The remote and very densely populated Pacific island of Tikopia has long been used as a test case for theories about the influence of environmental limits on cultural evolution. Functionalist notions of 'Pacific' traditions hold that, prehistorically, Tikopians should have encountered and collectively recognized the limits of their island's fisheries and responded by developing customary management institutions. Our findings support the observations of anthropologist Raymond Firth in the 1920s, that reefs and coastal seas at Tikopia are rarely subject to exclusive claims, and traditional fishing taboos are infrequent, brief, spatially limited, and likely to have little or no impact on fishery productivity. While Tikopia is famous for a unique and impressive form of agricultural intensification, and draconian traditions for limiting the human population, Tikopians appear not to have ever believed that their marine fisheries are limited. At the same time we found that Tikopians eat more fish on a daily basis than coastal fishers at several less densely populated sites in Solomon Islands and PNG for which we have comparable data. Roughly half of the fish Tikopians eat are coral reef-associated, the rest being pelagic (small and large) and deep-water species. Underwater Visual Census data for reef fish indicate similar, or higher densities than for reefs on other Pacific islands with much less dense populations. A small set of catch-per-unit-effort data shows wide variance, but comparatively high rates for hook and line, nocturnal netting of flying fish, trolling and night spearing. We discuss these findings and the questions they pose in relation to the extent to which 'Pacific' traditions and cosmologies predispose fishers to comply with modern fisheries co-management schemes.


Further Details: Simon Foale currently teaches anthropology in the College of Arts, Society and Education at James Cook University. He studied marine science as an undergraduate at UQ and has been working on environmental issues (mainly coastal fisheries), in various parts of the Pacific (mainly Solomon Islands and PNG) for the past 25 years.

About UQ Solomon Islands Partnership Seminar

The relationship between The University of Queensland and the Solomon Islands goes back several decades into early links in mining exploration, agriculture and education, and was revived in 2003 when a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Solomon Islands Government and the University. This MOU was renewed on two occasions. When it expired in 2014 it was replaced by one between The University of Queensland and the new Solomon Islands National University, which was signed by UQ Vice President and Deputy Vice Chancellor (International) Professor Monique Skidmore and Solomon Islands National University Vice Chancellor Dr Glynn Galo on 30 April 2014. Dr Patricia Rodie, SINU Pro Vice Chancellor (Academic) was also present, along with UQ Professors Jennifer Corrin and Clive Moore. This new MOU is valid for five years.
The following key principles encapsulate the mission of the Partnership:
  • Articulation of students between the two universities;
  • Visits between universities by academic staff;
  • Visits between universities of technical and administrative staff;
  • Sharing of academic materials;
  • Collaborative research and publication;
  • Joint organisation of conferences, seminars or other academic meetings;
  • Joint organisation of special technical administrative programs;
  • Joint production and delivery of courses and programs.
Professor Clive Moore and Professor Jennifer Corrin
Joint Conveners, UQ Solomon Islands Partnership, July 2015


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