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Christopher Ninnes


This paper considers the evolving “pro-poor” development policy framework, the impact this has on developing country national policy frameworks and how these collectively influence the demands for data and information from fisheries information systems (FIS) in support of small-scale fisheries management.

The translation of new pro-poor policy frameworks and the requirement for policy coherence across sectors provides the context within which sectoral policy for small-scale fisheries operates. To ensure that these policies can be translated coherently has profound implications for the role, responsibilities and functions at all levels of governance, and hence of the supporting FIS.

Many former DOF responsibilities are now being implemented at local government level and DOF needs information to facilitate, support and monitor these transformed roles. In some instances the information requirement will remain the same as when DOF had such responsibilities, the difference is that the responsibility for the collection, analysis and use of this information takes place at the local-government level. In other instances the information requirements are clearly different.

Within the new pro-poor policies the social development aspects of fisheries policy take on a much more important role given the macro-economic focus on poverty reduction. The FIS must have the ability to measure change as a result of the implementation of those policies. This will almost certainly require new types of indicators to be collected by the FIS to measure progress in the sector or to collect information that will allow integration with other information systems that provide sectoral impact on poverty to be measured.

While increasing involvement of resource users in the management of small-scale fisheries are important goals of the changing policy environment, their implications for FIS are also significant. This is clear, given the complexities that there is no one generic approach that can be applied for all potential co-management scenarios. Different approaches will demand that government and the resource user assume different responsibilities for the scale, type and format of information provided in support of management decision-making. Even where all decision-making is delegated to the resource user, government will still have a monitoring mandate to ensure resource sustainability and that poverty agendas are being met.

Before co-management can be effective, strategic consultations need to be held to determine the scope and scale of the management units and of the management arrangements to be established. Despite the commitment to increased community empowerment, many national and sectoral authorities have not engaged in such strategic consultations. This results in ad hoc arrangements becoming established, which may be to the detriment of the long-term sustainability of co-management as a national policy tool to eradicate poverty.

To address the shortcomings identified within many FIS a number of guidelines are proposed that will allow the (re)design process to be placed into the broader national context, as opposed to taking a purely sectoral perspective. These guidelines identify fundamental design characteristics, how to undertake the (re)design process, and how to ensure that both effective and efficient FIS result. The final section of the paper highlights areas where the donor community can assist in implementing these guidelines.

Throughout this paper the use of data and information within fisheries management is considered a process and the use of the term FIS is considered to explicitly represent this process. It is not a short-hand for solutions based on technology only. This process is initiated when an information need is first identified that is coherent with the macro and sectoral policy framework, continues with the collection of data, its subsequent management and analysis into information, through to its dissemination, communication and use in furthering the fisheries management knowledge base. Annex 1 captures this process diagrammatically.


1.1 Document structure

The paper begins with a brief overview of the global importance of the small-scale fisheries sector, followed by a brief summary of past experiences relating to small-scale fisheries management and the more recent responses to address earlier failures. The future requirements for data and information to provide a basis on which to manage small-scale fisheries is then reviewed by considering the evolving “pro-poor” development policy framework and the implications this has for national and sectoral policy frameworks. National and sector policy responses almost always propose solutions based around community empowerment and the co-management of natural resources. The following section briefly considers the complexity of the social, technical and physical attributes of small-scale fisheries and the implications that these have for the requirements and provision of information to support their co-management. The penultimate section summarizes briefly what aspects of small-scale fisheries information systems require change, and how this might be most effectively achieved. The final section presents a summary that identifies key issues and researchable constraints to resolve these issues.

1.2 The importance of small-scale fisheries to employment, food security and income generation

At global and national levels the information base about small-scale fisheries is poorly developed. Despite this, almost all commentators stress the fundamental importance of small-scale fisheries to local economies, livelihoods and food security (see FAO, 2002) but paradoxically there appear few reliable statistics available to substantiate these claims. Briefly summarized below from various sources are data and information outlining the importance of the sector to employment, food security and income generation.

