1. Introduction

This work has been developed in the frame of the project COMET-LA (COmmunity-based Management of Environmental challenges in Latin America).1 The aim of COMET-LA was to identify sustainable community-based governance models for the management of natural resources that could be used in different social-ecological systems in a context of climate change and increasing competition in the use of resources. Argentina has an extensive coastline with major urban centers and ports, particularly, the Bahía Blanca Estuary and the Monte Hermoso – Pehuén Co coastal area (hereinafter referred to as respectively BBE and MH-PC) which are located on the southwestern coast of Buenos Aires Province (Figure 1). The region was adopted as a study case in the project, which also included the analysis of water and biodiversity systems in Colombia and forestry systems in Mexico.

Figure 1: 

Location, political division and communities under study. Source: London et al. (2014).

Hence, the main objective for the Argentina case study in the project was to propose governance models and community-based sustainable management in marine and coastal systems. The definition of a successful governance model should be based on a complete understanding of the case. One of the tools implemented by the project to characterize the complexity of the Argentina system was the Social-Ecological System (SES) framework, developed by Elinor Ostrom.2

Different researches show that problems derived from self-interest, imperfect information, and incomplete markets can be overcome by following a set of design principles in creating institutions (Ostrom 1990). For instance, variables related to access and control are defined as the most relevant, playing a central role in the management of natural resources in the case of the Seri, a Mexican small-scale fishing community (Basurto 2005). Also variables related to monitoring activities seem to be the key to explain local variability between communities in forest management conditions (Ostrom and Nagendra 2006). Ten key design principles related to how community-based organizations are nested within other organizations, the historical and social context, flexibility of rule-making, monitoring and enforcement are shown as the most relevant in the co-manage of coral reefs in Kenya and Madagascar (Cinner et al. 2009). In accordance with the SES framework, well-defined property rights also lead to a good management of natural resources system. The right to harvest some portion of the resource works as an important determinant of local effectiveness monitoring and sanctioning rules in forests areas of 14 different countries (Coleman and Steed 2009). Tourism is a case where non-extractive uses are dominant. Using the Ostrom framework, Blanco (2011) concludes that the presence of leadership, norms of behavior, shared mental models and substantial productivity of the resource system in the likelihood of self-organization are the most important variables to obtain a common and sustainable management. A clear understanding of rules by both, social actors and decision makers, allow establishing a successful management regimen of common-pool resources (CPR)3 in five study cases in tropical context (Aswani et al. 2012). Finally, Basurto et al. (2013) develop a set of SES variables potentially relevant to study small-scale fisheries system and illustrate the frame throughout two cases concerning Mexican and Chilean benthic fisheries. They look for evidence about “what combinations of SES variables were associated with fisheries’ ability to self-organize and avoid overexploiting their fisheries, and which interactions led to continued over-harvesting” (pp. 1367).

The objective of this paper is to apply the SES framework to an artisanal fishery community in Argentina in order to: 1) describe the principal features, key variables and relations of the small-scale fishery system; 2) detect the principal drivers of a potential common-management and the leading detractors from the current communal performance; and 3) analyze the possibility that a self-governing for sustainable fishery may appear.

Despite the fact that there is no common governance structure currently implemented in the area, evidence found in the application of the SES framework allow concluding that collective action could lead to a future community-based management. The identification of basic working parts and critical relations into the system is the first step to give impulse to policies in pursuing sustainable development.

Though it is beyond the scope of this paper, in future studies the variables detected through the applications of the SES framework could be employed in the elaboration of data collection instruments, the fieldwork and the analysis of outcomes through scenario buildings. Following, Section 2 presents a brief ­description of the study area. Methodology is introduced in Section 3. A discussion of the results and conclusions are shown in Section 4 and 5, respectively.

2. Description of the study area

From the political and administrative standpoint, three different municipalities integrate the area: (i) Municipality of Bahía Blanca, including the localities of General Daniel Cerri and Ingeniero White (hereinafter referred to as Cerri and White, respectively), (ii) the Municipality of Coronel de Marina Leonardo Rosales which includes Pehuén Co and Villa del Mar, and (iii) the Municipality of Monte Hermoso with its eponymous city. However, the region is characterized by a wide range of geomorphologic, physical and socioeconomic conditions, which give the area a different conformation from and environmental and economic point of view. In this sense, two well-defined and distinguish areas can be considered: (i) the zone from Cerri to Villa del Mar is characterized by an estuarine ecological system with extensive mudflats. The economy of the whole region is based on industrial and port activities, beside artisanal fishery. (ii) The MH-PC zone is a coastal area of sandy beaches surrounded by fixed and mobile dunes with an economy based on “sun and beach” tourism plus artisanal fishery.

