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4.1  Variations in Economic Parameters

Under constant economic and bio-ecological conditions an open-access fishery will reach an equilibrium at a level of effort and corresponding catch yielding zero profit to the fishery as a whole, although fishermen with lower cost may be earning some rents of efficiency. Since excess profits or losses is the moving force, their absence implies no changes in the level of effort and catch, that is, an equilibrium is established (see Figure 12).

Since the real world is not a static but a dynamic one, such equilibrium is more of a tendency than a reality. The costs of fishing inputs (fuel, nets, etc.) often have an upward trend while technical progress works so as to make the use of these inputs more efficient, driving the less efficient out when the resource limits are reached. On balance, costs may be rising or falling depending on the relative rates of increasing scarcity, inflation and technical progress. One would expect the change in input prices to be a smooth one while technical change brings about discrete changes in the efficiency of input use. However, since the energy crisis, fuel prices have escalated through discrete changes precluding a smooth adjustment process.

A rise in fishing cost would result in losses for the marginal fishing units forcing them to leave the industry. Thus, the number of fishing units and total effort expended by the fishery as a whole are expected to decline as a result of a rise in fishing costs 39. Catch would fall in the short run. In the long run, catch would fall if the fishery is biologically underexploited (see Figure 14) and would rise if the fishery is biologically overexploited (see Figure 13). Reductions in fishing costs resulting from the introduction of a new fishing technology would have the reverse effects. However, no long-term benefit for the fishermen or the society results from technological upgrading under open-access conditions.

Changes in fish prices occur as a result of shifts in the supply of or demand for fish. With a given demand, a poor catch would lead to rise in price and a rich catch to a fall in price. With a given supply, rising demand (due to population growth or increasing incomes) would lead to rising fish prices. With unchanged costs, an increase in fish prices would result in excessive profits which would induce entry into the fishery and expansion of fishing effort until all profits are dissipated, and a new equilibrium is attained at higher effort (see Figure 15). Catch rises in the short run but falls in the long run if the fishery is biologically overexploited. Daily or seasonal fluctuations or prices may or may not affect the equilibrium level of effort depending on the ease of exit and re-entry (including the availability of alternative employment for labour and capital).

The effect of changes in mesh size or other regulations which improve the productivity of the resources and, thus, the total yield and, immediately, the individual catch rate, without affecting the fishing costs will be identical. On the long run, mesh size regulation will not improve individual incomes and the total economic rent, unless action is similarly taken to prevent the fishery to drift to a new equilibrium at higher effort. Therefore, mesh size and other gear selectivity regulations cannot be considered as an alternative to the regulation of the amount of fishing.

In small-scale multispecies fisheries the effects of changes in prices and costs are not likely to be as clear-cut. First, owing to the already noted fundamental asymmetry between entry and exit (the latter being often more difficulty than the former), favourable changes in costs or prices followed by unfavourable changes result in surplus numbers of fishermen earning incomes below their opportunity costs. By definition, lack of mobility is inability to respond to changes in economic conditions. If mobility towards the fishery is greater than mobility out of the fishery, favourable changes can hurt them. Second, in multispecies fisheries, changes in fishing effort resulting from a change in economic parameters may not result necessarily or only in the expected change in the quantity of catch but to a change in its composition. If the fishery supplies a large share of the market, the change in catch composition would cause a second-stage change in fish prices mitigating the effect of the original change. A fall in costs or a rise in price may make profitable (and even socially desirable) the “extinction” of some species. 40

39 This result, of course, depends on the objectives and motivations of the fishermen (see Section 2.3). If the fishermen do not maximize net income but they strive to attain a given level of net income, increases in costs or reductions in fish prices or catch may result in an increase in effort at least temporarily until the fishermen are forced by the new realities to modify downwards their expectations.

The most significant policy implication of this section is that, in the absence of restrictions on entry, reductions in the prices of fishing inputs, technological upgrading, and increase in the price of fish can benefit the fishermen only temporarily. In the long-run the fishermen cannot expect to earn more than their opportunity costs. In fact, an initially beneficial change (fall in costs, rise in fish prices) may ultimately hurt the fishermen if it encourages ‘excessive’ numbers of entrants who, once in the fishery, find it difficult to leave despite possible losses (see Table 2).

Similarly, an expansion in the resource base through manipulation of mesh size, type of gear and geographical distribution of fishing operations or simply through the allocation of more resources to the fishery, would lead to expansion in fishing effort and would have no lasting effects on fishermen's incomes as long as the open-access status of the resource remains unchanged. An expansion of the resource base is, thus; analogous to a rise in the price of fish and can be similarly represented diagrammatically as an upward shift of the total revenue curve (see Figure 15). In the absence of regulations of fishing effort, improvement in the utilization of catch, or the efficiency of the market system would have analogous effects: a temporary rise in incomes followed by expansion of effort and return to the previous income levels which, in the long-run, are uniquely determined by opportunity costs. The only way in which a lasting increase in fishing incomes can be effected is either by limiting effort through fisheries management or by raising the fishermen's opportunity cost through non-fishery development (creation of alternative employment). Fishery development can help only if it is implemented after or concurrently with fisheries management.

Figure 13

Figure 13  The effects of a rise in fishing costs in a biologically overexploited fishery: a rise in cost(a') -- temporary losses (b') -- exit (c') until a new open-access equilibrium (TR = TC) is established; no long-term effects on fishermen's incomes or on economic or profits, but a rise in catch.

40 Biological extinction of species is physically difficult and economically unprofitable. However, economic extinction in the sense of near disappearance of a certain species from the catch is not uncommon in multispecies fisheries.

Figure 14

Figure 14  The effects of a rise in fishing costs in a biologically underexploited fishery: same as Fig. 13 except that catch falls. Fishing costs may rise to the point where the fishery becomes unprofitable and effort and catch are reduced to zero. This may even happen in a biologically overexploited fishery if the costs rise sufficiently.

Figure 15

Figure 15  Effects of rise in the price of fish. Rise in price (a') -- temporary profit (b') -- entry (c') until a new open-access equilibrium (TR' = TC) is established. No long-term effects on fishermen's income. Economic surplus continues to be zero. If too many new fishermen are attracted into the fishery by the temporary profit, existing fishermen may incur losses if they happen to be less efficient and more immobile than the new entrants.

