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In addition to technological, capital and market constraints faced by every economic activity, resource-based industries such as fisheries, forestry and agriculture face natural resource constraints. While agriculture and forestry have been able to mitigate such constraints through technological progress, marine fisheries are still facing (and will continue to face in the foreseeable future) terminal natural resource constraints; there is a maximum quantity of fish that can be obtained from a national fishery, or even from the world fisheries, on a sustained basis. The new ocean regime brought about by the declaration of 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) has increased the area over which a country has exclusive control of fisheries and hence its maximum sustainable catch (MSY) under the prevailing economic and technological conditions.

Not only is there little that a national fishery can do to break its resource constraint, it has also to live with another constraint: the open-access nature of the resource, which is not found in agriculture or other resource sectors (at least not to the same extent). While land can be parcelled out and distributed to individual owners who will develop and manage it so as to maximize its productivity and/or economic returns, the sea and its living resources cannot be privately owned because of their fluid nature and mobility. Under open access no individual operator has sufficient incentive (or impact if he had the incentive) to manage the fishery so as to maximize its productivity and/or economic returns. If he did, he would have to bear all the costs alone while receiving only a negligible share of the benefits; he would rather ‘over-exploit’ the fishery to increase his own benefits while bearing only a negligible share of the cost of overfishing. It is easy to imagine the results when everybody is attempting to do the same. The implications of the open-access status of the resource is that even the limited productivity (MSY) or potential net returns (MEY) cannot be realized without some form of collective management because of the fierce competition which open access induces among the participants. However, management is not costless; it involves costs for research, administration, monitoring and enforcement, as well as political and social costs. Hence, both MSY and MEY overstate the benefits from the fishery since they are not attainable without costs (MSY overstates the benefits by ignoring both the fishing costs and the management costs).

While open access and resource limitations as set by nature and the 200-mile EEZs are more or less common to all fisheries, small-scale fisheries face even more severe constraints. First, their level of technological development confines them to a much narrower area than the 200-mile EEZ. Secondly, their immobility seaward because of limited fishing range and landward because of lack of alternative employment makes them particularly vulnerable to encroachment from both land and sea. Thirdly, small-scale fishermen often face a “mouse-trap” constraint; entry is relatively easy and not very costly 25, exit is difficult and painful due to a variety of reasons ranging from chronic indebtedness to lack of better alternatives outside the fishery. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss, in some detail, the various constraints under which small-scale fisheries in developing countries operate: resource limitations, open access, lack of alternative employment and conflicts with large-scale fisheries.

3.1  Resource limitations

The limited fishing range of small-scale fisheries confines their area of operation in a narrow strip of sea often not exceeding a few kilometres from the coast. The occurrence and migration of fish into this area determine the resource available to the fishery. The abundance of this resource varies according to environmental conditions and offshore fishing activity. Under constant offshore activity and stable environmental conditions there is a maximum yield that can be obtained on a sustained basis.

In tropical shallow waters, including coastal areas and reefs, there appears to be considerable consistency of yields ranging between 4 and 8 tons per square kilometre, while under estuarine conditions productivity is usually higher, exceeding 10 tons/km² (Pauly, 1980) as shown in Table 1.

Table 1  MSY per Surface Area for Selected Tropical Ecosystems
Type of Ecosystem Location MSY Source
Coral reef Jamaica, Caribbean 4.0 t/km² Munro (1975)
West Indian Ocean 5.0 t/km² Gulland (1979)
Shelf Gulf of Thailand    
(<50 m) 3.6* t/km² SCSP (1978)
San Miguel May    
(<15 m) 8.0 t/km² M. Vaxily (pers.
(Philippines)   comm. to Pauly)
Estuarine conditions Gulf of Mexico 12 t/km² Saila (1975)
Sakumo Lagoon 15 t/km² Pauly (1976)

* Only demersal fish Source: Compiled by Pauly (1980)

25 For qualifications see footnote 23 on page 20, and footnote 32 on page 27.

To see how binding resource limitations are, consider the case of the Gulf of Thailand. According to Table 1, the MSY is 3.6 tons/km². The coastline of the Gulf is 1,850 km while a strip of 12 km wide is the estimated average distance from the shore accessible to the small-scale fishery. This implies that the demersal MSY available to the small-scale fishery of Thailand is about 80,000 tons. To this we may add another 40,000 tons as the fishery's share of the pelagic resource.26 A conservative estimate puts the number of small-scale fishermen in the Gulf of Thailand at 35,000. Therefore, each fisherman's share of the resource is about 3.4 tons per year. In a 1978 survey 27 of some 320 small-scale fishermen employing 20 different types of gear in the Gulf of Thailand, we found that the average catch per fishing unit ranged between 2.8 tons per year (Southern Outer Gulf) and 3.4 tons per year (Northern Outer Gulf). The catch per fisherman was somewhat higher (3.7 tons) on the Andaman Sea coast where trawling is not possible, and considerably higher (4.6 tons) on the eastern coast of the Inner Gulf where many of the larger vessels have found more lucrative fishing grounds near Kampuchea, leaving the coast to the small-scale fishery.