Various ecological issues related to the study zone have been pointed out along last years for our research team. Studies (initiated by Perillo 1997) regarding vulnerability to climate change showed that an increase, even minimum, in the mean sea level (MSL) can cause permanent flooding of all wetlands up the estuary. The work of Diez et al. (2007), Huamantinco Cisneros (2012) and Bustos (2012) clearly demonstrate that much of the coast has a high risk of erosion, although most can be assigned to areas where urban development has a direct impact on the ecosystem and the way of living of the stakeholders. Regarding to anthropic effects, Zilio et al. (2013) indicate a high socioeconomic cost of the dredging realized in the area and Rojas et al. (2014a) show how anthropic effects increase the erosion problem in the area of MH-PC.

Although the marine and coastal resources belong to the National Government and the management and control correspond mainly to the National and Provincial Government, the rest of the land is mostly private property. Unlike many cases of the literature of CPR (Nelson and Agrawal 2008; Cinner et al. 2009; Hoole and Berkes 2010; Avendaño et al. 2013; Escalante Semerena et al. 2013; Bollig and Menestry Schwieger 2014), in BBE and MH–PC resources are privately extracted and economic activities (both artisanal and industrial) are developed within the private sector. Society has very little community-based organization. Nevertheless, as shown below, the exercise of collective-action among actors from MH-PC and the existence of internal conflicts in the BBE zone could make a significant difference in outcomes between the two areas.

3. Methodology

3.1. Analytical frame

Over the last few decades, the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework has been used to cope with the complexity of policy analysis and to study how institutions determine the performance of a social-economic system and how outcomes differ from one type of institution arrangement to another within the same community. The IAD focuses on the analysis of an action situation, a conceptual unit that can be used to describe, predict and explain individual and collective behavior in a particular institutional frame (Ostrom 2011; McGinnis 2011). An action situation implies to isolate the immediate structure affecting a process of interactions between actors to explain regularities, to compare outcomes and, potentially, to reform them.

From the IAD analysis, the structure of an action situation is primarily defined by institutions. Institutions are the human constraints that structure political, economic and social interactions and reduce the inherent uncertainty in human contracts (North 1990). Rules refer to what actions are required, forbidden or permitted in a community (Epstein et al. 2013). These constraints can be devised as formal norms (constitutions, laws, property rights) or informal restraints (sanctions, taboos, customs, traditions, code of conduct), which usually contribute to the perpetuation of the status quo. Hence, changes in the institutional design lead to diverse results, being the informal norms the most difficult to change since they are embedded historically in a community.

The constraints can be represented in a pyramid graph, where rules are connected in a hierarchical way, represented by the black arrow in Figure 2.

Figure 2: 

Hierarchical order of rules governing the Argentina case study. Source: Own elaboration.

A feedback between social (or informal rules) and formal rules is given through the human organizations (Figure 2, grey arrow). This field deals with how individuals and groups build institutions, how institutions function in practice and how they affect the social outcomes. Institutions vary slowly along time (crisis are exceptions) and the change depends basically on conflicts between actors and the capacity of different groups to face themselves (Ostrom 1990; Tohmé and London 1998).

Social control can be the most effective tool for the observation of norms. If the management of a system depends on a set of formal rules which are inconsistent with the SES features, the local vision and the base of the pyramid in Figure 2; consequently the implementation of the rules, enforcement and control will be almost impossible to address.

Elinor Ostrom extends the IAD analysis in a broader framework for social-ecological systems (SESs) (Ostrom 2007, 2009). The SES framework allows scientists to take a more detailed set of variables for studying ecological issues related to the system. Any group that attempts to implement a sustainable management of a CPR (e.g. aquifers, pastures) must solve a set of problems in order to create institutions to enhance collective action. A set of design principles in creating institutions can help to avoid the tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968). The tragedy happens when the use of common resources results in the depletion of a shared natural asset. Individuals acting independently and rationally according to their self-interest can lead to overexploitation. This concept is contrary to the concept of sustainable development: development that meets human needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own (United Nations 1987).

The design principles are extensively discussed in Ostrom (1990, 1998). The author found that groups that are able to organize and govern their behavior successfully are marked by the following principles:4

  • Group boundaries are clearly defined;
  • Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions;
  • Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying the rules;
  • The rights of community members to devise their own rules are respected by external authorities;
  • A system for monitoring the behavior of members exists and the community members themselves undertake this monitoring;
  • A graduated system of sanctions is used;
  • Community members have access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms;
  • For CPR that are parts of larger systems: appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

Ostrom (2007, 2009) developed a specific methodology to analyze SESs and the possibility of a self-organization for sustainable development. “We need to build a theoretical foundation for explaining why some resource users are able to self-organize and govern the use of a resource over time in a sustainable manner and why others fail or never make the effort” (Basurto and Ostrom 2009, 38). Recently, Basurto et al. (2013), McGinnis and Ostrom (2014) and Hinkel et al. (2014), among other, have revised the SES framework, which still has an enormous potential of future extensions and developments.

