The researchers found that scientists and managers usually focus on “win-wins”, such as the gains in profitability and conservation that can be won by reducing overfishing, while not always acknowledging “taboo” trade-offs. 

Lead author Tim Daw from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University says:

“The impact of the fishery on marginalized women was not considered as part of the management decision making. It is often the case that environmental analysis focusses purely on economic tradeoffs or even avoids these in favour of win-wins. Our participatory approach has the potential to increase awareness of taboo tradeoffs.”

The researchers carried out their analysis on a small-scale fishery at Nyali, Mombasa, Kenya, where most of those who benefit from the fishery are poor. Similar fisheries provide a livelihood to about 100 million people across the developing world. 

The authors conclude that one way to overcome the difficulty of confronting taboo tradeoffs is to reframe them as tragic tradeoffs, which are more socially acceptable. For example, in this case, the taboo tradeoff between women traders’ wellbeing and profit can be framed as a tragic tradeoff between these women and local poverty alleviation opportunities. Such reframing does not resolve trade-offs, but may facilitate deliberation over them and prevent them from being ignored, which can lead to unresolved conflicts.

This gets over the difficulty of dealing with the “moral repugnance of taboo trade-offs”, the authors report, because it is “socially virtuous to carefully consider tragic tradeoffs”.

This approach, applied here for a small Kenyan fishery, could be adapted to help address the difficult tradeoffs which so challenge sustainable ecosystem management in poor as well as wealthier countries.