With an average fishing cost of US$ 0.33 per kg and an average price of US$ 0.60 per kg, this catch enables them to earn an annual income of US$ 750–1,250 or, assuming a family size of six, US$ 125–200 per head compared to an average national per capital income of US$ 400, which could mean 28 negative resource rents and economic overfishing.29 The majority of the fishermen complained that their catch and income have been declining in recent years despite an increase in fishing effort on their part, citing reasons such as increase in the number of fishermen, encroachment by trawlers, low price for trashfish whose proportion in the catch is rising, coastal pollution, etc. A reduction in the average size of shrimp and of other high value species was also reported.

The above scenario indicates that the resource constraint is probably binding and no further development based on the same resource is possible.

What are the prospects for expanding the resource base? There are a number of ways in which resource limitations can be relaxed or at least mitigated: (a) control of gear selectivity and mesh size regulation to raise the unit value of catch (especially shrimp) and to return the fishery on a higher trophic level (more valuable species composition of catch); (b) increase the value of catch through improvements in marketing efficiency and catch utilization; (c) reduction of encroachment by trawlers and other commercial fisheries into the area reserved for the small-scale fishery; (d) reduction of offshore fishing to increase the abundance of the same stocks in the inshore areas; and (e) expansion of the fishing range of the small-scale fishery through technological upgrading. Of these five possible ways of mitigating resource limitations, we will consider here only the first two, leaving the others to be discussed in the next section.

In a multispecies fishery an excessively small mesh size does not only prevent a fishery from attaining its optimum MSY but it could also change the composition of MSY towards less valuable species, as we have seen in the preceding chapter. Selection of an appropriate mesh size (or rather of an appropriate gear) may increase the value of the resource appreciably, even if it does not change the MSY.30 This is why estimates of MSY without an indication of its species composition and interaction may be misleading. The attainment of such MSY does not stop the deterioration of the resource and the further impoverishment of the fishermen. The mesh size of 20 mm or less used in most Southeast Asia trawl fisheries, coupled with the intensive levels of fishing, is believed to have been responsible for the documented changes in the composition of the resource. Pauly (1979) reports that the present yield per recruit of Lutjanus sanguineaus in the Gulf of Thailand could be increased by as much as six or seven times by doubling the mesh size, but this would cause a complete escape of a smaller species, the Leiognathus splendens. Whether this is an optimal move would depend on the relative value of the two species. If selective fishing is not possible, it is necessary to choose the mesh size, and to consider its effects on the trophic level at which the fishery should operate, that is, the mesh size which will put the fishery on the highest possible total revenue curve (Figure 5).

26 Calculated in proportion to MSY estimates (see Panayotou and Jetanavanich, 1982).

27 See Panayotou et al. (in press).

28 We say “could mean” for two reasons: (i) this estimate of fishing incomes is based on data for only one year which might have been an exceptional year (time series data are needed); and (ii) comparison with the incomes of other similar socio-economic groups would have been more appropriate than a comparison with the national average.

29 Similar results were obtained in Malaysia and Philippines (see Librero et al. and Fredericks et al., in press).

30 However, the need to adopt a compromise mesh size in multispecies fisheries diminishes the effectiveness of mesh size regulation as a management tool. What is needed is selective gear and means of controlling gear selectivity in order to enhance the productivity of the resource base.

Even if selective gear was available, Figure 5 still applies as it does in the case of a singlespecies fishery. There is always an optimum age (or size) at first capture, that is a mesh size which would put the fishery on the optimum sustainable yield curve. The formulation of the mesh-size-selection problem, in terms of total revenue, covers the more general case in which it is necessary to choose both optimum age and optimum species composition.

