectified to be more participatory from the perspectives of local fishers (Voyer et al. 2012; Voyer et al. 2015). Rather than a model where a few select village representatives were able to view and comment on the park's GMP after it had been drafted by technical experts, the process should have comprised much greater representation of local fishers to enable them to state the importance of net fishing to their livelihoods (Mwanjela and Lokina 2016). This approach could have fostered trust, rather than frustration and noncompliance (see Bennett and Dearden 2014b; Chaigneau and Brown 2016).

Third, the park faces serious problems with its proposed AIGAs, and offsets for fisheries-related income losses (Katikiro 2016). For coastal villagers, a general lack of start-up capital serves as a significant barrier to entry. This phenomenon serves as a reminder that the park is emplaced within a wider political and economic context characterised by everyday conditions of poverty. Unfortunately, such problems are structurally rooted, which poses great practical constraints for MPA policy-makers in Tanzania.

While these recommendations above may improve the MPA's effectiveness, the central purpose of this paper is not to offer quick fixes to this particular MPA. Rather, it is to make a wider point about the need to situate the implementation of MPAs in relation to political, economic, and sociocultural context, if they are to be effective. While this consideration is well-established in critical political ecology literature, I argue that greater heed must be paid to the ethnographic textures of poverty for people affected by MPAs. As I have shown, destructive fishing in this study area is nuanced by macro-level historical processes, community-level cultural practices, and individual subjectivities. Such considerations pose stark challenges to the implementation of an externally-designed MPA from above. This approach is constitutive of a 'bandage' solution that is unlikely to succeed in the long-term (Raycraft 2018b: 478).

Extrapolating from Pendleton et al.'s (2018) call for increased social monitoring inside MPAs to evaluate their effectiveness, I have spoken to the importance of taking an anthropological approach in conceptualising why some MPAs fail to realise their conservation objectives. While Hilborn (2018) and others have suggested that MPAs may be effective ways to eliminate destructive fishing practices in the absence of other types of fisheries management, I hold that MPAs run the risk of failure insofar as they do not address the underlying reasons why people are fishing in destructive ways in the first place. If people are fishing destructively to ensure their basic needs are met, they will likely continue to do so until presented with compelling livelihood alternatives. This consideration is even more pressing in contexts where capacity for top-down MPA management is inadequate (Gill et al. 2017).

   Conclusion Top

The use of DFG inside the MBREMP has complex historical roots. Social conditions of poverty, initially established in the colonial era, and deepened during the socialist and neoliberal periods, are still visible in the everyday lives of coastal villagers. Structural adjustment policies in the 1980s led to marketisation of the local economy, and in turn, significant social and ecological changes to the inshore fishery (Katikiro et al. 2014). Against the backdrop of limited alternative income-generating opportunities, coastal villagers began to rely heavily on the inshore fishery to generate income. Individualised profit-oriented models of fishing replaced customary marine tenure practices that had been in place for approximately two hundred years (Katikiro et al. 2014). The use of DFG in the inshore fishery increased considerably at that time.

Adding further nuance, villagers assert community-defined moral rights to fish for the fulfilment of basic material needs. As fish stocks declined in the 1980s, fishers increased efforts by utilizing more efficient types of gear, such as seine and gill nets (Katikiro et al. 2014). Inshore fishers in Msimbati consider the use of fine-mesh nets to be morally acceptable, given their increasing importance for subsistence livelihood. Thus, there is an apparent conflict between conservationists and villagers over the acceptability of fine-mesh nets in the inshore fishery. Villagers' use of fine-mesh nets has some customary roots (tandillo fishing), and is carried out on a moral basis relative to the changing marine ecology and material conditions of everyday life.

