Project

A Sea of Connections: Contextualising Fisheries in the South Pacific (SOCPacific)

Goal: The South Pacific region represents a unique context in which local communities and their political representatives are increasingly committed to integrated management of marine resources and spaces after a predicted dissolution of related community-based activities in the 1970s. This holds especially true for fisheries, the main field of activity in this oceanscape and a critical component of local livelihoods, national and regional economies, and global fish supplies. Fisheries remain one of the most important concerns on the national and regional policy agendas in the Pacific.
Recent studies have started to take into account the multi-faceted aspects of Pacific fisheries by articulating ecological and economic perspectives. Our project aims at broadening this endeavour by re-embedding coastal and oceanic fisheries in their wider context and
by exploring the large web of socio-cultural, geopolitical and policy connections within which fishing practices occur.
For this, we will conduct an interdisciplinary and multi-level analysis across diverse scales and dimensions of fisheries, fisheries management and marine governance in the South Pacific region, including local perceptions and practices, global changes and drivers, and national and regional management frameworks and strategies. This analysis will focus on three study areas: New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji where fieldwork periods will be conducted.
Three thematic areas will be at the core of the project’s cross-sectional investigations:
1) An environmental anthropology assessment of social values of places and resources in connection with offshore and inshore fisheries;
2) A socio-political ecology perspective on interwoven fisheries and conservation issues within marine protected areas;
3) A policy analysis of the inclusion of fisheries in marine spatial planning.
The project outcomes will be five-fold:
1) The production of policy briefs to be disseminated to regional stakeholders on these three thematic areas, with a spot-light on the neglected ‘sea of connections’ in which fisheries are embedded.
2) The production of knowledge exchange pathways between local marine resource users, local students and other stakeholders of South Pacific fisheries via, for instance, local perceptions of fishing activities in a broader context of natural resource uses and values,
conservation initiatives and issues, and conflicts related to boundaries.
3) The contribution to the advancement of cross-cutting knowledge in the multi-faceted field of fisheries management and marine governance.
4) The participation in the endeavour to build new forms of integrative governance of the sea including all stakeholders, and in which both Pacific countries and territories and the European Union are closely working together.
5) The strengthening of the existing working ties between the French and German partners, to complement respective national research landscapes.

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Project log

Annette Breckwoldt
added a research item
Coral reefs host exceptionally diverse and abundant marine life. Connecting coasts and sheltered lagoons to the open ocean, reef passages are important yet poorly studied components of these ecosystems. Abiotic and biotic elements ‘pass’ through these reef passages, supporting critical ecological processes (e.g. fish spawning). Reef passages provide multiple social and ecological benefits for islands and their peoples, but are so far neither characterized nor recognized for their multifaceted significance. This study investigated 113 reef passages across nine Pacific islands (Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu). GIS-based visual interpretations of satellite imagery were used to develop criteria to define three distinct types, mainly based on distance to coastline and presence/absence of an enclosed water body. The discussion identifies ways to refine and augment this preliminary typology as part of a research agenda for reef passages. With these next steps, this typology will be extendable to other regions to better document reef passages and their various roles, supporting biodiversity conservation and sustainable fisheries management.
Elodie Fache
added a research item
Many Pacific countries and territories embrace an officially recognized ‘ridge-to-reef’ approach to environmental management. This is the case of Fiji, where the Lau Seascape Strategy 2018–2030, led by Conservation International, aims for integrated natural resource management across 335 895 km ² . This area includes Cicia Island, which deserves particular attention since, years before the design of the Lau Seascape Strategy, its population developed its own informal ridge-to-reef scheme, involving a combination of certified organic agriculture and locally managed marine closures. Based on 1 month of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper presents this scheme and highlights local perception and conceptualization of its positive effects on both the land and the sea. These reflect the iTaukei (Indigenous Fijian) concept of vanua , which intrinsically connects the health of the land, the sea, and their (human and non-human) dwellers, while stressing the importance of addressing land-sea processes and management efforts beyond an ecological perspective, i.e. through an engagement with the iTaukei relational ontology.
Annette Breckwoldt
added a research item
Marine conservation transdisciplinary researchers often get to the field with a previously designed question, often formulated outside the actual geographical, social, cultural and ecological setting in which the research projects are supposed to be anchored. Involving people on the ground in the initial phase of formulating the questions and setting the research agenda is still uncommon. Once in the field, transdisciplinary researchers may or may not have the support of local communities to sample their data, although they will regularly need to count on these same communities if a collaborative regime is to be pursued and informed by the research outcome. This paper discusses measures that can be taken by marine fisheries and marine conservation researchers to improve participation in, and ownership of, the research by local counterparts, most importantly members of the communities where research is being conducted. The data was generated with a purposively sampled survey of 18 members of our research networks. Key proposed measures derived from this data include: (1) build rapport; (2) engage and exchange; (3) be accommodating and attentive; and (4) be respectful. Knowing who is asking the questions and assuring that all stakeholders have a voice in this process becomes especially relevant under extreme circumstances (e.g., disasters, pandemics), when problems are numerous but can only be accessed by those on the ground. We advise for faster progress in transforming academic and funding environments for true “level-playing-field” transdisciplinary and co-designed research projects that can help change top-down research tendencies.