Regulations on mesh size and fishing methods in general, as a means of mitigating resource limitations in small-scale fisheries, can be extremely important in certain areas. The author has observed (1979) that small-scale fishermen in a village in Trat, the easternmost coastal province of Thailand, were catching large quantities of shrimp 2 cm long, sold at US$ 0.20 per kilogram. They admitted that, if the shrimp was allowed to grow for eight months to a year, its weight would have increased by a factor of 20 and its unit price by a factor of 25. Assuming a natural mortality of 80 percent, during the same period, an appropriate increase in mesh size would have raised the resource value to this group of fishermen by 100 times. Although long-term gains to be expected from mesh size regulations will, in effect, be appreciably smaller owing notably to the need to adopt compromise mesh size in multispecies fisheries, the importance of controlling the selectivity of fishing gear to enhance the productivity of the resource base cannot be underestimated. Yet the fishermen were not willing to increase their mesh size because (a) with a larger mesh size they would have no catch and no income for several months, which they could not afford; and (b) they feared that a larger shrimp will attract the trawlers, as in the past, wiping out both larger and smaller shrimps and any other fish found inshore. Similar arguments were advanced by fishermen using equally destructive gear, such as poison and dynamite.

Thus, much can be done to expand resource availability through improvement in catching methods provided the problem of open access (see section 2 below) is resolved. However, even under current resource conditions, there is scope for improvement in the value of the catch through a more efficient marketing system and improved utilization. The catch from a multispecies fishery (especially an unregulated one) consists of a variety of species and sizes of fish, varying in commercial value according to their utilization. Some species and sizes being completely unconventional as human food are classified as trashfish and are either discarded or sold for fish meal. For example, in Chumporn, Thailand, over 20 percent of the catch of small-scale fisheries in 1978 was classified as trashfish and sold at US$ 0.05 per kg, compared to the average unit value of US$ 0.60 for the entire catch.

Moreover, waste and spoilage of catch in small-scale fisheries are substantial for a variety of reasons: (a) relatively high perishability of tropical fish; (b) lack or inadequate supply of ice and freezing facilities; (c) dispersion and remoteness of small-scale fisheries from the consumption centres. Concurrently, these factors imply high collection, marketing and storage cost and relatively low reservation price for fishermen (once landed, fish must be disposed of immediately). The smallness and dispersion of landing points precludes both economies of scale in the collection of catch and competition among traders, while the remoteness of fishing communities means limited knowledge of market conditions and low bargaining power for the fisherman.

It is possible to reduce the proportion of catch classified as trashfish (including spoilage) and to raise the value of catch by (a) increasing the supply of ice and (b) by promoting the utilization of small sizes and unconventional species for human consumption through processing (e.g. fish paste) or through induced change of consumer tastes. Similarly, the marketing margins could be reduced and the price paid to the fishermen increased through promotion of competition among traders, supply of price information to fishermen and provision of marketing infrastructure such as feeder roads, landing centres and marketing facilities. We are not arguing here that it pays (socially or privately) to do all these or that such measures alone would be sufficient to improve the conditions of the fishermen. The point made here is that improved utilization of the raw material and reduction of marketing margins are possible ways of mitigating resource limitations for the fishery as a whole, much analogous to an expansion of the resource base. Their effect would be a rise in the value of catch depicted graphically as an upward shift in the total revenue curves analogous to the shift caused by an increase in mesh size (see Figure 5). How effective such measures would be in mitigating the resource limitations faced by the individual fishermen over the long run would depend on the institutional and economic conditions governing access and entry into the fishery (see Section 3 below).

3.2  Conflicts with the large-scale fisheries

Not only is the resource base of the small-scale fishery limited by its fishing range and natural productivity, but often it has to compete for this limited resource with other fisheries using more advanced technology. As we have seen in the preceding section, often the resource available to a coastal fishery is also exploited in offshore waters, whether this involves or not clear displacements perpendicular to the coast of different age groups (spawners, juveniles, etc.) of the stock. Large-scale fisheries operating offshore may thus reduce the fish available to small-scale fishermen. Similarly, small-scale fishermen's operations may reduce the recruitment to the offshore stocks. For example, in the Ivory Coast, the lagoon fishing of penaeid shrimp may have caused the economic collapse of the trawl fishery (Troadec, J.-P., pers. comm.). In fact, small-scale fishermen are often more strategically positioned on the biological cycle, but this is generally more than offset by a fundamental asymmetry between the two fisheries: the large-scale fishery can operate both offshore and inshore (with some exceptions) while the small-scale fishery is confined to inshore fishing.

