Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Graeme MacFadyen


This paper is presented to the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR) Working Party on small-scale fisheries for its consideration. It explores the priority given to small-scale fisheries as reflected in policy objectives set specifically for the sector, the extent to which these objectives are reflected in legislation and perhaps most importantly, the extent to which such objectives and legislation are reflected in management actions. The paper also comments on particular challenges that small-scale fisheries present in adhering to the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF). The relative importance given to small-scale fisheries in different countries is further explored by considering the degree to which small-scale fishers are involved in policy formation and management actions, how issues of conflict between small-scale fisheries and other sectors are dealt with, and the extent to which incentives and subsidies are provided to the sector. The paper presents a number of research topics related to these issues that are felt to be of importance.

The paper is based primarily on information collected and analysed from 40 small-scale fisheries practitioners from around the world, in response to a questionnaire prepared and sent to those indicating they would be prepared to complete it. The paper also presents an interesting case study on Sierra Leone, which is especially pertinent to many of the questions raised in the paper and the associated Terms of Reference.

In most countries policy contains conservation/resource, economic, social and equity objectives, with comment on the different methods and strategies to achieve these objectives. Conservation and resource objectives are most commonly generic objectives for the sector as a whole, and not specifically for small-scale fisheries. This is also true of economic objectives, but where these are related to individual sectors, they more commonly refer to industrial rather than to small-scale fisheries. Social and equity objectives pertaining to small-scale fisheries are generally well reflected in policy documents in most countries.

All of these different types of policy objectives generally feed through well into legislation, although the extent of legislation is perhaps greatest for conservation and resource objectives. Economic, social and equity objectives are also generally supported by legislation, but to a lesser extent. Legislation relating to industrial activity, and which benefits small-scale fisheries in support of social and equity objectives, is especially common in the form of legislation relating to bycatch reduction and utilization, as well as to area and seasonal bans for industrial vessels. It may not be appropriate or necessary to reflect all policy objectives in legislation if codified oral rules or traditional management practices are in place, or if policy objectives can be fulfilled through the use of economic instruments.

Experience suggests that in many countries it is in the implementation of policy and legislation that the link between policy, legislation, and management breaks down. Sometimes this is the result of poor monitoring, control, and surveillance, and management failure in general, due to insufficient financial resources, inadequate human capacity development, and/or a lack of adequate integration of policy and management action with non-fisheries sectors. In others it is certainly the result of the low priority given to the sector compared to industrial fisheries. Fisheries have economic, social, technical, cultural, political, biological and ecological components, and these components often lead to conflict. Conflicts may arise between sectors (e.g. small- and large-scale fisheries, or fisheries and other sectors), or between policy objectives. A particular cause of the failure of management action to support small-scale fisheries is that such conflicts are often not dealt with explicitly in the planning process. The failure to plan for such conflicts and to mitigate their impacts, at least as far as is possible, often results either in complete inaction when conflict arises, or means that political influences and power relations come to bear in such situations to ensure that large-scale interests benefit to the detriment of small-scale fishers. Even if such conflicts are acknowledged at the planning stage, for example through area or seasonal trawl bans to protect small-scale fishing interests, general management failure and power relations may still conspire to adversely impact on small-scale fisheries.

While not a panacea for all these problems, management action to support the interests of small-scale fishers is likely to be more effective where such interests are involved in formal policy formation and decision-making with the government, e.g. through co-management approaches or meaningful involvement of small-scale fisheries’ interests in policy development. This can help to ensure that conflicts and trade-offs are explicitly confronted at the planning stage and that their interests are more likely to be represented, but also that small-scale fisheries stakeholders share a greater sense of ownership of policy and are more likely to be aware of it and support necessary management action. However, questionnaire responses provided as part of this study suggest that many countries do in fact have structures or processes in place to involve small-scale fisheries interests in policy formation and the decision-making process. This begs the question as to why management action, even in these countries, does not appear to better support small-scale fisheries. It suggests that political influence and general management failure for the reasons stated above may be at least as important in causing poor management as a lack of involvement of small-scale fishers in policy formation and decision-making.

Many countries provide subsidies to small-scale fisheries, most commonly in the form of import-tax exemptions and provision of credit on favourable terms. However, while some studies have been completed on subsidies in small-scale fisheries, knowledge of the extent of their use, their costs and benefits, which types are most commonly used, and the potential impacts of removing them remains extremely thin. There is also little research done prior to the introduction of subsidies to justify their use through the quantification of their costs and benefits.

Taking into account the above, a number of other areas of future research are also suggested. Perhaps most importantly is the need to consider how small-scale fishers can be more effectively brought into the policy formation and decision-making process, but also the extent to which such involvement is likely to result in policy, legislation and management action that support their interests. Greater involvement should result in wider recognition of the potential trade-offs and conflicts between sectors and policy objectives, and dealing with such conflicts at the planning stage is considered important for effective management and reduced user conflict. However, the potential implications of trade-offs between objectives, particularly in terms of their distributional impacts/benefits remains to be better explored and clarified.

Involvement of small-scale fishers in policy formation and decision-making is itself unlikely to solve all the current management problems adversely impacting on small-scale fisheries. Human capacity building at all levels to ensure good fisheries governance is also a pre-requisite, and further research is required into the most effective methods of developing such capacity. Other important areas of research include reasons for the failures (and successes) in the policy/legislation/management linkage, and effective economic instruments that could be used to support better fisheries management.


1.1 Background

This paper is presented[16] to the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR) Working Party on small-scale fisheries for its consideration. The paper focuses specifically on policy objectives, legal frameworks, institutions and governance in small-scale fisheries. The paper is based primarily on:

1.2 Explanation of terms

The wide variety of fishing operations employed in “small-scale fisheries” means that no single definition can be universally applied, and individual countries tend to focus on different attributes to distinguish between small-scale and large-scale fisheries. However, a recent paper[19] presented at the Twenty-Fifth session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI 25) states that “small-scale fisheries can be broadly characterized as employing labour-intensive harvesting, processing and distribution technologies to exploit marine and inland water fishery resources. The activities of this subsector, conducted full-time or part-time, or just seasonally, are often targeted to supplying fish and fishery products to local and domestic markets, and for subsistence consumption. Export-oriented production, however, has increased in many small-scale fisheries during the last one to two decades because of greater market integration and globalization. While typically men are engaged in fishing and women in fish processing and marketing, women are also known to engage in near shore harvesting activities and men are known to engage in fish marketing and distribution. Other ancillary activities such as netmaking, boatbuilding, engine repair and maintenance, etc. can provide additional fishery-related employment and income opportunities in marine and inland fishing communities.

Small-scale fisheries operate at widely differing organizational levels ranging from self-employed single operators through informal micro-enterprises to formal sector businesses. This subsector, therefore, is not homogenous within and across countries and regions, and attention to this fact is warranted when formulating strategies and policies for enhancing its contribution to food security and poverty alleviation.

Fisheries policy sets out objectives, and (at least theoretically) guides actions and decisions relating to the sector to implement what are often (but not necessarily) long-term strategic goals/objectives. A key part of this paper is to assess the extent to which policy objectives are reflected in legislation and actually guide management actions.

Legislation embraces all instruments having the force of law, such as Acts, Regulations, Decrees, Ordinance, and Orders. It provides the legal framework to support fisheries policy through the detail specified in such instruments, and through powers relating to enforcement and sanctions for those infringing the law.

Institutions are often equated with organizations, but they should not be. “In general, institutions, whether organizations or not, are complexes of norms and behaviours that persist over time by serving collectively-valued purposes” (Uphoff, 1986). Small-scale fisheries are those at regional, national, and local levels having some bearing and involvement in policy formation, implementation of fisheries management and the law, exploitation of the resource etc. They may include organizations and groups such as government agencies and representatives, community organizations, fishers, and research groups, but also other norms and behaviours related to small-scale fisheries.

Likewise, governance is often incorrectly equated with management undertaken by government. In fact, the term is intended to make people stop and think about non-governmental roles in fora where the word “management” is too often taken to refer to purely governmental action (Adams, 1996). Governance relates to government, civil society and the private sector. Under most of the definitions recently put forward, good governance is used to describe a particular philosophy of management that is not purely “top-down”, but which emphasizes “community” and, like all good management approaches, makes extensive use of dialogue and mutual agreement before taking action. For the purpose of this document, fisheries governance is defined as “a continuing process through which governments, institutions and stakeholders of the fishery sector - administrators, politicians, fishers and those in affiliated sectors - elaborate, adopt and implement appropriate policies, plans and management strategies to ensure resources are utilized in a sustainable and responsible manner. It could be at a global, regional, sub-regional, national, or local level. In the process, conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action may be taken.” (Swan/FAO, 2000). The characteristics of good governance include it being: responsive, participatory, transparent, equitable, accountable, consensus-orientated, effective, and efficient.