1.2.1 Employment

Pomeroy and Williams (1994) reported that 14-20 million people depend on small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods and that about one billion rely on them for their main source of animal protein. In 2001 FAO estimated that worldwide there were 35 million persons involved in catching and processing of fish, 75-80 percent of which are associated with artisanal and small-scale capture fisheries

However, certain limitations with the data submitted to FAO were highlighted (Coates, 2002). Underestimates were noted for the number of inland capture fishers with FAO estimating a total of 4.5 million globally. From the information available at a workshop to develop new approaches for the improvement of inland capture fishery statistics in the Mekong Basin (Coates, 2002) this estimate was exceeded by employment data from the eight countries represented at the workshop. Although the problems of assessing catches and employment from small-scale inland fisheries are particularly acute, similar problems are also experienced within marine fisheries.

Employment data alone do not capture the true importance of the small-scale sector often because they only record the numbers directly involved in the sector on a full-time basis. This significantly underestimates the numbers dependent on those engaged in the sector either on a full-time or part-time basis. For example, FAO (2001) estimated that employment data for Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania within the small-scale marine fisheries was 215 000. However, SADC (2002) estimated that 2.3 million people were dependent on these fisheries for their livelihoods.

Meryl Williams of the WorldFish Center estimates that there are at least 50 million women from developing countries employed in the fishing industry ( involved in processing, marketing, gear manufacture and repair, and fishing. No comparable figures for male employment were available.

1.2.2 Food security

FAO provides estimates of per capita consumption of “seafood” from official national figures on catches, imports, exports and sales for animal feed to derive an estimate based on an “whole animal” equivalent. Seafood includes all fish and other aquatic animals from all sources.

The FAO figures range from 15.5 - 90.7 kg/capita/year for all reporting countries. Such averages however mask considerable national variation. Results from consumption studies from the Amazon Basin averaged 27 - 101 kg/person/year in lowland areas, falling as low as 4 kg/person/year in highland areas where beef provides a cheap alternative (Baylee and Petrere, 1989). Consumption studies for the Lower Mekong River Basin (Svendrup-Jensen, 2002 and Hortle and Bush, 2002) have estimated per capita consumption at 36 - 56 kg/year, with the higher estimate being considered conservative by the latter authors. Nouv, Sopha and Sensercivorth (2002) estimated average per capita consumption in central Cambodia at 67kg. These values are considerably higher than annual per capita consumption reported by FAO (2001) for the entire population of Laos (8.5 kg), Viet Nam (11.1 kg), Cambodia (9.0 kg) and Thailand (23.6 kg), which includes marine production.

1.2.3 Income generation

Not only do small-scale fisheries provide employment and food they also provide important financial benefits to fishing communities. The balance made between food and income is both complex and difficult to generalize. The pattern of use of the day’s catch is often to take for consumptive requirements first, and then sell any excess, although the whole catch may be sold if it is either not easily divisible or is of a species that fishers prefer not to consume at home. This behaviour does not change greatly with prices, and almost the same amount will be retained for consumption irrespective of its market value. The proportion retained will obviously vary with catch size (a fixed amount rather than proportion is required to satisfy consumptive needs), but estimates made in coastal communities in Tanzania vary between 10 - 35%. For comparison, in the same communities about 85 percent of agricultural production is consumed rather than sold, evidence that fish provide significant benefits beyond direct consumption by the producer and his/her dependants (RFIS, 2003).

Despite the perception that most small-scale fisheries are exploited for subsistence means only, significant numbers of small markets exist in which fish is traded in almost all developing countries. This suggests that the perception should be challenged. The driving markets include both extensive national markets and increasingly links between artisanal producers and export markets, particularly when high valued species are taken by small-scale fisheries (eg shrimp, lobster).

The degree of dependence on fisheries for cash income in some coastal communities is extremely high. The contribution of fisheries to cash income in Southern African coastal households is estimated as between 40 percent for Mozambique and 55 percent for Tanzania of total cash income. In some communities, this contribution is ten times that of the next most significant contributor to cash income.

Cash income is used in coastal communities to gain access to basic services and consumptive needs that are not possible to satisfy through their own resources or effort. These will include food purchases, health and education, clothing, some fishing inputs, agricultural labour etc. An example of household expenditure pattern, sampled from three coastal communities in northern Mozambique, is shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Household expenditure

This pattern is by no means uniform but irrespective of exactly how the cash is spent, it is clear that fishing is an important cash earner, and that this cash is the key to gaining access to essential services, goods and foods.

