Drama of the commons in small-scale shrimp aquaculture in northwestern Sri Lanka
Aquaculture, and shrimp aquaculture in particular, can have major social and environmental impacts. However, aquaculture remains an understudied area in commons research. Can aspects of commons theory be applied to solve problems of aquaculture? We examined three coastal community-based shrimp aquaculture operations in northwestern Sri Lanka using a case study approach. These shrimp farms were individually owned by small producers and managed under local-level rules designed by cooperatives (samithi). The common-pool resource of major interest was water for aquaculture ponds, obtained from an interconnected water body. We evaluated the shrimp farming social-ecological system by using Ostrom’s design principles for collective action. Key elements of the system were: clearly defined boundaries; collaboratively designed crop calendar, bottom-up approach involving community associations, multi-level governance, and farmers-and-government collaborative structures. Together, these elements resolved the excludability and subtractability problems of commons by establishing boundary and membership rules and collective choice rules.