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Lessons Learned from the Visayan Sea, Philippines, and the Tonle Sap Great Lake, Cambodia


Ulrich W. Schmidt 133


The paper, focusing on small scale fisheries, examines the role of poverty and imperfect governance in natural resource management. It refers to the holistic approach of ecosystem management as advocated by FAO's Code of Conduct and its application under conditions of poverty and population growth induced resource pressure and imperfect governance.

For the two cases discussed, i.e. the Visayan Sea, Philippines, and the Tonle Sap Great Lake, Cambodia, a third variable is considered: decentralization/devolution and the perspective of participatory, people and community based/participatory natural resource management (CBNRM, PNRM) CBNRM which this structural change entails. Both constraints and potentials are examined, with particular emphasis on opportunities for poverty alleviation.

The working hypothesis of the paper is that natural resource management - here particularly management of living aquatic resources - under the conditions sketched above, must be:

The paper argues that even where the pressure of poverty and population increase can be balanced, and constraints imposed by imperfect governance can be overcome, policy makers may have to face the fact that limited resources ultimately imply limited capacity to absorb last resort fishers.


The focus of this paper) is on small scale fisheries of the developing world, for reasons which include the following.:

  1. Compared to industrial fisheries, the - far greater aggregate contribution of the subsector to income and employment worldwide/in developing countries/in rural/coastal areas. Ninety per cent (90% percent) of the estimated overall 35 million fishers are considered small scale operators by FAO, and the World Bank estimates there are 2,.2 billion people worldwide living within 100 km of the coastline (World Bank, 2004).

  2. The high incidence of poverty among small scale fiserfolk and the fact that increasing poverty produced in other sectors of the economy potentially and effectively increases “last resort fishing” and, thus, further threatens the resource base of small scale fishers.

  3. The particular vulnerability of fishers as producers of a single commodity (fish and other aquatic organisms as raw material, not value-added products) and their reliance on monetary exchange/markets (dominated by others) in order to survive/meet their basic needs.

  4. Further increase in fishing pressure, from within the artisanal sector as well as from semi-industrial and industrial fleets, as demand from affluent markets continues to rise.

  5. Continuing trends of environmental degradation of coastal zones and other aquatic ecosystems exploited by small scale fishers through multiple resource use and negative effects of land-based economic activities.

It is evident that there is need for management of small scale fishing in both coastal and inland waters, not as a sub-element of an overall management regime, but as an integral and, possibly, its most important subject. Here, the author supports the “counter assertion” John Kurien made in the 2002 Bangkok Workshop with respect to the opinion expressed, in the same workshop, by Stephen Cunningham and Jean-Jacques Maguire, i.e. that “some element of fishing may prove difficult to bring within the management system” and, “over time, may undermine the system”. As one obvious example they suggest small scale fishing in developing countries. (Cunningham and Maguire, 2002).

To this Kurien replied that “small scale fishers and their fishing activities will be central to any long-term vision of fisheries management and development in the developing country, tropical water multi-species ecosystem. Any future management system for these countries and ecosystems that takes not cognizance of this fact will be ecologically, economically, socially and politically infeasible” (Kurien, 2002). In the light of the fact that, within the fishery sector of most developing countries, the small scale sector is the most important, this statement is convincing.

Apart from the fact that they must be an integral part of any management system, small scale fisheries require management approaches which address their specific needs. Legal and regulatory frameworks and other macro-level management efforts must adequately cater for these needs and, above all, “manage” the interfaces of small scale fishing with semi-industrial/industrial fisheries and other economic sectors impacting the resource base of small scale fishers.

The notion that they may interfere with or “undermine” management schemes implemented on macro-level (applying regulatory instruments developed - mainly - for single species stock management and semi-industrial/industrial fisheries) is abstracts from the central role small scale fisheries play in most in most developing countries. A few additional thoughts in support of this position are offered here:below.

In the (optimistic) view of the author, there may be a chance, in the long term, that industrial fishing capacities are reduced or at least arrested by national and international regulatory efforts, public pressure and civil society (from above). A similar scenario for the small scale fisheries of the developing world is less likely to become reality in the foreseeable future, as it would require a much more complex, multidimensional effort in order to overcome constraints from within and from outside of the sector. Constraints generated from within many small scale fisheries are the result of social, economic and cultural change best illustrated by a short look back in time.

