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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 358-359

Coastal Lives: Nature, Capital, and the Struggle for Artisanal Fisheries in Peru

School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Arizona; Center for Oceans, Conservation International, Hawaii; Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center, University of Washington, Washington, USA

Correspondence Address:
Alejandro Garcia Lozano
School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Arizona; Center for Oceans, Conservation International, Hawaii; Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center, University of Washington, Washington
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_50_22

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Date of Web Publication14-Jun-2022

How to cite this article:
Lozano AG. Coastal Lives: Nature, Capital, and the Struggle for Artisanal Fisheries in Peru. Conservat Soc 2022;20:358-9

How to cite this URL:
Lozano AG. Coastal Lives: Nature, Capital, and the Struggle for Artisanal Fisheries in Peru. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 21];20:358-9. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2022/20/4/358/347537

Viatori, M. and Bombiella H. Coastal Lives: nature, capital, and the struggle for artisanal fisheries in Peru. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson. 2019. (pp. 232). Paperback (ISBN: 978-0-8165-4239-0) $29.95.

In Coastal Lives, Viatori and Bombiella offer a unique and detailed view into the worlds of artisanal fisheries in Peru. Foregrounding the experiences of fishers, the authors aim to demonstrate how nature, capital and politics are simultaneously co-produced in struggles over the organisation, development, and future of artisanal fishing. The book succeeds in this endeavour through a rich ethnographic account, attending to historical trajectories, discourses, changing material conditions, and everyday politics and practices in coastal communities surrounding Lima.

One major thrust of the book—which anchors the authors' exploration of how nature, class and politics are intertwined—is tracing how governmental efforts have generated ongoing reconfigurations of socio-spatial and ecological relations in Peru's fisheries, generating new 'ocean natures' for capital accumulation. To this end, Chapter 1 follows the history of the development of fisheries in Peru, showing how the realities of the industrial and artisanal sectors emerge from specific practices and policies. The analysis reveals a common pattern across Latin America and other artisanal fishing contexts, in which marine 'resources' are inscribed as national 'patrimony' and thus subjected to developmentalist policies and resource nationalism. Through histories of national development, fisheries become enrolled in a unity of state and capitalist impulses towards accumulation and growth that ultimately produce patterns of precarity and dispossession currently unfolding in coastal communities. The Peruvian anchoveta (Engraulis ringens), harvested largely for fishmeal and fish oil in what is the most significant industrial fishery in the country and arguably the world, figures centrally in these reconfigured 'ocean natures' in Peru. Through the authors' work, it becomes possible to see how the fates of artisanal fishers are directly and indirectly linked with the industrialisation of the anchoveta fishery.

In subsequent chapters, the authors dive deeper into their ethnographic work, coursing swiftly between fieldwork and interviews, a historical analysis of government interventions and socio-cultural change, and theoretical connections that ground the analysis. Chapter 2 examines the discourses and practices that have produced the alterity or otherness of coastal people over time. In doing so, the authors demonstrate how dominant conceptions of class and racial otherness by elites in the developing capital of Lima influence the modes of governance and administration directed at coastal communities. This is a unique contribution of the book: highlighting the racial and ethnic dimensions of marginalisation commonly experienced by artisanal fishers, and the intersecting discourses that enable the dispossession of coastal peoples, including changing rationalities for governing and 'elite discourses' that position artisanal fishers as less civilised and disorganised. The authors show continuity between colonial discourses that produce coastal people as racial and ethnic 'Others' and more recent neoliberal discourses of individual choice and responsibility, which are used by government authorities to describe fishers as disorganised, 'unregulated burdens' (31).

In the same vein, Chapter 4 highlights the tensions that emerge from processes to govern and make fishers more legible (Scott 1998), the forms of commoning and informal relationships that are rendered invisible in these processes, and how they intersect with neoliberal discourses on responsibility. The authors also reveal how such discourses on responsibility are partly taken up by fishers themselves. For example, in Chapter 5, they examine the everyday politics of life on the wharf in the community of Chorrillos to understand the political subjectivities of fishers and vendors, the tensions between structural forms of inequity and individual agency, and the struggles to lead dignified lives. Their findings suggest that fishers and other key actors involved in Peru's artisanal fisheries resort to ideas about the need for hard work and individual action in ways that obfuscate the structural conditions and drivers of change in the development of the sector. Coupling these discursive insights with a historical analysis of socio-natural change, the book generates unique understandings about neoliberalism in oceans, the production of fishers as responsibilised political subjects, and the role of colonial and racist legacies in informing the current ideological environment in which fishers operate. As such, the work is aligned with other key efforts in the field (Bresnihan 2016).

