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Latin american journal of aquatic research

versión On-line ISSN 0718-560X

Lat. Am. J. Aquat. Res. vol.42 no.4 Valparaíso oct. 2014 

Research Article


Socio-ecological analysis of the artisanal fishing system on Easter Island

Análisis socio-ecológico del sistema pesquero artesanal de Isla de Pascua


Eleuterio Yáñez1, Claudio Silva1, María Ángela Barbieri2 & Héctor Trujillo2

1 Escuela de Ciencias del Mar, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso P.O. Box 1020, Valparaíso, Chile.
2 Instituto de Fomento Pesquero, P.O. Box 8-V, Valparaíso, Chile.
Corresponding author: Eleuterio Yáñez (

ABSTRACT. This paper introduces a socio-ecological analysis of the artisanal fisheries system on Easter Island (27°07'S, 109°22'W) through the identification and interaction of stakeholders. It also comprises a structural analysis of the system aiming to identify any key issues and then propose research and development programs for multiple fisheries that will contribute to their sustainable development. The methodology is divided into four stages: i) identification of issues with stakeholder (fishers, government workers and expert scientists) participation, ii) analysis of a structural matrix consisting of a direct causality study of the symmetric, structural and binary matrix based on socio-ecological issues allowing the calculation of the level of influence and dependence of each issue, iii) identification of key issues with an influence/dependency diagram, and iv) proposal of research and development programs according to the needs and opportunities identified in the previous stages. The Easter Island artisanal fishing system is used as a case study for this methodological approach. Thus, the fishers identified 108 issues, which were then grouped by similarity, reducing the number to 27 global issues, of which seven were identified as key. Surveyed local and central government workers and expert scientists identified 7, 2 and 5 issues, respectively. Finally, research and development programs are proposed that will encourage a series of changes to the fisheries situation on the island, in order to resolve issues and promote their sustainable development.

Keywords: fisheries management, sustainable development, socio-ecological system, artisanal fishing, Easter Island.

RESUMEN. Este artículo presenta un análisis socio-ecológico del sistema pesquero artesanal de la Isla de Pascua (27°07'S, 109°22'W), mediante la identificación e interacción de los actores sociales (stakeholders). También comprende un análisis estructural del sistema con el objetivo de identificar los problemas clave del sistema para la posterior propuesta de programas de investigación y desarrollo para múltiples pesquerías que contribuyan a su desarrollo sustentable. La metodología se divide en cuatro etapas: i) identificación de los problemas con la participación actores sociales (pescadores, trabajadores del gobierno y expertos científicos), ii) análisis de la matriz estructural que consiste en un análisis de causalidad directa de la matriz simétrica, estructural y binaria construida con problemas socio-ecológicos que permiten el cálculo del nivel de influencia y dependencia de cada problema, iii) identificación de los problemas clave con un diagrama de influencia/ dependencia, y iv) propuesta de programas de investigación y desarrollo de acuerdo a las necesidades y oportunidades identificadas en las etapas anteriores. El enfoque metodológico se aplica al sistema pesquero artesanal de Isla de Pascua como caso de estudio. De este modo, los pescadores identificaron 108 problemas, los cuales fueron agrupados por similitud, lo que redujo el número a 27 problemas, de los cuales siete fueron identificados como problemas clave. También fueron encuestados funcionarios del gobierno local y central y expertos científicos, que identificaron 7, 2 y 5 problemas clave, respectivamente. Por último, se proponen programas de investigación y desarrollo que fomenten una serie de cambios en la situación de la pesca en la isla, para resolver los problemas y promover su desarrollo sustentable.

Palabras clave: gestión pesquera, desarrollo sustentable, sistema socio-ecológico, pesquería artesanal, Isla de Pascua.



Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is located at 27°9'S, 109°26'W, almost 3.700 km off the Chilean coast and equally far from Tahiti in the west. Therefore, it is considered the most remote inhabited island on the planet (Mieth & Bork, 2005). World famous for its remarkable monolithic human figures, or moai, Easter Island is also recognized for its unique marine life (Glynn et al., 2003; Randall & Cea, 2011). Its waters support wide-ranging populations of migratory fish species such as yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), albacore (Thunnus alalunga), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), and swordfish (Xiphias gladius), among others. These fish form a fundamental part of Rapa Nui culture, which has a God of Tuna, represented by the stone statue "Pou Hakamononga" (Ferrer, 1990). The exploitation of marine resources on Rapa Nui is mainly subsistence and artisanal in nature (Randall & Cea, 1984), i.e., small-scale fishing in near-shore waters (Muñoz, 2011). Coastal fishing is conducted on boats no bigger than 15 m long, and generally occurs within the first five miles from the coast. The fishing system is composed of 56 active and inactive fishers in the five artisanal coves of Hanga Roa, Hanga Piko, Vaihu, Hotu Iti and Hanga Ho'onu (Yáñez et al., 2007). According to statistical yearbooks, the main fisheries resources exploited that have significant positive socio-economic impacts on Easter Island are yellowfin tuna, nanue (Kiphosus sandwicensis) and sierra (Thyrsites atun), which comprise 50%, 14% and 8% of total landings, respectively (SERNAPESCA, 2010). Other coastal fisheries include shoreline fishing with line and bait, costal diving with harpoons and the collection of seaweed, crustaceans and mollusks in the intertidal zone and coral from the sub-tidal shallows (Ayres, 1979, 1985; Yáñez et al., 2007). However, a series of issues, such as insufficient relations with public institutions in the central government, the high demand for marine products from inhabitants and tourists on Easter Island and the irregularity of fisheries activities, have led to a constant sensation of abandonment and shortages in marine resources by the islanders (Yáñez et al., 2007; Ramírez, 2010).

In order to mitigate the above issues and achieve sustainable development of the fisheries system on Easter Island, it is necessary to consider the island as a Socio-Ecological System (SES), as its existence and development over time will depend on how key factors (economic growth and social equity) interrelate with one another and with the ecosystem. An SES is understood as a system with a social (or human) component in interaction with an ecological component (Berkes & Folkes, 1998; Perry et al., 2011). In recent years, several scientific research projects have shown the importance of approaching fisheries systems from a socio-ecological perspective (Murray et al., 2008; McClanahan et al., 2009; Berkes, 2011; Yáñez et al., 2011). This approach was applied in a diagnostics project about the fishery industry on Easter Island funded by the Under Secretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture, National Fisheries Service V Region and the Provincial Government of Easter Island (Yáñez et al., 2007). The project was executed during 2007 by the School of Marine Sciences at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso and provides a full report on artisanal fisheries on the island, using workshops and surveys of all stakeholders (artisanal fishers, government workers and expert scientists) in order to identify issues in the fisheries system and other aspects relevant to sociological issues (Yáñez et al., 2007).

In order to identify the population needs on Easter Island in connection to the fisheries sector and also to get primary information of their concerns and perspectives for the development of the sector, an innovative, participative and multi-methodological approach was used to create a vision of the fisheries sector in a socio-ecological context (Gunderson & Holling, 2002; Berkes et al., 2003). The analysis of the socio-ecological system presents the reality on the island based on the perspectives of all the stakeholders and gives rise to a multi-referential situational explanation (Matus, 1987), using perceptions of the people who interact with the fisheries sector, both locally on Easter Island and on continental Chile.

The methodology of this study includes an initial phase of identifying the issues in the fisheries system with the participation of the stakeholders themselves, followed by a structural analysis (matrices and diagrams) to identify the key issues that must be resolved in order for the institutional organization of the fisheries system to function. The objective of the study is to provide a socio-ecological analysis that uses the identification and interactions of the stakeholders to conduct a structural analysis of the system to identify the key issues, propose research and development programs for the fisheries system, and contribute to its sustainable development.


This study conducted a socio-ecological analysis of the stakeholders of the Artisanal Fisheries System on Easter Island (AFSEI). The stakeholders include fishers, public administrators (local and central government) and expert scientists. A set of five clusters of minimum knowledge (environment, technology and infrastructure, economics, social knowledge and governance) was used to understand the structure and function of the AFSEI (Fig. 1, adapted from Yáñez et al., 2011). The fifth cluster refers to the system's governance: it influences all other clusters and includes the knowledge required to understand the approaches, methods and instruments needed for the sustainable development of fisheries (Fig. 1).


Figure 1. Cluster of minimum knowledge used to understand the fisheries system (adapted from Yáñez et al, 2011).