Despite the poor information base about small-scale fisheries the data presented above clearly highlights the sector’s importance, albeit in not necessarily a complete manner. Therefore, fundamental questions about how many poor people the sector supports, feeds and employs will remain unanswered unless systematic information becomes available at national and regional levels. The answers to such questions are urgently needed by those who formulate national and sectoral policies to ensure that the correct importance is attached to the sector in terms of financial support within national and international donor budgets. Without such information, development activities may focus on other sectors that are assigned incorrect importance, or may even promote sectors that impact negatively on the fisheries sector, particularly in inland sectors when support for agriculture, water extraction, power generation and flood control can significantly impact the resource base. Given that many of those engaged in small-scale fishing represent some of the least empowered and poorest people in society, the inappropriate allocation of resources can further marginalize such people.

To address this fundamental information gap requires developing systems that can capture information highlighting the scale and value of small-scale fisheries at local, district and national levels. Such information is urgently required to influence the pro-poor policy debate and to ensure that adequate resources are earmarked to support and manage the sector and these issues are explored in further detail in this paper.

1.3 Small-scale fisheries: past management experiences and evolving responses

Historically the management of small-scale fisheries is widely recognized as being poor and the resource base of most considered to be exploited at levels beyond which sustainable yields can be achieved. Management approaches have tended to draw on those developed for temperate systems where objectives focus on maximizing resource output using a suite of technical regulations. These approaches are information-intensive, demanding extensive data collection programmes, well developed analytical skills and the capacity to enforce technical regulations.

In developing countries such approaches are hampered because they cannot account for the complex resource, technical and institutional environment within which small-scale fisheries operate. Typically, the resource base is multispecies, exploited by numerous different gear types over a range of habitats and under a variety of institutional and decision-making arrangements. Resource-use patterns are also complex and many fishers may only catch fish on a part-time basis or fish full-time at certain times of the year.

Given these complications management based on temperate approaches has been ineffective resulting in depleted resources, inequity and conflict (Pinkerton, 1989). The failure to manage small-scale fisheries (and other natural resource sectors) is not a new phenomenon, and development policies to address this and other failures continue to evolve. These evolving policies are stimulating policy changes at the national level, which are placing increasing emphasis on poverty reduction, the importance of natural resource management as a coherent component of wider environmental management and the need for changing governance through local government reform and decentralization to effect better management of small-scale fisheries. These reforms place increasing importance on community involvement in the management of small-scale fisheries, and the adoption of co-management, as a component of local government reform and decentralization, is often seen as a “tool” that facilitates and enables the reform process.

Unfortunately, most existing small-scale FIS are poorly adapted to provide the information now demanded as a result of this evolving policy response. Not only were they designed to provide information for inappropriate management frameworks; they do not provide the information now required to address these shortcomings. In many countries, “statistics” are compiled because they are still requested or demanded by central government, even though the actual use to which these statistics are put is often uncertain (Coates, 2002). The systems often still seek to provide the information that would support temperate, single-species stock assessment models (e.g. catch and effort data) despite the poor utility of such approaches. The existing format and national reporting requirements of fisheries information to FAO are also firmly rooted in such approaches.

1.4 Determining information requiring: a strategic approach

In the following two sections this paper firstly considers the fisheries information requirements demanded by the evolving “pro-poor” policy base and secondly what the information requirements are for the development of small-scale fisheries co-management.

These two themes are addressed at a strategic level that seeks to draw out what the future implication for the design of a FIS will be. Emphasis is placed on identifying the role of the institution involved in management at different levels of governance and the type of functions that the FIS will have to fulfil. It is intended that this will provide guidance to the reader as to what needs to change and what needs to be considered when making such changes.

Given the general failure of existing FIS to support the development of successful small-scale fisheries management, such a basic consideration is an essential starting point. The failure to articulate to policy-makers within central governments and the donor community about the true scale and worth of small-scale fisheries to poor people is a major stumbling block that must be overcome before the sector will be given appropriate levels of support.