Table 2   Development and management of small-scale fisheries: Constraints, objectives and outcomes (A preliminary qualitative assessment)
Resource Constraint Binding Resource Constraint Not Binding
Development Management Economic Political Fishermen's objection Limited fishing range Multi-species short life span Open-access resources Scattered multi-gear Conflicts with other fisheries Distroted capital market Low educational skill Low mobility Surplus Labour/Lack of alternative employment Protein supply Employment Income Social effects Integration Gross economic surplus Net economic surplus Average fishing cost Innovation Food supply / Exports Employment Income Social effects Integration Gross economic surplus Net economic surplus
FE ) UN )
 1. Fish subsidy No management H L L   × ×             ♀- ? 0 - 0 - n/a + 0 + + 0 - ?
 2. Fuel subsidy No management H M L ×   × ×           ♀- ? 0 - 0 - n/a + 0 + + 0 - ?
 3. Motorization No management H L L     × × ×   ×     ♀- ? ? ? 0 - n/a + 0 + + 0 ? ?
 4. Credit No management H L L ?   × ×     ×     ? ? 0 ? 0 - n/a ? 0 ? + 0 ? ? ?
 5. Marketing/Infrastructure No management M/H M/L L     × ×           ♀- ? 0 + 0 (-) n/a + 0 + + 0 + ?
 6. Post-harvest technology No management M L L   × ×             (+) ? 0 0 0 (-) n/a + 0 + + 0 - ?
 7. Promotion of cooperatives No management ? M M     × ×     ×     ? ? ? ? 0 - n/a ? 0 ? ? 0 ? ? ?
 8. Resource allocation No management ? M L ×   ×   × ×   ×   ? ? ? 0 0 n/a ? 0 ? ? 0 ? ? ?
 9. Relation No management H H H     ? ×     × × × (+) (+) (+) ♀- + 0 - n/a + 0   (-) - + ? ?
10. Alternative/Suppl. employment No management H M L     ? ×     × ×   (+) (+) + + + 0 - n/a - 0 + + 0 + ? ?
 1. Fish subsidy “Limited entry” (Regulation of effective fishing effort) H                       0 0 + ← or → + 0 n/a + 0 + + ← or → + ?
 2. Fuel subsidy " M                       0 - +     + 0 n/a + 0 + +     + ?
 3. Motorization " M-H                       0 - ?     ? ? n/a + 0 + +     + +
 4. Credit " M                       ? ? (+)     (+) (+) n/a (+) 0 (+) (+)     (+) (+)
 5. Marketing/Infrastructure " M/H                       0 ? +     + + n/a + 0 + +     + +
 6. Post-harvest technology " M                       0 ? +     + + n/a + 0 + +     + +
 7. Promotion of cooperatives " ?                       0 ? ?     ? ? n/a ? 0 ? ?     + +
 8. Resource allocation " ?                       + + +     + ? n/a ? 0 ? ?     ? ?
 9. Relocation " H                       - ? +/?     + ? n/a - 0 - (-)     (-) (-)
10. Alternative/Suppl. employment " H                       - + +     + + n/a - 0 + +     + +
 1. No development Catch quotas M L M   × × × × ×       o + - - (-) ? 0 - + + LEGEND:

+  Long-term increase

♀   Short-term increase

-   Long-term decrease

o   Short-term decrease

0   Zero effect

?   Ambiguous effect

()   Effect possible but not certain

X   Binding constraint

H   High

M   Moderate

L   Low

FE   Full employment

UN   Unemployment
 2. No development Area/seasonal clos. M L M × × × × ×     × × o + o ? o (-) ? 0 - + +
 3. No development Gear regulation H M M × × × × ×       × o + o ? o ? ? 0 - + -
 4. No development Mesh size regulation H L M × × × × ×         o + ? o ? ? 0 - ? ?
 5. No development Trawl ban H H L/H × × × × ×     × ? o ? ? ♀/o ♀/o - o 0 - (+) 0
 6. No development Limit No. of boats M-H H (H)     × × ?     × × o ? ? o - - ? o 0 - + +
 7. No development Taxes on effort/catch H H H       ×     × × × o + o ? o ? - ? + (+) - +
 8. No development Licences (free) H M L       ×     (X) (X) (X) + + + + o + 0 - 0 +
 9. No development Auction of property rights L H H       ? × × × × × + (-) 0/- - ? + + - +
10. No development Community rights L M L         ×       ? + (+) + + ? (+) (+) - (+)

4.2  Assistance Programmes

The need for government assistance to small-scale fishermen may arise in at least three cases: First, when the fishery is, for some reason, economically underexploited, the government may attempt to correct possible market failures and relax binding constraints which hinder the further development of the fishery through development assistance (motorization of boats, introduction of innovations, subsidies, etc.). Second, when fishermen earn less than their opportunity costs the government may attempt to identify the cause of geographical or occupational immobility and provide retraining and relocation assistance. Third, when fishermen's (and others') opportunity cost is unacceptably low (e.g., below the government poverty line or low by comparison to other occupational groups), the government may attempt to uplift their socio-economic conditions through development or welfare assistance.

Basically, the government assistance to small-scale fishermen may be classified into two broad categories: (a) assistance which aims at correcting or mitigating the effects of market imperfections or removing impediments to growth and, hence, increasing the efficiency of the fishery and of the overall economy, and (b) assistance which aims at redistributing income from other socio-economic groups to the small-scale fishermen and, hence, at reducing socio-economic disparities. While distributional improvements may result from improvement in efficiency, they should be kept separate from deliberate distributional objectives accomplished at the sacrifice of efficiency. In the first category we may include the provision of infrastructure, the improvement of fish utilization and marketing efficiency, research and extension, promotion of fisheries associations, correction of relative price distortions, etc., while in the second category we may include the allocation of additional fish resources41.

Subsidies of any sort (on fish, fuel, boat engines, etc.) as well as credit and induced motorization, often aim at both efficiency and distribution but rarely accomplish either, partly because of open-access and partly because of the distortions which they introduce in the market mechanism. For a given rise in fishermen's income to be maintained, the amount of subsidy should be continuously rising to just cancel out the induced expansion in effort, obviously a self-defeating policy since the faster subsidies rise the faster effort would expand. The distributive objective of subsidies can be accomplished more permanently and with far lower costs through direct welfare transfers to “existing” fishermen. At least, in this case, it is not difficult to anticipate that many non-fishermen would try to qualify as fishermen.

A number of criteria should be employed in selecting an appropriate form of development assistance: (1) it should help not hurt the fishermen; (2) it should focus on factors of production which cannot be provided by the fishermen themselves; (3) it should be such that the fishery can eventually outgrow the need for it; (4) it should rank high in terms of cost-effectiveness; and (5) it should introduce no more than the absolute minimum of distortion in the market mechanism. Below we discuss briefly these criteria in the above order.

The first criterion, that any provided development assistance should help not hurt the fishermen, is not as trival as it might sound. It presumes anticipation of both the temporary and long-term effects of intervention. For example, motorization of canoes in an overexploited fishery, without additional allocation of resources may eventually make the fishermen worse off by increasing their dependence on purchased inputs whose prices are beyond their control. For example, there is some evidence that in parts of the Philippines, well-meant credit assistance for mechanization has helped the fishermen only temporarily; in the long term, motorized fishing units became increasingly unprofitable with the escalation of fuel prices. A recent study found that owners of small-scale motorized boats had an average income of US$ 362 compared to US$ 520 by a non-motorized boat (Librero et al., 1982). A similar situation is found in Malaysia where the early success of mechanization has turned into a liability with many motorized boats earning incomes below their opportunity coasts (Fredericks et al., 1982). Similarly, in an open-access fishery characterized by immobility, subsidies of fish prices or of input costs may lead to temporary profitability, excessive entry and a long-term reduction in fishing incomes of existing fishermen below their pre-intervention levels.

41 Unless the additional resources can be exploited more efficiently (from the society's point of view) by labour-intensive artisanal fisheries rather than by capital intensive large-scale fisheries, in which case efficiency calls for the reallocation of resources.