The study was conducted following a four-stage process. First, a collection of socio-ecological information about fishers and public administrators (local and central government) was performed based on participatory activities, including workshops and surveys carried out during June 2007. The socio-ecological information generated was used to create a situational explanation from fishers and public administrators and to identify and define an initial list of issues that hinder the sustainable development of the fisheries system. Additionally, a bibliographical review was conducted to characterize the present status of the AFSEI in the context of the five clusters of minimum knowledge. The bibliographic analysis served as input for the expert scientists to generate an a priori situational explanation of the AFSEI and to identify and describe an initial set of issues. Secondly, using the initial issues identified by stakeholders, a structural matrix analysis, based on Godet (1994), of these issues as related to fisheries development was conducted to estimate their influence and dependency on the system and to identify key issues. A direct causality analysis of the symmetric, structural and binary matrix built with socio-ecological issues allowed for the calculation of the level of influence and dependence of each issue (Fig. 2a). In workshops the stakeholders estimated the degree of influence of each issue (driver) on the other issues (dependence). The influence (driving force) was calculated for each issue as follows:

where Drij is the sum of influences of driving force i to issue j; eij is a binary value which can be 0 (no influence) or 1 (influence) of the issue i (driver) to issue j (dependence); i = 1....8 is an identifier of corresponding issue (driver); j = 1....8 is an identifier of corresponding issue (dependence); Dr%ij is the driving force of issue j as percentage of contribution over the sum of Drij. The dependency was calculated for each issue as follows:

where Depij is the sum of dependence j to issue i; eij is a binary value which can be 0 (no dependence) or 1 (dependence) of the issue j (dependence) to issue i (driver); i = 1....8 is an identifier of corresponding issue (driver); j = 1....8 is an identifier of corresponding issue (dependence); Dep%ij is the dependence of issue i as percentage of contribution over the sum of Depij.

Thirdly, based on this matrix analysis an influence (driving force) - dependency diagram was constructed using (Dep%ij , Dr%ij) to identify the key issues and facilitate the analysis of the issues in terms of their roles and relative importance or specific weight in the functioning of the AFSEI (Fig. 2b). The driving force-dependency diagrams are the basis for determining the shape and strength of the relationships between the socio-ecological issues. The diagram is a Cartesian plane, divided into four zones that are defined as: power or forcing issues (quadrant I); conflict or forcing-but-forced issues (quadrant II); autonomous or non-forcing issues (quadrant III); and outcome or consequence issues (quadrant IV). The diagram is divided into four zones using the average contribution of each issue, e.g., with eight issues the average is 100%/8 = 12.5% (Fig. 2a). The forcing issues are those that have a great influence on the rest of the issues, but experience little or no influence from them. The conflict zone identifies the issues that have a significant level of influence on the system and receive a similar amount of influence from the system. Outcome issues are those receiving great influence from the system while being unable to influence it. Autonomous issues are those that, even though able to show some level of forcing or dependency with the system, seem to be relatively independent of the system. The key issues are those plotted in quadrants I (forcing issues) and II (conflict issues).


Figure 2. Example of stages 2 and 3 of the methodology: a) structural analysis of issue matrix, and b) driving power and dependence diagram (adapted from Godet, 1994).


Fourthly, keeping in mind the key issues detected by stakeholders, a proposal for research and development programs was designed, showing which aspects (ecosystem, technology and infrastructure, economics, social aspects and governance) are in need of sustainable development.



In this section we report the case study of AFSEI where the application of each stage of the approach was critical to explore, model or analyze the social-ecological system of concern.

Issues identified by stakeholders

In 2007, an in situ survey was conducted with different stakeholders (fishers, local government, central government and expert scientists) in order to capture their perceptions about the needs and projections of artisanal fisheries activities on Easter Island. The following question was put to the interviewees: in your opinion and based on your own experience as a fisher on Easter Island, central government worker, local government worker or scientist, what do you believe are the main issues that hinder the functioning of fisheries activities? Briefly describe each issue.

In 2007, artisanal fishers and boats on Easter Island numbered 56 and 38, respectively (Yáñez et al., 2007). A total of 37 fishers (male) received and answered the survey question. Of the total surveyed fishers, 25 were from Hanga Piko, 8 from Hanga Roa, 3 from Hanga Ho'onu and 1 from Hotu Iti. Only 12 of the fishers surveyed were registered in the Artisanal Fishing Register (AFR). Of the fishers who responded, 15 indicated that they declared catch information about the species harvested. Around 68% of the fishers surveyed indicated that they were fishing boat owners and captains and 32% indicated they were crew. All fishers were male with an average age of 50.3 years. In total 108 issues were identified by fishers, which were then grouped by similarity to find a resulting 27 general issues (Table 1).


Table 1. Set of issues identified by stakeholders.


In addition, 6 central government and 8 local government workers were surveyed, identifying 12 and 14 issues, respectively (Table 1). Of all the central government workers interviewed, 3 were from the National Fisheries Service, 2 from the Under-secretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture and 1 from the Chilean Economic Development Agency. Local government surveyed included the Municipality Mayor, the National Property Manager, the Maritime Governor of Hanga Roa, 2 workers from the Provincial Office of the National Fisheries Service, 2 from the Provincial Office of the National Tourism Service and 1 from the Ministry of Publics Works.

