Ariadna Burgos

Ethnomalacology in the Asia-Pacific Region: Local Knowledge, Gathering Behaviours and shellfish management

Malacological resources have been exploited since prehistoric times for different alimentary, practical and symbolic purposes. Nowadays, the gathering of bivalves and gastropods remains an activity of economic importance to many island and coastal communities worldwide. This paper draws contrasts and patterns on local knowledge, shell fishing behaviours, and shellfish management of two different cultural and socio-economic contexts in Indonesia (Siberut Island) and Papua New Guinea (the Tigak Group of Islands), and proposes methodological tools to integrate local malacological knowledge in coastal change assessments. Through an ethno-ecological approach it was found that gathering techniques, prey choice and preparation methods of shelled molluscs varied significantly within the two localities. Local knowledge on shells included knowledge on species habitat and behaviour, trophic chains, stock abundance/distribution and ecological processes. Decisions regarding shell fishing choices involved reassessment of climatic and tidal conditions, household alimentary and gustative preferences, fisheries dynamics and trends, and availability of non-malacological resources (agricultural and other fishery products). Access to shell fishing grounds was highly restricted in the Tigak Group of Islands while on Siberut Island, access to malacological resources was regulated primarily by geophysical and biological constraints. Nowadays, bivalves and gastropods are considered reliable indicators of environmental conditions and change. Therefore, it is argued that there is a need to articulate local and scientific knowledge on malacological resources to interpret and assess coastal change and socio-ecological vulnerability.

Keywords: local knowledge, molluscs, socio-ecological
systems, gender, coastal change, co-construction of knowledge.

Figure: Gathering of Geloina erosa in the mangrove forest of Siberut Island, Indonesia (© Ariadna Burgos).