The second criterion for the selection of the appropriate form of intervention is that development assistance should focus on factors of production which cannot be provided or procured by the fishermen themselves either because of economies of scale in their provision or because of their sheer cost relative to the fishermen's income. For example, the provision of infrastructure such as landing facilities, roads and market outlays is in the public domain; no fisherman should be expected to provide these facilities on his own and even if he could, they still should be provided by the state because of the tremendous economies of scale in their provision and their “public good” 42 nature. At the other extreme, there are factors of production such as fuel, ice and nets which are private goods and should be the responsibility of the fisherman himself. In-between, there are the capital inputs such as boat and engine, whose costs are high compared to the fishermen's incomes and limited assistance may be justified, especially if the capital market is not properly functioning. The problem with motorization subsidies, like any other subsidies, is that it is easy to introduce them and very difficult to withdraw them. For example, in Sri Lanka the import and distribution of motorized boats at subsidized prices may have been justified in the 1960s and the early 1970s, but not today. Not only because of the cost of imported fuel, but also because the fishery is quite profitable (see Fernando et al.) and fishermen could save to purchase or replace their own boats. In fact, part of the fishery subsidies “could” be replaced by taxes to capture (a part of) the generated resource rents in order: (a) to regulate entry, and (b) to provide development assistance to the less developed sections of the fishery, to the extent that the resource constraint permits. It is recognized, however, that removing subsidies and introducing taxes is politically very difficult, if not impossible. Hence, subsidies introduce a more or less permanent burden for the society which should be recognized before their introduction.

Hence, a third important consideration in contemplating development assistance is the potential of the fishery to outgrow the need for assistance and the ability of the state to withdraw it when it is judged that it does no longer serve its purpose. Subsidies are notoriously difficult to outgrow because their recipients become accustomed to them and unprepared to face the market forces. In the case of fishing, subsidies encourage entry over and above the open-access level, and their removal would necessitate considerable reduction of effort and employment which may not be politically acceptable.

A fourth criterion for the selection of appropriate development assistance is that between a number of alternatives the one with the highest cost-effectiveness should be selected, that is, the assistance scheme which attains a given objective or set of objectives with the least cost. For example, if adoption of a new technology (e.g., boat engines, nylon nets) is profitable but fishermen are not adopting it for lack of knowledge of its existence or lack of confidence in its profitability, the most cost-effective form of assistance is not handing out the technology free of charge to the fishermen but providing them with the appropriate information and extension. Similarly, if fish prices are relatively low because of inappropriate fish utilization or high marketing margins, the most cost-effective assistance is not a price support scheme or a fish price subsidy but improvement of fish utilization and of marketing efficiency.

A related criterion is that intervention should aim at the “maximum” possible assistance to fishermen with the minimum distortion of the market mechanism. For example, instead of providing subsidized credit or subsidized boat engines, it might be more appropriate to remove the distortions in the capital market (such as implicit subsidies to large-scale fishermen) which result in unfair competition between small- and large-scale fishermen. Only after the distorted relative prices of capital and labour are corrected to reflect their true scarcities (capital scarce, labour abundant), can the problems of small-scale fishermen be seen in the right perspective. Under the prevailing policies of under-priced capital and over-priced labour, small-scale fishermen with no collateral and hardly any skill, besides fishing, have little access to (capital and hence to) fishery resources and no access to employment outside the fishery. Enabling small-scale fishermen to borrow at the same capital markets as large-scale fishermen, but with repayment schedules and administrative details they can meet, and allocating to them additional fish resources under limited entry conditions 43 would do more for their standard of living than all conceivable subsidies under open-access conditions.

42 A public good is characterized by jointness in supply in that to produce the good for one consumer it is necessary to produce it for all consumers. The consumption of a public good, unlike that of a private good, by an individual does not diminish its availability to others. Although the production of a public good involves an opportunity cost, in terms of foregone quantities of private and other public goods, its consumption (short of over-crowding) involves zero opportunity cost. For more details on this and other market failures, see Panayotou, 1982.

When all the aforementioned criteria for selecting forms of development assistance are brought to bear, it becomes obvious that the state should not intervene directly with fishing operations through input subsidies, fish price support or induced motorization schemes. Given the constraints (fluid and scattered fisheries, limited resource, open access, conflicts with large-scale fisheries and limited mobility), any such interventions are likely to: (a) prove very costly and difficult to withdraw; (b) hurt, rather than help, the fishermen in the long-run; (c) lead to further distortions of the markets and depletion of the resources; and (d) leave the society with a larger problem in the future and with fewer resources and ability to deal with it. Instead, development assistance should concentrate on creating an appropriate environment in which small-scale fishermen can operate in more even competition with each other and with large-scale fishermen.

If there is still unexploited potential in the fishery which fall outside the fishing range of small-scale fishermen, development assistance may take the form of gradual motorization of boats or of selective input subsidies if the market fails to achieve the desirable outcome and the government cannot improve the working of the market. Yet, the social benefit from such direct intervention should cover fully the social cost involved. If, however, the fishery potential is already fully exploited, development assistance should take the form of creation of alternative employment opportunities. As we have seen in the previous section, in the absence of restrictions on entry, fishing-related assistance to fishermen operating in a fully- (or over-) exploited fishery is self-defeating in the long run. In the short run, however, when no alternatives are available, there may be some justification in basing stop-gap or relief measures on the fishery. It might be ‘optimal’ to over-exploit the fishery to buy time for the development of alternatives outside the fishery 44. Such short-term actions, however, should be planned with a long-term perspective. Moreover, for development assistance to have more than temporary impact, it should be accompained by effectively enforced fishery management.

Without some regulation of effort, fisheries-related assistance sooner or later would be proved futile, as far as the socio-economic conditions of the fishermen and the society's long-term interests are concerned. As shown in Table 2, when the resource constraint is binding, there would be only a temporary increase and a long-term decrease in catch, and a temporary increase in fishing incomes at the expense of a permanent reduction in the fishery's net economic surplus (already zero before the intervention). The effect on employment is ambiguous since any gains in primary employment arising from the expansion of effort should be balanced against reductions of secondary employment arising from the reduction in catch. Under open-access and a binding resource constraint, only creation of alternative employment would have any long-term effects. If the resource constraint is not binding, fishery development assistance in the form of either subsidies or infrastructure may result in long-term increases in catch and employment, but not in income or in economic surplus whose changes are either temporary or ambiguous. As it can be seen from Table 2, fisheries development assistance has lasting effects only when fishing effort is regulated, particularly if, at the same time, the resource constraint is not binding. Although under these conditions both direct intervention through subsidies and indirect intervention through creation of condusive environment (infrastructure, improved catch utilization, more efficient marketing, etc.) work, the criteria of “cost-effectiveness”, “easy withdrawal” and “minimum distortion” favour the latter. Improvement of the environment in which small-scale fisheries operate is effective even if the resource constraint is binding, provided effort is controlled. However, in the presence of terminal resource limitations and surplus labour in fishing communities, creation of supplementary or alternative employment (or gradual relocation in the absence of such prospects) is a sine quo non condition for upgrading small-scale fisheries and uplifting depressed fishing communities.

43 “Limited entry” refers to effective limits on fishing effort and, thus, it applies to both labour and capital, in all their possible combinations and configurations. It is by no means sufficient to control only the number of fishermen or the number of fishing boats.

44 However, this might be a very costly way of buying time if it leads to an irreversible situation such as the collapse of certain high-value species, a not-unlikely possibility in the case of multi-species fisheries (see Chapter II).