While the MBREMP purports to prioritise poverty alleviation, its interventions do not adequately benefit ordinary villagers. Its fishing gear regulations may actually deepen pre-existing structural inequalities and further impoverish people who are already marginalised by colonial and post-independence state-level development policies. By representing the material needs of villagers as separable from the ecological integrity of the marine resources that have historically sustained them, the MBREMP's top-down approach to marine conservation increases peoples' lived experiences of economic vulnerability. Thus, the MBREMP does not address the underlying reasons why villagers utilise DFG. Instead, it may inadvertently exacerbate their perceived need to exploit marine resources.

Moving forward, MPAs in Tanzania need to be implemented in a way that is better attuned to the historical political and economic contexts in which they are situated. On a theoretical level, the narrative that state-run MPAs can serve to eliminate the use of DFG in Tanzania's inshore fisheries currently overemphasises the individual agency of fishers in relation to the structural constraints on social behaviour imposed by everyday conditions of poverty. To better address this issue, I propose that MPAs in coastal Tanzania be squarely focused on providing long-term economic support to communities to reduce pressure on inshore fisheries. Perhaps donor-funded endowment funds that pay communities regular cash dividends (without compromising the principal investment) would constitute a more effective approach than protectionist MPAs. I am confident that coastal villagers would be more inclined to fish sustainably if their basic material needs were met on a consistent basis. Until these practical conditions are realised, however, the use of DFG is likely to persist, despite the increasing number of MPAs that are being implemented in coastal waters.

   Acknowledgements Top

Ethics approval for this study was issued by the UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board (approval number H14-01713). The permit to conduct research in Tanzania was issued by the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) (research permit number 2013-240-ER-2008-68). Fieldwork for this article was made possible by a Joseph Armand Bombardier CGS-M scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The author was supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship while preparing the manuscript. The author is indebted to Vinay Kamat for his support as MA supervisor while carrying out this research. The author is also very grateful to John Galaty, Klerkson Lugusa, Jacques Pollini, Caroline Seagle, Kariuki Kirigia, Qiuyu Jiang, Lara Rosenoff Gauvin, Graham Fox, Leanne Ejack, and Kathleen Godfrey for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript, as well as to two anonymous reviewers from the journal, and subject editor Noella Gray, for their thoughtful comments during the review process. The author is affiliated with a research project at McGill University entitled 'the Institutional Canopy of Conservation: Governance and Environmentality in East Africa (ICAN),' an IUCN thematic working group focused on 'Cultural Practices in Ecosystem Management,' and a multidisciplinary research network called 'the Centre for Indigenous Conservation and Development Alternatives (CICADA).' The author takes full responsibility for the viewpoints in this article, and for any errors that may remain.

   Notes Top

  1. Following Silva's (2006) definition, I consider fishing gear to be 'environmentally destructive if their use results in large amounts of by-catch of non-target species or causes degradation of the coastal environment' (21).
  2. Some destructive forms of fishing have existed since the late nineteenth century, such as the use of ichthiotoxic plants (poison fishing) (Jacquet and Zeller 2007). Some fine-mesh nets were also used by inshore fishers prior to independence, though the use of nets was generally low. Dynamite fishing was first documented in the 1960s around Mafia Island, but became increasingly widespread in the 1970s and 1980s (Guard et al. 2000).
  3. All names in this paper are pseudonyms.
  4. Many of the fishers who own larger boats were able to rise in the socioeconomic system through fisheries-related trade. For example, one local elite in Msimbati made tremendous profits via cross-border sea cucumber trade. However, such practices are now prohibited by the park. Others in-migrated from elsewhere with other sources of capital. One resident of Msimbati, for instance, made profits from the gem stone trade in Tunduru. For most inshore fishers, however, the only possible pathway to buying the necessary equipment to access the offshore fisheries is through exploitation of the inshore fishery.
  5. Park officials have given two boats to fishers in Msimbati, though this number is inadequate for a population of 10,000 people.

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Woodcock, P., B.C. O'Leary, M.J. Kaiser, and A.S. Pullin. 2017. Your evidence or mine? systematic evaluation of reviews of marine protected area effectiveness. Fish and Fisheries 18(4): 668–681.  Back to cited text no. 69


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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