Although large-scale fishing units are often prohibited by law from operating in the coastal area reserved for the small-scale fishery, the presence of high-value species, such as shrimp, and the higher fish densities in shallow waters which characterizes tropical ecosystems as well as increasing fuel costs coupled with enforcement difficulties result in encroachment and open competition between the two fisheries over the same resource. This leads to overcrowding effects and physical conflict between gears such as trawlnet and stationary gear. Violent clashes between the two fisheries have been reported throughout Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, for example, the encroachment by trawlers of the traditional fishing grounds of small-scale fishermen led to about 100 incidents (1970–1973) in which almost 400 trawlers and 800 inshore fishing boats were involved, 60 boats were sunk and 23 fishermen killed (Smith, 1979). In Indonesia, according to the Director-General of Fisheries, after a series of clashes and demonstrations and a court trial of 1,000 trawlers operating illegally in the coastal area, the Government banned trawlers altogether from Indonesia since October 1980 (Sardjono, 1980). In North Yemen, the Government was forced to ban trawlers following demonstrations by inshore fishermen protesting the encroachment of their traditional fishing grounds by company-owned shrimp trawlers and the consequent damage of their gillnets and the dumping of fish back into the sea (Thomson, 1980). Similar clashes and boat-burning incidents occurred in India, Thailand, Philippines and the Ivory Coast.

The two fisheries are also in conflict in the market to the extent that they use the same inputs or catch the same species of fish (or close substitutes). Large-scale fishermen may bid-up the prices of fishing inputs or their massive landings may depress fish prices. While this may raise the welfare of the producers of fishing inputs and the consumers of fish, small-scale fishermen may become increasingly uncompetitive. Under normal conditions, this is an acceptable and efficient process by which the more efficient (low-cost) producers displace the marginal (high-cost) producers. However, for at least three reasons this outcome may be neither efficient nor equitable: (a) market distortions and imperfections especially in the capital market; (b) socially unacceptable distribution of income; (c) lack of alternative employment opportunities for displaced fishermen, and the need to slow down the migration to the cities.

A fundamental condition for fair competition is that the participants have access to the same capital market. In many developing (and some developed) countries, markets are not only fragmented but also distorted by so-called development subsidies. While industrial fisheries have access to low-interest institutional credit and subsidized development loans, small-scale fishermen have only access to informal credit at interest rates many times higher than the institutional rates. For instance, in Chumporn, Thailand, small- and medium-scale fishermen obtain loans at interest rates ranging between 36 and 60 percent 31 compared to the institutional rates of 8–12 percent (1978), not to speak of development loans at concessionary interest rates. As expected, an expansion of subsidized capital and open-access resources has led to capital intensities (and eventual over-capitalization) unjustified by the prevailing relative endowment position of developing countries (labour-abundant and capital-scarce). It is unfortunate that development's requirements for savings and capital formation has so often been misunderstood or construed to mean mechanization.

31 These loans are apparently so risky and costly that commercial banks cannot compete effectively even at these high rates; government and institutional ceilings on interest rates, collateral requirements, and strict repayment schedules result in the limited role of institutional credit in the rural economy.

Small-scale fisheries are further handicapped by their dispersion and remoteness which precludes economies of scale in the marketing of catch and procurement of inputs which may only partially be compensated by their low opportunity costs and low capital and fuel costs. Although in social terms small-scale fishermen often may be low-cost producers, in private terms their unit cost may be relatively high because of inadequate infrastructure, and high cost of borrowing. The reverse, of course, might be true of large-scale fisheries if the capital subsidies (explicit or implicit) are removed and capital and foreign exchange (imported machinery, fuel) are shadow-priced at their true social costs. For example, in Trat, Thailand (1978) imported fuel accounted for over 47 percent and (local) labour for less than 28 percent of the total cost of a medium-scale trawler. At the same location and time, fuel accounted for only 19 percent and labour for as much as 55 percent of the total cost of a crab trap. There was no significant difference in the return to capital between the two gear types. The importance of these differences is appreciated only when one considers that Thailand is facing a balance of trade and payments deficit of almost US$ 3 billion and that almost half the country's foreign exchange earnings are spent on fuel imports and that unemployment exceeds one million people, to say nothing of underemployment.

The new ocean regime of extended jurisdiction by coastal states provides an opportunity for “reallocation” of fish resources between the two fisheries. However, prior to such re-allocation it is necessary to reassess the viability and social profitability of these fisheries using shadow-prices which reflect the true scarcity of factors of production in calculating costs and benefits. Given the existing relative factor endowments in most developing countries and the overcapitalization of large-scale fisheries with distorted prices and open-access, such reassessment would inevitably result in allocation of additional resources to small-scale fisheries which were forgotten under the open-access regime because of their inability to join the race for long-distance resources Of course, such allocation of resources between the two fisheries would involve the technical problem of determining some balance between mortalities in the inshore and offshore fisheries, and a political decision on the distribution of the generated rents in the context of the country's overall development objectives.

