Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Marine Biology


Robert S. Steneck

Second Committee Member

James A. Wilson

Third Committee Member

James M. Acheson


The Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) is Nicaragua's most economically valuable marine resource, but there is growing concern among stakeholders about the status and sustainability of this fishery. In this study, I assessed the Nicaragua lobster fishery as a linked social-ecological system. Specifically, I 1) analyzed trends in landings, fishing effort, and changes in abundance overtime, 2) conducted a higher resolution assessment of recent small scale changes in lobster abundance and body size relative to local artisanal fishing practices, and 3) analyzed institutional arrangements governing the fishery. In general, the development of the fishery is shaped by national and international political changes and those changes are linked to market conditions that affected the socioeconomic landscape of the fishery. Like most fisheries, the spiny lobster fishery started as a small local scale operation, targeting near shore concentrations of the resource and gradually expanded in fishing effort and areas as market conditions allowed and technologies improved. Overall, the fishery has shown relatively static landings over the last decade and has fluctuated near estimated maximum sustainable yield. This could be interpreted as a stable and mature fishery. However, in the last two decades, the artisanal segment of the fishery experienced sharp increases in the number and quality of boats, number of traps, area fished and technology employed has likely increased pressure on lobster stocks but in ways not easily quantified. Likewise, although industrial fishing effort (number of boats) is in decline, real effort may be increasing or in consolidation. To evaluate the effects of artisanal fishing on local lobster stocks I studied two geographically separate fishing territories, the Pearl Cays and King's Cays, which fish a combined area of approximately 4,125 km2 along the central Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Evidence from the dive fishery indicates that the Pearl Cays had more intense fishing pressure resulting in lower lobster abundance and smaller size composition than the King's Cay territory. Also, dive fishing, in general, resulted in an average 22% take of undersized lobsters, which raises the possibility for growth overfishing. Access to the resource is treated differently, the Pearl Cays is an open access fishery but access to the King's Cay area is limited by the community of Tasbapaunie. Arguably, limited access contributes to the apparently more sustainable fishery in the King's Cay territory. Although not evident, Nicaragua may be stressing its lobster resource due to the failure of common pool resource management (e.g., market driven, open access and a weak top-down system of control). This may be causing escalating competition and fishing pressures that to date are only evident in this small-scale study. If failure of common pool resource management is occurring along the entire Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, it is possible that fishing pressure is exceeding maximum sustainable yield, which would affect Nicaragua's Caribbean lobster stocks. Although I am not able to prove that fishing pressures are currently approaching dangerous levels, the prudent way to proceed is to manage the stock more conservatively.