2.1 To what extent are specific policy objectives defined for small-scale fisheries

This section considers the extent to which a number of policy objectives in fisheries policy documents are defined for small-scale fisheries. An important determinant of the extent to which small-scale fisheries objectives are contained within policy documents, is likely to be the extent to which small-scale fishers are involved in the policy process itself (see also Section 3).[20] As demonstrated in the Sierra Leone case study in Section 3, in some countries there is no formal process for the creation of fisheries policy and who should be involved, although in many cases policy is re-defined every five years. A compounding problem is that there is frequently either a lack of good research on small-scale fisheries on which policy can be based, or, the link between researchers and policy-makers is not sufficiently well-maintained to ensure that the findings of research are used to inform policy. Furthermore, in many countries there is a lack of any “long-term vision” in respect of fisheries policy, with policy documents confined to “short-term development plans” rather than to national fisheries policies dealing with long-term objectives, whether for small-scale fisheries or other sectors/groups.

Nevertheless, the headline objectives, and some typical[21] related “sub-objectives” or tools to achieve these objectives that can be found in policy documents are presented below in Table 1.

Table 1: Policy objectives and related tools

Optimal and sustainable use of resources

· rational exploitation of resources
· provision of access rights (and restrictions)
· appropriate/good data collection
· management of ecosystems
· compliance with international conventions
· effective MCS

Economic objectives

· increasing value-added
· promoting export earnings
· improved marketing arrangements
· technological provision and modernization of fishing methods
· credit provision
· provision of subsidies
· maximizing resource rent being collected by government
· economic diversification
· increasing incomes for rural fishing populations
· exploitation of underutilized resources

Social objectives

· maximizing employment
· ensuring food security
· participation in the fishery by local people
· support for fishing organizations
· capacity development and education

Equity objectives

· provision of access in certain areas or at certain times for certain groups (e.g. small-scale fishers, locals vs. foreigners)
· support for customary rights
· utilization/landing of bycatch
· issues relating to gender

In many countries fisheries are predominantly small-scale in nature. In such situations one might presume that all policy statements relate primarily to small-scale fisheries. This is sometimes the case, especially in landlocked countries with few industrial fishing possibilities, and policy documents then make statements on all objectives that relate to small-scale fisheries, both implicitly and explicitly. However, in many countries where fisheries are predominantly small-scale in nature, policy documents may still contain many objectives for industrial fisheries, for example related to joint ventures, access agreements, or development of such fishing methods, because of the perceived financial benefits of such activities.

However, policy statements relating to optimal and sustainable use of resources are in many, but not all policy documents (see Table 1) just general statements that do not relate specifically to small-scale fisheries but to the sector as a whole, unless specific fisheries are mentioned and these are small-scale in nature. Furthermore, with the exception of some policy documents, e.g. Philippines, Bangladesh, Mali, Papua New Guinea[22], fisheries policy often contains no objectives relating to ecosystems-based approaches to management, and focuses more on traditional ideas of sustainable exploitation of fisheries. This is hardly surprising given that ecosystem-based approaches are relatively new, but mean that even when the concepts are well known, ecosystem-based management often remains a “research issue” rather than an instrument of management.

Policy statements relating to economic objectives are also often found to be general statements about contributions to gross domestic product, increasing export earnings, etc., and less frequently to specific objectives relating to small-scale fisheries. Indeed economic objectives are more often specified for industrial fisheries. Economic objectives in small-scale fisheries are however sometimes dealt with specifically, for example, in terms of utilizing artisanal fisheries to alleviate poverty in coastal communities (Congo) and in relation to financing/modernization of artisanal fisheries (Senegal). Economic policy objectives for industrial and small-scale fisheries may contradict each other, leading to conflicts among resource users, as discussed further.

For many countries there are indeed a wide range of well-defined social and equity objectives related to small-scale fisheries, e.g. Burkina Faso, Congo, Oman, Senegal, Mali, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Cameroon, West Indies, and Uganda, either explicitly, or in so far as statements relating to social and equity issues can be assumed to imply a benefit or impact on small-scale fisheries and coastal communities. However, these objectives tend to relate to the aspects listed in Table 1 above. Less well covered in policy are aspects relating to the working conditions of fishing labour, with labour law generally not thought applicable, or not enforced, in the fishing sector in many countries.

Finally, it should be noted that in many countries there are policy documents from other sectors that also relate to small-scale fisheries. For example, policies relating to public sector reform and decentralization may be supportive of co-management and devolution of policy formation and management responsibilities to small-scale fisheries communities. Likewise, environmental or water legislation in many countries may support the sustainability of fish stocks, while Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) may include reference to small-scale fisheries, poverty reduction in coastal communities and commitments to gender and equity issues. Trade policies may affect the ability of small-scale fisheries to export fisheries products. The impact of such policies on the fisheries sector remains to be investigated through further research, along with effective methods of influencing such policy to support small-scale fisheries objectives.

2.2 The extent to which policy objectives are reflected in legislation

In many cases legislation provides a crucial mechanism for incorporating policy objectives into a legal framework to allow for sanctions and penalties in small-scale, semi-industrial and industrial fisheries. The legislation is part of the linkage between policy, through the legal framework, and into management action that may be important for all objectives. Table 2 presents a schematic for the types of headings/issues commonly dealt with in fisheries legislation, relating to different policy objectives.

Table 2: Summary table of issues commonly covered in legislation to reflect certain policy objectives

Optimal and sustainable use of resources (1)

Economic objectives (2)

Social objectives (3)

Equity objectives (4)

· Registration of fishers.
· Allocation of rights, licences, permits etc, and their removal.
· Scientific and research activities.
· Management and planning processes.
· Management and advisory bodies and their powers.
· Conservation and management measures based on definitions of allowable gear-use and fishing practices.
· MCS powers and penalities/sanctions.
· Bycatch reduction and utilization.
· Requirements for data collection/catch reporting.
· Definition of EEZ, territorial sea and contiguous zone.

· Promotion of the industry.
· Control of foreign activities.
· Collection of licence/permit fees, royalties, etc.
· Licensing of processing establishments.
· Licensing of exporters and related requirements.
· Economic data collection requirements.
· Bycatch reduction and utilization.

· Bycatch utilization.
· Inshore fisheries management.
· Safety requirements.
· Control of foreign activities.
· Local ownership of companies, or preferential access, or reduced access, fees for/by national enterprises.

· Management measures e.g. seasonal or area restrictions, especially with regard to industrial/foreign activity.

Legislation in many countries is perhaps most strongly focused on reflecting objectives related to management of the resource (i.e. objective 1 in the table above). Legislation is especially prevalent with regard to ensuring sustainable use of resources through the provision and restriction of access rights. Much of this legislation pertaining to sustainable resource management objectives directly relates to small-scale fisheries in that they are referred to in terms of licence and registration requirements, management of small-scale resources etc.[23]

However, this is not to say that other objectives are not covered in legislation or associated regulations; rather that as one moves right across the table above, the objectives are perhaps less well supported by related legislation. There is also a considerable amount of legislation relating to economic, social and equity objectives and/or reflection of objectives specific to small-scale fisheries - bycatch utilization is an example, where legislation is used to ensure landings of incidental catches. Utilization of bycatch often takes place by small-scale fishers to add value and supply local marketing/processing chains, and can be important for food security. Legislation in place in many countries to specify proportions of bycatch which must be landed, or amounts of finfish landings as part of shrimp trawl operations, are therefore of significant benefit to small-scale fishers and coastal communities and reflect both social and economic objectives.

Because some objectives of policy may contradict others, and as already noted such conflicts are seldom explicity stated or explored, these contradictions can feed through into contradictory legislation. For example, legislation to stimulate greater participation of the private sector in freshwater fisheries may contradict with the recognition of customary rights of community members.