4.3  Management regulations

As we have already seen, open-access leads to excess effort, possible biological overfishing and dissipation of all economic surplus that a fishery is capable of generating. Furthermore, the asymmetry between mobility in and mobility out of the fishery leads to depressed socio-economic conditions for fishermen and negative economic surplus for the society as a whole. Under open-access any attempts to further develop a fishery or simply to assist small-scale fishermen may be ineffective in the long-term because they attract additional effort which can nullify any short-term positive results that the intervention might accomplish. This is true whether resource constraints are binding or not; even if there is potential for further development and expansion once assistance is provided it would be only a matter of time before its effect on fishermen's income and economic surplus disappears under excessive effort.

Without some form of control on fishing, these and other similar objectives of fishery management such as improvements in the productivity of the stocks and reduction in the wasteful use of scarce resources whether natural or man-made, cannot be accomplished. Not even the objective of maintaining high employment may be realized in the absence of control on fishing since possible biological overfishing results in reduced sustainable catch and hence lower secondary employment in fish processing, marketing, etc.45 Neither is social friction avoided under open-access conditions for small-scale fishermen barely eke out a subsistence and they are in constant conflict with the large-scale fishery.

In Chapter II we have seen that there are two parameters which the fishery administrator can manipulate directly or indirectly to achieve the objectives of fisheries management: (i) the age or size of fish at first capture, and (ii) the total amount of fishing effort. By changing the size of fish at first capture, it is possible to increase the productivity of the stock and the net economic yield for a given amount of fishing effort, while changing fishing effort could have a similar result for a given size at first capture. Correspondingly, management regulations may be classified into: (i) regulations such as gear selectivity and seasonal, and area closures which aim at affecting the size and age of fish caught, and (ii) regulations such as catching capacity controls and catch quotas which aim at affecting the amount of total effort or the quantity of the catch. A third type of management scheme (territorial rights) aims at creating a conducive environment of self-control by the fishermen themselves instead of attempting to control fishing directly.

The choice among these management alternatives would depend largely on the specific features and circumstances of the fishery concerned and the objectives of the management authority. Yet, this choice should be based on a set of criteria which include: acceptance by the fishermen, gradual implementation, flexibility, encouragement of efficiency and innovation, full cognizance of regulation and enforcement costs, and due attention to employment and distributional implications.

Firstly, for a management regulation to have a fair chance of success at economically justifiable enforcement cost and a politically acceptable degree of coercion, it must have the support of the majority of the fishermen. This is especially important in small-scale fisheries where enforcement is complicated by the dispersion and fluidity of fishing units. On the other hand, it is a fairly restrictive criterion since fishermen are not likely to agree to any regulation which would deprive them from access to the fishery or in any way threaten their absolute or relative position in the fishery, unless appreciably superior alternatives are proposed. Even then, social factors and other causes of mobility may prompt them to oppose regulations which they see as a threat to their traditional way of life and source of livelihood. Hence, a second criterion for the selection of an appropriate management regulation is that it should be amenable to gradual implementation. For example, the auctioning of fishing rights is likely to exclude, right from the start, many small-scale fishermen with no alternative employment.

A third criterion is that an appropriate management regulation should be sufficiently flexible to allow for adjustment to changes in economic and biological conditions. Tropical pelagic stocks, for example, are subject to unpredictable fluctuations. Flexibility in multispecies fisheries is particularly important because of our limited knowledge of species interactions and of the reactions of stock composition to changes in effort. In recent years, economic conditions (e.g. fuel costs, fish prices and fish technology) have been changing rapidly. Management regulations such as catch quotas which do not allow the necessary flexibility for adjustment to changing conditions or imply heavy research costs to monitor stock fluctuations may lead to serious overfishing or at any rate operation at suboptimal levels for part of the time depending on the frequency and magnitude of these changes.

45 M. Ben-Yami has pointed out to me the possibility of some additional secondary employment being generated by overfishing because of the greater processing requirements of smaller species compared to prime fish (whose share in the catch is being reduced by overfishing).

A fourth criterion is that a proper regulation should encourage the fishery to operate at the minimum average cost, and provide incentives (or, at least, leave scope) for improvements in efficiency through both tactical changes in the pattern of fishing and innovative changes in fishing technology. This is of utmost importance since higher efficiency means larger spread between the value of the catch and fishing costs and hence higher income for the fishermen and/or economic surplus for the society. Again, overall catch quotas fail this criterion since they induce a fierce competition among the fishermen to catch as much fish as possible before the quota is filled. Naturally, total fishing costs rise to the level of the value of the catch (hence zero economic surplus) as the fishing season is reduced to the absolute minimum for filling the quota. However, individual catch quotas, if enforceable, can eliminate excessive competition and enable individual fishermen to reduce their fishing costs down to the minimum required to secure their quotas.

A fifth criterion is that a proper management regulation should take full account of the research, enforcement and monitoring costs involved and political factors constraining its effective implementation. For example, mesh size regulation or taxes on effort may be very costly to implement in scattered multigear fishing units.

A last criterion is that an appropriate management regulation would take full cognizance of the employment and distributional implications and weigh them against the other objectives of fisheries management (improvement in fishing incomes, maximization of economic surplus, reduction of gear conflicts, etc.). For example, mesh size regulation and closure of nursery areas in shallow waters have implications for income distribution (and employment) because they affect disproportionately the inshore fishermen; in fact, they involve a net transfer of income from inshore small-scale fishermen to offshore industrial fisheries.

On the basis of these criteria and the constraints under which small-scale fisheries operate (discussed in Chapter III) we attempt an evaluation of the potential applicability and effectiveness of the following management alternatives: gear selectivity, gear restrictions, seasonal and area closures, catch quotas, fishing effort controls, economic controls (taxes, licence fees and price controls), and territorial rights (property rights over the stock or an area, leasehold arrangements, franchises and rights of use). The costs and effects of these management regulations are qualitatively discussed in the sequel and summarized in Table 2 (above).

Selectivity of gear such as restrictions on the size or spacing of meshes and hooks or the opening of pots aim at achieving and maintaining the most productive age structure of the stock by allowing immature fish to grow larger and more valuable and to possibly reproduce before they are caught. When different fishermen focus on different age or on different species (using the same type of gear), selectivity of gear has obvious distributional implications. In the case of an inshore small-scale fishery which focusses on young fish migrating offshore where they are exploited by a large-scale fishery gear, selectivity involves a reallocation of the resource in favour of the offshore fishery. As a result, the overall yield from the fishery would improve while the income and employment of small-scale fishermen would deteriorate 46 with consequent social problems. The net economic surplus would remain zero (in fact, become negative by the amount of the cost of regulation) since any rents created in the offshore fishery 47 following the regulation would attract new entrants to the point of complete rent dissipation. Moreover, with scattered and fluid, multi-gear, multi-species fisheries the enforcement is likely to be difficult and costly, especially since small-scale fishermen would certainly oppose such regulations. Thus, we may conclude that gear selectivity (despite its potential usefulness in improving resource productivity) might not do as much good as expected, without a prior effective control on effort and resolution of the fundamental allocation problem between artisanal and commercial fisheries. The importance of the control of effort to fully reap the gain in productivity to be accured from regulations on gear selectivity cannot be over-emphasized, as no long-term improvement in individual incomes and economic surplus can be expected in the absence of effort regulation.

46 Only few displaced small-scale fishermen can expect to be employed as crewmen in the offshore fishery because of its capital-and-skill intensity.

