A Political Ecology of the Jellyfish Fishery in Nicaragua

Authors: Matthew Fahrenbruch*, University of Kansas
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Marine and Coastal Resources, Latin America
Keywords: Political Ecology, Jellyfish Fisheries, Nicaragua, Resource Periphery, Boom-and-Bust
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: 8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Miskitu (Caribbean) Coast of Nicaragua has long served as a resource periphery for foreign capitalists. Since colonial times, the Coast has experienced a series of boom-and-bust resource-based ‘project’ economies that have shaped the region’s ecology and culture. The most recent example was a cannonball jellyfish (S. meleagris) fishery that developed in the late 2000s. Jellyfish is a much revered food in East Asia and especially China. Historically, China was the primary producer and consumer of jellyfish with evidence of exploitation dating back 1,700 years. Increasing demand and over-exploitation, however, have pushed the sequential exploitation of edible jellyfish into non-traditional markets such as Nicaragua. Starting with an experimental jellyfish processing facility (JPF) in the community of Tuapi in 2008, the fishery expanded rapidly between 2013 and 2015 to 9 JPFs. But, as quickly as it boomed, the fishery busted, leaving abandoned JPFs and disgruntled communities. This study, based on ten months of fieldwork on the Miskitu Coast (2015-2018) employs a multi-scale political-ecological approach to identify and theorize the factors that facilitated the boom-and-bust of the fishery. From the historical marginalization of the Coast and degradation of traditional fisheries, to finicky market dynamics in China, to the unpredictable nature of jellyfish populations, the boom-and-bust of the Miskitu Coast jellyfish fishery cannot be explained by any one factor but a mixture of local, international, and ecological factors that are shared by other jellyfish fisheries around the world.

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