Because the fisheries sector is but one of many productive sectors that has to respond to higher national objectives articulated within the National Poverty Reduction Strategies (NPRS), the FIS must be able to provide information on the impact the sector is achieving in addressing national objectives concerned with poverty, food security and other development goals. Failure to do so will result in even less resources being allocated to the sector.

As a result of this strategic approach the paper does not provide a prescriptive list of indicators that should be collected or suggestions for “easy to collect” data. The reasons for not doing this are two-fold. The first is because the specific requirements for information are anchored within the national and local level context. The indicators and variables required will be specific to a range of conditions arising from the management framework adopted through to the indicators identified at the national level to monitor poverty within NPRS. The potential diversity of indicators that could be proposed would make listing them not useful reading either because it would be too exhaustive or too simple if summarized. The second and perhaps more important reason is that there is still relatively little known from the literature about what information is being used (at all levels of governance) to inform small-scale fisheries management decision-making.

Two ongoing projects the ACP Fish2/Fisheries Management Knowledge Exchange System and the Department for International Development (DFID)/MRAG Data Collection and Sharing Mechanisms for Co-Management, are seeking to provide these details within a two-year time frame. It is not the intention here to pre-empt this work.


2.1 Introduction

A FIS is an open system in that it is not self-contained but is linked into wider information systems that deal with issues outside of the sector. As such, it cannot be viewed purely sectorally: it influences and is influenced by a range of policies and institutional arrangements at different levels. These may seem remote from the traditional approaches proposed for small-scale fisheries management but they are nonetheless now vital components of the decision-making processes of the system.

The wider policy change process is resulting in significant institutional reform. This is changing the roles and responsibilities of these institutions and demands different information to feed into new and changed levels of decision-making. A FIS needs to be able to respond to this changing policy framework and requires that more than bio-physical attributes of the resource are incorporated. For instance, national-level planners will want to know how the sector is contributing to poverty alleviation and to improvements in food security. Ideally, a FIS would provide decision-makers at local, district and central levels of governance with appropriate information to enable them to make effective and timely decisions related to their specific functions. This can be represented as shown below:

There is overlap between these different sub-systems and in some senses the interfaces between them are the most important areas. For instance, the flow of information between the central and district levels will determine how well informed sectoral policy can be developed and subsequently monitored. The interface between the districts the local level sub-systems is particularly important from a governance and service delivery perspective. If small-scale fishing communities are to contribute to, and use, information from the formal system then it is important to understand how they deal with information and how they use it. This is much more determined by local cultural norms than the way information is handled and used in the formal system. Understanding the factors that determine how these communities generate knowledge, store it, analyse it, validate it, and communicate and use it is important to allowing formal and informal systems to mesh.

An important output of a FIS is therefore to provide information that allows the institutional functions at all levels of governance to operate effectively and efficiently. Understanding these functions (and hence the information requirements) is a difficult process not least of all because the policy and legislative environment that defines much of “who-does-what” is in a state of change in most developing countries because of the evolution of central government policies. This means that the FIS must also be flexible and adaptive; to balance what is the desired future state of information systems with the practical realities of the change process.

The key policy elements that now influence the design and function of a FIS are summarized in the diagram below. This is not to suggest that the FIS as depicted below formally exists as a defined and separate entity. It is a diffuse set of linkages, data collection activities and information flows across a range of institutions. It is used here as a separate entity only as a short-hand for the complexity of those linkages, activities and flows, to allow that complexity to be better understood.

The most important of these elements concerning national macro-economic policies, local government reform measures, environmental policy, and fisheries policy and their implication for the design and content of the FIS are considered further in the following subsections. Each subsection concludes with an assessment of the areas where existing FIS need to evolve to address the information gaps created by the changing policy environment.

2.2 National macro-economic policies

The FIS is governed in part by the requirements of the sectoral policies (see below) established by the government department responsible for small-scale fisheries (hereinafter referred to as Department of Fisheries (DOF)). These are subservient and should be coherent with national development policies, and collectively provide the framework, priorities and context for the FIS.

Recently, and in order to give strategic direction to attaining these national development policies, the adoption of National Poverty Reduction Strategies (NPRS) are being increasingly used. Since 1999, NPRS provide the basis for World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending and for debt relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and are increasingly being adapted by developing countries.

