Accepted Paper:

Where is the fish? Controversies around fish degradation and conservation practices in the Danube Delta artisanal fisheries  


Veronica Mitroi (Instiute of Ecology and Environnmental Science)

Paper short abstract:

Analysing the fishing rights evolution in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve during the last 20 years, this communication presents fish resource degradation as a space of uncertainty where different actors participate to delimitate, define and tame fish as an environmental problem.

Paper long abstract:

Environmental management of renewable natural resources such as fish must deal with factors of complexity and uncertainty. Indicators and proofs of sustainable fisheries are built on the ground, while experimenting different fishing rights systems. Fishing rights and practices influence not only resources' material condition but they also directly participate to the dialectics of environmental uncertainties around resource degradation and sustainable management measures.

Fish catches have the ambiguous status of being both: the result of a human activity having a social, economical and cultural function, and one of the main criteria of fish resource estimation grounding conservationist actions. Uncertainties about fish resource degradation are therefore not strictly ecological, but also social, economical and cultural. One of the main difficulties in fisheries administration is precisely to define, border and give an operational content to "fish degradation", able to mobilise actors and change practices.

Based of an ethnographic analyse of Danube Delta fisheries administration, this article shows the construction of sustainable fisheries indicators and practices through "hybrid forums" where actors from different spheres participate: scientists, administrators, control and custody bodies, fishermen and commercialisation firms, ecological NGOs. In a context of transition from an intensive communist fishing industry to an ecological administration of fish inside a biosphere reserve, the persistence of illegal fishing practices and overfishing despite the introduction of more restrictive fishing rules, illustrates the complexity of uncertainty in small artisanal fisheries administration: What signifies fish degradation and what is its space of movement between different actors, fields and scales? How fishermen cope with "degradation" and how they integrate the ecological and political restriction in their practices?

All these questions, source of interactions, conflicts and alliances between actors, represent the space of controversies around fish as object of conservationist policies. The protection of fish resource appears not only as the field of coordination between different actors, but also as the "factory" were actors and resources are redefined together, taming new forms of "ecological interaction" between social actors and natural resources.

Panel W099
How to tame, play or skirt environmental uncertainties?