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By U. Tietze, G. Groenewold and A. Marcoux

Demographic trends in fishing communities

The findings of the macro-level studies carried out by the Project suggest that, contrary to the general trend, the number of coastal fishers has started to decline or stagnate in large parts of four of the six countries studied, namely the Philippines, Malaysia, Tanzania and Senegal. (That number is still increasing in India and Bangladesh, but to a much lesser extent than in previous decades.) It will be seen that this diversity is not primarily explained by demographic factors, at least not those of natural growth (fertility and mortality).

Fertility and its factors

When compared with other rural residents, fisherfolk have been found to have slightly higher fertility. This is in line with a set of conscient attitudes towards family formation, which point to earlier age at marriage and higher number of children desired. As has been noted elsewhere, the circumstances of fishing populations are of the kind typically conducive to high fertility: families with an abundant labour force are at advantage in the exploitation of fishery resources — because of open access — and a large offspring facilitates a strategy of diversification of sources of income, which is important because of the aleatory nature and low productivity of fishing (FAO, 1996).

Interestingly, lower fertility among farmers did not seem ascribable to greater wellbeing, since — contrary to a widely held view - it was actually fisherfolk households who were generally better off in the areas studied. It rather seems that family labour is valued in a context where it enables to assemble sufficiently large kin-based work groups that take full advantage of existing income opportunities. In other words, it is hypothesized that the relationship between the number of children, welfare indicators and ownership of production factors is affected by the perceived profitability of the livelihood. In countries where fisheries are considered profitable, the number of children born and the ideal number of children were higher and the son preference was stronger, especially in households that owned the crucial means of production: boats and/or land. The levels of fertility indicators were lower when the perceived profitability of the livelihood was low, particularly among those who owned their principal means of production. This hypothesis needs further refinement and investigation, addressing also the most deprived households.

The relationship between attitudes and behaviour of fisherfolk concerning marriage, fertility and contraception, and their perceptions of changes in fisheries resources and the coastal environment, was also examined. The hypothesis was that people who show greater concern for environmental issues and the role of population growth in these, might have different views on fertility and family planning. This is not the case: ideal age at marriage, desired family size or family planning practice are dependent on a different set of variables than fisherfolk's attitudes towards their natural resources and environment.

Contrary to the simple view that fisherfolk are essentially traditionalist, the Project found that the younger generations have markedly different attitudes from those of their elders regarding fertility and the family. They generally advocate higher ages at marriage, especially for women, see better the advantage of smaller families, and desire lesser numbers of children than their parents. These trends, however, were less accentuated in the two African countries surveyed than in the four Asian ones.

Such changes in attitudes from one generation to the next has probably to do with education factors, since the surveys did show, according to a classical pattern, that differences in fertility were strongly associated with differences in education - especially that of women - and the younger generations were on average more educated than their predecessors.

Mortality and natural population growth

Mortality also is higher in fisherfolk populations than in neighbouring farming populations. One is tempted to attribute this to the hard and dangerous way of living implied by fishing at sea. While plausible, this view is partial, for the Project has also assessed that among women - who do not go to sea in the populations surveyed — the mortality differential between fisherfolk and farmers is greater than among men.

Given the above, natural growth rates are about the same in fisherfolk and farming populations in the areas studied. The differences between those are for the most part ascribable to migration and occupational mobility out of, or into, the fishing population and labour force.

Occupational mobility

The micro-level studies carried out by the Project also suggest that fisheries no longer seem to be a “last resort employment” (as they seem to have been in the 1980s at least in much of Asia) for people in coastal areas, at least not in most of the countries included in the study.

In Malaysia, where there was an overall decline in the number of coastal fishers, this decline is also reflected in an inter-generational occupational mobility out of fishing into other occupations in the service sector (or into unemployment). In the Philippines and Tanzania, where the number of coastal fishers has also started to decline, changes are more recent and the studies still show inter-generational occupational mobility into fishing from other sectors of the rural economy. This is also the case in Bangladesh and India where the number of fishers is still increasing..

A plausible explanation for these changes might be that in many countries, in the context of declining catches and income per fisher on the one hand, and economic growth and rising levels of education on the other hand, alternative and economically more rewarding employment opportunities have developed outside the fisheries sector, facilitating vocational mobility. Government policies aiming at a reduction and limitation of fishing effort, conservation, and the rehabilitation of fisheries resources could also have played a role in forcing fisherfolk out of their traditional occupation.

In all the villages studied, fishing and farming still dominate, but other occupations have become more significant in some countries, such as the Philippines, India and Tanzania. Women are involved in domestic food production and income-generating activities in both fishing and agricultural villages - quite actively in India, Tanzania, Senegal, and less so in Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Income and education

The studies carried out by the Project show another interesting fact, contrary to the popular belief that fisherfolk are the poorest group of the rural population in coastal areas. In five out of the six countries studied, and in spite of declining catches, the average annual household income of fisherfolk households is significantly higher than that of households in neighbouring agricultural villages. The savings rate and the amounts saved were generally higher in fishing villages than in neighbouring agricultural villages. In most of the countries studied, finally, households in agricultural villages were as indebted or more indebted than households in fishing villages.

