More than just access to fish: The pros and cons of fisher participation in a customary marine tenure (Padu) system under pressure

Authors Coulthard, S.
Year of Publication 2011
Type of Publication Journal Article
Journal Marine Policy
Volume 35
Issue 3
Pagination 405-412
Open Access No


The Padu system of South Asia has received growing attention as an example of customary marine tenure that has survived despite rapid development and change throughout the region’s fisheries. This paper describes the Padu system as it functions at Pulicat lagoon, India, where it has enjoyed decades of legitimacy amongst its members, and has contributed to sustainable fishing. Recently, however, the Padu system has become unstable, driven by pressures of an expanding fishing population, reduced access to fishing grounds and a growing ‘shared poverty’. In spite of this, fisher loyalty to uphold the Padu system remains strong. This raises questions about the broader social, political and cultural meanings of Padu, which extend beyond access to a lucrative fishery. The paper highlights a trade-off between the benefits received through Padu membership at a societal level through collective action, and the individual costs of partaking in ‘shared poverty’, which is inherently distributed unequally amongst fishing families. The paper concludes with a discussion on the future of the Padu system in Pulicat, drawing from evolutionary pathways of other Padu systems in the region. It is suggested that, in the Pulicat case, the high social values attributed to the Padu system, alongside complex power structures, may hinder institutional adaptation.