We consider a working definition of SES as: “…a bio-geo-physical unit and its associated social actors and institutions. Social-ecological systems are complex and adaptive and delimited by spatial or functional boundaries surrounding particular ecosystems and their problem context” (Jahn et al. 2009, 2). Thus, the description of the topological structure and pattern of the relations between the system elements is necessary in order to define a SES.

Given the complexity of a nested system working at multiple scales, a theory is needed to guide the selection of key variables and relations. Hence, Ostrom’s framework is a useful tool to identify a set of potentially relevant variables to describe a SES (Schlüter et al. 2014). It is based on multilevel variables that identify a series of core subsystems. The central idea in a SES characterization is that actors extract/maintain/consume resources units from a continuously-changing resourcesystem constrained by a set of rules-in-use (formal and informal) and procedures encompassing within a governance system. These processes of extraction/maintenance/marketization/change of rules/ management/control are the interactions that take place in the center of the structure and produce different outcomes. All this happens in the context of (and is influenced by) a social-political-economic settings and the related ecological system (Ostrom 2009; McGinnis and Ostrom 2014).

The resource system comprises the environment where the main natural resource unit (e.g. fish, water, fodder) is produced and found. The governance system describes the nested set of organizations, institutions and rule configurations affecting and affected by the SES. The original SES framework describes users as a tier variable including direct users or consumers of the resource. But in recent revisions of the Ostrom’s work (Hinkel et al. 2014; McGinnis and Ostrom 2014) that category was changed by actors. Researchers agree that actors is more inclusive than users, the latter being a subcategory of actors.

The patterns of behavior that actors exhibit can be characterized from the categories of interactions and outcomes. Interactions tier variable describes ­relevant activities, exchanges and conflicts between actors, while outcomes comprise results of the interactions among aforementioned variables.5

Moreover, the focal SES considered can be seen as a logical whole exogenously influences by the related ecological, social, economic and political context. The social-economic-political setting describes how the whole SES may affect and be affected by the larger socioeconomic, political and ecological settings in which they are embedded, while the related ecological system describes the connection of the considered SES with the surrounding ecosystems.

The attributes of resource system (RS), resource units (RU), actors (A), governance system (GS), interactions (I), outcomes (O), social-economic-political setting (S) and related ecosystems (ECO) describe the features of first-tier variables. These eight broad variables can be unpacked into a second-tier set of variables that have been found in empirical studies to impact diverse interactions and outcomes. The second-tier variables are not unique and the set eventually need to be adjusted for particular local conditions (Delgado-Serrano et al. 2013) and for the specific research question of interest (Ostrom 2011). Figure 3 shows a SES as a complex system which combines the eight core variables defined by McGinis and Ostrom (2014). We must describe the set of variables and its relationships, loops and feedbacks interactions and outcomes to understand the possibility that social self-organization emerges.

Figure 3: 

Revised core subsystems for the analysis of SES. Source: McGinis and Ostrom (2014).

More than one resource system, relevant unit of resource or actors’ groups can be identified in a region (McGinnis and Ostrom 2014). For this work and following Basurto et al. (2013), the delimitation of the space under study was made by the Resource System (RS): the small-scale fishery sector. The application of the frame looks for the potential drivers which could lead to a sustainable and common management of the artisanal fishery.

3.2. Putting the method into practice

The first step to improve the applicability of the framework to the study case of the project in Argentina is to define properly all the second tier variables. The framework proposed by Ostrom (2009) of 8 first-tier categories and 53 second-tier variables was adapted by Delgado-Serrano et al. (2013). They propose a more detailed description of the 53 variables, subdividing many of them in more sub-tier variables.6 For the case of the BBE and MH-PC coastal area, this adapted frame was revised and variables were defined as it can be found in Annex 1. Some definitions were found in the literature and others defined according to paper goals and the particularities of the SES.

The multidisciplinary research team in Argentina used many information sources to complete the Ostrom’s framework. The socio-economic data was collected from National Census 2010, the Encuesta Permanente de Hogares (EPH – INDEC), Centro Regional de Estudios Económicos de Bahía Blanca (CREEBBA) and other similar from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos de Argentina (INDEC). Previous work carried out by the Instituto Argentino de Oceanografía (IADO) provided geospatial and biophysical data. The description of institutional and governance system was realized taking into account the institutional information available at government sites and formal laws.

