Fragments of memory: The state and small-scale fisheries modernization in southern Puerto Rico

Date of Completion

January 2000


Anthropology, Cultural|Economics, Agricultural|Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture




The study of fisheries development is never included in analyses of Puerto Rico's culture and economy and hence merits the attention of anthropologists and other social scientists. By bringing fisheries development to the fore, this dissertation aims to analyze the role of the Puerto Rican government in the transformation of the island's fisheries from traditional to modern economic enterprises. Although the United States government was concerned with the underdeveloped nature of Puerto Rico's fisheries since it took possession of the island in 1898, only in the early 1940s the Puerto Rican government assumed fisheries development as its own responsibility. An analysis of direct state intervention shows that fisheries development in Puerto Rico has been characterized by discontinuous implementation of several government programs and policies that have discouraged capital accumulation at the local level. But whereas the Puerto Rican government has successfully modernized the island's fisheries, most commercial fishermen still engage in petty forms of production that help them reproduce their household economy. ^ Given the rapid socio-economic development of Puerto Rico since the early 1950s, it was expected that petty commodity production in the fishing industry would have developed into petty capitalism. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in three fishing communities of southern Puerto Rico in order to test the hypothesis that state intervention has hampered fisheries development. It consisted of the application of a household survey, structured interviews with fifty commercial fishermen regarding the processes of economic development in the region studied, and structured interviews with twelve fishery agents about changes in fisheries development policies since the 1940s. Qualitative and quantitative data analysis showed that the majority of the fishermen's households experience precarious economic conditions and combine various semi-skilled and skilled jobs with transfer payments from the United States and Puerto Rican governments. No major differences between the fishermen's households were found. As a result, most fishermen as well as fishery agents agreed that the potential for fisheries development in Puerto Rico is severely limited. Thus, state intervention should be revisited in order to promote fisheries conservation and co-management. ^