People and the Sea


People and the Sea

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MARE Conference: ‘People and the Sea’ VIII 24-26 June 2015.

 By Natasha Stacey, Dirk Steenbergen, Jim Prescott


In mid June, Natasha Stacey, Dirk Steenbergen from RIEL and colleague Mr Jim Prescott from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority travelled to Amsterdam in the Netherlands to attend the 8th bi-annual People and the Sea Conference in Amsterdam hosted by the Centre for Maritime Research (MARE) at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The conference was chaired by Prof Maarten Bavinck from UvA who each year delivers an engaging and enjoyable event attended by a few hundred social scientists engaged in coastal, fisheries and maritime research from around the world. This was Natasha and Dirk’s second MARE conference which provided an opportunity to not only present the results of new research outputs but also to meet with collaborators and colleagues from around the world with whom we are working with on a number of initiatives and projects in the area of small-scale fisheries management and maritime anthropology.

This year’s conference theme was ‘Geo Politics of the Oceans’ with 5 streams: including maritime governance, social relations and culture, fisheries management, knowledge production and coastal threats and vulnerability. There were two hundred papers presented in 56 panels.

The Conference was opened with a musical performance by two pianists from London who played a movement called “La Mer” by Debussy. Three key notes provided stimulating discussions at the start of each day. The first was delivered by Prof Oran Young (University of California-Santa Barbara in USA) the UvA’s ‘Aula’ (a renovated church hall in the heart of Amsterdam). Prof Young critiqued the 4 solutions commonly applied to address the 3 principle concerns regarding oceans: overharvesting and unsustainable use, pollution and global/climate change. Following the keynote on Day 1, participants undertake a boat canal cruise back to the University to then start of panel sessions.

On Day 2 Prof Kuperan Viswanathan (University Utara, Malaysia) delivered a keynote on “Employment Opportunities for fishers of Southeast Asia”. He identified some of the challenges and options associated with the need to downscale fishing participation without ruining peoples’ lives.

On Day 3, Prof Kate Brown of University of Exeter, UK, provided a thought provoking theoretical keynote around resilience theory and how people construct their resilience to change in complex socio-ecological systems in coastal communities drawing on everyday forms of resilience (see forthcoming book “Resilience, Development and Global Change”).

We participated in numerous panels, events and side meetings during the conference.

Natasha chaired a session on “Livelihoods” and also presented a paper on ‘Mobility and livelihood strategies among Bajo in eastern Indonesia: As one door closes another opens’. The paper discussed changes in livelihood strategies and patterns of fishing among nomadic Bajo in eastern Indonesia since the early 1990s to 2014. The results showed the evolution of Bajo livelihood strategies over this period with major changes in last 10-15 years from shark fishing to tuna fisheries. This period corresponds with significant fishery policy shifts by Australia in the exploited border regions and continued pressures on resource sustainability in the Bajo’s home waters.

Natasha also presented a paper on behalf of co-authors in panel on “Wellbeing and place-based approaches to identifying the societal values of small-scale fisheries” as part of a contribution to a Book in preparation titled Social Wellbeing Values of Small Scale Fisheries, to be published through the MARE Series by Springer.The objective of the proposed edited volume is to provide an argument, and a supporting set of analytical tools, for the diverse ways in which small-scale fisheries contribute locally and regionally to the societies of which they are part.

The paper Natasha presented in this panel on‘Understanding Social Wellbeing and values of Small Scale fisheries amongst the Sama-Bajau of insular Southeast Asia’is co-authored with Dirk and two colleagues from University of Western Australia who have also worked with Sama-Bajau communities in Southeast Asia. We explore the dimensions of social wellbeing in the Sama-Bajau context and identify how the Sama-Bajau have responded to endogenously developed and exogenously induced drivers. Utilising our collective experience of Sama-Bajau society in diverse locations across Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, we discuss the parameters of continuity and transformation in Sama-Bajau way of life. The case study offers the opportunity to explore how historical and contemporary drivers have contributed to the variability of Sama-Bajau social welfare, spatially and temporally.


During the conference a new book on ‘Interactive Governance of Small Scale Fisheries: Global
Reflections’ published by MARE Series and Springer was launched of which Jim, Dirk and Natasha
along with James Riwu from Rote Ndao Fisheries department in Indonesia have coauthored
chapter on “Governance and Governability: the small-scale purse seine fishery in Pulau Rote, eastern

Jim Prescott and co-authors from CDU presented another paper ‘On the Fisheries Management Merry-go-round: a blur of images passing by’ This paper provided a contrasting perspective on fisheries management to the ‘standardised’ Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management. The genesis of this paper are observations of what often becomes a pre-occupation with the many complexities that are revealed through and ecosystem approach to managing fisheries(EAFM) at a time where many fisheries in the SE Asian region require a triage of management interventions to prevent sliding into a one-way trajectory towards collapse. The paper drew on Australia’s successful management of fisheries which in most cases began with relatively simple single species approaches and noted that it has been this often criticised approach that has produced much of the success since EAFM is only recently being operationalised.

At the MARE conference Dirk led a panel entitled, ‘Addressing Markets and Resource Governance for Improved Small Scale Fisheries Management’, as part of a stream on fisheries management. This panel brought together a group of academics interested and actively involved in small scale fisheries (SSF) management in the Asia Pacific. Through a series of five presentations, the panel sought to tease out the contemporary multi-scaled dynamics and governance challenges associated with the increasing interactions that markets are having with SSF. There is much debate around the role of markets in natural resource management and development sectors. On one hand market forces are framed as being detrimental to sustainability (both in terms of nature conservation and food security), while on the other hand markets are also identified to hold significant capacity to draw people out of poverty and potentially empower those who can gains access to trade. Without siding with either end of this dichotomy the panel, supported by local to global case studies from across the region, presented how fisheries governance discussions need to address markets. The panel drew from examples of local small pelagic fisheries in Timor Leste, live fish trade in Philippines, SSF markets and co-management initiatives in Solomon Island and from studies on global sea cucumber value chains.

Three main questions were addressed through the case studies. Firstly, how both local conditions and external market dynamics influence resource users’ access fisheries markets; secondly, how best to ensure that poor residents are able to access the benefits of such markets; and lastly, whether local-level management models provide adequate mechanisms to contribute to global value-chain governance , so that objective of local food security and poverty alleviation are better achieved?


The panel has seeded potential fruitful collaborations on issues of SSF management in the Asia Pacific involving academics from Charles Darwin University, James Cook University, University of Wollongong and University of Technology Sydney.

We also participated in a an all day workshop prior to MARE Conference as part of the Global Partnership for Small Scale Fisheries Research initiative ‘Too Big To Ignore’ led by Prof Ratana Chuenpagdee from University of Manitoba, Canada ( Established in 2012 the network consists of more than 200 members from 45 countries. The aim of the partnership is to elevate the profile of SSF and ague against their marginalisation in national and international policies. The initiative is supporting TBTI member researchers in 12 research clusters conduct broad based and comparative analyses to improve understanding of various aspects of SSF around the world. Our book chapter contributions have originated from our participation in this global initiative and we are participating in a number of these research cluster initiatives.

The full MARE Conference Program and abstracts can be found at