Small-scale fisheries employ many millions of people around the world, and are particularly important in developing countries, where the dependency on marine resources is high and livelihood diversification options are scarce. In many areas of the world however, small-scale fisheries are at risk which threatens the food security and wellbeing of coastal people. Small-scale fisheries management has in many cases been insufficient and new comprehensive approaches are recommended to achieve social-ecological sustainability in the long-term. The aim of this thesis is to analyze empirically how social-ecological elements of seagrass-associated small-scale fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean region can be addressed for a transformation from the current mostly degraded state to more sustainable social-ecological systems and secure future livelihoods. The main method used was semi-structured interviews with local fishers.

The main findings show the crucial contributions seagrass-associated small-scale fisheries make to food security and income generation and highlight the need to acknowledge the social-ecological importance of seagrasses in the seascape (Paper I). A discrepancy between low societal gains of the fishing of sea urchin predator fish species and their crucial importance in the food web (in controlling sea urchin populations and the associated grazing pressure on seagrasses) was identified (Paper II). These results suggest catch-and-release practice of sea urchin predator fish species, which could contribute to more balanced predator – sea urchin – seagrass food webs in the long run. The use of illegal dragnets was identified as a major threat to local seagrass meadows (Paper IV). Institutional elements influencing the use of such destructive dragnet were identified to be normative, cultural-cognitive and economic, which constitutes an institutional misfit to the current emphasis on regulative elements in a hierarchical manner (Paper III). Concerning future co-management initiatives, gear restrictions and education were the favoured management measures among all fishers (Paper IV).

A majority of fishers were willing to participate in monitoring and controls, and most fishers thought they themselves and their communities would benefit most from seagrass-specific management. These findings highlight the need for actions on multiple scales, being the local-, management-, policy- and governance levels. The suggested actions include: education and exchange of ecological and scientific knowledge, gear management including the cessation of dragnet fishing, strengthening of local institutions, an active participation of fishers in enforcement of existing rules and regulations and an introduction of adequate alternative livelihood options.

Opponent: Christina Hicks, Lancaster University, UK