Poverty reduction and community empowerment are usually principle development aims within a relatively hard budget constraint of most NPRS. They also recognize the dependence of many of the poor on natural resources and the potential for increased environmental degradation and environmental and natural resources (NR) management are high on the agenda. The implications of this policy framework for the FIS are as follows:

2.3 Local government reform measures

In line with the aims of poverty reduction and improved governance, many central governments are implementing a reform process that promotes decentralization, incorporating greater responsibility for local government in service delivery and participation of the community in decision-making processes. This reform process requires major changes in the roles and responsibilities of sector ministries, DOF and local authorities.

Local governments are increasingly being given responsibility for social development and public service provision within their jurisdiction, the facilitation of maintenance of law and order and issues of national importance such as education, health, water, roads and agriculture. Decentralization of government involves four main policy areas: political decentralization; financial decentralization; administrative decentralization; and, those governing the need for change in central-local relations.

Most of the responsibility for implementing sectoral management now rests with local authorities with DOF providing policy, legislative and standard setting guidelines and capacity building. The role of DOF is therefore evolving into:

The relationship between central-sector ministries and local authorities is now one characterized by consultations and negotiations, support from ministries to local governments supplemented with regulation and legal supervision of local government political and administrative decisions. The role of central government institutions will be reoriented towards:

The changing roles of sector ministries and local government authorities which have significant implications for the FIS are as follows:

2.4 Environment policy

The wider environmental policy framework typically identifies natural resource use and broader environmental management as important and complimentary elements in its strategy to eradicate poverty. There are two linked elements: the first is to satisfy basic needs; and, the second is to protect the environment in the cause of development. This two pronged approach also needs to be reflected in the fisheries policy to ensure effective management of both the use of small-scale fisheries resources exploited by the rural poor and of the associated aquatic environment. This approach is essential to ensure the sustainable reduction in poverty for those dependent on small-scale fisheries resources for their livelihoods.

Small-scale fisheries are sensitive to the impacts caused by other sectors, and to ensure effective resource-use and environmental management requires effective co-ordination across a range of institutions and sectors and clarity of mandate. Inland waters can be particularly strongly impacted by external events and these can exceed the impacts associated with fisheries extraction. Because of their potential magnitude they also make proportioning resource impact and determining that associated with fishing difficult. Although coastal marine waters are generally less sensitive, small-scale fisheries associated with critical and sensitive habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds, are also vulnerable to external impacts.

Small-scale fisheries may target or take as a by-catch endangered species or species with a high conservation appeal. Such issues and the need to deal with small-scale fisheries management within a wider, holistic approach to environmental management are becoming widely recognized. Although ecosystem-based approaches based on the boundaries delimited by Large Marine Ecosystems (LME) or watersheds provide a framework within which to address such issues, ecosystem management is rarely approached from a pro-poor, livelihoods based perspective and concerns about environmental monitoring and the impacts of these (and fisheries) on the resource base predominate. Ecosystem-based approaches will need to develop a more people-focused approach as the basis for their intervention before they can become useful policy instruments to eradicate poverty.

The incorporation of wider environmental objectives within sectoral policies must be done within the human and financial constraints imposed by the wider policy framework. An effective approach will be raising awareness about environmental issues and sustainable resource use among the poor so that they are able to more effectively participate in resource management efforts.

The implications of environmental policy on the FIS are:

2.5 The Fisheries Information System (FIS) in the sectoral context

The FIS operates at the fisheries sectoral-level to inform on policy, and to guide and monitor the implementation of policy.

2.5.1 Informing policy

The two key aims of small-scale fisheries policy are typically focussed on the sustainable use of the resources and on development. This policy provides an implementation framework for local government activities and it is the responsibility of the DOF to ensure that local development plans conform to this.

The progressive shift in focus of wider macro-economic policies towards poverty reduction and the development of sector policies that are coherent and subservient to that aim, has meant that the relative balance of the two strands of fisheries policy are beginning to change. Much greater emphasis is now (correctly) placed on sectoral policies to achieve poverty reduction as part of wider sustainable development. In parallel with these two key policy threads is often that of maintaining fiscal balance within the sector, and this constitutes an important activity of central and local government authorities. Linked into this is the desire for greater involvement of rural communities in contributing to and evolving policy.

