How do the haenyeo do business?
The diving women have a shared system of profit typically known as common-pool resource, common property-based method, or cooperative economics.
This system, by "eochongye" or fishing village collective which also governs fishermen, was formally established in 1962 under the Fisheries Cooperative Law. Previously, the divers were regulated only by the Fisheries Act of Korea (1952) as determined by their own association, known as "jamsuhoe" (“jamsu” is dialect for haenyeo), although recently also known as "haenyeohoe," or even simply "buinhoe" (women's society).
The Fisheries Act of Korea established coastal waters as village fishing territory, from the shoreline outward to an average 7-meter depth at the lowest ebb tide. These areas are not open to the public for fishing or harvest, as eochongye members have exclusive rights.
The jamsuhoe falls under the jurisdiction of the eochongye. The eochongye acts as the business structure, while the jamsuhoe functions somewhat like a modern-day union, protecting the rights and enforcing the responsibilities of its members as well as seeing to their safety and economic well-being.
As each of the coastal villages is largely self-governing, the functions of these organizing bodies can vary.
According to Jeju provincial government, there are currently 100 eochongye, down from 127 in 2006, and representing 14,431 hectares of fishing grounds. Regi-stered divers presently number 4,507, rendering their area use per capita at 3.15 hectares; 2,582 divers are in the Jeju City jurisdiction, 1,925 in the jurisdiction of Seogwipo City.
A female (diver) was elected as head of an eochongye for the first time in 1997; today, a dozen or so of the 100 collectives are led by women.
As young women have stopped entering the profession for at least two generations (since the 1960s), 98 percent of today's registered divers are over the age of 50: under age 30: 0 percent, age 30-39: 0.2 percent, age 40-49: 1.3 percent, age 50-59: 15.4 percent, age 60-69: 32.1 percent, and, a remarkable 51 percent are over 70.
Annual fishery gross income is currently at 7,435 metric tons (mt) for a revenue of 23.7 billion won. In comparison, the yield in 1995 was 17,521 mt at a value of 37,679 bn won; in 2000, it was 8,763 mt at 20,392 bn won; and in 2013, 4,368 mt at 22,546 bn won, with fluctuations in the types of products harvested, steady decline in number of divers, and increase in aquaculture (fish farms).
|▲ The catch haenyeo bring to shore has been the lifeblood of communal economics for generations. Photo courtesy Brenda Paik Sunoo, author of Moon Tides (2011)
Product type has varied over time due to marine environment changes. Major products harvested at present include turbinidae or turban snails ("sora"), sea urchin ("seongge"), gelidium algae, for making agar ("umutgasari"), sea cucumber ("haesam" / sea ginseng), and abalone ("jeonbok"); hizikia and undaria seaweeds are also gathered. Sea urchin and abalone have very short harvesting periods, while gelidium is gathered only six months of the year.
The eochongye and jamsuhoe are interdependent. The eochongye deter-mines who can work (i.e. requirements for licensure), working days and hours, and distribution of revenue. It is the governing body for production and sales, and charges the divers handling fees, commissions, and boat fees.
The jamsuhoe organizes community events such as festivals and rituals as well as donations; establishes rules and guidance for new members, sets diving rules according to both season and product as well as for safety, and consequences for violations; facilitates conflict resolution both within the membership and even between neighboring villages; and, manages resource conservation as well as emergencies.
Mutual aid systems are maintained, whereby a portion of revenue is set aside for individual members or the village itself in time of need, such as economic, health, or natural disaster.
Jamsuhoe officers also report poachers, non-members observed fishing or diving in village waters, to the local police. Violators are expelled and can be made subject to a fine.
Divers are classified according to skill levels: sanggun (highest), junggun (middle), and hagun (lowest); while all members have voting privileges and decisions are based on consensus, opinions are weighted and even the speaking order is determined by this three-tier system. Revenue, divided according to productivity, customarily follows.
Common-pool resource methods such as eochongye and jamsuhoe are known to be less costly and more efficient for resource management, to minimize exploitation / overfishing as grounds are not open to the public, to be more highly incentive, and to make use of local knowledge regarding resource conditions, with minimal perceived external threat or pressure.
Jeju provincial government, however, sees problems: no concept of public space (a conflict most notably with tourism); competitive fishing (among the various eochongye) with no overarching management system; and, a focus on market-driven profit that is not concerned with long-term resource management.
Among the divers themselves, opinions are divided; one jamsuhoe president observed that the sea, with its increasing depletion of marine product due in part to climate change but also to over-fishing, "...will recover only when haenyeo finally stop diving," while another lamented, "how will the sea be managed if haenyeo are no more?"
Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist from New York and an Honorary Ambassador for Jeju Island.