Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


While small-scale fisheries still employ over 90 percent of all fishermen and contribute about half the edible world catch, they have not received more than scant attention during the past several decades of national and international development. Instead, the emphasis has been on investment promotion for the development of industrial fisheries although this, inevitably, led to over-capitalization and overfishing. It was not altogether irrational at a time when the world fishery resources were open to a competitive race and fossil fuels were relatively inexpensive and capital grossly under-priced.

The new ocean regime, which brought the bulk of the world fishery resources under the control of the coastal states, has raised the possibility of reducing economic waste and using the fishery in the coastal state's best interests. Even developing countries which had not participated in the race for deep-sea fishing find it easier under the new sea regime to plan the development of their national fisheries which have now acquired a definite and exclusive resource base. The escalation of the price of fuel, the high cost of imported capital and the abundance of underemployed labour induced Third World countries to pay more attention to small-scale fisheries which are labour-intensive and use barely any capital or fuel. At the same time, governments are becoming increasingly concerned with socio-economic disparities and are considering assistance measures for small-scale fishermen who are invariably among the lowest income groups.

However, such well-meant efforts might be frustrated without a thorough understanding of the factors responsible for the currently depressed situation of small-scale fisheries and the existing potential for further development. The present study has attempted to put small-scale fisheries in the right perspective by identifying the constraints under which they operate and analysing the effects of alternative interventions in the light of both these constraints and the new opportunities. This has hopefully led to some policy options for improving the socio-economic conditions of small-scale fisheries and maximizing their overall contribution to national economic and social development.

There are a number of aspects of fisheries in general, and small-scale fisheries in particular, which the fisheries administrator needs to consider. A fishery consists of the fishermen, the fleet and the fish stock. The fish stock is a renewable but destructible natural resource, which means that it is capable of some maximum productivity as well as of destruction, depending on man's actions. Through appropriate control of the intensity and pattern of fishing, it is possible to adjust the size, age structure, and species composition of the resource so as to maximize its productivity and, thus, obtain the maximum sustainable catch (MSY). It is important to note that the maximum catch is obtained at less than maximum level of effort. Up to a point, increases in effort bring about almost proportional increases in catch; further increases bring smaller and smaller increases in catch until MSY is reached, beyond which further increases in effort reduce rather than increase catch. Even MSY is too ambitious as a management objective because of the natural and fishing-induced variability of the stocks. Furthermore, since different sizes and species command different prices in the market, the maximum value may not be obtained at maximum catch; it is possible that a smaller sustainable catch consisting of more valuable sizes and species would bring a higher value than a larger catch comprised of mainly trashfish.

Moreover, since it costs money (capital and labour) to catch fish, what matters is neither the volume of the catch nor its (gross) value but the surplus of the value of the catch above the costs of fishing. The maximum surplus or maximum economic yield, (MEY) as it is known, is obtained at a level of fishing effort and catch considerably below the level required for either the maximum sustainable yield or the maximum value of the catch. This is so because expansion of effort beyond a point brings about a less than proportional increase in catch (and value), while costs continue to rise in proportion with effort. The ‘optimum’ level of effort is reached and further intensification of fishing should be avoided when the last unit of fishing effort added brings in a catch whose value barely covers its costs (including operating costs as well as depreciation and a fair return on capital). The optimum level of effort gives rise to the maximum profit or maximum economic yield which, in a well-functioning, fairly equitable 59 economy, is equivalent to maximum social benefit. In such an economy, pursuing any other objective such as maximum protein or maximum employment results in a misallocation of the society's scarce resources (capital, human and natural). Clearly, in such an efficient and equitable economy, the objective of fisheries management should be the maximum economic yield or, even better, the maximum present value of the stream of economic yields over the life in the fishery.

59 Equitable in terms of opportunities not necessarily incomes. An unequal but socially acceptable distribution of income would satisfy this condition.

However, many developing (and quite a few developed) countries do not even remotely approximate the situation of a well-functioning equitable economy. In the presence of severe market failures (monopolies, imperfect capital markets, surplus labour, etc.) and wide socio-economic disparities, employment becomes a consideration, especially in overcrowded small-scale fisheries where “management” requires reduction of effort and hence taking people out of work without other alternatives to offer them. In countries with no effective means of redistributing income, employment in open-access natural resource sectors is for many their last and only means of sharing in the national wealth. To exclude them from the fishery is to deny them their subsistence share. Under conditions of surplus labour, even the exclusion of potential entrants is hard to justify. These considerations seem to suggest maximum fishing employment (and hence maximum fishing effort) as the appropriate objective of fisheries management in the absence of alternative employment opportunities.

However, when one considers the reduction in catch resulting from this over expansion of effort and the fact that secondary employment (collection, processing and marketing) depends on the volume of the catch, it becomes evident that the fishery generates the maximum overall employment when operated around MSY rather than further to the right at maximum fishing employment. Further, if we add the multiplier-generated employment lost following the dissipation of part of the economic yield, we can conclude that the maximum overall employment is even further to the left, somewhere between MEY and MSY.

Yet, where fishing has become a way of life as well as a source of living, the psychic and social costs of occupational change and relocation might be too high to be ignored in the name of maximizing overall employment. By considering these and other relevant socio-economic issues, we arrive at the concept of maximum social yield (MScY), which may be defined as the best possible rate of exploitation of a fishery under the prevailing socio-economic conditions, where the latter are not taken as parametric but subject to change and control in the long run. Thus, unlike MEY and MSY, MScY does not correspond to a fixed level of effort. In an overcrowded, open-access fishery, MScY would not be far from the prevailing situation to start with, but it would move progressively towards MEY as socio-economic conditions improve (additional resources allocated, alternative employment created and mobility enhanced). When the overall economy operates in an efficient and equitable manner, MScY and MEY would coincide.