Institutional support is often skewed in favour of the large-scale fishermen because of (a) their apparently higher efficiency and (hence) greater “contribution” to economic growth; (b) their ability to concentrate in few landing areas which allow economies of scale in the provision of infrastructure such as landing facilities, roads, etc., and the delivery of assistance programmes; (c) their visibility, political influence, and economic strength; and (d) a general bias in favour of large-scale fisheries under the open-access regime. In contrast, small-scale fishermen are geographically dispersed and isolated and politically unorganized and weak. Because of their technological stagnation and their feature as economic activity of last resort, small-scale fisheries rarely seem to satisfy the conventional investment criteria. However, if distributional objectives are as high in the policymaker's list of priorities as efficiency objectives, benefits accruing to small-scale fishermen and other low-income groups should be weighted by appropriate distributional weights. Of course, efficiency in the pursuit of distributional objectives should be observed: between public investment projects with similar distributive outcome, the one with the lowest cost in terms of sacrificed ‘efficiency’ should be chosen.

3.3  Open access and easy entry

In the previous section we have discussed the ultimate or theoretical physical and economic limitations of the resource for the fishery as a whole. In reality, however, there may be even more stringent resource limitations imposed by institutional and historical factors.

Until very recently, world fisheries had been open-access resources in the sense that whoever wanted to take up fishing was free to do so. Under the new ocean regime, open-access within a country's EEZ is limited to the country's nationals. People are attracted into fishing by the prospect of earning an income higher than in other economic activities with more or less the same amount of effort.32 How is this possible?

If the alternative to fishing is farming, one needs to purchase or rent the natural resource (land) in addition to capital and labour. In contrast, for fishing, one has free access to the natural resource (fishing ground and fish) and, hence, unlike the farmer, he need not pay a rent to any “sealord”; he can keep it for himself, thus, “appropriating” in a way the resources and making himself a sort of sealord. However, unlike the landlord, he cannot exclude others from appropriating the very same resource; even if he could prevent others from operating in the same fishing ground, he still can do little to prevent the fish from moving between and being exploited in other fishing grounds. Hence, early entrants into a virgin fishery can reap substantial rents until others, attacted by the same prospect, crowd the fishery to the point that the limited resource is divided into so many shares that most fishermen earn no more than if they took up farming (or whatever other alternatives they were faced with) in the first place. A few fishermen may still earn some profit due to above-average ability or more sophisticated technology but these are not resource rents but rents of ability or quasi-rents arising from the prompt adoption of new technology. Any fishermen who incur losses, by definition could earn a better income outside the fishery and as soon as they can find a good buyer for their boat and gear and a new job for themselves they would be out of the fishery. In the long run and under static conditions, it would be difficult to find fishermen earning either more or less than they can earn from other occupations; there would be no reason for those already in the fishery to leave or for those outside the fishery to enter.32

What is wrong with this ‘happy’ state of affairs? True, everybody is receiving as much as he is entitled to under the system.33 Yet, something is lost. If the fishermen earn no more than they could earn elsewhere, if the government earns no tax-revenues from the fishery, and if the society at large gets no special benefit 34 from the fishery, then what is the advantage to a country of having a marine fishery vis-a-vis a landlocked country? If all sectors of the economy were operated on the same principles (open access and, hence, no surplus value), there would be little funds, if any, to invest in the country's economic and social development.

The benefit of the society from any economic activity (agriculture, industry, fishery) is maximized at the level of effort (use of capital and labour) which gives the largest possible difference between the value of output and the cost of effort (inputs). When secure private property rights exist and the markets are fairly competitive (as in farming), the actions of the individual operator (e.g. the farmer) in attempting to maximize his own income lead (also) to the maximization of the economic yield for the society as a whole even if this was not in his intentions. In fishing, however, because of the lack of secure property rights (open access), the actions of the individual fishermen in attempting to minimize their own income do not result in the maximization of the society's economic yield but to its complete dissipation. As long as there is any excess of revenues over costs (positive economic yield), existing fishermen would increase their effort and new fishermen would enter until costs have risen substantially and the resource has been reduced (or its composition changed) by so much that the net economic yield from the fishery is zero, revenues just covering costs (see Figure 12).