Moreover, the realization of unstructured interviews of relevant stakeholders in each group and several workshops with actors was a relevant input to complete the characterization. The selection or mapping of actors is an essential stage in any participatory process aiming to involve key stakeholders. The identification and the active involvement of all important stakeholders in the project make its outcomes and impacts more relevant, not only for the project development but also for the SES evolution. Stakeholder mapping should be understood as a continuous process of identifying individuals or groups that have an impact on or are impacted by the studied SES. The information obtained during this process is also used to assess how the stakeholders should be addressed, how their importance should be evaluated and how they influence or are influenced by the SES.

The process starts with a thorough identification of all groups, organizations and persons by direct observation. Then, the initial contacts with the actors give us additional information with respect to other relevant stakeholders.

They were analyzed for a better understanding of their features and their relationships to the SES. Also, they were prioritized following the criteria defined by the project, focusing on actors related to fishing and coastal management process. Two selection criteria were used during the mapping: pertinence and representativeness. Pertinence was assessed by the users’ relationships with resources, their knowledge about the SES and their capacity to affect the SES. Representativeness was defined according to the level of how well or how accurately someone reflects upon the sample. Note that the most representative user from a group seems to be who has the best knowledge of the SES. For instance, leaders of fishermen associations were considered as the most representatives actors of the group. Relevant groups were first identified, and secondly leader or those who had greater knowledge of the SES were invited.

According to their role in the system, the actors have different perspectives and knowledge of the SES. Social actors were chosen in order to have representatives from different localities and associated with different activities of use and management of resources.

Internal and external stakeholders (i.e. decision makers) were evaluated under the same criteria. Internal are those who make a direct use of the resources; while external actors are those who have some power to influence them but do not use them directly. In this case of study, external actors mostly represent government agencies and decision makers. Some of the most important groups identified were: fishermen, neighbourhood groups, rangers, teachers, fire fighters (as internal to the SES); and municipalities, government agencies and Petrochemical Industrial Pole representatives (as external).

During the first year of the fieldwork, about 4 workshops were carried out allowing conclude the process of mapping social actors and start with the characterization of SES. In the second year, another 4 workshops were conducted, with the main objective of concluding the characterization of SES and identify the most relevant variables in terms of the perceptions and interpretations of stakeholders. These meetings were conducted on the basis of participatory research methodologies, still relevant identification main objective of each workshop. The tools used in the workshops were: work with focus groups, visual techniques, construction of matrices conflict, brainstorming and a final discussion to triangulate information.

Finally, information collected from primary and secondary data sources were analyzed by Argentina team at the project. Considering the interest issues of different researches (economists, oceanographers, biologists, geologists, among others), we worked on sub-groups in order to complete the Ostrom’s matrix distributing the information by topic. When the characterization of some variable was incomplete, the sub-group tried to complete the information using secondary sources. The partial and final outcomes were discussed along several meetings realized once a week of the whole research team. The final result of the Ostrom’s Framework with all the relevant information is in the Annex 2, which resumes the description of the sub-tiers variables and the corresponding information sources. Following, the discussion of the main findings about the matrix are exposed.7

4. Discussion of the results

The Ostrom matrix analysis makes sense when all tier variables are considered as a whole. Each tier variable can affect the others via a double causality, and the isolate discussion about one variable can lead to incomplete or wrong statements. Outcomes depend on the Setting, result from some Interactions, condition the Resource System, and others. As long as the research team completes the matrix with the definition of sub-tier variables, the “photo” obtained of the SES was the origin of several discussion meetings about relationships and causalities.

In this part, the discussion of results was divided into: Setting and characterization of Actors; Governance Systems and their influence on the SES; Resource System, Resource Units and their regulation related to fishery; Conflicts related to management of resources and artisanal fishery and Actors’ Responses to the conflicts.

Along the exposition, the variables used in the analysis conducting certain statements are noted between brackets and also in Annex 2.

Figure 4 summarizes the most relevant second-tier variables in the explanation of the SES behavior. They are not the only variables considered in the discussion, but are those which greatly conditioned the results.

Figure 4: 

Ostrom’s framework for the Argentina coastal SES: most relevant second-tier variables. Source: Own elaboration.

4.1. Setting and characterization of actors

Five settlements are extended along the Atlantic coast over a stretch of 100 km (RS3/RS9). Cerri is situated at the inner reach of the BBE area (Figure 1). From west to east, we can find Ingeniero White (15 km from Cerri); Villa del Mar (18 km further); Pehuén Co (50 km from Villa del Mar) and Monte Hermoso (20 km from Pehuén Co). As was mentioned in Part 2, these villages belong to three different geo-political orders (S2g).

Despite political divisions, the area can be divided in two areas by the geographical proximity, similar historical origins (S2g/A3) and ecosystem features. While Cerri, Ingeniero White and Villa del Mar have received the direct influence of Bahía Blanca (an industrial medium-size city, with around 300,000 inhabitants), Pehuén Co and Monte Hermoso were born as quiet and rural touristic villas in the 1940s and 1950s. Moreover, Cerri, White and Villa del Mar are under the influence of the estuarine environment; whereas Pehuén Co and Monte Hermoso are situated outside the area of the estuary, which determines differences in biological and physical conditions between both areas (RS1). Nevertheless, the estuarine waters play a major role in establishing the natural conditions that help to attract tourists to their coasts (Perillo and Piccolo 1991).