Finally, 6 scientists were surveyed identifying 18 issues (Table 1). Recognized Chilean scientists with expertise in fisheries, biology and ecology of the Eastern Island marine ecosystem were surveyed and included researchers from Instituto de Fomento Pesquero, Universidad Austral de Chile and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso.

Structural analysis: identification of key issues

The list of issues identified by the stakeholders formed the basis for constructing the interaction matrices for the structural analysis (Fig. 3). The degree of influence of each issue (driver in rows) on the other issues (dependence in columns) was estimated by the stakeholders in participatory workshops. For example, it is evident that Fisher's issue#1 (driver), accumulation of sediments in the harbor basin, influences issue#11 (dependence), small space for mooring small and large boats. Thus, fishers assigned this a dependency of "1" (Fig. 3a). However, the issue#1 (dependence), accumulation of sediments in the harbor basin, is only influenced by issue#5 (driver), poor road access to the harbors, according to fishers' perceptions. The highest forcing issue estimated by fishers was the lack of credibility in the central government (issue#16, Fig. 4a). After the matrix was filled, the influence-dependency analysis for fishers was then used to select the key issues that finally went into the preparation of research and development programs for the sustainability of the fisheries system (Fig. 4a). The following key issues (forcing and conflict zones) for fishers were selected: difficult access to credit, poor associativity of fishers, lack of training in the use of new technologies (GPS, Sounder), accumulation of sediment in the harbor basin, lack of credibility in the central government and high variability of marine currents.


Figure 3. Structural Analysis Matrix made by stakeholders.


Figure 4. Graph of structural analysis by the a) fishers, b) local government, c) central government, and d) scientists. Numbers indicate the issues identified by stakeholders shown in Table 1.


The key issues (forcing and conflict zones) for local government workers were selected. For example, the highest driving power or influence (driving force) issue estimated by local government was the lack of fisheries projects by extant organizations (issue#14, Fig. 4b). Three higher driving forces issues were estimated by central government workers (Fig. 3c): Rapa Nui people do not recognize the fisheries authority and the General Law on Fisheries and Aquaculture of Chile, no adherence to fishing law and cultural barrier (issues#6, #10, #11, Fig. 4c). These three forcing issues together with issue#4, fishers and boats are unregistered in the AFR (Chilean Artisanal Fishing Register), were selected as key issues by the central government.

Recognized Chilean scientists built a structural analysis matrix (Fig. 3d). The following key issues (forcing and conflict zones) were detected by scientists (Fig. 4d): lack of dock infrastructure, lack skilled island manpower, Rapa Nui people and culture, lack in adaptation of suitable fishing technologies, "more than a problem I see a general balance in the use of fishing resources," absence of a legal framework of incentives for the development of fisheries in this isolated place, lack of facilities for maritime berthing, loading and protecting boats, and idiosyncrasies of the islanders, who have other means of subsistence or more profitable jobs than what they would obtain from fishing.

Key issues detected by stakeholders were then grouped according to similarity, leading to 8 categories within the framework of knowledge clusters (Fig. 1): legal, cultural, institutional, economic, technological, infrastructure, governance and ecosystem. Table 2 shows the key issues by stakeholder and by category.


Table 2. Key issues detected by stakeholders.



The results of this study give an initial situational explanation (Matus, 2000) of the key issues in the fisheries sector on Easter Island, taking into account the stakeholders involved (fishers, local and central government and expert scientists). This situational explanation is a simplified reconstruction of the processes that generate the issues highlighted by the stakeholders, such that the elements comprising these processes appear systematically interconnected in the generation of the issues and of their particular characteristics. The situational explanation aims to systematize how we think about the causes of a problem, forcing us to think before proposing solutions and to recognize that the problem may be explained from the different perspectives of the stakeholders who are in direct or indirect contact with it. This is presented and summarized in Table 2, which indicates "what is to be done" to begin to overcome the limitations on the growth of fisheries activities on Easter Island.