32 It is sometimes argued that it is extremely difficult for people who have never been fishermen and who are not from “fishing stock” to join the fishery even where access is open. It is absurd, however, to think of all fishermen as descendents from some original fishermen. What actually happens is that there are large numbers of people on the fringe of the fishery who have had at some point in their lives some familiarity with fishing either as occasional fishermen or as casual crew members or even as just friends and relatives of fishermen. Others have had some experience in inland water fishing and so on. Yet, others, totally unfamiliar with fishing but facing the prospect of starvation, drift to the coast and offer their services as “casual help” until they amass some experience and the capital to own a net or buy a stick of dynamite. Another form of early entry is coastal “light fishing”, a very common sight on Southeast Asian coasts at night. The evidence that fishing is one of the few remaining last-resort occupations is compelling. In section 3.4 we refer to several sources of such evidence. Here, it suffices to quote Ondam (1976:81–82), a sociologist writing about Paknam Lak Suanin Southern Thailand, a non-so-unusual Southeast Asian fishing community consisting of 600 households: “The community is a no-man's land with 53 percent of the population being immigrants, attracted to it by the promise of fishing … 82 percent of the households own no land … 70 percent think they will continue fishing forever”.

33 If what we are not happy with is the (free-enterprise) system, there is no reason why we should be particularly concerned with the fishery, which is only a minute part of the total economy.

34 Of course, the society enjoys a consumer surplus by having large supplies of fish at “low prices” but a consumer surplus is enjoyed from agricultural production as well as from other activities. Moreover, the society is paying dearly for its consumer surplus from fishing through excessive use of labour and capital and hence lower production and lower consumer surplus from non-fishing activities. Protein supplies cannot be counted as benefits since they are obtained at higher cost than they could be obtained from other sources (aquaculture, livestock, etc.). Similarly, employment cannot be counted as a net benefit since fishermen could earn, presumably, the same (low) income in other activities.

Figure 12

Figure 12  The maximum economic yield (MEY) cannot prevail as a long-term equilibrium in an open access fishery. As long as there are (excess) profits to be made, new entrants would be attracted and effort would expand until a zero-profit or open-access equilibrium (OAE) is reached at EOAE level of effort.

From the above analysis, three policy implications may be derived: (a) an open-access fishery makes little or no long-term contribution to the country's economic development since any economic surplus created is self-destructive through the additional entry it attracts; (b) favourable changes in economic conditions or attempts to further develop the fishery or assist the fishermen, result in further entry and hence a further depletion of the resource or adverse change in its composition; and (c) expansion of the resource base (e.g. EEZ).

Our bio-economic model of Figure 12 would predict that at least in the long run there would be no fishermen earning incomes lower (or higher) than their opportunity costs which implies that fishermen on the average would not be worse off than other similar socio-economic groups in the country. However, there is a fundamental asymmetry in the dynamics of entry and exit. In a good year for the fishery and/or a bad year for the other sectors, many non-fishermen with insecure sources of income (landless farmers, under-employed labourers, etc.) are attracted into the fishery. Of course, there is no reason why the “right” number 35 would be attracted; it depends not only on the size of the prospective gain but also on the conditions outside the fishery. It is analogous to rural-urban migration; the creation of one job in town attracts several migrants.

Access to the sea, of course, does not imply access to the resource; there may be economic barriers to effective access or entry, such as capital requirement, for boat and gear, as well as skills for operating them. However, the peak occurrence of tropical species in coastal areas and the extreme difficulty in enforcing regulations against the use of destructive fishing methods (poison, dynamite, fine nets in nursery grounds, etc.) imply low private cost of entry. For example, the capital cost of a non-powered boat and gear in Thailand in 1978 did not exceed US$ 40, and in the Philippines US$ 60.

35 The number of fishermen necessary to bring the fishery to an open-access equilibrium.

In contrast, exit is not as easy. Over the years, substantial fishing and non-fishing assets have been accumulated, skills lost and new acquired, old connections and habits broken and new established that leaving the fishery means more changing a way of life than merely changing occupation. First, fishing assets cannot be easily liquidated in overexploited fisheries. Second, chronic indebtedness and related obligations to fish traders/lenders to continue fishing, common among small-scale fishermen, may impair mobility. Third, small-scale fishermen, being isolated in a remote fishing community, may have insufficient information on the location and nature of more lucrative employment opportunities. Fourth, finding a new occupation/residence and refreshing one's long-forgotten skills takes time, often unavailable to small-scale fishermen who, in the face of declining income per unit of effort, just eke out a subsistence income. Fifth, there may be barriers to entry in other occupations. Sixth, since fishing activities for most small-scale fishermen are integrated with land-based activities (neither of which is sufficient to earn them a living), abandoning fishing means abandoning all other land-based activities, a move invariably described by fishermen as “uprooting”. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, traditional fishing communities have a way of life and a subculture of their own which cannot be easily adapted to fit the requirements of industrial jobs and commercial farming activities (this is why fishermen may make poor fish farmers). 36