Elodie Fache
added a research item
Over the last decades, the Pacific Ocean has been the locus of an unequalled rush for space and resources involving intertwined public and corporate interests, external powers, and Pacific Island states and territories. This rush is driven by three intersecting motivations aiming to: (1) exploit marine resources; (2) protect marine biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change; and (3) establish sovereignties over marine spaces. In this context, the fluidity of saltwater environments gives rise to specific issues of enforcement, control, and governance. This special issue examines these reconfigurations of/in the Pacific Ocean, stressing potentially conflicting frontier processes, in the light of a structuring tension between trends of ocean grabbing and ocean commoning.
Elodie Fache
added a research item
Based on the cross-referencing of ethnographic materials collected in Fiji and Vanuatu, this article explores the diverse ways faith and climate change are connected together and how these connections are sustained and transformed over time. It does so through the prism of three 'practices of assemblage' identified by Tania Murray Li, namely forging alignments, authorising knowledge, and reassembling. It emphasises the partnership and combined efficacy of faith-based organisations and the Bible in these practices, while revealing the role of various other actants including God, NGOs, youth activists, cyclones, a Ni-Vanuatu canoe, and Fiji's Presidency of COP23. This approach highlights the coexistence, in both Fiji and Vanuatu, of a religiously informed and adaptation-oriented environmental stewardship narrative, stressing human responsibility in the face of climate change, with a counter-narrative considering climate change as God's business. This coexistence sometimes creates tensions between worldly and religious responses to climate change. These different religious perspectives of climate change can also be deployed as a political resource in nation-building processes, regional power relations, and international climate negotiations. In Oceania indeed, climate change appears as a new arena in which the inextricable entanglement of Christianity and politics is revealed.
Xochitl Elías
added a research item
While categorized as Small Island Developing States, South Pacific Island nations are the custodians of major ocean areas containing marine resources of high commercial and environmental significance. Yet, these resources are threatened by climate change, overfishing, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, as well as habitat destruction. The study, carried out in the early stage of the interdisciplinary research project SOCPacific (https://socpacific.net), aims to: a) identify the main policies on which fisheries management is currently based in the South Pacific, particularly in Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu; b) investigate the evolution over time of key issues covered in these policies and related to coastal and/or offshore fisheries sectors; c) trace disconnections on the matter between legally binding instruments and non-binding strategies. A list of more than 200 documents relevant to regional fisheries management was gathered and separated into legally binding instruments and non-binding strategies. Legal instruments focused more on offshore issues (tuna fisheries and IUU fishing) and increasingly covered IUU fishing issues, confirming that tuna fisheries have an established hard policy arena. In strategies pertaining to coastal fisheries, community involvement appears as a key topic and a clear overall trend towards increasingly addressing climate change was spotlighted. Sustainability, community involvement, climate change, and food security issues are more covered in strategies than in legal instruments. Topics mostly addressed in relation to coastal areas are not substantially covered in legal instruments, suggesting that establishing binding measures might not be deemed as beneficial as strategies in coastal fields.
Stéphanie M. Carrière
added a research item
Children are often marginalized in research on local perceptions and values of the environment, and even more of marine spaces and species. Yet, as users and future managers of fisheries, they are directly concerned by issues related to their sustainability. Moreover, they not only receive, but also contribute to produce, hybridize, and circulate fisheries-related knowledge. As shown in several recent research projects and the growing scientific literature on the matter, drawings allow children to express their relationships with their environment in a playful and age-appropriate way, and are therefore a particularly relevant tool for exploring children's ecological knowledge. As part of the research project A Sea of Connections: Contextualizing Fisheries in the South Pacific Region (SOCPacific, 2018-2022), we have designed a transdisciplinary protocol based on drawings made by children in order to provide innovative insights into the social values of fisheries-related places and resources. Forêt « primaire » Terres cultivées Brief description of SOCPacific: Brief description of the research protocol:
Elodie Fache
added a research item
Children are often marginalized in research on local perceptions and values of the environment, and even more of marine spaces and species. Yet, as users and future managers of fisheries, they are directly concerned by issues related to their sustainability. Moreover, they not only receive, but also contribute to produce, hybridize, and circulate fisheries-related knowledge. As shown in several recent research projects and the growing scientific literature on the matter, drawings allow children to express their relationships with their environment in a playful and age-appropriate way, and are therefore a particularly relevant tool for exploring children's ecological knowledge. As part of the research project 'A Sea of Connections: Contextualizing Fisheries in the South Pacific Region' (SOCPacific, 2018-2022), we have designed a transdisciplinary protocol based on drawings made by children in order to provide innovative insights into the social values of fisheries-related places and resources.