Education levels of fisherfolk and agriculturists were equally high in the fishing and farming households studied in the Philippines, and equally low in those studied in Tanzania. In Malaysia and Bangladesh, agriculturists had higher levels of education than fisherfolk, and in India and Senegal, fisherfolk had a higher level of education than agriculturists. Regarding housing standards, households of agriculturists were better off in the four Asian countries studied. In Senegal, fisherfolk were better off, and in Tanzania, housing conditions were equally poor in fishing and agricultural villages.

Perception of environment, resources and economic situation

As to their perception of the state of fisheries resources and coastal environment, the majority of fisherfolk in four of the six countries studied - namely the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Senegal — acknowledged that resources and the environment had seriously declined and deteriorated because of increases in the number of fishers and fishing boats, and because of domestic and industrial water pollution. Fisherfolk expected the Government to introduce strict regulations and measures for the rehabilitation and conservation of fisheries resources and the coastal environment, and noted that very little had been done so far. Only in Malaysia did the majority of fisherfolk feel that the Government had taken appropriate measures and that the outlook was positive.

Assessing changes in their overall economic situation over the last generation, fisherfolk in the Philippines, Malaysia and India generally saw improvements, while fisherfolk in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Senegal did not. These views took account of perceived changes not only in income and standards of living, but also in infrastructure, public and private services in coastal areas.

Change in livelihoods

Rural households, including fisherfolk, must not be perceived as stagnant entities, but as dynamic decision-making units. Some households had the capacity to successfully implement income diversification strategies to cope with income fluctuations, income failure and poverty. However, it is also understood that there may not be local alternatives to fishing and/or farming. In such situations, fisherfolk are forced to continue to work in fisheries, or to migrate to urban areas. The lack of access to alternative income sources for fisherfolk is of major concern to policy makers. It adds to the exploitation of marine natural resources above the level that would occur if alternative livelihoods and income sources were available to fisherfolk. Moreover, the fact that some fisherfolk remain in the sector against their will negatively affects the incomes of all fishers.

Overall, at subsequent points in time, change in rural livelihoods affected the number of full/part-time fishermen and their households. Therefore, in addition to demographic factors, the observed national and sub-national growth rates will be affected by the changes in the main and secondary livelihoods of rural households that responded to perceived profitability of existing and new livelihood opportunities, including fisheries. Households previously characterized as farming households may become fisherfolk households and vice versa.

Policy perspectives

In the fisheries policy perspective, artisanal fisheries hold a sensitive position because the human dimension is dominant in the analysis of their problems: they concern larger numbers of people, have implications for the livelihood base of large areas, and potentially large population movements hinge on their profitability and ultimate fate.

For instance, in a framework of “responsible fisheries”, an important policy issue is to decide on limitations or downsizing of operations for the relevant sub-sectors (large-, medium- and small-scale).39 The implications of such a choice differ markedly — in economic and human terms — between e.g. the industrial sub-sector, where the main issue would be the reconversion of capital (vessels and equipment) and the small-scale sub-sector, where the main issue would be the reconversion of labour force to other activities, hence the identification of other sources of livelihood and possibly the migration flows involved (FAO, 1996).

Assessing the implications of such policy options requires adequate knowledge not only of the technical aspects of the sector but also of its actors. It is important, in particular, to know what impact policies addressing the industrial sub-sector are likely to have on the survival and progress of the mass of small-scale fishing households. Also, since administrative regulation of entry into the fishery activity is not always feasible for countries with limited control over individual economic activities, devising means to influence the sector require a good knowledge of its workings.

The population policy perspective suggests similar concerns as programmes need to be adapted to the socio-economic context of target populations and take into account the role of demographic patterns in long-term family strategies. Likewise, population policies which aim to balance human population dynamics and demographic trends with aquatic resources and environment should adequately take into account the special natural, economic, social and cultural context of fishing communities. It should be noted in this respect that fishing communities sometimes are composed of members of specific ethnic groups or castes, warranting a fortiori specially designed programmes.

The overall approach should be to integrate population, health and welfare programmes with fisheries development and management actions, in order to enhance the effectiveness of policies, improve the standards of living of fishing communities and ensure a sustainable, economically beneficial and environmentally sound exploitation of the fisheries sector. In this perspective, population policy implementation in fishing countries would benefit from specific efforts aiming at making related programmes more responsive to the needs of this key population group.

The formulation of both fisheries and population policies requires reliable statistics on fisherfolk. The first step should be to gather basic information on the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of fishing communities (family size, growth rate, migration patterns, sources of employment and income, incidence of poverty etc.), with adequate attention to gender-based specificities. Securing the needed information is feasible, starting from unexploited household data present in population censuses or household budget surveys and completing them with case studies investigating the structure of the fisheries sector.

39 At the global level, the three sub-sectors all contribute significantly to the production of the sector.

Fisherfolk of the Central Visayas Region of the Philippines

Fisherfolk in Iloilo Province of the Central Visayas Region of the Philippines

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