Bahía Blanca was founded in 1828. In the same year, Ingeniero White was born as the city port. Some years later, in 1876, the fort of Cerri was established to protect Bahía Blanca and Ingeniero White against the last Patagonian natives. White and Cerri grew and became relevant during the first half of the 20th century due to the European immigrant flows (S2g). Nowadays, they have almost 10,000 inhabitants each (S2a).

Related to economic activities, wool and meat processing plants were the first developed industries in White and Cerri. Lately, gas and petrochemical industries were consolidated as the main activities (S1a). The Petrochemical Industrial Pole represents more than a half of the industrial production of Buenos Aires Province. Petrochemical and rural products are traded through the deep-water harbor of Ingeniero White. Income sources are diverse in Cerri and White, being artisanal fishery the main activity of local actors in the primary sector (S1a/A21c). According to official data, fisheries were generating 150 jobs in 2012, with a register of 30 yellow boats (Figure 5) (A1b). Nevertheless, fishermen establish that almost 1000 of people depend (directly or indirectly) on fishing in Cerri, White and Villa del Mar.

Figure 5: 

Yellow boats in White (left picture) and Villa del Mar (right picture). These boats are characteristic of artisanal fisheries in Argentina. Source: Own elaboration.

Villa del Mar is a small seaside town with almost 350 inhabitants and a decreasing population trend. It is located 5 km from Punta Alta, capital of Coronel Rosales Municipality.

Pehuén Co was born as a touristic villa of Punta Alta during the 1940s. The land in the MH-PC area was given up to landowners around the middle 20th century (S2g). Pehuén Co has tripled its population in the last 20 years because of the migration from urban sectors (S2e/S2f). It has approximately 700 inhabitants (S2a) but it can reach up to 15,000 during the summer period. With a stable population of 8000 inhabitants, Monte Hermoso receives tourists from Bahía Blanca and others urban sectors during the summer. Population grows up until 100,000 in high seasons (December–March) (S2a/S2e/S2f). The economic activities in MH-PC are based on artisanal fishery and tourism (S1a). Four families out of five hundred live exclusively on fishery in both areas (A1b).

The entire region shows moderate levels of some development indicators, such as per capita income (S1b) and access to public services (S1d). Nevertheless, a structural feature of the socio-economic profile of communities is the heterogeneity in opportunities (S1c/S1d/S1g) and the consequent inequality of income (S1e).

During the last 200 years, power groups and governments have looked inland, giving few strategic and economic values to coastal and marine resources. Land appropriation in the south of Argentina was marked by the extermination of pre-hispanic cultures and the implementation of a private property regimen defined by rural production. The coastal management was a secondary issue in the agenda of successive governments until the 1970s and 1980s.8 The exception was the implementation of port development policies in order to facilitate exports of cereals, grains, meat and agro-industrial goods (S1a/S5a).

The big-push of population growth was the consequence of external interwar migration flows and the subsequent internal migration (S2f), although in the last 20–30 years Argentina has received major immigration from bordering countries like Bolivia and Paraguay, as well as from other Latin American countries (i.e. Peru, Colombia). The outcome of such historical process has been a relevant level of heterogeneity among internal and external actors (A1b/A1c) and the absence of a unique cultural root which has reduced the capacity to create shared codes and common rules between all the users (A2f). Given the differences in sectors and interests, the notion about the common has remained unclear and weak.

Table 1:

Summary of the main features of the study area.

Bahía Blanca Estuary (BBE) Monte Hermoso-Pehuén Co (MH-PC)
Habitants 300,000 8700 up to 100,000 in peak seasons
Environment Estuarine Ecological SystemMudflats Coastal areaSandy beachesFixed/mobile dunes
Estuary Inside Outside
Port Yes No
Economic activities – Wool and meat processing
– Gas and petrochemical industries
– Cerri and White: Artisanal fishery
– Tourism
– Artisanal fishery
Number of direct users 1000 families 45 families
Society Internal conflicts Collective actions

Source: Own elaboration.

Source: Own elaboration, adapted from London et al. (2013).

Data from INDEC corresponds to Censo Nacional de Población, Hogares yViviendas 2010 and Dirección Provincial de Estadística y PlanificaciónGeneral 2005, database: Redatam + SP. See http://www.indec.gov.ar Data from CREEBBA can be consulted at http://www.creebba.org.ar.

Source: Own elaboration.

