IV. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
3. Custom marine tenure systems: a valuable resource management tool
The exploitation of marine resources is interwoven with aspects of local culture, tradition, and knowledge that vary greatly from place to place.
When fisheries legislation and regulations are inconsistent with already established approaches to resource use and conservation, fishers may simply ignore them. In Pacific islands, the laws are difficult or impossible for the government to police and enforce. A South Pacific Commission's Inshore Fisheries Research Project special interest group on traditional marine resource management and knowledge found:
Giant clam farms are a case in point. When giant clams were planted by the government in several Pacific countries, the clams had to be kept close inshore and guarded to protect them from poachers, but on Yap, and in Vava'u, Tonga, giant clam farms have been able to survive in appropriate habitats with some assurance that the local community would protect them (Johannes et al 1993, Chesher 1993).
"Customary marine tenure is more than just a resource management tool. It is an important framework regulating social and political relationships and defining cultural identities. The physical, economic, and spiritual life of island communities is often centered on their natural resource system. This focus is sometimes so central to island villager's conceptions of themselves that alienation of their natural resources and tenured marine and terrestrial areas is unthinkable." Johannes et al 1993.
If national fisheries agencies work with customary marine tenure owners with sympathy and a good understanding of their problems and respect for their customs, the system offers a variety of important benefits. The research to evaluate these benefits requires social scientists as well as biologists.
In Oceania, fisheries resource assessment, monitoring and management is carried out by biologists. They descriptively study fish and other resources, but do not study people, their social settings and beliefs. Efforts to improve fisheries management have focused on designing quantitatively rigorous biological data gathering programs rather than the social dimensions of management research. Fisheries managers often believe the main obstacle to effective action is ignorance of resource dynamics and so have paid little attention to conflicts of interest among resource users.
Custom marine tenure systems do need a firm foundation of custom knowledge of ocean life systems. Unfortunately, much traditional knowledge has been lost as older keepers of the knowledge pass away in the fluid and changing world of modern education and mobile youth.
Involving communities, and especially schools, with the process of assessing and monitoring their own fishery resources offers a way of re-establishing and improving traditional resource knowledge. It also establishes and maintains links between individuals, local communities, and government agencies. Government officials in Samoa, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand are in the process of learning how to create and maintain village level resource assessment and monitoring groups. The results in Australia and New Zealand have been excellent, with people taking a new interest in their local environment. In Australia, for example, an estimated 80,000 people are active participants in environmental monitoring (Alexandra, J. et al. 1996).
The basic problems and policy issues of inshore fishery resources apply throughout the region. International organisations can make a significant contribution by providing educational materials to help government workers, fishery scientists, educators and NGOs learn how to facilitate community involvement in resource evaluation, monitoring and management.
Computer aided learning provides an excellent way of furthering this programme. Information can be posted on the Internet for anyone in the region who would like to participate in the activities.