Legislation pertaining to industrial fisheries may also have a significant benefit on small-scale fisheries. As reported in a recent study (Poseidon/FAO, 2003 currently in press), legislation and programmes for bycatch[24] reduction are common in both developed and developing countries, and in temperate and tropical fisheries. In developed countries, programmes are particularly advanced in Norway, North America, New Zealand, and Australia. In developing countries, programmes focus largely on shrimp and tuna/billfish bycatch reduction devices, to reduce turtle, seabird, finfish, and marine mammal bycatches. Developing and middle-income countries (inter alia, Indonesia, Qatar, Philippines, Thailand, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, India) are shown to make extensive use of area and seasonal closures to reduce finfish bycatch from shrimp trawlers. This legislation, primarily in support of a policy objective of optimal and sustainable use of resources, is focussed almost exclusively on semi-industrial and industrial fisheries, although may of course have a significant bearing on ensuring social objectives for small-scale fisheries, given competition for inshore resources between industrial and small-scale fisheries sectors in many countries.

The above discussion raises the question why, and to what extent, policy objectives should be reflected in legislation?

Many policies may not need to be hardwired into legislation, particularly for small-scale and traditional fisheries, if for example objectives are reflected in codified oral rules, within a village council framework, or in heterogeneous bylaws, or if they can be achieved through other means. There may be no need to legislate for some objectives if they can be achieved through economic instruments, support/promotion and ad hoc programmes that do not require enforcement by the rule of law. While it is certainly the case that some policy objectives for small-scale fisheries could/should be better reflected and supported through fisheries legislation, it is not necessarily appropriate to see all policy objectives reflected in law. A possible research topic of benefit would be to investigate which policy objectives should be and are best dealt with through formal legislation, which through informal/traditional management, and which through incentives and other measures/stimuli.

A related issue (reflecting the impact of policies in other sectors on small-scale fisheries) is the extent to which legislation affecting small-scale fisheries should be, and is contained in “fisheries law”, as opposed to in other legislation. For example, community participation in coastal resources management in Sri Lanka is often dealt with in coastal conservation legislation rather than in fisheries legislation. The Coast Conservation Act, 1981 makes provisions for the identification of special coastal areas needing management and the establishment of management committees with the participation of all stakeholders, including fishers.

2.3 The extent to which policy objectives actually guide management actions

Policy objectives are said to guide management actions in many countries and they are. It is also far easier to specify policy objectives on paper in a fisheries policy document, and to legislate for them, than to enforce fisheries laws and take appropriate management actions in the real world. There are a number of reasons for the failure of many countries to ensure that policy objectives are reflected in management actions. Some of the problems are generic to many countries, while others are specific to particular cases. Some of the most important/common causes of problems are listed below:

In considering the extent to which policy objectives are reflected in management action, one should not forget the role of informal policy objectives i.e. those not written down and formalized in policy documents, but which nevertheless guide management actions and enforcement of legislation. These may be the informal policy objectives of government at national or local level, or of fishers themselves or other groups in civil society. These informal policy objectives may be as important as formalized policy statements in guiding management actions, may be more adaptable to changing circumstances (and influences), and may not be revealed in formal fisheries policy documents. A related area of research of interest would be the extent to which formal and informal policy objectives agree/differ, if they differ why, and which have the greater impact on guiding management actions.

It would, however, be wrong to give the general impression that in all countries’ policy objectives are never reflected in management actions. As described above, legislation does often reflect policy objectives (even if to varying degrees in different countries), and there is obviously not a total lack of enforcement of the law in all countries. Indeed in many countries enforcement of a multitude of different types of management regulations in support of policy objectives (e.g. closed seasons, areas, mesh sizes, etc) can be said to be good. Certainly it is the case that there are success stories in fisheries management, and there are many small-scale fisheries that have succeeded in supporting many fishers and related processing and marketing activities over long periods of time, with significant resulting economic and social benefits. What would certainly be interesting would be research into the extent to which such small-scale fisheries have managed to continue to generate benefits and be successful, because of specific policy objectives feeding through into related management actions, in spite of policy, or for other reasons not related specifically to policy (e.g. environmental changes, market factors, isolation, luck, etc) i.e. to what extent are clearly defined policy objectives and their reflection in management action a pre-requisite for success. Research on the key reasons for the success or failure of carrying policy objectives through to management action would also be useful.

2.4 The extent to which small-scale fishers are involved in policy formation and

The first question addressed in this paper in Section 1 (“to what extent are policy objectives defined for small-scale fisheries”), begs the question as to whose policy objectives they are? - the government’s, the fishers’, the village leadership, regional fishery management organizations etc? There is a tendency to assume that definition of policy objectives and formation of policy only takes place at a national/government level. However, there are many different stakeholders in fisheries and they often have different objectives. The extent to which formal government policy documents lay out the objectives of other stakeholders largely depends on the extent to which such stakeholders are involved in the formal policy formation process. Small-scale fishers may also be involved in the formation of their own informal policy and decision-making processes that may have little involvement with government. Equally, co-management approaches, to differing degrees, may closely involve small-scale fisheries interests in formal/written policy formation, as well as in informal policy decision-making.

Experience shows that a surprisingly large number of countries e.g. Albania, Cameroon, Canada/US, Congo, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, Oman, Poland, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Russia, either have institutions/structures in place to involve small-scale fishers in the formal policy formation and decision-making process, or informally seek the involvement of small-scale fisheries’ interests. There is also extensive involvement of small-scale fishers in policy formation and management action in Japan in the form of co-management and community-based management. In addition, a number of the members of the Fisheries Policy Council established under Japanese fisheries law represent coastal small-scale fisheries’ interests.

In other countries, e.g. Bangladesh, Barbados, there is no mechanism for such involvement. The failure to involve small-scale fisheries interests may be especially prevalent in countries where policy is defined (following only brief consultation with small-scale fisheries stakeholders) by high-level policy committees and/or with assistance from short-term donor-assisted policy experts who have insufficient time or mandate to undertake adequate consultation. Failure to involve small-scale fishers may also be the result of:

Weak institutional representation at the small-scale fisheries level.

The inability of policy makers to decide who to consult given large numbers of stakeholders with wide ranges of interests.

Low levels of educational status in fishing communities, coupled with modern-day concepts involving sophisticated terminology such as biodiversity, ecosystem-based management, precautionary approach to fisheries decision making, globalization, etc. The terminology used by scientists, researchers and top level state officials is often not easily comprehensible to ordinary fisher folk without careful explanation and facilitation, requiring time and expertise.

A lack of political will.[26] This lack of willingness to include small-scale fishers in the policy process may stem from a number of causes including:

i) greater political support for industrial fishing because of the ability of the sector to earn high levels of foreign exchange;

ii) political support to those in power provided by industrial fishing interests;

iii) an often hostile reaction by small-scale fishers to government officials and politicians, due to the pervasiveness of poverty, poor infrastructural facilities, and the perceived privileged treatment of industrial fisheries interests.

However, the extent to which small-scale fisheries interests are involved in policy formation may also be as much a result of physical geography and numbers of people, as of political will, and the importance of the size (geographical and population) of countries should not be under-estimated. In some small island countries e.g. in the Pacific, the low population levels and concentration of people on particular islands means that even upper-levels of Government are often close to the ordinary people. Conversely, in large countries with significant small-scale fisheries’ populations, consultation and involvement of small-scale fishers is often hampered by large geographical distances to be covered (with time, logistical and cost implications) and the inability of small-scale fisheries to effectively organize into fora which can feed their views into the policy process - this is especially so when decision-making takes place in capital cities many miles away from where small-scale fishers live.

The above discussion centres on whether small-scale fishers either are, or are not, involved in the policy formation process. However, even in cases where small-scale fisheries stakeholders are involved in the process, it is not clear the extent to which this participation actually impacts on finalized policy content in official documents to reflect the needs and priorities of small-scale fisheries. This is an area of potential research, as there may well be a mis-match between the objectives of small-scale fisheries and official government policy even if small-scale fisheries’ interests have been involved in the policy process. There is a significant difference between real participation and just consultation/token involvement, and it is suspected that in many countries in which small-scale fisheries are involved in the policy formation process it is more based on consultation, than real participation.

As noted, management measures are more likely to be successful if small-scale fisheries interests are involved in the policy formation process. A crucial issue for small-scale fisheries is therefore how to integrate their activities into fishery policy process and management plans where these exist or are being developed. For fisheries management to work, all current and potential exploiters must be included in the system. The challenge is therefore to design holistic management plans (but not necessarily ones which deal with small-scale fisheries as a discrete sector) that give small-scale fisheries a realistic chance of success. There may be many ways to achieve this, but it remains a researchable issue. It is demonstrated that stakeholder involvement itself generates no guarantees that management action will actually reflect policy objectives and management plans, given other influencing factors, hence the importance of ensuring the linkages between policy, legislation and management action.


