Coastal communities in the southwest Pacific may be granted legal control over local seas in a move that acknowledges failings of Western-style centralised fisheries management systems. The action is a response to declining fish and mollusc populations in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and other Melanesian nations.
In this article, Emma Young reports that the concept involves establishing local marine area committees, fishing quotas and 'no-take zones' based on the Melanesian custom of taboo. Traditional laws will be presented to each Melanesian government and, if adopted, will contribute to a regional action plan. In areas where traditional customs no longer apply, existing national laws would persist.
A pilot study in Fiji has yielded encouraging results and there are hopes to repeat the system throughout Melanesia and beyond. Indeed, Micronesian and Polynesian nations are also exploring ways to invoke traditional law to protect the environment.