The tragedy of the inland lakes

Ben Sonneveld, Frejus Thoto, Donald Houessou, Lia van Wesenbeeck

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Increased pressure on communal fishing grounds is testing the traditional regulations among fishing communities who should preserve inland waters’ productive capacity and ecological values. Inland lakes in Benin are a typical case in point. With the mounting number of fisherfolk and pollution from densely populated urban areas the threat of overfishing and water degradation looms large. This paper questions whether customary rules of fishing communities can cope with current and future challenges. A survey among 839 fisherfolk found that agreements to control shared waters are virtually absent and remain unmonitored while mistrust and loss of faith in community members and government institutions result in low levels of organization. It is alarming to note the high incidence of conflicts that end violently, the prevailing food insecurity and a high illiteracy rate limiting employment to low-paid wage labour. Solutions to identified constraints go beyond the individual, requiring collective action and a platform where fishing communities can take matters into their own hands to avert a tragedy of the inland waters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-636
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Benin
  • Conflicts
  • Fisheries
  • Inland waters
  • Regulations


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