In 2000, Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd (Poseidon) staff completed a report on legislation in Sierra Leone (Macfadyen, 2000) as part of a larger project report in response to an agreement by the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources (DFMR) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Resources, and the National Authorising Office of the Delegation of the European Commission in Sierra Leone, for support to the development of a fisheries sector strategy in Sierra Leone. The report provides an interesting case study of special relevance to many of the questions raised in this paper, and specifically on the extent to which linkages between policy objectives, legislation and implementation are often broken in the real-world in which fisheries management actions take place. The text below provides a summary of the main findings based on the consultant’s report[27].

3.1 Policy

In 1994, a Marine Policy Advisory Committee was formed to advise on policy formulation primarily aimed at:

enhancing a high degree of efficiency in the management of resources (i.e. both a resource management objective and an economic objective); and

advising on ways to improve and increase active participation of indigenous Sierra Leoneans in the fishing industry (i.e. social and equity objectives).

The Policy Committee made a variety of detailed recommendations relating to these objectives, and to ways of increasing fishing revenues to the Government. However, it was not thought that the recommendations were ever adopted as official policy and published as such. As a result, no clear policy framework existed for the fisheries sector, and the consultant was not able to obtain from any staff in the DFMR a copy of fisheries policy. The view was widely held in the DFMR that effective fisheries policy equated to the yearly budgetary requests and programming for Department activities.

Furthermore, there is no specified process for policy development in Sierra Leone. The Fisheries (Management and Development) Act, 1994 makes no reference to how policy should be developed or who should be involved, although it does specify that the Secretary of State should develop such policy. The lack of any specified mechanism for formulating and reviewing policy has created confusion for management and development of the sector.

3.2 Legislation

Legislation is focussed most strongly on conservation and resource management objectives, although action is also described in the Act to protect and promote artisanal and semi-industrial fisheries i.e. social objectives. Bottom trawling by industrial and semi-industrial vessels is prohibited in waters of less than 15 m, i.e. an equity objective. The Act also requires all reasonable measures to be taken outside the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) to avoid gear conflict and provision is made for closed seasons and marine reserves. Fisheries Regulations also reflect economic objectives of revenue generation through the specification of licences and related fees for the catching, marketing and processing sectors.

In general, the Fisheries (Management and Development) Act of 1994 is well drafted and contains most of the necessary provisions required to conduct effective fisheries management and to control fishing-related activities. Some changes were, however, recommended in the consultant’s report and related to:

It was widely stated in Sierra Leone during the consultant’s visit that the current Regulations were those of 1995, and the consultant was furnished with a copy of these “regulations” on request for the current law. The DFMR was working from and implementing these “regulations” where possible. However, they had never been Gazetted or laid before Parliament and were not therefore law. The reasons for this were not clear[28], but the result was that the Regulations of 1990 were in fact the current law at the time.

Sierra Leone revised its laws to comply with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) with the passing of the Maritime Zones (Establishment) Act, 1996. Provisions in the Act relating to the territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, are fully consistent with the provisions of the Convention. However, no baseline survey has been conducted, and no charts and geographical co-ordinates have been given due publicity and deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations, as required in the Convention. Sierra Leone has no maritime boundary delimitation agreements with either Liberia or Guinea.

The point was made earlier in this paper about the importance of non-fisheries specific legislation in affecting small-scale fisheries. In Sierra Leone, the consultant found that there were at least ten other pieces of legislation that had a significant bearing on small-scale fisheries.

3.3 Management action

While Parliamentary Committees are periodically established to inform on policy, it appears that the findings of such Committees rarely get formally approved and passed down from the Minister to the Director of the DFMR as a basis for guiding management.

Of equal concern to the consultant was the large number of provisions in the Act (some required and some just provided for) that were not being followed, utilized or acted upon. Virtually no active resource management or planning of the fisheries sector was taking place. The Act specifies that important fisheries should be defined as “designated fisheries” with associated management plans developed, but no fisheries had been designated as such, and no management plans had ever been developed.

As mentioned above, a lack of regard for fisheries legislation was demonstrated by the fact that the DFMR was implementing regulations that had never been Gazetted or laid before Parliament, and which were not therefore law. The DMMR was also charging licence fees that had not been formally constituted in law. The linkage between the state of the resource and the licence fees charged to foreign industrial fishing was either not well understood or of no great concern, and government was more worried about charging what it could for licences and not making management measures so strict that they encouraged foreign vessels to fish in neighbouring countries. Because there is no local industrial fishery the departure of foreign vessels would be a disaster for the government in terms of revenue generation from marine resources, one of the country’s most valuable natural assets.

A large number of infractions of the law by industrial vessels were taking place that were either undetected, or when they were identified were not being followed up through prosecution or the imposition of penalties. Anecdotally some of these infractions were said to be having a considerable impact on small-scale fisheries. Particularly common infractions included:

Institutional structures were not proving effective in developing and acting on management decisions. The institutional capacity of the DFMR was severely limited due to financial constraints and the exodus of many skilled personnel from Sierra Leone during political troubles in the country. The consultant report identified an urgent need for long-term donor support for institutional strengthening and training in almost all disciplines and functions conducted by the DFMR.

3.4 Stakeholder involvement

Involvement of small-scale stakeholders in policy and management at the national level was virtually non-existent. The lack of involvement in policy was reflective of the lack of any formally specified process for policy development which included small-scale fishers.

A Scientific and Technical Committee (STC) was constituted to provide management advice to the Director of the DFMR, but the composition of the STC is not prescribed in legislation, and contained no representation from other than the industrial or the artisanal sector. A framework for the development of fisheries management plans is provided for in legislation, and the Director is required to consult with, among other parties, “local fishermen, local authorities and other persons”, as well as other states in relation to shared stocks. However, as mentioned above, no such plans have ever been developed.

At the local level, neither traditional fisheries management techniques nor customary fisheries tenure are common in Sierra Leone. However, the system of traditional government and local courts offers potential for small stakeholders to be involved in the establishment and enforcement of management decisions at the local level.


4.1 Types of conflicts

Fisheries have economic, social, cultural, technical, political, biological and ecological components, and the presence of such an array of components can often lead to conflicts. The scope of fishery governance may encompass one, some, or all of these categories, and except in the rare situations where marine ecosystems are relatively untouched, will be forced to deal either directly or indirectly with the trade-offs between them (Hanna, 1998). Issues of conflict in planning and development of policy, and subsequent management, can take the form of conflicts between: (a) sectors (e.g. large and small-scale fishers, or between fisheries and other sectors); and (b) objectives (sustainability, economic, social, equity etc), which may themselves be supporting sectors to different degrees.

There are so many unknown (and, in view of the limited resources available for researching them, unknowable) issues in fisheries that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to plan the perfect management system. Only a framework or a basic toolbox can be planned, allowing for adjustments to be made in reaction to the behaviour of the system under real-life operating conditions. However, explicitly recognizing and confronting trade-offs and conflicts at the planning/policy stage is a key first step towards successful management both in terms of making it more likely that management will be successful, and also in helping to define what constitutes “success” i.e. is the aim to primarily achieve a sustainability, economic or social objective, or some relative balance between them and any other objectives.

Some types of contradictions[29] and trade-offs in objectives that need to be considered through transparent decision-making mechanisms at the planning stage, might include:

(i) An increase in equity for a decrease in efficiency. At the level of the individual vessel operator, changing the balance in the factors of production in favour of labour over capital inputs might result in greater employment but reduced profitability, although some studies suggest that because labour is relatively cheap in many small-scale fisheries, substituting labour for capital inputs (which tend to be expensive) can increase both profitability and equity. At the macro level, some management regimes may directly trade efficiency against equity, e.g. open access or community-based management rather than systems of private property.

(ii) Supporting exports versus production for the national market. Increased exports to increase revenues in small-scale fisheries and enhanced foreign exchange earnings may lead to a decrease in availability of fish for sale in local markets. Such a trade-off may have important effects on the distribution of poverty and food security.

(iii) Supporting foreign or local fisheries for enhanced national income. A government may obtain licence revenue or royalty payments from foreign industrial fishing companies, or encourage export earnings from its own semi-industrial or industrial fleet. Both policies may result in small-scale fisheries catching less fish, thereby decreasing their contribution to food security and poverty alleviation. However, this may be viewed as acceptable if it increases revenue for food imports and national poverty-reduction programmes. Again, important distributional effects in food security and income may result from such trade-offs.