4.2. Governance system and its influence on the SES

Governance is exercised through a representative democracy with low civic participation and few elements of community-based government (GS1). Moreover, political stability is marked by extended periods without democratic practices and several military coups (S3e). Looking to avoid any subversive movement, military governments used repressive violence against associative forms. A large number of states of siege were declared, the last even during a democratic government in December 2001. In that context, network structures have been broken (GS6/I8a/I8b) and the capacity to join spontaneously in groups and self-organize (I7) has been lost in the middle of a long period of prohibition and political repression.

Formal norms have not been determined by using social norms (GS5), and traditional knowledge and mental models from direct users (A7), as in many illustrative cases in the literature of commons (Basurto 2005; Basurto and Ostrom 2009; Cinner et al. 2009, Basurto et al. 2013, among others). Institutions that can help in embedding collective-choice into the formal constitution of rules have not been developed (GS5c). There is no decision-making mechanism at communal level, such as permanent assemblies or regular consultation tools, whose mandate is able to translate internal norms in formal rules. Contrary to a community-based idea, the regulation about the access and use of resources emanates from a very complex structure of multi-level government (S3a/S4b). Several laws and sanctioning rules are created at high levels of government and distant from local problems (S4a/S4b). Often, formal rules are even inconsistent with the community rules-in-use (GS5a).

4.3. Resource system, resource units and their regulation related on the fishery

Resource system includes the estuary and the coastal area up to 3 nautical miles (nm) from the mouth of the estuary to Monte Hermoso (RS1) within the study area. The offshore marine area near the BBE and MH-PC coasts is known as El Rincón (Figure 6). Only a small portion of El Rincón belongs to the focal SES (see the artisanal fishing area marked in the map). However, the whole zone is extremely relevant for the SES given the existence of biological, physical, social and economic interactions. Several species migrate from Brazil to the Antarctic through El Rincón. Spawning occurs in this area from middle-spring to middle-autumn (RU7a). Larvae use the estuary as a nursery zone and migrate again across El Rincón and the Atlantic as juveniles or adults (RU7b). These ecological features determine its high environmental (RU4b) and strategic value (RU4c).

Figure 6: 

Left panel: BBE, MH-PC and El Rincón areas localization. Source: own elaboration. Right panel: BBE and MH-PC areas. Source: Melo (2009).

Beaches and coastal areas are public property and access to the resource system is regulated by government authorities (GS4a/RS2c). Formal rules and norms relative to the access, monitoring and sanctioning are established by a top-down process, with very scarce communal participation. Differences in geographical and political features establish differences in access conditions. Because of its central touristic areas and reserve zone, access to the coast is free in MH-PC throughout the beach (RS2c). On the other hand, the port area near BBE has been licensed. The Consortium of Management of Bahía Blanca Port (CGPBB, for its acronym in Spanish) controls the access to the resources system, restricting the capacity of artisanal fisheries to determine their own operational access to the sea (GS3a).

Government establishes who can fish, where and how much resource can be extracted through the awarding of licences (GS4a/GS4b). Law also specifies the techniques that must be used and the space exclusively reserved for artisanal fishery (S4a). Trawling is forbidden within the 3 nm limit from the baseline and government establishes a close season for the rest of the area of El Rincón from October to March (RS5c). Likewise, artisanal boats cannot exceed the BBE and the 3 nm due to their operational limitations.

4.4. Conflicts related to management of resources and artisanal fishery

Because of regulations, bottom trawl boats frequently invade the inner area looking to increase their catch (I4b). The scarcity of economic resources available to governmental organisms (GS5d), the size of the resource system (RS3), the fuzzy natural boundaries (RS2a), the non-coincidence between natural and anthropogenic boundaries (RS2b), the forms of access to the resource system (RS2c) and the high mobility of the resource units (RU1) make monitoring and sanctioning activities more costly and self-organization more difficult to achieve (Ostrom 2009). Artisanal fishermen are the ones who inform the authority (GS2) about the presence of non-authorized vessels in the exclusive area or about excessive catches (GS5d). But, obviously, they do not have policy power to ensure rule enforcement and excludability (GS4b).

But, frequently, artisanal fishermen are the ones who break the norms, reaching off-shore areas with a greater abundance of resources. In that sense, users have developed a set of operational and harvesting rules, regardless of what the formal institutional framework says (GS5a). Work with other peers and the mutual protection is an essential tool in facing the risk of the activity in offshore marine areas.

The traditional forms of artisanal fisheries compete against big fisheries, whose environmentally harmful techniques permit to harvest resources at a more profitable scale. The composition of berths by type of fleet shows a very unequal carrying capacity in favor of big-scale vessels (I1a). The excessive charge of the resource affects directly the regeneration rates (RU2/RU5). Overfishing and the consequent reduction in fishery is the principal outcome of trawling (O2b).9 Big-scale fisheries also have lower costs in the appropriation and production. Then, they can offer lower prices (in accordance with international markets) in internal markets (S5a), reducing the competitiveness of small fisheries.