Thus, either because too many fishermen were attracted into the fishery when it was profitable or because profitability declines as a result of subsequent change in economic (or bio-ecological) conditions, it is quite common to find small-scale fishermen earning incomes considerably below their respective opportunity costs. For example, as shown in recent studies, small-scale fishermen throughout Thailand, the Philippines and Malayasia 37 were found to be among the lowest socio-economic groups, earning incomes considerably below the respective national average and even below what they could earn in alternative occupations. This implies (a) relative poverty and lack of mobility, and (b) negative economic surplus, and hence negative contribution of the fishery to national economic development. In Thailand, most small-scale and some of the medium-scale fisheries were found (1978) to earn negative resource rents, that is, losses up to US$ 2,500 per fishing unit per year depending on type of gear and location. At about the same time, negative rents were found in the Philippines (especially among motorized boats) and in Malaysia (especially on the west coast).

In contrast, in some small-scale fisheries in Sri Lanka, substantial resource rents were captured due to effective barriers to entry in the form of closed fishing communities (see Fernando et. al., 1982). Persons from outside the community are not allowed access to the fishery which is considered property of the community. No outsider is allowed to dock a fishing craft along the shore line “belonging” to the community. Nor is crew recruited from outside as long as there is labour available within the closed community. This has been the most effective barrier to entry which has kept both the return to capital and the return to labour significantly above their respective opportunity costs, and will continue to do so as long as the community ties are strong and no threat of encroachment by a large-scale fishery exists.

Thus, we may conclude that open access, when combined with the isolation and dispersion of fishing communities and the socio-cultural characteristics of small-scale fishermen, may lead not only to the dissipation of economic surplus for the society at large but also to the impoverishment of the fishermen themselves. Lack of occupational and geographical mobility may result from long isolation, low educational level, advanced age, preference for a particular way of life, cultural taboos, caste restrictions or just inability to liquidate one's assets. However, most often, the reasons behind the absolute if not the relative poverty of small-scale fishermen is the lack of sufficiently attractive alternatives to warrant the cost of change in occupation and the incomparably higher cost of resettlement in a different social environment.

3.4  Lack of alternative employment

There are two related aspects to consider here: (a) unemployment in non-fishing sectors, and (b) “surplus” labour and lack of non-fishing employment in the fishing communities themselves. As we have seen in Chapter 2, the presence of chronic or structural unemployment implies low opportunity cost for labour. Inevitably, open-access resource sectors become a reflection of the conditions prevailing in the rest of the economy. If attractive employment opportunities outside the fisheries become available, an outflow of resources (capital and labour) from the fishery to other sectors is induced. For example, certain Red Sea and East African countries face problems in keeping their fisheries operating in the face of better employment opportunities with oil companies (Ben-Yami, pers. comm.). If unemployment and landlessness in the rest of the economy are increasing, the reverse should be expected: there will be a net inflow of labour into open-access resource sectors such as fishing. Naturally, new entrants having little, if any, capital and no experience, take up coastal fishing, thus swelling the ranks of small-scale fishermen. There is considerable evidence that coastal fishing is an economic activity of last resort. For example, Pollnac and Sutinen (1979) report that in East Africa “fishing is viewed as the employment of last resort … people fish when farming is not feasible” (p. 59). Similarly, Nagata (1980) reports that, after the legalization of (capital intensive) trawling (1965) in Malaysia, a number of displeased fishing labourers “eventually drifted back to the small-scale fisheries, to which entry is relatively easy” (p. 4). Yet another example is found in Cordell (1973) who reports that in Northeast Brazil labourers released from coconut plantations took up canoe fishing for lack of better alternatives at a time when canoe fishing communities were abandoning traditional fishing grounds (estuaries) for swamp fishing under the pressure of competition from more advanced technology. In Southeast Asia, Larsson et. al. (1975) and Collier et. al. (1977) report an increasing trend in the number of small-scale fishermen in Malaysia and Indonesia respectively. Thus, we may conclude that a decline in employment opportunities outside the fishery reduces the opportunity cost of fishing, increasing the dependence on fishing, discouraging exit and encouraging new entry leading to further resource depletion and hence more stringent resource limitation.

36 Yet, as C.H. Newton aptly remarked, mobility is ultimately a function of income. Most, if not all, of the constraints to exit enumerated here could be overcome with sufficient income.

