Our work is founded on common-pool resource and collective action scholarship while drawing theoretical and methodological insights from within and outside of this broad field to extend current thinking about the governance of the commons. 


We have a track record of theory building as well as engagement in applied research with direct policy impact. Our journey constitutes a long-term exploration and reflection of how praxis shapes governance theories and methods and vice-versa.


Our Team

Xavier Basurto,
Associate Professor

Rachel Cohn,
Undergraduate student

Liza Hoos,
Film and Science Communication Collaborator

Samantha Huff,
Research Analyst

Alejandro Garcia Lozano,
PhD Student

Maria del Mar Mancha-Cisneros,
Postdoctoral Associate

Crisol Mendez,
PhD Candidate

Mateja Nenadovic,
Research Scientist

Anastasia Quintana,
PhD Candidate 

Ben Siegelman,
Master’s student

Hillary Smith,
PhD Student

Colyer Woolston,
Master’s student

Current Projects

    • National Diagnostic of fishing organizations in Mexico and beyond. Read more.
    • Global mapping of civil society organizations related to small-scale fisheries. Read more. 
    • Social-ecological modeling of small-scale fishing communities. Read more.
    • Investigating the role of scientific literature in informing development objectives using the Basurto Lab’s Small-scale Fisheries Library.  Project contact.
    • Using ethnography to understand the cultural values and gendered practices that impact social-ecological systems.  Project contact. 
    • Tracing the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the context of Tanzania, the first country to create a national plan of action for implementation.  Project contact.
    • Examining the role of conflict and collaboration in the establishment and renewal of Fishing Refugia in Baja California Sur. Project contact.




Highlighted publications and reports

Local Institutional Responses to Global Market Pressures: The Sea Cucumber Trade in Yucatán, Mexico

Bennett, A, and Basurto, X. World Development

The expansion of global seafood trade creates opportunities as well as risks for small-scale fisheries (SSFs) livelihoods. Markets provide economic opportunity, but without effective governance, high demand can drive resource degradation. In the context of small-scale sea cucumber fisheries in Yucatán, Mexico, this study documents local governance responses to new markets and identifies factors driving those responses. We conducted a comparative case study of two SSF communities, collecting participant observation and interview data during 16 months of fieldwork. Our study found that local rules-in-use did not match government regulations and that the emergence of local rules was shaped by relations of production in each study site. Specifically, patron–client relationships promoted an open access regime that expanded local fishing fleets while fishing cooperatives attempted to restrict access to local fishing grounds through collective action and multi-level linkages with government. We propose that the different material incentives arising from the way that patron–client relationships and cooperatives organize labor, capital, and profits help explain these divergent governance responses. We hypothesize that this finding is generalizable beyond the study context, especially given that patron–client relationships and cooperatives are common throughout the world’s SSFs. This finding builds on previous research that indicates local institutions can mediate the effects of market pressures, showing that the emergence of local rules depends on how resource users are organized not just in relation to resource governance but vis-à-vis the markets themselves. Therefore, effective policies for SSFs facing market pressures require a greater emphasis on regulating local-level trade and governing the commercial aspects of fishing livelihoods. These lessons are relevant to the estimated 540 million individuals whose livelihoods SSFs support who may increasingly engage in the global seafood trade. Read more.

Strengthening Governance of Small-Scale Fisheries: An Initial Assessment of Theory and Practice

Basurto, X, Virdin, J, Smith, H, and Juskus, R. Oak Foundation

This comprehensive 2017 report provides an initial assessment of the theory and practice related to governance of small-scale fisheries. It includes a discourse analysis of how researchers have conceptualized governance overtime, and a global scan of main trends and activities practitioners are conducting in this space.

Integrating simultaneous prosocial and antisocial behavior into theories of collective action.

Basurto, X, Blanco, E, Nenadovic, M, and Vollan, B. Science Advances

Trust and cooperation constitute cornerstones of common-pool resource theory, showing that "prosocial" strategies among resource users can overcome collective action problems and lead to sustainable resource governance. Yet, antisocial behavior and especially the coexistence of prosocial and antisocial behaviors have received less attention. We broaden the analysis to include the effects of both "prosocial" and "antisocial" interactions. In MPA sites, prosocial and antisocial behavior is significantly higher, and the presence of antisocial behavior does not seem to have a negative effect on prosocial behavior. We suggest that market integration, economic diversification, and strengthened group identity in MPAs are the main potential mechanisms for the simultaneity of prosocial and antisocial behavior we observed. This study constitutes a first step in better understanding the interaction between prosociality and antisociality as related to natural resources governance and conservation science, integrating literatures from social psychology, evolutionary anthropology, behavioral economics, and ecology. Read more.

Improving our Knowledge on Small-Scale Fisheries: Data Needs and Methodologies

Basurto, X, Franz, N, Mills, D, Virdin, J, and Westlund, L. FAO

Read here about the methodological apporach we are taking to revisit and update the 2012 study conducted by World Bank, FAO and Worldfish, HIDDEN HARVEST: The Global Contribution of Capture Fisheries". This new effort focuses on identifying available new data and approaches as well as exploring new opportunities for collaboration that support the implementation of FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.

Contribution of Subsidies and Participatory Governance to Fishers’ Adaptive Capacity

Nenadović, M, Basurto, X, and Weaver, AH. The Journal of Environment & Development.

The need for strengthening fishers' adaptive capacity has been proposed in the literature as an important component of effective fisheries governance arrangements in the presence of rising numbers of external drivers of change. Within the context of small-scale fisheries, government subsidies have been the main tool used for increasing adaptive capacity. We examine the relationship among adaptive capacity, subsidy programs, and fishers' participation in fisheries management, as a potentially important mediating factor affecting outcomes using a data set from two periods of a fishing community in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Our results show a correlation between those fishers with access to decision-making venues and their reception of subsidies, yet the effect of participation and subsidies on fishers' adaptive capacity is limited. This appears to be due to the authorities' lack of commitment to strengthening fishers' adaptive capacity through subsidies programs, and fishers' lack of trust in the governance processes. Read more.

Contribution of Fisheries to Food and Nutrition Security: Current Knowledge, Policy, and Research

Bennett,A, Patil,P, Kleisner,K, Rader,D, Virdin,J and Basurto,X.

In the context of the recently agreed-on United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the goal to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition, this report synthesizes current understanding of capture fisheries’ contributions to food and nutrition security and explores drivers of those contributions. Capture fisheries produce more than 90 million metric tons of fish per year, providing the world’s growing population with a crucial source of food. Due to the particular nutritional characteristics of fish, fisheries represent far more than a source of protein. They provide essential micronutrients—vitamins and minerals—and omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary to end malnutrition and reduce the burden of communicable and non-communicable disease around the world. Yet the contributions of fisheries may be undermined by threats such as overfishing, climate change, pollution, and competing uses for freshwater. To support the food and nutrition security contributions of capture fisheries, policies must be developed both to ensure the sustainability of resources and to recognize tradeoffs and synergies between conservation and food security objectives. A growing body of data and research focused specifically at the intersection of fisheries, nutrition, and food security can inform such efforts by improving understanding of fisheries’ production and distributional dimensions, consumption patterns, and nutritional aspects of fish in the context of healthy diets and sustainable food systems. This expanding body of knowledge can provide a basis for more directly considering fisheries in the food and nutrition security policy dialogue. This report serves as a contribution to the World Bank’s regional flagship report on ending malnutrition in South Asia, scheduled for release in October 2018.

Co·lab : 



noun.  A collectively created space for reflection and learning from one another, where students can constantly develop and (re)develop new understanding(s) of collective action to societal issues of interest.