The SES shows a high vulnerability level (O2k). Besides trawling, the resource system is subject to other important pressures that are altering the equilibrium properties (RS6c) and intensifying competition over the use of resources. Urban pollution (O2i/ECO2b), industrial activity (ECO2a) and port dredging (I4b) have impacted on the estuary and coasts affecting the ecological and biological features of the SES (O2a/O2c). Climate patterns have also changed. Temperature has increased (ECO1c), while seasonal (ECO1e) and rain patterns (ECO1d) have altered their behaviors.

Over-harvest, pollution patterns (ECO2a/ECO2b), climate change and dredging consequences have caused several environmental modifications (ECO1b/ECO1c/ ECO1e) and the drop in resource units (RU5). Moreover, the high level of interactions among resources (RU3) can generate a cascade effect (Lopez Cazorla et al. 2014) with alterations in the composition of species, migrations trends, shifts in the reproductive behavior and species extinction (O2e). Then, artisanal fishermen are showing a high level of socio-economic vulnerability (A2e) due to the high level of dependency on resources for their livelihood (A2a/A8a).

4.5. Actors’ responses to conflicts

Against the resource depletion and the increasing risk for artisanal fishery, some unifying forces (Skogen and Krange 2003) have regained strength among a partial group. But, simultaneously, strong internal conflicts have appeared (I4a). The consequences of such counterbalancing forces could lead to a common-based organization or to a complete collapse of artisanal activity at local level.

Small-scale fishery in the entire region is linked to Italian and Spanish migrants, whose forefathers handed down sustainable fishing methods from father to son (A3). Fisheries rely on family structures, traditional knowledge and the maintenance of traditions (A2f). Users have similar processes of exploitation and differences in technology have been induced by government interventions (A9b). Fishermen work from shore or from small boats in coastal areas, using traditional techniques as hand lines, trammel nets, gill nets or shrimp nets (GS5a). Women work at home, manage fish trade and make fishing nets with extreme expertise (A2c). All these features give certain social cohesion to the fishermen group in the middle of the great social heterogeneity described above.

Despite fishermen not having high levels of formal specialization (S1f), they exhibit a great empirical knowledge about biology and ecology (A7a/A7d) and the over-harvesting effects (A7b). The complete notion about how the system works allows actors to make good predictions about the SES behavior (RS7). The high level of attitudes toward conservation (A5b) and the level of acceptance and decision power of leaders (A5a) help to maintain the internal control and make more feasible information dissemination (I2a). Leaders have a key role at deliberation processes in conflicts among actors (I3a) or in connecting local actors with government (GS3b).

Fishermen from MH-PC area are discovering the benefits of collective-action to counteract the effects of pressures over SES. The need to work together with other fishermen in order to increase productivity of the activity, to minimize risk, to impose sustainable practices among them and to control the outsiders has improved the mutual understanding, truth, trustworthiness and, thus, cooperation (I8c). Development of such social capital has allowed the configuration of a set of internal norms that rule the activity among direct users.

The MH-PC fishermen have given shape to a strong group that is able to maintain interaction with governmental institutions and is successful in breaking the status quo of the top-down process in the elaboration of norms. For instance, the demand for longer closure periods was recognized for the government few years ago. Recently, artisanal fisheries from MH-PC stop a governmental authorization for big-scale vessels to enter to the estuarine zone.

Environmental and social organizations, including artisanal fishermen chambers, have emerged. NGOs have now a medium presence in the region (GS3a) enhancing collective action (GS5b). The relevance of internal community interactions (I8a) and the presence and impact of the local media (S6a) have been essential in order to generate networks and contacts.

Nevertheless, the reaction in the area of BBE has been considerably different. The distinct access conditions (RS2c) have restricted the use of the resources by direct users in White, Cerri and Villa del Mar more than in MH-PC area. The estuary is a highly sensitive system with low resilience levels (O2j). Dredging, pollution and over-harvesting have had more severe consequences on BBE resources. In addition, the power groups related to port activities and industry possess a higher level of lobbying capacity than artisanal fishery (I6), increasing the level of conflicts with externals in this area (I4b).

The compelling situation has lead actors in White, Villa del Mar and Cerri to make negotiations with different power groups and governmental institutions to restructure the artisanal fleet by turning into trawling vessels. Even, some ­fishermen in BBE have received an early retirement premium from the government to leave the activity.

