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Local fishery, global commodity: Conflict, cooperation, and competition in Ghana’s coastal fisheries


A large body of research in recent decades has dramatically increased our understanding of the dynamics, challenges, and management approaches in marine fisheries commons. However, most of this research focuses on specific fisheries in a single subsector, outlining a series of recommendations to improve governance within a particular context. Yet, as most fisheries around the world do not occur within a closed context, but instead are diverse, cross-scale, dynamic, pluralistic, and resource-limited, many of these recommendations are ill-suited to their particular challenges. One of the best examples of these cross-scale resources challenges are the increasingly reported incidents between small-scale and industrial fishers. While small-scale fishers assert that conflict and competition with industrial vessels present some of the most persistent threats to fishing livelihoods, interactions are complex and may also include cooperative and compensatory dynamics. To illuminate these dynamics, I situate my case study in coastal Ghana, analyzing the characteristics, drivers, and consequences of industrial-small-scale incidents at sea. I employ both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, including key informant interviews, cross-sectional surveys, archival work, and spatial modeling. First, I use a historical database of incidents to understand the actors, characteristics, and drivers of incidents, situating them as a form of resource conflict. Further, I ground these incidents in conflict theory, outlining their contingent nature and pathways toward conflict and cooperation. Finally, I empirically assess the consequences of these incidents for small-scale fishing households and communities. Through these analyses, I aim to illuminate one of the least evidenced and theorized conjunctures in fisheries, yet one that profoundly affects the day to day lives of millions of fishers around the world.

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