Co-management is advocated as a means to improve human equity and the ecological sustainability of common-pool resources. The promotion of co-management of fisheries often assumes the participation of resource users in decision-making ensures more ecologically sustainable outcomes than top–down management approaches while improving livelihoods and food security. However, in fisheries co-management approaches, participation is often poorly defined and measured by co-management proponents. For resource users, it may not be clear what their participation in co-management entails, and what such participation might involve or achieve. For the fisheries of Lake Victoria (Kenya), the introduction of co-management established Beach Management Units (BMUs) on a model of participatory decision-making. Unsurprisingly, given global experiences of institutions for resource users’ participation in co-management, the structures established across Lake Victoria (Kenya) have not resulted in effective participation of fisher folk. We examine why this is so. Specifically, we examine the influence of institutions on fisher folks’ participation in co-management, using critical institutionalism to explain how participation of resource users is shaped by the relation between formal government institutions and informal social norms. We take four BMUs as case studies to investigate how historical administrative structures shape the development of co-management, how power relationships within co-management are negotiated at the local beach level and the fisher folks’ understanding of their participation in co-management. We document how informal institutions undermine and replace formal institutions at the local beach level, while formal institutions suppress and ignore informal ones at the national and regional levels. From this, we argue power sharing between the government and fisher folk is key for fisher folk participation in fisheries co-management, capable of addressing both social and ecological challenges facing fisheries management.
- Critical institutionalism
- Lake Victoria