2.5.2 Implementing policy

Information is required to guide and monitor the implementation of sectoral policy. Not only in relation to the sector policy aims of sustainable use of resources and development, but also possibly to fiscal policy in relation to revenue generation (albeit as previously noted usually directed towards licensing and export levies at the level of DOF).

Policy is implemented through a series of instruments:

Both the DOF and local government require information to plan their respective and joint interventions, as do externally funded projects. Information is also required on the effectiveness and impact of such interventions to influence future polices and plans. Legislation is used to enforce policy, and information is needed both to formulate legislation and to ensure its application. Legislation is also constantly being revised to reflect new emerging national policy and this will have implications for information needs.

Policy is also implemented through information dissemination aimed at changing the behaviour of others. A key role of this is informing and influencing the activities of local government bodies and of other government departments, not only in the formulation of their policies but also in how those policies are implemented.

The policy changes previously described are significantly changing the roles and responsibilities of DOF and local government and these changes are also reflected in the information requirements as highlighted below:


This section considers the implementation of macrolevel policies at the local level and the implications for the FIS. Within the context of the changing policy environment to reduce poverty, community empowerment is widely promoted. The greater involvement of communities in decision-making in collaboration with local and central government is referred to as “co-management”.

Although fisheries co-management is widely advocated, experience to date would suggest that its successful implementation on larger geographic scales is relatively unusual. In this section the paper argues that one of the contributing factors is that rarely co-management is promoted in a systematic manner that would support its wider uptake. The complexity of the potential management arrangements, the geographic scale on which they may have to be implemented and the changing roles for the provision of information to support small-scale fisheries management decision-making, are all important issues that require careful planning. Each of these issues has important implications for the FIS that will support co-management decision-making and these are explored in the following sections.

The complexity of the range of co-management arrangements that is presented would seem to suggest that there are no simple and generic approaches that are possible to adopt. While this is unlikely to be the case, the issues raised do point to the need for some caution in assuming that co-management as widely advocated is suitable in all circumstances, and that its successful adoption will be straightforward. The previously noted on-going research seeks to specifically draw out such generic lessons and developing best practices, and it would be wrong to pre-empt these results at this stage.

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that for the participants in co-management the benefits need not necessarily only relate to improvements in catches. Benefits derived from improvements in communication among users and between users and government, through the sharing of experience and competence and because of a greater sense of being heard, can all be significant attributes of empowerment.

Figure 2. A Typology of Co-management.

3.1 Co-management

The term “co-management” evolved from the rural development debate of the late 1970’s to reflect greater emphasis on government/resource-user relations. Its uptake as a policy instrument in both the developing and developed world scenarios has become widespread (Pomeroy and Williams, 1994; Pomeroy, 1995 and Phillipson, 1996).

Sen and Nielson (1996) provided a useful typology of co-management based on the level and mode of communication between government and resource users (Figure 2). A spectrum exists between paternalistic “instructive” arrangements, with minimal exchange of information between government and user, to “informative” arrangements whereby users are delegated decision-making power but inform government of change. Within this graduation Sen and Nielson identify a “co-operative” mid point as a desirable goal and define fisheries co-management as:

“ arrangement where responsibility for resource management is shared between the government and user group.”

The range of potential relationships between government and resource user will be reflected in differences in institutional arrangements, user participation, political will and ultimately the desirability of partnership. The constraints to achieving co-management in small-scale fisheries will also be anchored within the current and historic nature of government and community institutions and its implementation will require new roles to be learned. The graduation also highlights the range of management interactions that might be found and these will differ from country to country and even between fisheries or management unit (Hoggarth, Cowan et al., 1999). As such it also highlights the differing responsibilities for the provision of information, with “instructive” arrangements relying almost totally on government sources, and “informative” arrangements relying more on community sources.

3.2 Conditions to be met for successful co-management

Pomeroy and Williams (1994) identified certain conditions central to developing and sustaining successful co-management:

Each of these conditions has implications for the design and operation of a supporting FIS since each has an information need that must be addressed to achieve successful co-management.

3.3 The complexity of small-scale fisheries and implications for co-management

The physical, technical and social attributes of small-scale fisheries are complex and differ. These attributes will in part determine which type of co-management arrangement can be implemented and for the type and provision of information that is required to support them.

