Emergence of co-management governance for Hawai'i coral reef fisheries

Adam L. Ayers, John N. Kittinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Governance failures associated with top-down management have spawned a myriad of institutional arrangements to engage resource users in decision-making through co-management. Although co-management can take many forms and may not always lead to positive outcomes, it has emerged as a promising governance option available to meet social and ecological goals. Recent research on co-management of small-scale fisheries has used comparative approaches to test factors associated with social and ecological success. Less is known however, about how co-management institutional arrangements emerge and persist in the face of socioeconomic and environmental change. Here, we examine the emergence of co-management governance using a case study from coral reef fisheries in the Hawaiian Islands. We used a mixed methods approach, combining a robust policy analysis and a set of key respondent interviews to trace the evolution of this co-management arrangement. Our research uncovers a set of linked drivers and social responses, which together comprise the emergence phase for the evolution of co-management in this case study. Drivers include resource depletion and conflict, and social responses comprise self-organization, consensus building, and collective action. We share insights on key factors that affect these phases of emergence, drawing on empirical findings from our policy review and key respondent interviews. We conclude by describing ways that our findings can directly inform policy and planning in practice, including the importance of documenting the 'creation story' that spawned the new institutional arrangement, ensuring that enabling conditions are present, the complexity of defining community, the connection between process legitimacy and outcomes, and understanding the costs and timelines associated with co-management governance transitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-262
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Co-management
  • Common-pool resources
  • Community-based management
  • Coral reefs
  • Emergence
  • Small-scale fisheries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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