47 Even short-term rents may not be created because of the higher costs of catching the fish once dispersed offshore.

Gear restrictions such as a ban on the use of poison and explosives aim at the protection of the resource and its productivity while others such as a ban on trawls, synthetic nets, and fish finders are introduced ostensibly to protect the resource from “destructive” gear but their true aim is to protect the position in the fishery of another less efficient gear for political or social reasons. Both restrictions have extreme distributional implications. The ban on poison and explosives, if effective, often involves a reallocation of the resource away from the poorest of the fishermen 48 towards fishermen who can affort legitimate types of gear and towards future users of the resource. It could be rejected as counter-distributive unless assistance to acquire legitimate gear or alternative employment are provided to the displaced fishermen. Here too, no long-term improvement in incomes and economic surplus can be expected in the absence of limitations on entry of the legitimate types of gear.

The ban on trawls and other relatively efficient gear involves a reallocation in favour of the small-scale coastal fishermen, who may or may not employ less efficient types of gear. While temporarily the sacrifice of some efficiency in the name of a more equitable distribution might be acceptable, a complete ban on trawlers is likely to be an unnecessarily large sacrifice when many of the trawling grounds are not accessible to small-scale fishermen. Most likely, the harmful effects of trawlers on the resources and on coastal fishermen could be minimized through gear selectivity and area allocation between the two fisheries. Following the banning of truly destructive gear, the yield would increase, employment would fall for those using the banned gear and would rise for the rest, but no long-term improvement in fishing incomes or net economic surplus can be expected without effective control of entry. A total ban is easy to enforce but it may have adverse effects on efficiency and innovation.

In this context, the recent total ban on trawlers by Indonesia deserves some comment. In the words of the Director General of Indonesian Fisheries “As a culmination of trying to solve the problem of trawlers in Indonesia, in her continuous effort to protect the poor traditional fishermen masses, on 1 July 1980 the Government reached the political decision to ban the operation of trawlers in Indonesia gradually by Presidential Decree No. 39 of the year 1980” (Sardjono, 1980). Was this trawl ban the most appropriate management tool under the circumstances? The Indonesian trawl ban came in a background of violent clashes between traditional fishermen and trawlers, and after several arrests and demonstrations; earlier regulations limiting the number of licensed vessels and their area of operation proved “ineffective” in keeping illegal trawlers off the coastal waters. Considering the intensity of the conflict, the government's difficulties in enforcing other more complex regulations 49, and the predominance (95 percent) of small-scale fishermen in the Indonesian fishery the total ban on trawlers does not seem unreasonable under the circumstances. In the government's estimate, catch is expected to fall temporarily by 10 percent and be made up soon through the conversion of trawlers into other types of gear and the expansion of the small-scale fishery with government assistance through credit and extension services. Yet, efficiency and innovation are certain to suffer as a result of the ban and part of the offshore demersal resources is likely to remain underexploited, 50 or be harvested by foreign fleets. In socio-economic terms, the trawl ban is likely to result in a temporary increase in the incomes of small-scale fishermen and a gain in fishing employment which will expand to bring the fishery to a new bio-economic equilibrium where small-scale fishermen earn no more than their opportunity costs. That is, without some form of control on the number of small-scale fishermen themselves not even a total ban on trawlers is likely to produce a lasting improvement in their incomes; unless the elimination of coastal encroachment by trawlers encourages the revival of traditional forms of self-management.

48 It is not suggested here that the poison and explosives are used only by the poor fishermen but that they would be the ones most affected by the ban since they cannot affort legitimate types of gear. On the degree of destructiveness of poison and explosives there are opposing views apparently referring to different types of fisheries. M. Ben-Yami (pers. comm.) argues that, with the exception of coral reefs, poison and explosives have rather limited effect on stocks and environment: “the main danger of using dynamite is that fishermen lose their hands or fingers”. On the other hand, Bardach (1976: 18–19) quotes Tugnola Efi, Prime Minister of Samoa: “Fish inside the reef which were once the mainstay of our protein diet are becoming increasingly scarce. Ava niu kini and dynamite are largely responsible. I have witnessed the trauma of the deathly white and soften coral and sea plans a day after laying of the ava niu kini. There is an eeriness which bespeaks multilation profanity and even death. As fish become scarce, the ava niu kini and dynamite … seem to the fishermen even more necessary to ensure a respectable catch. That catch does not suffice, use of dynamite notwithstanding …”

49 Of course, the savings in enforcement costs through the total trawl ban must be balanced against the losses in fishing efficiency.

50 C.H. Newton has commented that this may not matter much if the objective of the government is to satisfy small-scale fishermen and consumers with supply of juvenile species at low costs. By banning trawlers in the Java Sea, the prices for adult demersal species will increase and thereby make fishing for such species viable in the Arafura Sea.

Seasonal and area closures aim at improving the productivity of the resource by ensuring uninterrupted spawning and protection of juvenile fish. The closure of a fishery during certain seasons or in certain area may also aim at controlling total effort and catch. The first objective is easily accomplished if spawning and nursery areas and seasons can be accurately determined. This might be difficult as these areas and seasons often change from year to year. The closure to fishing of a well-defined area such as a bay, an estuary or a lagoon or the closure of the entire fishery for 3 certain season can be relatively easily enforced. In contrast, the closure of a large offshore areas or the closure of the fishery for small and frequent time intervals or for only some species involves considerably higher monitoring and enforcement costs. Since spawning and nursery areas of many species are located along the coast (bays, estuaries, lagoons, etc.), the area and season closures affect disproportionately the small-scale fishermen who operate almost exclusively in coastal areas. Unlike the mobile and resilient large-scale fishery, small-scale fishermen cannot take up offshore fishing during the closed season or shift to other fishing grounds following a closure of their traditional fishing grounds. Although potentially useful for raising overall yields, area and season closures tend to reallocate the resource in favour of the offshore fishery 51, thus idling and impoverishing small-scale fishermen, unless assistance is provided to facilitate their participation in offshore fishing. Closed areas, in particular, impose a burden on small-scale fishermen who do not have the mobility to fish other areas.

As a means of controlling total catch or effort, area and season closures are ineffective, encouraging wasteful expansion of effort as the fishermen attempt to make the best of the open areas and seasons. The adverse consequences of the increased fishing intensity in open areas or during open seasons and the resulting increase in overall fishing costs may more than offset any beneficial effects of the closures on the productivity of the stocks. Another type of area closure is the prohibition of certain types of gear (e.g., trawl) from operating in coastal areas reserved for small-scale fishermen. This has certain advantages over a total ban or a total area closure but it is also more difficult to enforce. Area (or resource) allocation is a useful management tool for resolving conflicts between mutually incompatible types of gear such as trawls and stationary gear, as well as for encouraging self-management (see territorial rights below). Creation of artificial reefs has been suggested as a physical mean to prevent trawling in inshore areas, while enhancing the fish productivity, e.g. through extensive aquaculture on man-made reefs.

Catch quotas aim at improving the productivity of the stocks through direct control of fishing mortality. Theoretically, any catch quota can be set and enforced thereby maintaining the stock at the desired level of production. However, the socio-economic consequences of an overall catch quota are highly negative. The fishing race continues unabated as fishermen have to expand their catching capacity to main or increase their share of the quota, with the ultimate result of an increase in fishing costs, a reduction in the duration of the fishing season and a complete dissipation of economic surplus regardless of the level of the quota. In multispecies fisheries, a total catch quota can be more harmful as the ensuing competition is likely to result in the catch being concentrated on the most valuable species with the risk of their progressive extinction. When both artisanal and commercial fishermen exploit the same stock, a total quota is certain to effect a reallocation of the resource in favour of the commercial fishermen who have greater catching capacity and ability to expand it further. Unavoidably, both income and employment of small-scale fishermen would be reduced while no economic surplus would be generated by the fishery as a whole.

