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Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP)

Content of Socio-Economic Data section is under revision

(see NOTE below)


Until recently the development at the international level of harmonised statistics on the number of fishers has been neglected. This is almost certainly due to the fact that, generally speaking, until about 20 years ago there was little effort at the international level to control the structure of fishing fleets and thus a knowledge of the number of fishers likely to be affected by structural measures was not required. Structural measures that were applied nationally and the countries applying them adopted definitions for employment in the sector that suited their national purposes. Recent studies by, for example, the EU to determine the possibility of harmonising fishers statistics have shown that definitions, concepts and methods of compiling data are subejct to significant national variations and that unless there is a stimulus from the need to apply internationally administrative measures to regulate employment in the fishing industry, there is little chance of obtaining harmonised fishers statistics.

Although the subject of the definitions to apply to the work force in the fishing industry has been discussed by the CWP, in view of the widely varying national situations, it has not laid down firm guidelines for application at the international level. However, it did reach a wide degree of agreement on the definitions that would be appropriate should such guidelines be fixed. These definitions are:

Full-time fishers receive at least 90% of their livelihood from fishing or spend at least 90% of their working time in that occupation.

Part-time fishers receive at least 30% but less than 90% of their livelihood from fishing or spend at least 30% but less than 90% of their working time in that occupation.

Occasional fishers receive under 30% of their livelihood from fishing, or spend under 30% of their working time in that occupation.

The CWP noted a number of problems in identifying and enumerating separately "fishers" as primary producers among the economically active population. These problems arise largely from the seasonal availability of the various fishery resources compounded by the seasonal availability of more lucrative occupations. In many countries the number of people whose only source of income is from a year-round activity in fishing is small compared with the number of people entering the industry at peaks of activity in that industry, or slack periods in a more lucrative industry. For example, fishing is often of major importance in "under-developed" regions where the other major industry may be tourism. (See FAO Fisheries Circular 929, Revision2). The fishing "season" may be adapted so that it does not coincide with the peak tourist period from which earnings might well be higher.

Another problem is associated with subsistence fishing which is undertaken on a full-time, part-time, or occasional basis in many developed or developing communities as part of the occupation of the economically-active populations. However, people who are too young, too old to be normally included in the economically active population may be involved in subsistence fishing. These issues are further complicated where subsistence fishing merges with recreational fishing. For example, sports fishers and people owning and operating pleasure craft might try to offset their capital expenditure and running costs through the sale of fish caught during trips of such recreational craft.

In concluding its discussions on this subject the CWP, while not issuing any firm guidelines, did reach conclusions as to the coverage of the "fishing population" that it would wish to see included in statistics of the industry. This coverage is as follows:

  1. All commercial, industrial and subsistence fishers, operating in freshwater, brackish water, and marine waters in economically inspired efforts to catch and land any of the great variety of aquatic animals and plants, should be included. People working on fish farms, hatcheries, and employed in shell fish culture operations, should also be included. The term "fisher" should include not only those operating from fishing vessels of all types, but also those operating land-based fishing gears and installations from the banks of rivers, lakes, canals, dams etc., and from beaches and shores which do not require the use of auxilliary boats. Where possible a breakdown by the type of activity should be included.
  2. The crews on fish factory ships, mother ships to fishing fleets, and on auxilliary craft such as, fish carriers, and fish transport craft should be included.
  3. The data collected nationally should include nationals, and others employed on nationally registered vessels landing their catches in foreign ports.
  4. Foreign fishers working on foreign vessels landing in national ports should be excluded from the data. However the data should show, preferably separately, the national fishers working on foreign vessels chartered to national companies.
  5. Fishers on whaling vessels should be recorded separately.
  6. The crews of state-operated fishery patrol vessels, fishery protection vessels, hospital ships, etc. should be excluded from the fishers statistics.

It was recognised that, while the above would greatly improve the current situation regarding fishers data, there were a number of points which, albeit of relatively minor importance in terms of the number of people involved, still had to be resolved. For example, while a spotter on the bridge, or on the mast of a fishing vessel would probably be included in the fishing population, it was not so certain that a spotter in an aeroplane or helicopter scouting for a fleet would.

It is hoped that the above notes, while not laying down firm guidelines for fishers statistics, will assist national offices wishing to establish, or modify national systems and that, as a result, the statistics will become better harmonised at the international level.

As part of the FAO annual statistical enquiry of world fishing industries, annual questionnaires to collect numbers of fishers according to the time spent in fishing have been despatched to countries regularly. For various reasons, including incomplete and irregular replies by some national statistical offices, and implications for world aggregates of the lack of harmonization in national occupational classifications, the data collected have not been published for several years. However, as a result of greater attention to social and economic problems related to employment in fishing, increasing demands from users have led to the the dissemination of the data collected, despite their shortcomings.

In 1995 the questionnaire for reporting employment in fishing was modified so as to bring it in line with the sub-divisions of the ILO International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88), which also provide for reporting employment in aquaculture, and to collect employment statistics by gender, as recommended by the United Nations Statistical Commission. See Annex K.I.

Data on fishers are collected by means of the statistical questionnaire FISHSTAT FM.


FAO. "Numbers of Fishers, 1970-1997." FAO Fisheries Circular. No. 929, Revision 2.1999 

Resources for Fishers

ISCO-88 International Standard Classification of Occupations Major Group 6. Minor Group 615 - Fishery Workers, Hunters and Trappers (former ANNEX K.I)


The socio-economic section of the CWP handbook is currently under revision by the CWP Members. The revision seeks to enhance and complete the socio-economic section of the CWP Handbook to cover consistently Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Processing Industry. The inclusion of the latter is still under discussion. For further information please consult the CWP Report of the Fifth Meeting of the Aquaculture Subject Group and the Twenty-Sixth Meeting of the Fisheries Subject Group.