When clearly-defined physical boundaries exist for a water body that also contain or have some biological significance for the exploited resource, then these may also serve as the boundaries for an effective management unit. Small lakes and reservoirs can usually be delimited as a single management unit. For larger water bodies that contain sessile species or species with limited “home ranges” a number of largely independent management units can be envisaged. Management units that can be clearly defined have the advantage that the resource users know who should be extracting the resource, and enforcement measures can be encouraged through peer pressure and local surveillance.

When the physical boundary of the water body or the ranges of the species to be managed are extensive (e.g. for species with large distributions either as the result of adult or larval mobility or for migratory stocks) the management unit will need to be subdivided into a number of smaller but linked subdivisions. This ensures that all resource users can be represented and that all potential impacts can be mitigated within a single consistent management arrangement. A management unit may need to include a number of administrative subdivisions to ensure that users from different villages, districts, regions or even countries are represented. This typically involves establishing nested hierarchal decision-making arrangements that can function both vertically and horizontally. The need for such management arrangements to function in two dimensions applies equally to the group and social cohesion characteristics necessary to make the system work, as it does to the flows of information required to support the decision-making. It should also be noted that information will originate from both the resource user and from government and hence will need to flow downwards and upwards through the nested decision-making arrangements.

The increasing complexity of nested and hierarchal management arrangements will obviously increase the transaction costs of management participation and, for co-management to be successfulthese costs must not exceed the benefits of management. Large management units complicate defining and enforcing membership but also complicate determining the “benefits” derived from co-management. Fisheries management (of overexploited resources) requires forgoing potential harvest for future benefit. The larger the management unit the more difficult it will be for resource users to appreciate the benefits of the management intervention. This in effect discounts the perceived benefits, which will create incentives to ignore management regulation. In situations where the resource user cannot easily perceive the cause and effect of management intervention, the role of information dissemination becomes even more important to promote necessary transparency and support-group cohesion.

Many co-management initiatives are undertaken on relatively small-scales, often supported with donor funding to establish the institutional basis for management. However, as previously noted co-management will require, in many instances, nested and hierarchal decision-making arrangements.

Management on larger scales can only be achieved when there is systematic support from central and local government. This must include prioritizing of the fisheries to be co-managed and determining the types of co-management arrangements that should be applied. This will then allow the information needs to support management decision-making to be identified and prioritized, as well as establishing clear mandates as to who will provide this information. Such approaches are often absent from many small ad hoc initiatives and they fail to address the basic conditions that must be met before co-management can be successful.

Water bodies that also suffer from significant non-fisheries impacts present further challenges to establishing the cause and effect of management intervention. Fisheries regulations to conserve migratory fish catches will have no beneficial impact if critical spawning habitat is lost or if migratory pathways are blocked through the development of flood relief schemes. For management to be successful it must encompass all potential impacting sectors, although this again raises the transaction costs of management.

Inland flood plain fisheries present additional constraints to establishing successful co-management. The seasonal floods, which inundate the highly productive floodplains, significantly increase both the area available to fishing and the range of stakeholders that become engaged in fishing activity. The sheer complexity and scale of these (and perhaps other) fisheries may mean that the transaction costs of co-management (based on technical regulations concerning species or catch limitations) will exceed the benefits. In such circumstances simpler management arrangements will be required, perhaps based around the protection of critical habitats and migratory routes. Such approaches would still involve co-management but would remove the requirement to base these on the control of catches directly.

3.4 Co-management and the provision of information

Within many co-management arrangements increased responsibility for information provision in support of decision-making lies with the resource user. For small and self contained management units such information can use community-based informal processes. For larger and more complicated management units informally derived information will need to enter the formal FIS, and it is often assumed that this information can be collated in a meaningful way to support hierarchal and nested decision-making. It is also often assumed that all information in support of co-management decision-making will be derived from local users and the role of government as a provider of information has been completely devolved.