51 Of course, this is so only where the offshore and the small-scale fishermen share the same stocks or, at least, exploit interdependent stocks as is often the case with small-scale fishermen operating near the coast, in lagoons and river estuaries; they exploit the juvenile stages of the same stocks which large-scale fishermen exploit further offshore.

In order to eliminate this unfair and damaging competition, the management authority may attempt to divide the overall quota between groups of fishermen such as artisanal and commercial fishermen. These quotas may be divided further between fishing communities and even between individual fishermen to eliminate in-group competition and encourage the fishermen to minimize the cost of catching their share of the total quota. Despite their theoretical appeal, individual quotas are difficult to put into practice because of the natural fluctuations of the stocks, the fluidity of the catch, and the fluidity and dispersion of the fleet, especially of the small-scale fishing units. Monitoring the catches of large numbers of artisanal fishermen scattered in remote communities and enforcing individual quotas would be an extremely costly undertaking and an administrative nightmare especially in developing countries with poor communication networks and limited statistical systems. Furthermore, there is the difficult problem of devising a method for allocating individual quotas which would encourage efficiency without excluding the poorest of the fishermen who cannot compete for quotas in the market. Not only certain quotas may have to be allocated to them free of charge but also limits on the transferability of these quotas may have to be set in order to reserve a place for them in the fishery.

Fishing effort controls such as limits on the number of fishing units, on the quantity of gear, or on the catching capacity of vessels aim at improving the yield and economic performance of the fishery through a direct removal of excessive fishing effort. As we have seen in Chapter II, effective fishing effort (or fishing mortality) is the product of the number of fishing units, their fishing power, the efficiency with which catching power is used and the time spent fishing. Catching power, in turn, is determined by various characteristics of the fishing unit, such as the tonnage and horsepower of the vessel, the size and type of gear, the fish-finding technology, etc. To be effective, fishing effort controls must limit total effort, not just some of its components; otherwise, the fishermen will substitute the unrestricted components for the retricted ones, thus producing a higher effective effort at a relatively higher cost. Yet, limiting all the components of effort would not only be administratively cumbersome and costly, but it would also put an end to technological improvements and the ensuing gains in efficiency. A good management scheme should use, even encourage, the fisherman's technical and tactical 52 attempts to increase his efficiency because they mean savings in scarce resources, reductions in fish prices and increases in economic surplus.

What the management should control is total effort, not how it is produced, unless social considerations dictate a temporary sacrifice of some efficiency to maintain employment or to improve the incomes of artisanal fishermen. Thus, an appropriate management plan would (1) determine the catching power of the various fishing units; (2) control, even imperfectly, their fishing power by limiting one or a few factors having a major effect on the catching power of the fishing units (e.g., the number and size of traps, the length of a purse seine, etc.); (3) license only a number corresponding to the “optimum” level of effort; (4) allow the licensed fishermen to make the adaptations and innovations they see fit; and (5) control overall effective effort at the predetermined level by withdrawing excess catching capacity resulting from the gains in efficiency. This, of course, raises an allocation problem of particular imnportance to small-scale fishermen, who would be allowed access to the fishery and how would subsequent reductions in excess capacity affect different groups of fishermen.

Auctioning or market sale of a limited number of licences is certain to exclude many small-scale fishermen who have poor access to funds to bid for or purchase a licence. Similarly, subsequent withdrawals of capacity may affect disproportionately the small-scale fishermen whose gains in efficiency are likely to be more limited than those of other participants. These problems can be resolved through a political decision to allocate a certain number of licences to small-scale fishermen and preventing transferability outside of the group. As the small-scale fishermen gain in efficiency and alternative employment opportunities are developed outside the fishery, both the number and the transferability of these special licences can be reduced. However, the dispersion, fluidity and remoteness of small-scale fisheries may reduce the effectiveness of the scheme in limiting entry; potential entrants failing to obtain a licence might engage in illegal fishing. Moreover, the use of many different types of gear, vessels, and methods of fishing by artisanal fishermen make comparisons of fishing power and hence management through control of effort more difficult and costly than would have been the case with a more homogeneous fleet.

52 That is, the improvement of the distribution of his fishing operations, i.e. the use of his nominal fishing capacity, relatively to the time and space distribution of the most valuable species available to him.

Economic controls such as taxes on effort or catch, royalties and licence fees aim at indirectly controlling fishing effort by directly removing the economic surplus (or resource rent) which encourages over-expansion of effort in the first place. Taxes and fees drive a wedge between the social and private costs of fishing which dissuades fishermen from expanding effort beyond the socially optimum level. Although economic controls do not affect the long-term incomes of the fishermen, the temporary increase in costs which they entail makes them unacceptable to the fishermen. In developing countries with poorly functioning tax collection systems and with scattered small-scale fishermen barely earning subsistence incomes, taxes are out of the question for both economic and political reasons. With the variability in yield, prices and costs and heterogeneity of and dispersion of small-scale fisheries, it would be difficult to determine the correct level of the tax, and even more difficult to impose it and collect it 53. On the other hand, royalties can be automatically determined and collected by auctioning fishing licences but such a system favours the more efficient operators with access to capital, to the exclusion of most artisanal fishermen. Moreover, taxes and fees on small-scale fishermen, who in many countries are at the bottom of the income scale, are counter-distributive as they transfer income from a low-income group to the average-income group (the society at large). We may conclude, thus, that despite their potential usefulness in extracting resource rents and controlling the expansion of effort in rapidly expanding and highly profitable fisheries, economic controls are not likely to be of much help in managing small-scale fisheries in developing countries.

Resource allocation through territorial rights, such as leasehold arrangements, franchises, or allocations of ownership over an area or a stock, aims at creating the appropriate environment for self-management through the establishment of private or community “ownership” over common property resources. The “owners” of the resource having an interest in its current and future productivity would be inclined to control fishing effort so as to maximize the net benefits from the resource, in much the same way as farmers regulate their farming activities to maximize the returns from their land. However, for such a system to be workable, those allocated rights to the resource should not only be in a position to deny access to others but they should also clearly perceive that their actions have a direct and pronounced effect on the state and productivity of their portion of the resource (and hence on their future profits). These conditions are certainly met in the case of sedentary or slightly mobile resources such as seaweed, oyster and clam beds and in the case of resources within well-defined geographical areas such as tidal lands, swamps, self-contained bays, lagoons and river estuaries. Even with more mobile resources, like crustaceans, and open areas, like coastal waters, there is a possibility of dividing up the resource as long as the fish displacements and migrations between portions are not sufficient to obscure the connection between the “owner's” current actions and his future profits. There are several examples of territorial rights in traditional fisheries ranging from lagoon fishing in Ivory Coast through river estuary fishing in Brazil to coastal fisheries in Sri Lanka and Japan. In fact, community fishing rights and other forms of proprietary rights have been the rule rather than the exception in many traditional coastal fisheries (Forman, 1970; Cordell, 1974 and 1981; Johannes, 1976; Klee, 1972 and others) until fairly recently when they began breaking down under the pressures of population growth, advanced fishing technologies and the general, official adoption of the common property and open-access concept.