In order to assess the prevailing situation of a given small-scale fishery and design appropriate development and management interventions to attain the MScY, it is necessary to consider first the constraints under which it is operating. Although each to a different degree, small-scale fisheries face a variety of constraints; small, scattered and fluid fishing units, remote and isolated locations, limited open-access resources, multigear technology, multispecies catch, conflicts with large-scale fisheries, limited mobility, and lack of alternative employment opportunities. The open-access status of coastal resources accounts for the oddity (common in fisheries worldwide) that neither the fishermen nor the society at large derive a net value from a valuable resource. It is rare to find fishermen in truly open-access fisheries earning incomes above their opportunity costs (i.e., what they can earn in alternative employment). If some do, it would not be for long; excess profit would attract additional entrants who would compete them away. Traditional barriers to entry, such as customary property rights, have broken-down under the population pressure, the introduction of more efficient technologies by outsiders and the generalization of open-access. Highly specialized skills and lack of alternative employment accounts for small-scale fishermen's low opportunity costs and, hence, for their low incomes. Limited geographical and occupational mobility (itself the result of a host of socio-cultural factors) accounts for the frequent encounter of artisanal fishermen earning incomes even below their opportunity costs. Government efforts to manage and upgrade artisanal fisheries are constrainted by the remoteness, dispersion and fluidity of fishing units, the heterogeneity of the technology used and the multiplicity of the species exploited.

In the light of these constraints and the government's budgetary and administrative limitations, government interventions should be confined to improving and controlling the environment and conditions in which small-scale fisheries operate rather than intervening directly in the fishing operations. It would be far easier, more effective and less costly to allocate more fishery resources to coastal fishermen, to improve infrastructure (including marketing) and to encourage self-regulation than it is to subsidize the motorization of canoes and the use of fuel or to attempt controlling effort through catch quotas. It is also important to recognize that even well-meant interventions may damage rather than benefit those whom they are to assist. For example, a price-support policy or an input subsidy under conditions of open access may benefit existing fishermen in the short run but it would certainly damage them in the long term, especially if entry into the fishery is easier than exit. In general, development without management is likely to be self-defeating even if the resource potential is available, since development creates profits which attract entry until their complete dissipation. On the other hand, management of overexploited fisheries is not enforceable without development of alternative employment opportunities to absorb the surplus labour.

These considerations lead to a strategy for upgrading small-scale fisheries which consists of three inseparable and indispensable components: (a) resource allocation and encouragement of self-management; (b) development of the appropriate environment for a full and equitable utilization of the fishery potential; and (c) development of alternative/supplementary employment opportunities. It is in this context that traditional customary rights may be revived and rejuvenated and used as a tool of fishery management. Traditional community management systems were overrun by population and technological pressures which changed the resource-population balance in an environment depleted of alternatives.

Given the new realities of high population densities and advanced fishing technologies, it is not possible to revive and maintain traditional systems of self-management without some government intervention to provide a conducive environment. Detailed regulation of the activities of thousands of scattered small-scale fishermen is neither required nor enforceable. Similarly, “forced” motorization or input subsidies are not necessary. Once a community has been given exclusive right over a certain fishing ground, and any market distortions and inequalities which prohibit the efficient functioning of the market have been removed or mitigated, motorization would take place only if it serves the purpose of the community. Creation of employment opportunities outside the fishery will serve three purposes: (a) absorb surplus labour, (b) promote mobility, and (c) provide a supplementary/alternative source of living and hence security against uncertainty arising either from market or resource fluctuations. This last point is particularly important since traditional self-management systems tend to break down when lack of alternatives shortens the planning horizon and encourages exploitative behavior for immediate survival.

At this general level of investigation, it is not possible to be more specific without undue generalizations. What specific forms, management schemes and development programmes should take would depend on the specific case under study; their content and form should be sensitive to the context and the available alternatives, but their selection should follow the general principles we have discussed.

In order to establish the context of a small-scale fishery and identify the available alternatives, it is necessary to collect and analyze a minimum amount of data on the biological, economic and social aspects of the fishery as well as its past and present institutional framework (customary rights, open access, etc.). The necessary biological data include the volume, age structure and species composition of the catch and their response to changes in the intensity and the pattern of fishing. The required economic data include price information by species and size, and the cost, composition and distribution of fishing effort (number and size of vessels, number and type of gear, number of fishermen, and fishing time and respective opportunity costs). Information on social aspects should cover mobility, income distribution, availability of non-fishing opportunities for work, related values and motivations and participation in community activities. Institutional information concerns community organization, access to the fishery (whether open or regulated through traditional rights, caste restrictions, etc.), relationship with other fisheries, organization of production (sharing system) and marketing channels and customary relationships between fishermen and middlemen to determine the competitiveness of the market.

This list is indicative rather than exhaustive of the information that might be needed for development and management of a small-scale fishery. At the minimum, the information collected should enable the fishery administrator to determine the relative incomes and general socio-economic conditions of the fishermen and identify the constraints under which they operate. With a bit more information, it should be possible to obtain a quantitative measure (however crude) of the size of the resource and its reaction to fishing intensity which can be combined with economic information on prices and costs to determine the level of effort yielding the maximum economic yield. The latter could then be modified into a maximum social yield by introducing social considerations as constraints on the reduction or expansion of effort to the economic optimum. Finally, institutional information will help select intervention measures best fitted in the organizational structure and historical experience of the particular community. For example, promotion of development through fishermen's associations and of management through community rights is likely to be more successful in communities with a cohesive social structure and some history of customary rights.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page