It is necessary to question these assumptions. Not least because the types of information that will be used by resource users in local decision-making may not be usefully collated, it may be simply in the wrong form or of the wrong type to be useful at higher levels. In addition, the transaction costs of information collection cannot be underestimated, particularly if they are required in a formal format rather than in the informal and culturally sensitive manner that local resource users may collect and use information. However, more fundamental to the co-management equation is that government authorities must retain some responsibility for information gathering and information provision.

Depending on the co-management arrangement either central or local government will retain a responsibility to higher authorities for the good governance of the resource base and fishery. This will require some level of independent monitoring and the results of such analyses can usefully feed into the management decision-making. This does not necessarily demand independent data collection, although this may be necessary.

The responsibility for the provision of information by government authorities to support the management framework will also increase the closer the co-management arrangement lies to left hand scale of Berkes’ typology. Central government will also have an important role to play in the provision of information to support co-management capacity building.

It is also suggested here that with increasing scale and complexity of the management unit there will be an increasing role for government in the management arrangements and hence an increasing dependence for government to provide the necessary information to support this.


For DOF the role of information as a policy instrument for small-scale fisheries has dramatically changed with the changing “pro-poor” policy environment, particularly if this incorporates agendas considering community empowerment and local government reform. This role requires the specific targeting of information to influence the behaviour of people at the community level, local authority level, donor level, and in other sector ministries and central government agencies. This has in many ways, rightly, become the main substitute for direct action by DOF. Conversely local governments have now assumed many of the direct responsibilities for resource management formerly undertaken by DOF.

It is clear that the FIS of most developing countries have not yet evolved to take on this role and many key elements of existing systems were designed to address information needs that have changed substantially. The emphasis is still on data collection and analyses that support inappropriate management approaches with the resultant information being mainly used to (inadequately) inform at higher levels of government.

Unless existing FIS are rationlized the increasing demands for information on DOF and local government arising as a result of the changing policy environment will cease to function.

To guide the rationalization of current FIS three key (re) design elements are proposed:

These design elements are further explored below.

4.1 Fundamental design characteristics for fisheries information systems

A FIS should incorporate the following design characteristics:

4.2 Redesigning fisheries information systems

When considering what changes need to be made to FIS, a number of fundamental steps are proposed below that will result in the design of a system with increased effectiveness and efficiency.

The integration of FIS with other information systems and the relevance of making best use of agricultural surveys are important for two reasons. Firstly, since the sustainability of many government statistics programmes is threatened by resource shortages, best use of available resources should be made to collect cross-sectoral data. Secondly, because rural communities are not “sectorally bound” and follow diverse livelihood strategies, often encompassing agriculture and fisheries production the integration of information gathering is a logical extension.

4.3 Information need and use

For any FIS there are a number of key attributes associated with the information it contains for the system to be both effective and efficient. These information attributes can be considered under the headings of; information need, data collection, data and information management, data analysis, and information dissemination and use (see Annex 1). These issues are considered further below:

Many national, regional and international institutes generate information relevant to fisheries management decision-making, often generated as a result of regularly commissioned research or through outputs derived from externally funded projects. Much of this information has been deposited within the formal information systems of the world’s libraries that can contribute to knowledge outside of the particular geographic area the information was generated from. Reuse of such information provided in the literature may make valuable contributions when there are gaps in the local knowledge base.


Building on the findings presented in the earlier sections, a number of priority areas for research and support have been identified and are outlined below:

5.1 Assessing the scope and scale of the contribution of small-scale fisheries to poverty reduction and food security

5.2 Designing responsive fisheries information systems

5.3 Helping define the information requirements in support of co-management

Even for countries with well developed local government reform programmes there is often a need to translate this into a coherent and strategic sector approach to facilitate the development of small-scale fisheries co-management. In consultation with stakeholders an initial inventory of fisheries, their subdivisions into management units and the arrangements that will be suitable for their co-management must be defined. These consultations will need to take account of local administrative boundaries and constraints.

With the development of an initial inventory consideration can then be given to the decision-making requirements and their information needs. These must be clearly defined and responsibility for their provision allocated among the co-management stakeholders. The information requirements must include poverty-focused indicators coherent with monitoring the achievement of sectoral policy in addressing national objectives.

Cost should not exceed the benefits derived from this co-management intervention. The above inventory process will allow such an analysis to be undertaken and may prove invaluable in developing an appropriate management framework supported by FIS.


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