Elodie Fache
added a research item
Les enfants sont souvent marginalisés dans les recherches en sciences sociales et en ethnoécologie portant sur les représentations, valeurs, connaissances et pratiques liées à l’environnement. Pourtant, ils sont particulièrement concernés par la production et la transmission des savoirs écologiques et sont les futurs usagers et gestionnaires des ressources naturelles. Faire dessiner les enfants constitue un outil particulièrement pertinent pour explorer les manières dont ils pensent et expriment leur rapport à l’environnement. Le poster présente cet outil de façon générale, puis son application en cours dans le cadre du projet de recherche interdisciplinaire SOCPacific (https://socpacific.net/). Ce projet s’intéresse aux dimensions sociales, politiques et géopolitiques des pêcheries côtières et hauturières et de leur gestion dans le Pacifique Sud, avec une attention particulière pour trois zones d’étude : la Nouvelle-Calédonie, le Vanuatu et les îles Fidji. L’équipe va mobiliser le dessin d’enfants pour apporter un éclairage innovant sur les représentations et valeurs associées à la mer et à ses ressources dans le Pacifique Sud. Cela permettra d’analyser les (dé)connexions établies par les enfants entre les pratiques de pêche et les contextes sociaux et environnementaux dans lesquels elles s'inscrivent. Une mise en perspective entre contextes urbains et ruraux ; entre Nouvelle-Calédonie, Vanuatu et Fidji ; éventuellement entre le Pacifique et d’autres régions du monde sera envisagée. L’équipe envisage également d’utiliser ces dessins d’enfants pour faire dialoguer les chercheurs avec les différents acteurs de la pêche et de sa gestion.
Elodie Fache
added a research item
Since the 1990s, natural resource management programmes are expected to integrate the holistic environmental knowledge of the indigenous people concerned, and this is supposed to significantly contribute to the empowerment of the latter. Yet, social science studies have established that, in practice, this is not automatically the case. Based on anthropological research in Fiji (South Pacific), this paper aims to contribute, through a specific focus on fisheries management, to the challenging of the power asymmetries still underlying most endeavours to combine indigenous knowledge systems and western ecological science. In particular, it highlights that the concept of “overfishing”—a decisive driver of today’s coastal and reef fisheries management efforts in Fiji and beyond—tends to veil the “connectedness in all things” that is at the core of the indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) epistemology, articulated around the vernacular concept of vanua. In the frame of this concept, human and fish behaviours are intrinsically interrelated, not only from ecological and economic perspectives but also through fundamental sociocultural, spiritual, and political relationships. The authors therefore advocate for a framing of coastal and reef fisheries management efforts that systematically (1) builds upon the iTaukei relational ontology and knowledge system and (2) involves the local customary and religious leaders in accordance with their own worldview and values.
Elodie Fache
added a research item
The Franco-German research project 'A Sea of Connections: Contextualizing Fisheries in the South Pacific Region' (SOCPacific, 2018-2021) aims to explore the large web of socio-cultural, policy and geopolitical connections within which both coastal and oceanic fishing practices and fisheries management endeavours occur in this intricate and ever-changing regional setting. After some brief background, this research note presents the project's set of more specific objectives. It then outlines the rationale for choosing three study areas (New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji) for our analysis of the complex and dynamic 'sea of connections' in which South Pacific fisheries are embedded. Finally, it outlines the combination of research tools and concepts that make up the core of the prospected interdisciplinary, multi-level and multi-stakeholder investigations related to these study areas. This approach intends to contribute to the advancement of cross-cutting knowledge in the multi-faceted field of local fisheries management and marine governance.