The revival and rejuvenation of traditional community rights over coastal resources offer, perhaps, the best possible management option for scattered, remote and fluid, small-scale fisheries. Such revival would necessitate a removal of the factors responsible for the breakdown of these traditional management systems by: (a) explicitly allocating the coastal resources to artisanal fisheries; (b) dividing these coastal resources among fishing communities; (c) regulating entry into and (d) gradually encouraging exit from the artisanal fishery by creating more attractive employment opportunities outside the fishery. Once encroachment of the coastal resources from the sea by commercial vessels and from the land by impoverished rural dwellers is effectively contained or is substantially reduced, the connection between the level of fishing effort expended by the community and its well-being would become apparent and self-regulation will be put into effect by the community leadership or through peer pressure. In the words of Emmerson (1980:32,42) “Social networks impose upon self-serving individuals a larger rationality of the whole, notably the community's interest in surviving physically, its institutions more or less intact, with some semblance of internal peace … Where kin and neighbours seek a livelihood day after day from a (small and shallow) marine space, hunters are likely to share proprietary feelings about their obvious limited quarry …”. Community enforced management has the advantage of minimum monitoring and enforcements costs, although in certain cases (mobile or widely fluctuating stocks) the community would need scientific information and outside assistance in determining the appropriate fishing rate. The efficiency and distributional implications should also be made clear: by allocating a portion of the resource to a certain community, both more efficient operators and more disadvantaged potential entrants from outside the community are permanently denied access to the resources. These losses in efficiency and employment should be balanced against the benefit from a well-managed fishery and uplifted fishing communities at relatively low management and development costs.

53 F.T. Christy has brought to my attention at least two instances in which some forms of taxes are in effect. One is in the Maldives where exported fish are subject to a dual exchange rate system that has the effect of a tax. Tunas and a few other fish can only be exported through a government agency. The agency sells the fish at the open rate of exchange but buys fish from the fishermen at an administrative rate of exchange which is about half the open rate. Thus, revenues are extracted by the Government from the fishing operation and used to subsidize the import and sale of certain staple commodities. The other is the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen where prices for fish are controlled as a means for providing low-cost protein to consumers. This also operates as a form of tax, discouraging excess entry into the fishery and creating economic rents in the form of the saving in food purchases received by consumers. In addition, there are certain instances where economic rents are taken in the form of propitiatory payments for religious purposes or extracted illegally in the form of bribes.

4.4  Some examples of traditional territorial rights

Because of the potential which the revival of traditional property rights holds for small-scale fisheries management, we review briefly a number of such cases: (1) the “temporary territorial claims” system in an estuary canoe fishery in Brazil, (2) the Japanese “fishery right system” in coastal fisheries, (3) the Sri Lankan “access right system” in the beach seine fishery; and (4) “traditional fishing rights” in a lagoon fishery in the Ivory Coast.

Cordell (1980) decribes the establishment and evolution of a system of temporary territorial claims in Brazil. Canoe fishermen operating in a river estuary in Valenca, Eastern Brazil, succeeded through a rather complex system of zoning and timing based on the lunar-tide cycle to control internal population pressures and set limits on the intensity of fishing through access limitations which established fishing as a reliable long-term occupation. Although the resource moved with the tide, the fishermen were able to map out its distribution in time and space and establish “temporary territorial rights which (could be) converted into long-standing territorial claims”. Competition between different fishing methods was eliminated through the zoning which had matched fishing methods and fishing grounds according to the effect of the tide cycle on their efficiency. This had a “boat-spacing” effect. Competition between the same type of gear was reduced through the selection of fishing spots (which had both a spatial and a temporal dimension) by individual captains on the basis of their knowledge of the tide movements and the fishing grounds. Although it was not unlikely for two or more captains to select the same fishing spot, the first to reach the spot had a temporary territorial claim while, in the absence of clear-cut prior claims, lots were drawn. What prevented a common-property-type of race for the premium fishing spots was a community ethic for captains to anticipate and avoid competitive encounters in deciding where to fish each day 54. This resulted in a situation where a limited number of captains owned “chunks of the lunar-tide fishing space”, exercised deliberate control over the “opportunity structure of fishing” and passed their skills to a limited number of apprentices. Thus, the fishermen on their own were able to stabilize their production system, set limits on the intensity of fishing and resolve inter-gear conflicts through a system of temporary territorial claims. To quote Cordell (1980:57):

54 Forman (1970) refers to a similar system in raft fishing in Northeastern Brazil where, however, “secrecy regarding particular spots within the grounds serves as a spacing mechanism which minimizes competition and prevents overfishing by according temporary property rights to individual fishermen”.

“In planning their économic strategies as if there were always a potential overfishing situation, they had established temporary territorial claims which ensured that only gradual expansion of fishing operations took place. Thus, the opportunity structure of traditional fishing, and by extension the population as a whole, was able to grow at a resource harvest rate which was compatible with continuing availability within a fixed location. Trouble only came to canoe fishing when the previously adaptive ratio of production units to available water space was disrupted by the unregulated entry (emphasis mine) of a competitive group of nylon (net) fishing entrepreneurs.”

The Japanese fishery right system 55, as legalized by the Fishery Union Regulations of 1886 and systemized by the Fishery Law of 1901, established a fisheries management system which was a combination of both communal and private fishing rights. The community was granted exclusive property rights over the coastal grounds which were vested in a community fishery association or cooperative. All households wanting rights to fish were required to join the association whereby they automatically acquired a “title” to the coastal fishing grounds which bestowed the privilege to fish the communal waters. The role of the association was not to engage in fishing but to control the fishermen and be legally responsible for enforcing the rules and regulations pertaining to the communal fishing rights. The private fishing rights, on the other hand, “reserved specific areas within the coastal waters or a specific season of the year, for specified kinds of fishing with specified kinds of equipment” (Comitini, 1966:421). These private rights were granted to their traditional owners, the village bosses known as oyakata who, as owners of fishing assets, were the main employers in the community. The private-right fisheries pre-empted the more profitable grounds in the coastal areas and, with the introduction of advanced technology, they steadily increased their share to the detriment of the household operators of the communal-right fisheries. Although many were employed by the oyakata, a situation of surplus labour in fishing villages was eventually created which, in conjunction with the introduction of advanced technology, fuelled the development of the offshore and deep-sea fisheries which, in turn, led to overfishing and conflicts with the coastal fishermen. This led the fishery authorities to introduce restrictions on areas, seasons and gears which amounted to reserving a coastal strip for small-scale operations, and a second strip further offshore for medium-scale trawlers, as means of resolving these conflicts and securing the survival of small-scale, labour-intensive operations 56.

Thus, on the one hand, the perpetuation of the fishery right system with its curious combination of communal and ‘monopolistic’ private property rights has forced independent operators into offshore fishing, thus relieving the pressure on coastal resources while, at the same time, it recognized, at least in principle, the right of every household to participate in the coastal fishery. On the other hand, the restriction of technology and the allocation of the resource between socio-economic groups amounted to subsidization of small-scale operators and resulted in maintenance of a high level of employment, averting the socially-disruptive displacement of surplus fishing labour. Comitini (1966:425) hypothesized that the goal of this apparently contradictory management system was “both to maximize employment for the large fishing population and to secure the maximum sustained yield from marine resources”.