(iv) Short-term and long-term interests. Short-term initiatives to reduce poverty and improve food security may have a negative impact on long-term sustainability. Small-scale fisheries might be supported through credit provision or subsidies in an attempt to increase food security and earnings, but could result in overexploitation, falling catches and declining profitability.

In addition to the trade-offs between policy objectives, there is the risk of unintended effects from certain policies or changing management regimes. Disbanding commercial or powerful fishing monopolies to improve access of small-scale fishers to fishing grounds may actually remove a form of “management” of a water body, leading to conflicts between small-scale fishers and possibly even overfishing. Habitat restoration, rehabilitation and conservation should have positive benefits on living aquatic resources, but such efforts may affect small-scale fishers by temporarily denying them access to resources, or by encouraging large-scale fishing interests to exploit the improved habitat. Therefore, even after policy choices and trade-offs have been considered and decided upon, there is a need to continuously monitor their impact on poverty and food security, and modify them as necessary.

The trade-offs discussed above are examples of conflicts between policy objectives. Of equal importance are two main types of conflict at the sector level. Firstly, conflict within the fishing sector between different fishing gears and interests. Secondly, conflict between fishers and those operating in other sectors.

In terms of fisheries and other sectors, conflict is perhaps most common over land use, and to a lesser extent, access to inshore coastal waters. Such resources in coastal zones are often in high demand by fishers, tourism, and for other uses and forms of development, and require careful management and planning if conflict is to be avoided.

Within fisheries, conflicts arise not only most obviously between industrial and small-scale fisheries interests, but also among different small-scale gear users exploiting the same resource: for example, beachseine fishermen vs. canoe fishermen operating in coastal waters, or small-scale fishermen fishing for reef fish vs. divers collecting ornamental fish. Although dispute resolution mechanisms may have evolved, attempts are rarely made at the planning stage to adopt measures aimed at preventing the emergence of such conflicts. Additional conflict may arise between owners and non-owners of property i.e. boat owners vs. crew labourers through an imbalance in power relations and the lack of formal work agreements. Such conflict may present itself where crew from small-scale fishing communities work on industrial vessels, but also within small-scale fisheries themselves between canoe owners and their crew. Given the relationship in many small-scale fisheries between ownership of the vessel, money lending, and sale of the catch, these conflicts can easily extend to conflicts between the catching and the marketing sectors.

The contradictions and trade-offs often implicit in policy and management decisions must be based on information from data collection and research[30]. Apart from the trade-offs, the relative costs/benefits of different strategies must also be estimated. Sometimes this involves both tangible and intangible or quantifiable and non-quantifiable elements, which makes an assessment difficult. Currently there is often little hard data and information on which to base decisions, or indeed the skills in many countries needed to complete such research. For example, what would be the cost/benefit of reducing industrial fishing activity with corresponding decreases in foreign exchange earnings, in favour of small-scale fisheries catches with increases in small-scale fishing profitability, multiplier effects and so on? What would the comparative benefits be of changing the balance of enforcement resources between land, sea and air-based operations, or between government and community policing? What would be the cost of decommissioning hydro-electric dams to re-establish small-scale riverine fisheries, so creating benefits via income and employment? How does the high cost of small-scale fisheries management compare to the cost of resource depletion, loss of employment, income and food security resulting from no management? The estimates of such costs should ideally be wider than economic costs alone, and include societal, environmental, and cultural values.

It is likely that the presence/absence of conflict is a good indicator of how successful the management system is performing. If trade-offs and conflicts at the planning stage are appropriately identified and dealt with, conflict within the fishery itself if likely to be minimized.

4.2 Examples of how conflicts are dealt with and the priority given to the small-scale fisheries

What is evident from the questionnaire responses and our own experience in many countries, is that many fisheries policy documents appear to comprise vague statements with bland introductions, followed by detailed “subsectoral” policies for research, extension, law enforcement, planning, etc. that correspond to institutional subdivisions. While some policy documents explicity refer to resolving conflicts, the real substance and detail of what should be contained within a fisheries policy, e.g. fundamental objectives, trade-offs between small- and large-scale fishing, export earnings vs. national nutrition etc. is often absent. There is a common failure to explicitly address conflicts head-on in the planning and policy process. This results in confusion in the implementation of management, with management actions often being guided more by the priority of the day and political influence, rather than by any overall framework recognizing possible trade-offs in advance, which would enable mitigating measures to be put in place to deal with the costs/impacts of such trade-offs.

Conflict between small-scale and industrial fishing activity may stem from, or be reinforced by, governance and policy issues such as inadequate enforcement capability and/or a lack of will for enforcement, or preferential treatment of industrial fisheries in both policy and management action. Some countries e.g. Mexico specifically favour the industrial sector in the policy/planning process. In countries with large small-scale fisheries sectors, the extent of policy statements and specific assistance to the small-scale fisheries sector may well be greater than to the industrial sector. The most notable exceptions to this, and ones which often skew priority towards industrial or semi-industrial fishing activities, are: (a) when exports from such fisheries can generate foreign exchange earnings for the government; or (b) when governments can generate significant resource rents by licensing industrial interests.

The failure at the policy stage to explicitly address small- and large-scale trade-offs, can certainly result in complete inaction over conflicts between the sectors, or in powerful industrial interests (foreign or local) being able to influence management actions in their favour when conflicts arise. In a number of countries industrial interests appear to be generally favoured over small-scale fishing interests when conflict arises. Examples of how such factors manifest themselves include long delays in processing complaints about incursions of industrial vessels into small-scale fishing areas, exclusion of small-scale fishers from fishing grounds, subsidies for industrial fisheries, and the payment by industrial fishing interests of arbitrary, informal incentives to obtain access to resources or markets. However, in other cases, governments may simply not have the resources to effectively protect small-scale fisheries interests. Some small-scale fishers e.g. in Guinea[31], have recently been successful in organizing themselves to establish community-based MCS activities. This has helped to provide concrete information and proof of infringements by industrial fishing interests, so that government is not just left with the word of small-scale fishers versus the word of large-scale interests.

The failure to explicitly address issues of conflict between small- and large-scale fisheries is likely to become increasingly serious. Traditionally the argument has been used that trawlers can access fishing grounds which are inaccessible to small-scale fishers. Increasing pressure on stocks, and technological development in artisanal fisheries, has meant that there is increasing motivation for industrial fishers to move inshore and simultaneously for artisanal fishers to move off shore, thereby generating additional conflict.

Policy documents are usually the result of compromises and struggles for influence by different interested parties. These tensions, and the failure to explicitly recognize conflicts and solve them in the policy document through prioritization, are often most significant in setting an overall vision for the sector’s development and the key objectives. They emerge in apparently contradictory statements, for example about social inclusion and poverty-targeting on the one hand, and a more aggressive modernization agenda on the other. In Uganda (Allison, 2003) the overriding policy vision is of “sustainable exploitation of the fishery resources at the highest possible levels” (National Fisheries Policy, 2002; p.6). In this respect, it has a much clearer goal than many other fisheries policies in the region, which simultaneously aim to maximize production, employment and revenue generation. These other policy targets are present in the Ugandan policy, but it is recognized that they must be achieved within the stated production-maximization goal, not as well as it. Indeed, it is implied that meeting production targets may involve reducing present levels of employment in fishing, although this is not explicitly stated, nor is a strategy for capacity reduction identified (in terms of numbers, volumes, or efficiencies of vessels). “In general, the direction of change towards the industrialisation and modernization of the fisheries sector promotes the replacement of individual and family fishing enterprises by larger and more commercial operators where this can be achieved in a sustainable manner” (NFP, 2002, p9).

In Bangladesh, open access to inland open water bodies has lead to the use of large destructive nets owned by rich people but operated by poor fishers, and entry to the fishery of a large number of small-scale fishers catching minimal quantities of fish. The implicit adoption of a social/equity objective e.g. access, has resulted in low catches for all and therefore a failure to achieve sustainability or economic objectives.

Some countries have however tackled such conflicts head-on. In Tanzania, policy specifically mentions assistance in resolving conflicts. Likewise, a large number of countries (inter alia, Indonesia, Qatar, Philippines, Thailand, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, India) have in place seasonal or area trawl bans, specifically with the intention of either a social or a sustainability objective in mind, in terms of assisting small-scale fisheries or protecting the stock, respectively. Many of the bans have come about directly as a result of conflict between small-scale fisheries and industrial interests and a number of countries have specifically dealt with conflicts between different gears and resource users.