Annette Breckwoldt
added a research item
This paper investigates the Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) approach through looking at developments and challenges of community-based marine resource management over time, with a particular focus on Fiji in the South Pacific region. A diachronic perspective, based on two multi-method empirical studies, is used to exemplify the social complexities of the implementation of this LMMA approach in a specific island setting. This perspective connects local stakeholders' establishment and management of a LMMA covering their entire customary fishing rights area (iqoliqoli) with the national context articulated around the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) network, as well as with regional networking and international conservation dynamics. It especially explores the impacts of a small-scale marine closure (so-called tabu area) on the harvesting patterns in a portion of this LMMA, related aspects of formal and informal enforcement, and villagers' views of the health of their reef fishery. This case study reveals a lack of consensus on the current management of this closure as a conditionally-opened no-take area, whose temporary openings (re)produce social tensions, as well as a lack of consensus on the effects of this closure on the reef fishery, which is subject to poaching. The paper highlights that the articulation between conservation and extraction of marine resources, as well as between short-term and longer-term objectives of the community-based marine resource management in place, is a complex sociopolitical process even at the most local level. The discussion also points out that local observations and interpretations of coastal resource dynamics, and of the interplay between fishery and community changes, might be instrumental in addressing the limits of the area-based system of management inherent in the LMMA approach. These insights into both the development process of the LMMA approach and the challenges of its local implementation and maintenance efforts can be useful to consider the adjustments necessary for Fiji's achievement of its national coastal fisheries management strategy and its international ocean governance commitments.
Annette Breckwoldt
added a research item
This paper investigates the Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) approach through looking at developments and challenges of community-based marine resource management over time, with a particular focus on Fiji in the South Pacific region. A diachronic perspective, based on two multi-method empirical studies, is used to exemplify the social complexities of the implementation of this LMMA approach in a specific island setting. This perspective connects local stakeholders' establishment and management of a LMMA covering their entire customary fishing rights area (iqoliqoli) with the national context articulated around the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) network, as well as with regional networking and international conservation dynamics. It especially explores the impacts of a small-scale marine closure (so-called tabu area) on the harvesting patterns in a portion of this LMMA, related aspects of formal and informal enforcement, and villagers' views of the health of their reef fishery. This case study reveals a lack of consensus on the current management of this closure as a conditionally-opened no-take area, whose temporary openings (re)produce social tensions, as well as a lack of consensus on the effects of this closure on the reef fishery, which is subject to poaching. The paper highlights that the articulation between conservation and extraction of marine resources, as well as between short-term and longer-term objectives of the community-based marine resource management in place, is a complex sociopoliti-cal process even at the most local level. The discussion also points out that local observations and interpretations of coastal resource dynamics, and of the interplay between fishery and community changes, might be instrumental in addressing the limits of the area-based system of management inherent in the LMMA approach. These insights into both the development process of the LMMA approach and the challenges of its local implementation and maintenance efforts can be useful to consider the adjustments necessary for Fiji's achievement of its national coastal fisheries management strategy and its international ocean governance commitments.
Annette Breckwoldt
added a project goal
The South Pacific region represents a unique context in which local communities and their political representatives are increasingly committed to integrated management of marine resources and spaces after a predicted dissolution of related community-based activities in the 1970s. This holds especially true for fisheries, the main field of activity in this oceanscape and a critical component of local livelihoods, national and regional economies, and global fish supplies. Fisheries remain one of the most important concerns on the national and regional policy agendas in the Pacific.
Recent studies have started to take into account the multi-faceted aspects of Pacific fisheries by articulating ecological and economic perspectives. Our project aims at broadening this endeavour by re-embedding coastal and oceanic fisheries in their wider context and
by exploring the large web of socio-cultural, geopolitical and policy connections within which fishing practices occur.
For this, we will conduct an interdisciplinary and multi-level analysis across diverse scales and dimensions of fisheries, fisheries management and marine governance in the South Pacific region, including local perceptions and practices, global changes and drivers, and national and regional management frameworks and strategies. This analysis will focus on three study areas: New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji where fieldwork periods will be conducted.
Three thematic areas will be at the core of the project’s cross-sectional investigations:
1) An environmental anthropology assessment of social values of places and resources in connection with offshore and inshore fisheries;
2) A socio-political ecology perspective on interwoven fisheries and conservation issues within marine protected areas;
3) A policy analysis of the inclusion of fisheries in marine spatial planning.
The project outcomes will be five-fold:
1) The production of policy briefs to be disseminated to regional stakeholders on these three thematic areas, with a spot-light on the neglected ‘sea of connections’ in which fisheries are embedded.
2) The production of knowledge exchange pathways between local marine resource users, local students and other stakeholders of South Pacific fisheries via, for instance, local perceptions of fishing activities in a broader context of natural resource uses and values,
conservation initiatives and issues, and conflicts related to boundaries.
3) The contribution to the advancement of cross-cutting knowledge in the multi-faceted field of fisheries management and marine governance.
4) The participation in the endeavour to build new forms of integrative governance of the sea including all stakeholders, and in which both Pacific countries and territories and the European Union are closely working together.
5) The strengthening of the existing working ties between the French and German partners, to complement respective national research landscapes.