37 For Thailand, see Panayotou et. al. (1982); and for Malaysia, Fredericks et. al. (1982).

What about the availability of non-fishing employment within the fishing communities themselves? Small-scale fishing communities are often found in areas where land-based activities are limited and the transport and communication linkages with the rest of the country are poor. This is further exacerbated by the tendency of small-scale fishermen to be seaward looking with little interest in the national affairs. (For example, in Thailand, fishermen, in general, have repeatedly refused to pay taxes on the grounds that they benefit little from public services and social infrastructure.) It is often true that this isolation was partly imposed on small-scale fishermen by the lack of interest on the part of politicians and administrations, fisheries and otherwise. Small-scale fishermen are often too dispersed and politically and economically weak to lobby for their interests.38 The consequence of this chasm between small-scale fishing communities and the rest of the country is manifested in the paucity of fishing-supportive infrastructure and services and in the availability in non-fishing employment. Yet, invariably, small-scale fishermen derive a small but crucial portion of their incomes from non-fishing activities such as farming, small-businesses and trade. These occupations (along with land-based fishing related activities such as net mending, fish drying or processing, etc.) absorb the considerable fluctuations in fishing activity arising from environmental conditions (weather, seasonal fluctuations, poor fishing gears, etc.).

However, since these land-based occupations require at least land and markets, they are faced also with terminal constraints by virtue of the limited size and productivity of the coastal strip originally occupied by the community and by the transport and other links of the community with the rest of the country, which are invariably poor. Population growth within the community and any migration from outside (when fishing is still profitable) provides for a larger local market but, with fixed resources (fish and land) and little capital formation or productivity improvement, the purchasing power remains limited, except in times of exceptional catch. Expansion of fleets and motorization of fishing boats did advance considerably in recent years representing both accumulation of capital (or at least access to credit) and technological upgrading. However, much of recent motorization did not produce the expected result since it took place in areas where the resource was already “overexploited” and further extension of small-scale fisheries fishing range brought them in conflict with the offshore fishery.

38 The extension of jurisdiction has changed this in some parts of the world, e.g., Canada and Indonesia, where small-scale fishermen have begun to exert some political power. In other countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines, small-scale fishermen continue to be economically as well as politically among the weakest socio-economic groups.

Thus, in a way, small-scale fishing communities are both “land-locked”, with unparalleled fixity of resources: fish, land, markets and connections to the outside world. While in many countries the influx from outside may have nearly dried up as a result of the decline in the expected incomes from fishing, the populations of fishing communities continue to grow. The result is a continuous reduction of the resource-man ratio and a decline in the standard of living. Yet, migration to the metropolitan areas is hardly a blessing for developing countries already facing considerable urban unemployment and inadequacy of social infrastructure to cope with rural-urban migration.

Since very little has been done in the past to develop the fishing communities (e.g. supply the necessary infrastructure, promote new activities) except for some strictly fishing related assistance (e.g. motorization of canoes), it is very likely that there is considerable scope for such development. Promotion of tourism, handicraft, and coastal aquaculture are some obvious alternatives or supplements to fishing, but other activities presently located in urban areas may also be viable in the coastal areas if the necessary infrastructure was provided. In Trat, Thailand, for example, fishermen were reported to have received a dual benefit from the location of a fish processing plant in their province: (a) a higher price for their catch, and (b) additional employment opportunities for other family members.

The complementary relationship of fishing with non-fishing, land-based activities, has implications for development and management. The development of fishing communities need not be confined to the fish resource alone but can (and in many cases should) be integrated with these other activities. For example, while motorization of fishing boats may not be justified by the resource base alone, the opportunity to use the boats for transportation, trade or tourism when fishing is poor (e.g. monsoon season) may justify the investment. Care, however, needs to be taken to develop these alternative opportunities if viable but not available and at the same time to control effort in order to protect the resource from possible overfishing. Non-fishing activities also need to be taken into account when there is the risk that the contemplated fishery development would not enlarge the spectrum of opportunities available to the fishing community but just replace a viable non-fishing activity by additional fishing opportunities. For example, if when fishing is poor fishermen practice farming, the allocation of additional resources to a fishing community may be done at the expense of farming. In any case, in assessing the benefits of fisheries development projects, their impact on non-fishing activities, positive or negative, should also be considered.

The existence or lack of alternative employment has also implications for fisheries management. Control and reduction of fishing effort (including self-management) is easier and can be implemented more rapidly in fishing communities with a broad spectrum of alternatives. If non-fishing employment opportunities are not available but a resource base (land, location, forests, mineral resources, natural environment, etc.) for such activities exists, fishery management should go hand-in-hand with non-fishery development. Often there is also room for “non-fishing” fishery development, that is improvement of utilization, processing and marketing of catch which would create some economic surplus or at least improve the socio-economic conditions of fishermen and allow management schemes to be introduced. Enforcement costs are relatively low when alternatives to fishing exist and prohibitively high when fishing is the sole source of employment and income.

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