Co-management has also been used in some countries as a method of resolving conflict, and the literature is extensive and will not be reviewed here. One example is provided however from the questionnaire responses collated as part of this review. On Lake Kariba on both shorelines there have been efforts to introduce the concept of co-management. On the Zambian side this was primarily aimed at controlling the activities of immigrant fishermen who were considered to be a security threat by local people. Other stakeholders also used the co-management concept to restrict the fishing activities of artisanal fishermen so that they could use some of these fishing grounds for other activities such as setting up tourist facilities. In Zimbabwe the co-management process was driven by the Department of National Parks as a way of controlling the activities of artisanal fishermen who were threatening the viability of the tourist industry in the fishery and surrounding areas.

However, even in countries such as Papua New Guinea which do explicitly recognize conflicting objectives in fishery management plans and other policy instruments, these conflicts can remain a key cause of implementation failure/difficulty as there are always some stakeholders who disagree with whatever trade-off has been made and who therefore actively seek to undermine policy.

A good example of how conflicts among different stakeholders are dealt with at the planning and policy-making stage is found in the Special Area Management (SAM) process which is now being implemented in many parts of Sri Lanka. This deals with conflict both within the fisheries sector, and between fisheries and other sectors. When conflicts among stakeholders are likely to lead to resource depletion/degradation in environmentally sensitive areas, these areas are identified first as areas needing Special Management Measures in the legislation. Management of such resources is then carried out by a SAM Committee consisting of representatives of all stakeholders. This has worked quite well in Sri Lanka. Two such management sites are the Hikkaduwa and the Rekawa coastal areas.

Finally, on the subject of conflict, it is also worth remembering, as highlighted by the examples of Lake Kariba and Sri Lanka presented above, that small-scale fisheries may be in conflict with other sectors and resource users, and not just with other fishing interests. Frequently such conflicts arise over both access to water bodies and land bordering water in coastal, estuarine and inland areas. As already noted, due to the low priority of the sector, fishers are often the “losers” in these conflicts.


The text already presented in this paper in the sections on policy, legislation and management actions, and in the Sierra Leone case study, highlights a number of key challenges and problems in ensuring that small-scale fisheries adhere to the CCRF. These challenges are perhaps especially severe in many developing countries although the CCRF makes specific recognition of the special requirements and problems of implementing the Code due to capacity issues (Article 5). A paper presented at COFI 25[32] concluded that “an assessment of national reports indicated that progress is being made in the implementation of the Code, but that a range of issues - which have a high degree of commonality in developing countries and across regions - constrain the rate of implementation”.

The table below describes some specific problems in ensuring that small-scale fisheries adhere to the Code based on responses provided to questionnaires, with corresponding Articles noted in the right-hand column. It should be noted that many other aspects of the Code relate to, or have an impact on small-scale fisheries, and that implementation of the Code as a whole remains a challenge in many countries.

Table 3: Challenges in implementing the CCRF


Relevant Articles of the CCRF

Lack of sufficient awareness and knowledge of the CCRF itself. This is claimed to be due to: (i) the difficulty of accessing small-scale fishers in remote locations; (ii) the CCRF not being available in all languages[33]; (iii) the failure to use appropriate delivery mechanisms to reach small-scale fisheries; andiv) the perception by some stakeholders in small-scale fisheries that the CCRF is for industrial fisheries.

All Articles relating to small-scale fisheries.
Article 7.1.10 “States and subregional or regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements should give due publicity to conversation and management measures and ensure that laws, regulation and other legal rules governing their implementation are effectively disseminated.”

Lack of real participation by small-scale fisheries in policy, which means they do not have a strong stake in management rules or incentives to comply.

Article 7.1.2 with respect to domestic parties “States should...establish arrangements for consulting them to gain their collaboration in achieving responsible fisheries.
Article 7.1.6 “Representatives from relevant organizations, both government and non-governmental, concerned with fisheries should be afforded the opportunity to take part in meetings...”.
Article 7.2.2 “...c) the interests of fishers, including those engaged in subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fisheries, are taken account of;..

Inadequate data on resources being exploited, and of “reference points”. Quality of data is often poor, and used for compiling catch statistics rather than for guiding policies.

Articles 7.4.1 to 7.4.7.

Poverty and food-insecurity levels in small-scale fisheries, placing pressure to over-exploit resources using unsustainable methods.

Most of Articles 7 and 8 (e.g. 8.4.2 “States should prohibit dynamiting, poisoning and other comparable destructive fishing practices”).

Difficulties in resolving conflicts in objectives, and a lack of studies completed on the costs/benefits of certain trade-offs.

Article 7.4.3 “Studies should be promoted which provide an understanding of the costs, benefits, and effects of alternative management options designed to rationalize fishing, in particular, options relating to excess fishing capacity and excessive levels of fishing effort.

Insufficient regional management of transboundary stocks and inadequate harmonization of legislation related to shared stocks.

Article 7.1.3 to 7.1.7 relating to sub-regional or regional fisheries management.

Problems of enforcement when large numbers of small-scale fishers may be involved in a fishery and spread over large distances

All Articles relating to small-scale fisheries, especially Articles 7 and 8.

Low investment and operational costs which do not prevent a significant barrier to entry

Article 7.2.2 “measures should provide inter alia that a) excess fishing capacity is avoided and exploitation of the stocks remains economically viable; b) the economic conditions under which fishing industries operate promote responsible fisheries; c)....”

On reviewing the CCRF, given generic problems in many developing countries relating to institutional and governance capacity, numbers of small-scale fishers involved, lack of financial resources, etc. many Articles of the Code related to management in general (Article 7) and small-scale fisheries in particular, appear to present challenges in adherence. These challenges warrant separate research or a paper in its own right.

Another paper presented at COFI 25[34] implicitly recognizes the challenges for small-scale fisheries in adhering to the Code, and recommended for consideration by the Committee, the “Development of technical guidelines on increasing the contribution of small-scale fisheries to food security and poverty alleviation”. Certainly special technical guidelines on small-scale fisheries would greatly assist many countries in ensuring that small-scale fisheries adhere to the Code. The COFI 25 Report recognized the importance of small-scale fisheries, and challenges in adherence to the Code. Paragraph 84 of the Report stated: “The Committee requested that FAO allocate more resources to promote sustainable small-scale fisheries. It further welcomed the suggestion for the Organization to elaborate, in the context of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, technical guidelines on increasing the contribution of small-scale fisheries to food security and poverty alleviation.”

Article 6.18 of the Code recognizes the “important contributions of artisanal and small-scale fisheries to employment, income, and food security” and that “States should appropriately protect the rights of fishers and fishworkers, particularly those engaged in subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fisheries, to secure a just livelihood, as well as preferential access, where appropriate, to traditional fishing grounds and resources in the water under national jurisdiction.” This paper has already described how in many countries policy and legislation does comply with this aspect of the Code (with respect to issues of access, policy support etc). However, it is the implementation of policy and legislation (Article 7.7 of the CCRF) where the real challenge often lies.


Subsidies in fisheries may be used inter alia to promote the adoption of a particular technology, to shift emphasis from one resource area to another, to help asset-poor fishermen and to minimize income disparities, or to promote exports. The extent of incentives provided to the small-scale fisheries sector is in part a reflection of the priority given to them, hence why they are of interest.

Responses to the questionnaire provided some interesting information on the extent of fisheries incentives (mainly in the form of subsidies) to the small-scale fisheries sector.[35] The concept of “incentives” however is broader than one focussed just on subsidies, and may also incorporate aspects of political will which are not directly intended to change profit levels (which is the primary purpose of subsidies). For example, small-scale fisheries may be incentivized through support for traditions and customs, by developing strong community ties, etc.

Many different types of subsidies are used in a number of countries, with subsidized fishing inputs in the form of import-tax exemptions perhaps most common (eg. Albania, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Gulf States, Tanzania, West Indies) - in some cases (e.g Oman) tied to the use of sustainable fishing equipment. This form of subsidy is interesting in that the benefits, and the potential impacts of withdrawal, obviously depend very much on the type of inputs being used by different sectors, and might well benefit larger small-scale fishers and even semi-industrial and industrial fishers as much as smaller/poorer operators - subsistence fishers operating without outboard engines for example might benefit very little. In addition, subsidies may exist specifically for industrial fisheries, for example in the form of incentives such as tax holidays on foreign investments.