With respect to the key issues by stakeholder and by category, it can be seen that in the technological area, the key issues mainly relate to incorrect types of boats, while in infrastructure, issues of immediate resolution (accumulation of sediments) and medium-long term resolution (alterative infrastructure: dock/harbor) can be seen. With regard to cultural issues, the issues are seen from the continent and not from the island, implying the need to generate actions that educate and change the arrogant behavior of the continental population towards the islanders. The island expression, "but we understand the Chileans, they do not understand us," reflects the culture clash between its Polynesian origin and the Latino Chilean culture. This cultural issue affects the human relations between the authorities of local and central government institutions. With regard to organization, the fishers themselves highlight the most notable key issue: a lack of collaboration or associativity among them. This together with the legal and bureaucratic prejudices of the central government makes it more difficult for fishers to approach institutions when formulating fisheries projects. This is also seen in the key issues associated with Governance and Legality, which is what gives life to the actions of any group, particularly one which comes together for production purposes. The accumulation of broken promises from the central government throughout its one hundred years of dealings with Easter Island has fueled the fire of distrust felt by the fishers and the general population of Rapa Nui towards the continentals (they come, they eat, they go). This is a deep rooted feeling in the island population that has led to a new leadership, more proactive, enterprising and demanding for the rights of Rapa Nui, represented by the young and the elderly, and which has already begun to take over some old spaces. Regarding the economy, one key issue that affects the life and economic wellbeing of the island is the supply of fish to the local population and tourists through hotels, restaurants and residents. In terms of the ecosystem, two issues related to fisheries strategies are recognized: the variability of currents and the expansion of fishing zones.

With respect to the fishery resources of the island, it is clear that relevant species, such as cowry (Monetaria caputdraconis) and Easter Island lobster (Panulirus pascuensis), should be recovered from their current deteriorated situation through aquaculture and repopulation of natural banks. The species most intensely exploited by these fishers is the cowry, which has led to a significant decrease in its abundance (Rivera, 2003). Furthermore, in the tuna fishery, it should be considered that the issues are associated with changes in resource availability due to environmental changes. There have been recent declines in landings of yellowfin tuna, which could be caused by depletion by foreign fleets in neighbouring waters, among others factors (Castilla et al., 2013). Therefore, concern should be focused on the exploitation of fisheries resources for bait and human consumption, such as nanue (Kyphosus sandwicensis) generally intended for subsistence consumption and recreational activity (AMBAR, 2001; Yáñez et al., 2007). Besides the above, how environmental changes affect these fisheries should be considered. To that end, a research and development program to analyze the environmental and ecological conditions around Easter Island is proposed to improve the knowledge about the true environmental and ecological variability of southeastern Pacific.

The results reaffirm the idea that in order to achieve the endogenous development (Dalton et al., 2005) of the island in the long-term, the only option that makes sense is to reach complete sustainability of the socio-ecological system (SES). The reason for taking into account the system as a whole is the existence of important links between nature and society on Rapa Nui. Therefore, it is necessary to seek inherent sustainability in the SES, which will bring balance to the following three factors: 1) the economic development of fisheries, 2) the development of the island community, and 3) ecological sustainability. Thus, the functioning and permanence of the SES over time as well as the quality of life on Easter Island will become viable.

Research and development programs

The fisheries research and development programs for Easter Island are proposals, made by the authors of this study, of how to deal with the most important issues or drivers and also a call to action to establish a commitment from the management or with the organization that plans to manage the system to the society it aims to represent. The following research and development programs propose a series of changes to the current fisheries situation on the island:

a) Technical economic feasibility of fisheries for tuna and similar fish using artisanal boats: selection of boats, equipment and training; exploratory fisheries within 200 nm; conservation and manipulation of catches; and sale to locals, tourists and off Easter Island.

b) Infrastructure maintenance and development: control and maintenance of the levels of sediments in fisheries harbor basins; improved facilities such as boxes, bathrooms, meeting rooms and access to harbors; and alternatives for harbor development.

c) Organizational, legal and governance program: create an Easter Island Fishers Organization and a Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Center to support the development of short, medium and long-term projects.

d) Monitoring management and conservation of the ecosystem: in the area of oceanography, the following is recommended: analysis data collected on Easter Island, installation of current meter, fisheries campaigns with oceanographic sampling, and coastal oceanographic monitoring. Regarding marine resources: marine protected areas and management areas, construction of an aquarium, development of aquaculture, particularly native species and over-fished species such as the Easter Island lobster (Panulirus pascuensis) and the cowry (Monetaria caputdraconis).


The authors would like to acknowledge: the Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Servicio Nacional de Pesca V Región and the Provincial Government of Easter Island, for financing project EBI 30059982-0; Nancy Rivera and Leopoldo Manutomatoma for the coordination of information gathering activities, meetings and workshops carried out on the island. The authors are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions to improve the quality of the paper.



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Received: 10 March 2014;
Accepted: 19 May 2014


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