After generations of trawling the same waters, the fishermen on the coast of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India know where to cast a net or park a boat without resorting to signs or GPS maps.

But their customary rights over this common space – a right won by families who have fished it for centuries – are under threat as the demands of modern life threaten age-old livelihoods and their once fertile habitat.

First, families’ land and ...
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