Credit provision has been widely used e.g. in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Mexico. Historically such subsidies were often meant for the poor and less-privileged to adopt new technology, e.g. new craft-gear combinations. In Sri Lanka for example, the drive for craft mechanization in the late 1950’s was implemented using a high rate of subsidization of crafts (up to 50 percent) and the ordinary fishermen benefited significantly from this move. Subsidies were channelled through the fisheries cooperatives to ensure that they reached those who needed them most. But in other cases, evidence suggests that the asset-poor have often been unable to access credit due to either: (a) the high initial costs of new technology; and/or (b) the inability to provide appropriate collateral. In such cases it has often been the better-off fishermen, or even non-fishing sector businessmen, who have been able to make the most of such subsidies.

It is noted that subsidies can be issued in an informal way as a means of political and social currency, e.g. Bangladesh and Gulf States, and not based on longer-term policy objectives or on any hard evidence of the costs/benefits of their use.

There is a wide range of different types of subsidies that can be used to support the sector. A guide on identifying subsidies is available (Westlund/FAO, 2003), and defines fisheries subsidies as “government actions or inactions that are specific to the fisheries industry and that modify - by increasing or decreasing - the potential profits by the industry in the short-, medium- or long-term”. Subsidies described in Westlund (2003) include:

Investment grants, income support and unemployment insurance programmes, price support, export incentives and other market interventions, import quotas, tariffs and other border measures, fuel tax exemptions, investment tax credits and deferred tax programmes, favourable loans and loan guarantees, special insurance schemes for vessels and equipment, training and extension, inspection and certification services, provision of fishing port facilities and other infrastructure, government research and development, fisheries management and environmental protection programmes, free or below market price access to fishing grounds, lack of pollution control, lack of implementation of existing regulations.

All of the above may be used to support the fishing sector as a whole, or the small-scale fisheries sector specifically. Other types of subsidies provided more normally to the industrial sector include: decommissioning, equity infusions, and payments to foreign governments to secure access to fishing grounds.

Some interesting work on assessing the extent of incentive schemes in small-scale fisheries has been completed in recent years, with other studies ongoing (e.g. by Cemare in North-West Africa). But many studies have focussed on incentives provided to industrial activities and their impact on small-scale fisheries (e.g. Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG)/Cambridge Resource Economics, 2000). However, while a range of work programmes related to subsidies by intergovernmental organizations are in place (e.g. see FAO Fisheries Report No. 688), knowledge of the extent of subsidies to small-scale fisheries, their impacts, and the potential impacts of removing them, still remains patchy. The issue is an important one for further research, especially in light of the World Trade Organization (WTO) consideration of fisheries subsidies post-1999.

Indeed, evidence suggests that there are few studies that have been completed on the costs/benefits of incentives/subsidies prior to their introduction in order to justify their use. The completion of such studies, and the explicit acknowledgement of potential trade-offs in objectives, is considered extremely important as it would help policy-makers target the use of incentive schemes and subsidies towards small-scale fisheries where they can be of most benefit to the poor, while minimizing any adverse impacts. The danger of using such instruments without appropriate studies and knowledge is significant. For example, when knowledge of the resource status is lacking but resources are already thought to be heavily exploited, subsidies to achieve equity objectives may lead to over exploitation.

While subsidies and incentives which lead to overexploitation might universally be considered bad, unless one takes a completely free-market perspective, one could argue that incentives and subsidies could and should sometimes be used to support social/equity objectives, even if there is some trade-off in the economic objective of efficiency. However, the use of incentives (and their removal) must be based on a case by case basis, and on the particular costs and benefits (environmental, social, economic) of their use.

Of equal importance for the use of incentives/subsidies, if they are to be approved, is to specify and justify the time for which they are to be put in place. There may be short-term reasons for providing such incentives e.g. exchange rate fluctuations, to mitigate against the negative social/economic impacts on small-scale fishers, whereas leaving such incentives in place in the long-term might have serious implications on overfishing and increasing capacity. The use of subsidies is often not targeted in sufficient detail.


Making recommendations about future research topics as part of this paper raises two important questions. Firstly, to what extent should small-scale fishers themselves be part of the process to agree such research agendas. This is important given the specificity of research needs to particular locales and situations, and the likelihood that the involvement of small-scale fishers will increase the chances of knowledge being gained from research being imparted to them. Research, in its broadest sense, is the collection and analysis of information to provide an answer to a specific question. The research that needs doing is therefore defined by the questions that need answering - these questions are likely to be very different in different places and at different times.

Based on indications provided by respondents to the questionnaire, a list is presented below for consideration by the ACFR of some important research topics that have been generated during the preparation of this paper. The topics proposed relate to the questions raised in the paper and the Terms of Reference, and not to other wider research requirements in small-scale fisheries. It is suggested that many of the topics could be usefully investigated through the use of case studies[36].

Possible research topics include:


The Consultant will:

Describe the policy objectives for small-scale fisheries at the regional (e.g. Regional fishery bodies), national or sub-national level in terms of stated priorities in terms of the objectives of: (i) optimal and sustainable use of fish resources and their supporting ecosystems; (ii) economic objectives, especially in relation to either small- or large-scale fisheries; (iii) social objectives, e.g. maximizing employment, improving livelihoods; (iv) objectives related to equity, e.g. access for only small-scale fisheries; or (v) any other objectives. The paper should address the extent to which these often conflicting objectives, i.e. (i) to (v) above, have been dealt with in planning and policy formulation, especially with respect to dealing with development that results in a small number of highly industrialized vessels compared with development that leads a large number of small-scale vessels.

When national fisheries policies exist, describe using one or two specific examples how the role/priority of small-scale fisheries compares with other parts of the fisheries sector. Describe the types of incentive schemes (including subsidies) that are in place to support any policies and their impacts on small-scale fisheries and what would be the likely costs/benefits of having the subsidies removed. Describe the degree (if any) of planning that has included the interaction among different gears used to harvest fish and other users of the resource.

Describe the extent to which these policy objectives are contained in legislation and regulations at regional, national and sub national levels and evaluate the extent to which management actions are actually guided by policy objectives.

Suggest possible research topics.

Questionnaire - APPENDIX B

Background to this request[37]

The FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR), at its Fourth Session in December 2002, highlighted that small-scale fisheries had not received the research attention that it deserved when one considers the important contribution that it makes to nutrition, food security, sustainable livelihoods and poverty alleviation, especially in developing countries. The Committee recommended that a working party be convened to elaborate a draft research agenda and undertake an evaluation of the role and importance of small-scale fisheries, and outline ways in which the transition to responsible fisheries could be facilitated, bearing in mind the developing paradigm of the Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries (EAF). Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd. is currently assisting FAO with the preparation of background material for the working party and prioritization of research priorities. In order to ensure collaborative input into such research priorities and agendas, and to assist with information collection, we would be most grateful if you would complete the short questionnaire below.

Could you please return the completed questionnaire, by Friday 18 July, to Graeme Macfadyen:

Fax: +33 450 33 05 02 (Telephone is the same number if you have any questions)

Information requested


Your Name and Organization



Your telephone and email address



Region/Country/Regional Organization to which this response refers

Are there specific policy objectives defined for small-scale fisheries in terms of:

1. optimal and sustainable use of fish resources and their supporting ecosystems;

2. economic objectives (in relation to small-scale fisheries);

3. social objectivese.g. maximizing employment, improving livelihoods

4. objectives relating to equitye.g. access;

5. any other specific small-scale fishery objectives?

Please state/quote any policy objectives relating to each of the points 1-5. Please state “no” if there definitely are not any, and “do not know” if you are not sure. Where/if possible, attach supporting text.

Are there specific policy objectives defined for small-scale fisheries in terms of:

6. optimal and sustainable use of fish resources and their supporting ecosystems;

7. economic objectives (in relation to small-scale fisheries);

8. social objectivese.g. maximizing employment, improving livelihoods

9. objectives relating to equitye.g. access;

10. any other specific small-scale fishery objectives?

Please state/quote any policy objectives relating to each of the points 1-5. Please state “no” if there definitely are not any, and “do not know” if you are not sure. Where/if possible, attach supporting text.

In your view, to what extent are these policy objectives reflected in legislation?

