reply to Danny Yee

Wed, 23 Feb 1994 16:16:00 PST

Lieber writes:

"... fisheries experts
have shown that yellow fin tuna operate in a very narrow range of water
temperatures.... This fact is correlated with the observation that fishermen
use a trial-and-error method for locating the depth at which tuna can be
gotten. So, does water temperature count as a constraint on tuna fishing
activity? My answer is unequivacably yes for the observer's universe of
explanation and no for the Kapinga fisherman's universe. "

Just a minute. What is a constraint? For Lieber, a constraint appears to be
taken as information which is/can be acted upon and thereby influences
behavior. Lieber's arguement seems to be that since water temperature is an
unknown for the Kapinga, it is not a constraint in the Kapinga fisherman's
universe. While I agree with Lieber's comment that: "But it [a marine
biologist's account] would not help us in any way to describe the
Kapingamarangi ecosystem as those people understand it" as to the relevancy
of, e.g, water temperature in a cultural account, this only sidesteps the
issue of what constitutes a constraint. Whether the fisherman are aware of
the consequence of temperature on tuna, it acts as a constraint through its
implications for the successfulness of any fishing strategy. E.g., the
trial-and-error method sounds like a good strategy when faced with a variable
environment for which the source of the variance is unknown, and that
strategy would not be a good one in a situation where there is no variability
in the depth of the fish. Certainly one can view temperature as an indirect
constraint through its consequences for the effectiveness of a given fishing
strategy so long as the fishermen are also actively seeking a good strategy;
i.e., if the feedback the fishermen receive in terms of fishing success is
part and parcel of why they opt for the strategies they use, then temperature
(and other aspects of the environment) acts as a constraint.

D. Read