While 3 million pesos (about 300,000 dollars) were given by the national government in order to turn artisanal boats into industrial vessels in the BBE area, the largest public investment done in MH-PC area (about 1.5 million dollars) was destined to the installation of a fish processing plant. The processing plant project has been financed by a national subsidy given to the Artisanal Fishery Chamber of Monte Hermoso – Pehuén Co (I5a). The type of investment shows a clear difference with respect to the policies implemented in both areas. While the first “Ecological Artisanal Fishing Terminal of Monte Hermoso and Pehuén Co” has been built, fishermen from BBE could begin to implement non-sustainable techniques, with the complete disagreement of their neighbors (I4a).

5. Conclusions

The Ostrom’s framework was used in order to characterize a small-scale fishery SES in Argentina. Several drivers for potential common-management and some detractors from the current common performance were summarized. Despite small-scale fisheries in the region have been considered as a single group of actors given its common history and interactions over the years, we should recognize that artisanal fishery system is at a bifurcation point. The working definition mentioned in Section 3 characterizes a SES as a bio-geo-physical unit… delimited by spatial or functional boundaries. Today, small-scale fisheries in BBE and MH-PC coastal area might be breaking as an entity and facing a reconfiguration of its functional boundaries.

The heterogeneous preferences among users (Cinti et al. 2010) and the divergent characteristics of the SES gave rise to different responses to the problem of resource management: the increasing collective-choice and collective-actions towards sustainable management in MH-PC vs. the instauration of non-sustainable practices in BBE. This internal conflict creates the incapacity to build strong trust and reciprocity among all users in the SES, being an important barrier for an integrated community-based management.

Communities can arrive at local self-organization through distinct combination of conditions, or results can vary in different periods of time for the same community (Basurto et al. 2013). The study shows that the focal SES in BBE and MH-PC area may become a comprehensive system with community-based management, in two different focal SESs with dissimilar outcomes, or it can even result in the complete depletion of artisanal fishery. The heterogeneity among actors and external conditions has induced a divergence in the self-organization ability between two groups. Once internal conflicts are deeply rooted, complex causations may generate interactions and outcomes resulting in two dissimilar governance systems.

By adapting the general Ostrom’s framework (Annex 1), new tiers variables were necessary to represent the heterogeneity of actors and their interactions, the relevance of a complex social-politic-economical settings and the multiplicity of anthropogenic effects on the resource system.

We clearly identified direct user (fishermen) together with other actors directly involved in the SES, living in the same place, taking decisions about the use of the resource units, competing for the access to the resource system (i.e. tourism, industry, commerce) and interacting. For instance, an important related SES in the area is the tourism. Although fishery and tourism can be treated as two focal interrelated SESs, tourism supposes the intensive use of coastal resources and actors involved in tourism compete against fishermen for the use of the beach and access to the coast. Tourism has negative environmental impacts on fishery (i.e. waste, traffic, noise pollution), although it improves fishing activity by increasing the seasonal demand for fish and for sport activities. The development of new governance system should consider not only the heterogeneity of fishermen, but the whole group of stakeholders since fishery SESs is not isolated. In the same way, the behavior of El Rincón (which can be considered as another related SES) should be taken into account when designing management plans for sustainable use of resources since both, the estuarine environment and the surrounding sea region, have close interaction.

Considering direct users, a common historical and cultural root, the presence of leaderships, the relevance of the local knowledge, the dependence on the resource to sustainable livelihoods and the threat of big-scale fisheries invading exclusive fishing area generated reciprocity and moderate levels of trust among fishermen. But, some external and internal processes eroded the social capital when collective actions seemed to be growing faster, leading to a divergent path. BBE fishermen have ignored internal norms and processes of community decision-making, confronting the MH-PC fishermen.

History is a crucial factor to understand the scarce participation of stakeholders in politics and governance. The description of the setting and the governance system shows how a bad performance of the institutional frame (i.e. the sequence and importance of military coups and the absence of democratic processes) has undermined the development of a community-based management.

However, some collective actions and internal rules arose as a more or less automatic response to the inefficient governmental control. In accordance with the extended literature cited above, variables related to the governance system as monitoring, enforcement and sanctioning processes are shown as too relevant for determining the management of natural resources. In our case, informal monitoring rules and sharing information have helped artisanal fisheries to survive. Recently, institutional learning allowed actors from MH-PC to make operative some decision-making processes.

In accordance with the eight principles of Ostrom (2009), rules governing the use of resources are not well matched to local needs and conditions since most individuals affected by these rules cannot participate in their modification. The rights of community members to devise their own rules are hardly respected by external authorities since governance system is based on a top-down process. Sanctioning processes also fail. Nevertheless, a system for monitoring the behavior of members is being shaped and a fraction of the community members themselves are undertaking this monitoring. Social capital is deepening in that group of the SES. Boundaries seem to be redefining. If actors in BBE and MH–PC coastal area are able to develop conflict resolution mechanisms at low costs, they can come together in a more powerful group to negotiate and formalize their rules, moving closer towards the goal of a community-based management.