Please summarize any key points from the legislation related to the different objectives, and say whether you think the policy objectives1-5 are “Well”, “Partially”, or “Not at all” reflected in legislation, (or whether you are “Not sure”)






To what extent do you feel these policy objectives actually guide management actions (e.g. comment on the intention to implement them, the ability to do so, problems in doing so etc.)?

Please provide comment on the extent to which these sometimes conflicting objectives have been dealt with in the planning and policy formulation contexte.g. development resulting in small numbers of industrialised vessels vs. development that leads to large numbers of smaller vessels.

What particular challenges do small-scale fisheries present in adhering to the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries?

In regional/national policy, how does the role/priority of small-scale fisheries compare with other parts of the fisheries sector?

Please state whether you feel that for 1-3 below priority is given (a) “primarily to industrial fishing”, (b) “equally to industrial and small-scale fishing”, or (c)”primarily to small-scale fishing”

specific assistance/support
extent/type of policy statements
other (please specify)

To what extent is there stakeholder involvement in the over-all policy process and decision-making?

Please provide the mechanisms by which stakeholders are involved, if at all, and how meaningful this involvement is in affecting the policy process.

Are there any incentive schemes (including subsidies) that are in place to support small-scale fisheries?

If yes, please specify what form these take.

Have any studies been completed to consider the likely costs/benefits of removing such incentives? If so, what were the main conclusions?

If yes, please provide references if you have them.

If no to the above, what do you think the impacts would be?

To what extent has any planning specifically included competition among different gears and resource users (e.g. area or seasonal restrictions)?

What research topics do you feel are most necessary to support the role of small-scale fisheries (e.g. user rights, capacity, IUU, trade, incentives, governance, cost/earnings studies, sustainable livelihoods, technology, effective methods of organization, human capacity building of small-scale fishers, human capacity building of fisheries managers, other, etc)?

Could you please provide a prioritised list, with the topics you view as most important, at the top: 1. 2.

Thank you for your assistance. All those responding completing this questionnaire will be individually acknowledged in the report presented to the FAO working party.


Adams, T. December 1996. Governance of fisheries and aquaculture in the Pacific Islands region. Review paper for 3rd Dialogue on the ACP-EU Research Initiative Belize.

Allison, E. 2003. Linking national fisheries policy to livelihoods on the shores of Lake Kyoga, Uganda. LADDER working paper No. 9 (Draft).

Chakalall, B., Mahon, R. & McConney, P. 1998. Current issues in fisheries governance in the Caribbean Community (CARICO). Marine Policy Vol. 22, No. 1.

FAO. 2002. Report of the Second ad hoc meeting of intergovernmental organizations on work programmes related to subsidies in fisheries. FAO Fisheries Report No. 688. Rome.

FAO. February 2003. Strategies For Increasing The Sustainable Contribution Of Small-Scale Fisheries To Food Security And Poverty Alleviation. Committee on Fisheries. Twenty-Fifth session. COFI/2003/9.

FAO. 2003. Progress In The Implementation Of The Code Of Conduct For Responsible Fisheries And Related International Plans Of Action. Cofi/2003/3rev.1.

Hanna, S. 1998. Parallel institutional pathologies in fisheries management. In Symes, D (Ed) Northern Waters: Management issues and practice. Fishing News Books.

Macfadyen, G. 2000. Review and analysis of existing fisheries laws and regulations in Sierra Leone, and recommendations on legislative and institutional changes. In Development of a Fisheries Sector Strategy: Sierra Leone Project No.6 ACP SL 49. Funded by the European Commission and undertaken by Megapesca Lda. (Note, not officially released and therefore not to be quoted from or referenced without permission).

MRAG & Cambridge Resource Economics. December 2000. Summary review of the impacts of fisheries subsidies on developing countries”, DFIF Policy Research Programme Project.

Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd, Fisheries Discards: An Assessment of Impacts and a Review of Current Legislation and Reduction Programmes. 2003 (FAO, In Press).

Swan, J. 2000. “Regional Fishery Bodies and Governance: Issues, Action and Future Directions”. FAO Circular No. 959.

Turay, F. 1995. PhD Thesis by Foday Turay, “An economic analysis of artisanal fisheries management alternatives in West Africa: the case study of the marine pelagic fishery in Sierra Leone”.

Uphoff, N. 1986. Local Institutional Development: An Analytic Sourcebook with Cases. Kumarian Press.

Westlund, L. 2003. Draft guide for identifying, assessing and reporting on subsidies in the fisheries sector. Lena Westlund FAO.

[16] Paper prepared by Graeme Macfadyen. (
[17] The questionnaire was sent to small-scale fisheries experts, representatives of Regional Fisheries Organizations (RFOs) and contacts known to the consultant, and to those indicating their willingness to complete it following requests made through a number of email distribution lists on behalf of the consultant.
[18] Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Mapalana, Kamburupitiya, Sri Lanka.
[19] “Strategies for increasing the contribution of small-scale capture fisheries to food security and poverty alleviation” (COFI/2003/9)
[20] The FAO-supported Train-Sea-Coast material provides some useful information on how such processes might be formalized, and indeed emphasizes the two distinct issues of: (a) the policy formation process; and (b) the content of the policy itself.
[21] This list is not intended to be exhaustive
[22] These examples are not intended to imply that such statements only occur in policy documents in developing countries, but are examples drawn from the questionnaire responses. In fact it is likely that policy objectives relating to ecosystem-based management are especially prevalent in developed countries.
[23] Fisheries legislation is now much more diverse that it was historically. In the past, legislation in many countries concentrated mainly on collecting taxes, both from inland and marine fisheries. This was especially true of colonies and applied to colonial administrations at both national and regional levels.
[24] Discarded catch plus incidental catch.
[25] A good example is legislation in respect of the management of inland water bodies. Fisheries legislation on inland water bodies often cannot be put into action without concern for other legislation which guides the behaviour of other stakeholders, such as farmers using such water bodies to irrigate their lands. Likewise, weak enforcement of trade/export laws can have a significant impact on fisheries by creating an incentive to over-exploit resources for short-term market gains.
[26] In Sri Lanka for example, the National Fisheries Solidarity, a fisheries non-governmental organization (NGO), recently appointed a three-member Fisheries Commission to prepare a National Fisheries Policy paper (to be presented to the government) by obtaining information from diverse fisher groups in the country. With the help of a number of NGOs operating in the country the members of the commission travelled extensively meeting various fisher groups to obtain information on the problems associated with small-scale fisheries (their nature, causes, etc.) and solutions suggested by fishers themselves. This facilitated the preparation of a fisheries policy paper that aimed to draw attention by the government to the needs of the small-scale fishers. However, political will was absent in the Sri Lankan case and the government did not want to discuss the contents of the policy paper prepared by the Fisheries Commission. (Amarasinghe, O. Pers. Comm.).
[27] Please note, document not officially released for political reasons and therefore not to be quoted from or referenced without permission.
[28] The relationship between the DFMR and the Law Officers Department did not appear to be a good one and may, at least in part, explain why the 1995 regulations were never finally agreed and Gazetted.
[29] Text on the four trade-offs in the following paragraphs taken from COFI paper (COFI/2003/9) Op. Cit.
[30] It must be remembered as discussed earlier in this paper that in many cases it is the lack of political will for improved management choices that is as much to blame as the lack of information on which to base such choices.
[31] Satia, B. Pers. Comm.
[32] Cofi/2003/3rev.1: Progress in the Implementation of the Code Of Conduct For Responsible Fisheries and related International Plans of Action
[33] The Code is currently translated on the official FAO website into nine languages.
[34] COFI/2003/09. Op. cit.
[35] It should be noted that a detailed guide did not accompany the questionnaire as to how to assess the level of incentives (which include subsidies), or indeed how incentives and subsidies should be defined.
[36] It is thought likely that both small-scale fishers and consultants have considerable experience that could be written up, or which is “lost” in consultancy reports. Given the pressure on academics to publish papers, interesting information tends to originate more from this sector, rather than from consultants who are often under pressure to move on to other fee-paying work. Likewise, small-scale fishers are occupied with the business of making money from fishing, and often have little incentive to prepare case study information that could be of great interest. Furthermore, requirements for particular styles/formats required by “respectable” fisheries journals often preclude small-scale fishers from being able to present case study material (and provide a considerable disincentive for consultants). Nevertheless, it appears a shame that the experiences of such groups are not more widely drawn upon, and more thought could perhaps be given to how such information and experiences could be better harnessed.
[37] Questionnaire also translated into French for French-speaking countries.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page