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By A. Marcoux


Part of the Project investigation was meant to assess the perceptions of fisherfolk (males and females) on population dynamics and the state of the coastal environment and fisheries resources, including any differences in those perceptions between generations or between sexes. Views were also sought on what policies should be to preserve fisheries and coastal resources, and on the efficiency of government policies so far. This chapter reports on the above issues, drawing on the findings of the focus group discussions and on the household surveys.

Assessment of local population dynamics and its factors from the focus group discussions

The focus group discussions held in the villages sought among other things to assess the overall views of population dynamics by the people in the communities surveyed. A set of questions dealt with the perception of population growth and the age composition of the population. Another dealt with overall attitudes regarding marriage, fertility and family planning. It will be reminded that four separate group discussions were held in each village, respectively with older and younger males and females.

Fishing villages only are reported on here, as not all country teams implemented the group discussions in the farming villages selected for comparison. Indirectly, the discussions brought into focus people's views on various factors of population change, including migration, and how population dynamics related to local resources and the environment.

The Philippines

All the groups perceived an ongoing population growth, except the younger men, who equated the perceived decline in fertility with a population stagnation. The women perceived a more rapid growth than the men, but both categories eventually described the area as “overcrowded”. The root cause of the population expansion (the more rapid decline in mortality and the consequent fertility-mortality gap), however, was not perceived.

It was recognized that families had become smaller. Because of the high cost of living and limited natural resources, many couples practiced family planning. (The advantages of family planning for the health of women and children were not mentioned.) The advantages of having a large family in terms of labour availability and old age security was recognized, however. The crux of the matter is that the potential advantages were considered increasingly difficult to reap in a “modernizing” society. On the age of marriage, opinions varied. It is interesting to note that in all cases a girl's marriage before age 20 was deemed premature. The perception of the age structure of the population and its changes was realistic: there were more young people, but their relative importance was decreasing.


Questions on population growth were dealt with in a slightly different manner in Malaysia, namely in terms of the increase in fishers (and of farmers in farming villages).

People's views were very much affected by the economic situation. The fisherfolk population (along with the general population), was seen to be increasing, partly because of immigration, and partly because younger people had no alternate livelihood. In farming villages, most people felt that mechanization, off-farm employment and old age had caused a decline in the number of farmers.

In both types of village, opinions of male and female respondents on family size differed. The older men, especially, did not think there was much change in fertility. The women clearly saw a decline. The question of preferences for children of one or the other sex was also discussed. Older male and female respondents preferred male children, because of their greater contributions as family helpers. The younger generation had no marked preference, except that a number of the younger women preferred daughters to assist them with their own chores.


The villagers' views were very similar across age and gender groups. Everyone agreed that there had been considerable increase in the population, but that despite this the socioeconomic conditions had also improved.

The age structure was correctly perceived as being young — although, because of better survival rates, there also were more elderly people than before. Having a small family (2–3 children) was considered beneficial, considering the limit in available resources. There was also consensus of opinion on the relatively low “appropriate” age of marriage for girls (18 years).

The preference for male children was widespread, however, except that the younger women had no preference. Family planning was generally practiced, but its burden rested mostly on the women (older women resorted more to abortion and younger women to sterilization).


The question of overall population growth was not discussed. Family sizes were large and approved of by the older people. Younger people were less positive, owing to economic difficulties. However, the idea of family planning was far from being accepted, let alone practiced.

Assessment of changes in level of resource exploitation and in the state of the coastal environment

Four questions were asked in the household survey to determine people's views on changes in fisheries resources and the coastal environment. Responses to those questions are synthesized below, in tables 41 to 44.

In five countries out of six, fisherfolk were extremely pessimistic regarding change over time in total catch, as well as in the variety of fish captured (the exception being Malaysia). Between 85 and 96 percent of the male fisherfolk in the five countries concurred that total catch and variety had declined. In Malaysia, only about half of the male fisherfolk agreed. Female respondents often differed significantly with their male counterparts: they were more pessimistic of the change in total catch in all countries except Tanzania, and on the variety of catch in all countries, except India and Tanzania.

People had negative impressions of changes in the size of fish caught, although less so than on total catch and variety. The exception again was Malaysia, where only a minority of the male respondents thought that the situation had deteriorated. In the other countries, between 76 and 93 percent were negative. Female respondents were more pessimistic than males, except in India and Tanzania.

Caution is required when commenting on differences of opinion by sex. However, the women's views of variety and size of catch might deserve particular attention, considering that women were often involved in fish processing and marketing. Nevertheless, in two cases the statistical value of the information is diminished, because there were very few female respondents.

The fourth question dealt with the pollution of coastal waters. The opinions of male respondents were still predominantly pessimistic, but less so than on the other issues. This time, because Malaysian respondents considered pollution to be the most important of the problems, the consensus was practically in line with their colleagues in the other countries. The pattern of differential response by females and males was identical to that found earlier.

A direct link does not necessarily exist between the size of the population and the variables which ultimately affect fisheries resources, namely the number of fishers and the number (or capacities) of fishing vessels. Therefore, the opinions and attitudes assessed do not refer to “population pressure” as such. However, inasmuch as the communities were engaged mainly in subsistence activities — and as local fisheries resources were affected mostly by those communities — the link between population size and the scale of fishing activities is at any rate relevant to possible elements of change.

The surveys clearly indicated that a causal relationship was perceived between the increase in fishing activities at sea and several parameters (catch, variety and unit size), the results of which are important for the productivity and the sustainability of fisheries. The demographics will be put into perspective later on, along with the specific attitudes of the people surveyed.

Perception of the need for regulations and effectiveness of environmental policies

The issue examined the people's perceptions of needed and actual government policies on the conservation of the environment and the management of fisheries resources. The findings were largely consistent across countries.

One of the questions asked was whether respondents agreed with the idea that “strict regulations should be introduced to regulate the type of fishing gear used on the various fishing grounds”. An overwhelming majority of respondents agreed — typically 80 percent or more — with no significant gender difference. This is all the more interesting as regulations of this nature potentially affect all operators, hence the respondents themselves.

Two of the questions asked were whether respondents agreed with the statement that the government had taken "adequate steps for the conservation and protection of the fisheries resources and the coastal environment in the region. Opinions on this score were usually mixed, and levels of approval and disapproval within a country were of the same order of magnitude. Therefore, by and large, there seems to be room for a more extensive intervention of governments in fisheries protection. A deeper comment seems impossible, as the answers would have to be interpreted in the context of each government's actions. Details would have to be sought on which aspects of those actions were deemed adequate and which were not.

Table 41 - Percentage of respondents, by sex, agreeing that “total catch has seriously declined owing to increasing number of fishers and boats”

Philippines91.1       *91.8
Malaysia49.7  60.755.2
Bangladesh87.9       *87.0
India96.1  97.196.5
Tanzania87.8  75.086.0
* Value omitted: too few respondents.

Table 42 - Percentage of respondents, by sex, agreeing that “the variety of fish has seriously declined owing to increasing number of fishers and boats”

* Value omitted: too few respondents.

Table 43 - Percentage of respondents, by sex, agreeing that “the size of fish caught has seriously declined owing to increasing number of fishers and boats”

* Value omitted: too few respondents.

Table 44 - Percentage of respondents, by sex, agreeing that “the quality of seawater has seriously declined owing to industrial waste, sewage, household waste and pollution from ships”

* Value omitted: too few respondents.

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