Sri Lankan coastal fisheries have a history of traditional property rights in the form of rights of access and closed communities. In earlier times, beach seine owners controlled the access to coastsl waters and had associated fishing rights which, along with other property, were subject to bilateral inheritance (by descent or marriage). Although, at the start, each beach seine owner had his own beach 57 in which he had exclusive rights to operate, each of his children had only a fraction, not of his beach, but of his right to fish off the beach along with his brothers and brothers-in-law. While there was no limit on the number of nets that anyone holding rights to access could have constructed, the fishermen in a given beach, being a single kinship group, refrained from constructing additional nets unless they could bring in a catch whose value would have been higher than the cost of the net, that is they acted as a single economic unit. However, following successive inheritence and population growth, each group which had access rights to a beach has grown so large and remote in kinship that owning a net became gradually the means of exercising one's rights to the resource. Alexander (1980a:103), who studied the Mawelle beach seine fishery, illustrates convincingly this development which transformed the beach seine into common property:

55 This section draws heavily on Comitini (1966).

56 The number of large otter trawlers was progressively reduced and their size increased to encourage deep-sea fishing.

57 The operation of a beach seine required an area of 6,000 square yards of sandy bottom. The first entrants had established property rights over the limited sites. These were passed on to their descendents, who thereby inherited a share in their father's net as well as the right to construct their own net for use on the beach.

“If there were twenty nets, a man with one net would receive 1/20th of the annual catch. But after his death his two sons take joint ownership of his net, they each receive only 1/40th of the catch, whereas if one constructs a new net they each receive 1/21st. Thus, although the construction of new nets was clearly uneconomic from the viewpoint of the community as a whole, there were good reasons why individual fishermen, especially those from large families, should construct new nets. The optimum number of nets was reached before 1920 and the consequent increase involved additional investment for which the marginal product was zero.”

Thus, the right of access system, while effective in blocking entry by outsiders, failed to limit the effort (number of nets) employed by the members of the community itself. Although the fishermen were aware that only a fraction of the existing number of nets would have obtained the same catch while generating substantial profits, they had no way of rationalizing their fishery. Instead, they accepted the ownership of nets as a distributional device and they attempted to give equal opportunities to all nets through a rotation system which enabled each net to be used in all locations and seasons every so many years. This meant equitable sharing of increasing poverty to the point that ownership of a share could not provide for subsistence. In response, the government introduced a licence scheme which limited the number of beach seines at each community to those existing in 1933, thus destroying the “rights of access” concept; new entrants could participate in the fishery only by buying shares in existing nets. While the legislation opens the door for the sale of shares to people without hereditary rights, it did not prevent the construction of new nets; predictably enough, most shares were accumulated in the hands of a small elite with access to capital which converted a subsistence technology into a profitable enterprise by limiting the number of nets. At present, beach seining, through outrun by modern gear, still remains profitable in some locations where it is controlled by one or two licensees who own the nets and employ crew on a wage basis (Alexander, 1980a).

In Sri Lanka, traditional property rights are not peculiar to the beach seine fishery. A recent study (Fernando et. al., 1982) found that Sri Lankan coastal fishing villages are generally “closed” communities in the sense that persons from outside the village are not allowed access to the fishing grounds of the community. Outsiders are not allowed to anchor or beach fishing boats along the shoreline of the community and labour is not recruited from outside the village. These restrictions on entry help to explain why Sri Lankan coastal fishermen, unlike many other small-scale fishermen in Asia, earn incomes appreciably above their opportunity costs. However, the concept of a closed community might be gradually eroded by its very success: labour shortages and the ensuing high labour costs are encouraging the employment of outsiders as crewmen who soon are accepted by the local community and often inter-marry across castes:

“Outsiders by thus becoming insiders provide “sociological bridges” for more outsiders to find entry into what would have once been a closed fishing community which jealously guarded its resources from outsiders. While this brings about an individual gain for the craft-owner … this is a social cost being incurred at the same time; by breaking the constraint on entry, the community as a whole loses by the setting in motion of a process that will potentially increase the number of competitors on the fishing grounds” (Fernando et. al., 1982.

At this stage, it cannot be predicted whether the Sri Lankan closed community barrier to entry will eventually break under the pressure of labour shortages. As an institution which has exhibited considerable resilience in the past, it might adjust itself to accommodate the new circumstances short of opening the door to the “tragedy of the commons” which has been kept at bay so far 58.

58 M. Ben-Yami (pers. comm.) has remarked that “most traditional fishery systems break down not as a result of ‘invasions’ from outside but because of enterprising ‘insiders’ who have taken advantage of existing technologies, markets and capital to improve their incomes and who are the first to ‘break’ the rules and traditions”.

Another example of the stark contrast between the situation of a fishery under open access and that of a fishery with traditional fishing rights is provided by the case of two lagoon fisheries in the Ivory Coast (S.M.Garcia, pers. comm.). In Lagoon Ebrie near Abidjan, traditional customary rights of fishermen operating fixed gears broke down following the introduction of mobile gears, such as purse seines, by outsiders (mainly town investors). The Ebrie fishery is now overcapitalized and heavily overexploited in both the biological and economic sense, as evidenced by the small size of fish caught and the relatively low incomes of fishermen. The traditional fishermen are reported to be abandoning the fishery for better employment opportunities in the town, while people with lower opportunity costs from neighbouring countries (Malia and Upper Volta) are entering the fishery to earn a subsistence, thus perpetuating a situation of surplus fishing labour. In contrast, the rather isolated fishery of Lagoon Tagba, over one hundred kilometres from Abidjan, is still controlled by a limited number of chiefs (fishing team leaders) who have knowledge of the biological features of the resource and are enforcing traditional regulations on mesh size and on fishing in spawning areas. Though several tribes operate on the lagoon, the limited migration of catfish, the main species exploited, permits each community to manage its own portion of the lagoon. In the late 1960s, when fishermen from neighbouring countries attempted to introduce purse-seine fishing to the lagoon, a severe conflict arose between them and the local fishermen. The latter managed to capture the purse-seine nets, but they did not use them themselves; they piled them up, instead, as a warning against similar attempts in the future. With so jealously guarded territorial rights, it is no wonder that local fishermen are reported to enjoy relatively high incomes and no surplus labour is evident. Fishermen claim, also, that the size of fish caught has not changed much in living memory.

There are many more examples of traditional customary rights, such as the Brittany seaweed cutting (Troadec, 1982), the Maine lobster fishery (Acheson, 1975; Nagata, 1980) or the Malaysian cockle beds and “pompang” net fishery (Nagata, 1980).

Of course, each of these systems of traditional customary rights has evolved under the particular circumstances prevailing in certain locations at a given time. Common to most cases was, perhaps, the low population pressure, the subsistence character of the peasant economy and the slow pace of technological progress. It cannot be assumed that these institutions can be preserved intact under the entirely different configuration of population, markets, resources and technology of today. Yet, the revival and rejuvenation of traditional customary systems in the context of the new realities with a limited but crucial government involvement is one of the most promising political options for upgrading and managing artisanal fisheries. As Alexander (1980b:9) put it:

“The suggestion that customary tenure systems and conservation practices in traditional societies provide the basis for the development of modern coastal management should not be interpreted as an antiquarian's plea for the preservation of a traditional culture. Rather, it is a claim that new institutions, based on the principles embedded in traditional practices, have a critical role in equitable fisheries development. It is a difficult task, but one well worth trying.”

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