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By U. Tietze and G. Groenewold

Introduction - The problem

Globally, the number of fishers in coastal areas has considerably increased over the last two decades. This is commonly considered a contributing factor in the overexploitation of marine fisheries resources and the deterioration of the coastal environment. This happened while the fertility and growth rates of the general population were declining in many countries. The factors of the particular dynamics of fishing populations — natural population growth, migration to coastal fishing communities, occupational mobility — therefore deserve attention.

Not much is known, however, about demographic or labour use trends in fishing communities and their causes. Even less is known about the interaction of those trends with the state of the coastal environment and fisheries resources, or about their relative significance vis-à-vis industrial pollution, large-scale fishing operations, commercial coastal aquaculture, etc. Little is also understood of the social and economic welfare of coastal fishing communities, recent change, the perceptions fisherfolk have of interactions between their own communities, fisheries resources, the coastal environment, and what has occurred over past generations. Yet, unless demographic and social transition in coastal fishing communities and its implications for the social and economic welfare of fisherfolk are properly understood and considered in fishery planning, development and management, it is unlikely that sustainable use and conservation of fisheries resources and the coastal environment can be achieved.

In the mid-1980s, expert and working group meetings on artisanal fisheries organized by FAO and the World Bank noted that fisheries administrations and research institutions had given much attention to data collection on fish stocks, catch, vessels, fishing gear etc., while the acquisition of socioeconomic and demographic data on fishers has been neglected. The lack of such information has been one of the most serious impediments to effective policy-making and planning to improve living conditions in communities where a major part of the households earned their income directly or indirectly from artisanal fisheries. A desk study carried out in the preparatory phase of this project confirmed the above conclusions: population and development research on artisanal fisherfolk and fishing communities is deficient and incidental (Groenewold, 1994).

In spite of the lack of empirical data and of regional differences, a general characterization of marine artisanal fishing communities — in terms of technological, sociological, economic criteria — can be made. In technological terms, marine artisanal and small-scale fisheries are characterized in most cases by fishing craft with non-mechanized propulsion systems (sails and oars) or low-horsepower outboard or inboard engines; use of passive fishing methods; manual operation of fishing gear (setting, shooting and hauling) and the absence of electronic fish-finding and navigational devices.

In sociological terms, a characterization of artisanal fisherfolk includes: participation of kin group members, as owners of craft and gear, in occupational work groups; professional socialization and training within kin groups rather than in specialized formal institutions; integration of workplace and habitation; and profession-specific settlements.

In economic terms, artisanal marine fisheries are characterized by: low and irregular incomes; special arrangements for compensation of labour and capital inputs, with a prevalence of sharing systems rather than fixed wages; labour-intensive rather than capital-intensive methods of production; exploitation of open-access resources, in competition with industrial fisheries. Moreover, fishing communities tend to have low standards of living in terms of access to safe drinking water, housing conditions and health and family planning services. Frequently, nutritional, health and hygienic standards are poor. They often lack adequate infrastructure and community services such as all-weather roads and public transport, as well as access to credit and other support services, including storage/preservation, processing and marketing facilities.

In general, coastal fishing communities tend to be traditional-minded, homogeneous and rather isolated, and are categorized as belonging to the poorest of rural dwellers. In some areas, outsiders tend to perceive fishing as a low status profession. In their belief and value system, superstition, rites and folklore play an important role, and this may have an effect on their reproductive and health behaviour. In some geographical areas, households in fishing communities seem to have higher fertility rates compared to nearby farming communities; in other areas, no differences were observed. Poor nutritional conditions and high levels of morbidity have often been observed, especially among children. These phenomena vary over time, in particular according to the fishing season.

The Project

The studies presented in this publication were carried out within the framework of the UNFPA-funded, FAO-executed project “Strengthening of research and training on population and development dynamics of rural fishing communities”, henceforth referred to as the Project.

The Project addressed the need for greater awareness among fisheries policy makers, scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), fisher associations and others of relevance to human population issues for the development of fisheries, management and planning. Micro- and macro-level surveys were carried out to improve the understanding of the sociodemographic characteristics of fisherfolk, their perceptions of and relationship to population factors, the level of exploitation of fisheries resources and the state of the coastal environment. The Project strategy was to support a small group of national experts in the incorporation of population concerns into ongoing or new fisheries research and educational programmes and to ultimately link both to practical field level fisheries development and management. To implement this approach, six research and training institutions, representing four sub-regions in Asia and Africa, namely West Africa, East Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia were identified during the preparatory phase of the Project.

The said institutions were:

During the preparatory phase, a desk study of literature on socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of fishing communities was undertaken. National fisheries development programmes were reviewed regarding their incorporation of population and development issues. Next, a mission to the participating research and educational/training institutions was undertaken. Curricula for training and educational/academic programmes were analysed, and an assessment was made of needs and the capacity of concerned institutes to integrate a population and development perspective into their work. The preparatory phase of the Project ended with an interregional workshop held in January 1994, in Dhaka, Bangladesh where a work plan for the main phase of the Project was prepared.

The main phase of the Project was initiated in 1995. The participating institutions served as focal points for the design and completion of research on rural artisanal fisherfolk and subsequent educational activities. Fisheries administrations and development agencies were also associated with these research and training activities.

In each collaborating country, the main phase was carried out by a small interdisciplinary task force consisting of two local consultants and a full-time national project director (NPD), along with resource people. The teams were supported by an international consultant provided The Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NiDi) in The Hague and an FAO/HQ project coordinator.

During the main phase, the Project provided support to the institutes through provision of technical advice on research strategies, methods and instruments, curriculum development, funding of research activities and on the organization of national and regional workshops.

During the field research stage, various types of research activities were accomplished. These included national macro-level studies on the population and the demographic characteristics of fishing communities. Micro-level studies, i.e. focus group discussions and household sample surveys of fisherfolk in selected regions were also carried out.

The field research also covered a comparison group of non-fisherfolk living in the same ecosystem. This helped to determine whether fisherfolk really live and behave differently than other rural dwellers, and whether they need special attention or different approaches in the design and implementation of population and development policies and programmes affecting rural areas.

The curriculum development activities incorporated the outcome of the previous two stages of the Project and involved the development of curricula and model training programmes for institutes, academic institutions, fisheries administrations, fisheries development agencies, fisher associations and NGOs in the sub-regions. Results of the research on fisherfolk were used both as input and as reference material for curriculum development and training programmes.

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