Garcia-Quijano, Carlos Geronimo
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I used a qualitative-quantitative approach to explore the adaptive value of Local Ecological Knowledge for a population of small-scale fishers in Southeastern Puerto Rico. Through interviewing and participant observation with 20 expert fishers, I gathered data on: 1) ecological knowledge of local ecosystems held by fishers, 2) culturally-relevant models of success (i.e. what does it mean to be a successful fisher by local standards), and 3) In what ways local ecological knowledge is used to be more successful. I found that knowledge about important target species’ biology is complemented by knowledge of the continuity and change in species’ populations over space and time. Thinking about the ecosystem in terms of ecological-parameters (e.g. species assemblages, trophic structures, bottom composition, salinity, seasonality, depth, changes of parameters over time) is of paramount importance for fishers dealing with the complex multi-species fishery. Many fishers make sense of complex ecological information by thinking about underwater landscapes and about what kinds of fish they might find in a given scenario. I also found that social recognition as a member of the community of ‘true fishers’, as well as making enough profits to ensure reproduction of the domestic unit, are the most widely shared goals of a fisher. This finding goes against a common assumption in fishery bio-economic models: that small-scale fishers operate towards profit maximization, like firms. I also found that due to an historical subsistence strategy of combining agricultural work and fishing on a part-time basis, being a full-time fisher was not necessary for being a knowledgeable and successful fisher. Based on ethnographic work, I conducted structured interviews to test: 1) intracultural variability in ecological knowledge, through consensus analysis and 2) intra-group variability in culturally-relevant success measures. After conducting structured interviews with a stratified random sample of 41 additional fishers I investigated the relationships between ecological knowledge and success in the population. I found that there is a significant correlation between ecological knowledge and measures of success. This study serves to underscore the value of indigenous/traditional/local ecological knowledge for small-scale societies. By drawing parallels with the theory of ecosystems ecology, it also points to possible avenues of collaboration in the management of complex tropical fisheries.