Another way in which the book examines the linkages between capital, politics, class, and specific ocean natures is through a geographically grounded analysis of change in coastal port towns. For instance, Chapter 3 compares different ports in the Lima region through the lens of uneven development (Smith 2008). This perspective makes visible the interplay of material, socio-natural conditions and individual actions that have led to disparities among different coastal towns, their access to resources, and their ability to withstand fluctuations in capitalist seafood production. In the historical review and throughout, the book also contributes to scholarship challenging the land-sea divide in marine research. The authors demonstrate the specific ways in which urban development is connected to the reorganisation of life on the coast—from politics around the social organisation of different ethnic groups and classes in Lima to flows of contaminants and tourism from city to rural coasts. Bridging the historical literature on urban development in Lima with the history of nearby coastal communities, the book illustrates the many direct and indirect connections—indeed the metabolic unity—between rural and urban spaces, which are not often explored in artisanal fisheries.

Despite its many contributions, some limitations of the book are also worth highlighting. At times, the book would benefit from greater engagement with scientific literature; for instance, when discussing the oceanographic fluctuations associated with the growth and decline of fisheries in Peru. Elsewhere, the analysis would be strengthened by closer dialogue with the literature on small-scale fisheries, which is extensive albeit not always entrenched in the same theoretical perspectives explored here. This would allow the authors to signal the many commonalities that artisanal fisheries in Peru share with other contexts in terms of narratives and governance struggles—for instance, conflicts with and perceptions of industrial fishing.

The book aims to elucidate the drastic reorganisations of oceanic life—'both human and nonhuman' (27)—that have been involved in governing Peru's fisheries, yet the roles of nonhumans and their fates in these changing life worlds are sometimes absent in the analysis. For example, when describing how artisanal fishers' practices and knowledges constitute coastal commons, much of the focus is on human relationships and knowledge of the environment rather than on how nonhuman beings shape and are themselves constituted in these social worlds. Similarly, sea lions are key figures in artisanal fishers' narratives, but the reconfiguration of sea lions' ecologies through their relationship with fishing is not considered. The authors are not alone in this. Extending methodological symmetry to nonhumans and incorporating them as more than objects for human representation, remains challenging (Robbins 2019, Buller 2015). Nonetheless, the authors do meaningfully engage with related concerns such as materiality in various parts of the book. For instance, they show how relatively intact ecosystems enable one port town to engage in a politics of conservation to maintain control of the coastal zone, whereas contamination in another port town precludes this political possibility.

Lastly, as the authors acknowledge, their focus on life at the wharf and connections with a specific fishing association, mostly made up of men, limits potential insights about how other aspects of peoples' lives influence their work in coastal fisheries. Rather than a weakness, this perhaps inevitable methodological boundary enables the authors to examine how the politics of everyday life play out at the wharf. These involve contested identities, gendered work relations and divisions, negotiations about political subjectivities and authority, and the possibilities for dignified lives and futures. The authors capture a diversity of standpoints, linking them all to broader scales and historical processes and to key questions about equity and justice.

Through in-depth ethnographic engagement and historical analysis, Coastal Lives reveals both common patterns and unique conjunctures that have shaped the development of artisanal fisheries in Peru and the ongoing struggles over fisheries and dignified coastal lives. The book engages and draws connections between various critical perspectives on the environment and natural resources, including political and economic geography, historical materialism, and anthropology. The authors clearly articulate how each of these perspectives helps advance understandings of small-scale fisheries and the role that capital accumulation has played in creating conditions of precarity and injustice in this sector, as well as environmental change. The work is also wide-reaching in terms of the themes and problems covered—from coastal contamination to labour and gender relations to conflicts over futurity and coastal development—attesting to the holism that is necessary for understanding fisheries as complex social-ecological assemblages. This book will undoubtedly be valuable for researchers and students, and given its many useful references, would make a great pedagogical companion for courses on natural resources or environmental social science. The authors' analysis makes evident how even 'small' shifts in framing and in policy implementation can have lasting effects on many aspects of the lives of coastal people, who are often the target of changing and increasingly complex modes of authority. Therefore, the book would be insightful for decision-makers, practitioners, and activists hoping to bring about alternative futures and to formulate compelling counter-narratives to challenge dominant, neoliberal accounts of how to solve fisheries' problems.

   References Top

Bresnihan, P. 2016. Transforming the fisheries: neoliberalism, nature, and the commons. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.  Back to cited text no. 1
Buller, H. 2015. Animal geographies II: methods. Progress in Human Geography 39(3): 374–384. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132514527401  Back to cited text no. 2
Robbins, P. 2020. Political ecology: a critical introduction. Oxford, UK: John Wiley & Sons.  Back to cited text no. 3
Scott, J. C. 1998. Seeing like a state. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.  Back to cited text no. 4
Smith, N. 2008[1984]. Uneven development: nature, capital, and the production of space. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.  Back to cited text no. 5


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