Historically, open access and “no management” scenarios were the most commonly found conditions under which the fisheries took place, with abundant resources making catch limitations unnecessary. Where management took place, it was usually in delimited waters with a relatively high intensity of extraction. Under such traditional fisheries management systems, access was limited in accordance with shared value and behaviour patterns, providing for exclusivity. Compliance was rewarded with economic benefits and positive social sanctions, and perpetration resulted in collectivly accepted negative sanctions (Cofad, 2002).

In most of today's small scale fisheries, social cohesion/group dynamics favouring resource sharing and economic discipline have eroded, because of external factors (acculturation, super-imposed “modern” management, increasing resource pressure/increased market demand), but also from within. Regulatory measures are no longer based on individually conceived and collectively based demand and compliance with traditional regulatory measures is no longer rewarded.

At the same time, management following “scientific” criteria is difficult, because of the complexity of the biological and ecological resource base of most tropical small scale fisheries which make a “rational choice” of management measures problematic. If rational management measures are developed, their enforcement is technically difficult, because of the diverse structure, mobility and geographical dispersion of many artisanal fisheries, making them uneconomical and, possibly, politically expensive.

These and other “inherent” problems of today's small scale fisheries make the “race for fish” the rational choice for most fishers. What to do? Going back in time and restoring “pre-industrial fishing” stock abundance appears impossible even to the most ardent restocking apologists. Therefore, going back in time towards participatory, people and community based/participatory natural resource management appears to be the most promising way to respond to the growing problems of small scale fisheries in developing countries. The realities and major determinants of this perspective are examined below for the coastal marine small scale fisheries of the Visayan Sea in the Philippines and the freshwater fisheries of the Tonle Sap Great Lake in Cambodia.

Although different in many ways, both fisheries have common features. Until not long ago, they were exploiting abundant and seemingly limitless stocks, which made management in terms of access limitations and other regulatory measures unnecessary. Now, they are experiencing dramatic increases of resource pressure that takes place in a socio-political context determined by increasing poverty, imperfect governance and only partially/embrionically implemented decentralisation.


The Visayan Sea, which covers about 10,000 km2, is a relatively shallow sea basin surrounded by five islands. It used to be one of the most productive marine ecosystem in the Philippines, with its inshore (municipal) fishing grounds providing 13.5% percent of marine capture fisheries in 1995. However, overfishing by both small scale and industrial fleets (i.e. vessels of more than 3 GT), with regular encroachment into municipal fishing grounds by the latter, and increasingly destructive fishing practices by small scale fishers have brought about massive habitat loss and degradation and stocks that are close to collapse.

Severely depleted stocks led to increased levels of poverty among the small scale “municipal” fisherfolk and arrested the steady influx of fishers recorded until the beginning of the 1990s (FAO, 2000). Today, between 40 and 50% percent of the population of the Visayas are living below the poverty threshold, and among the small scale fishing household, 80% percent are estimated to live below the poverty line (Munoz, J.C., in FAO 2004).

A recent evaluation of a Filipino-German TA project (Visayan Sea Coastal Resources and Fisheries Management), described below, suggested some explanations with respect to decentralization, governance and poverty, and the limited progress observed (Schmidt, U.W. and& Carada, W., 2004):.

The existing legal framework is, overall, conducive to sustainable fisheries, and. It refers to the Philippine Constitution of 1987, which postulates that “the state shall protect the nation's marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens”. Furthermore, it pledges to “protect the rights of subsistence fishers to the preferential use of the communal marine and fishing resources, both inland and offshore, and to provide support to subsistence fishers through appropriate technology, research and other services.” Other major components of the legal framework are:

These and other provisions allow for decentralized, locally based coastal resource management, in spite of some inconsistencies in the institutional framework and disputes over delineation of municipal waters of LGUs with offshore islands. In fact, in some instances important achievements can be noted, e.g. in Iloilo and Negros Occidental, some municipalities formed regional alliances and joined efforts to better manage adjacent municipal waters, and in some areas the bantay dagat, fish wardens tasked to enforce law in municipal waters, have successfully kept intruders at bay.

However, these success stories are the exception rather than the rule and the critical mass of sustainably managed municipal fisheries necessary for sustainable management of the Visayan Sea ecosystem is far from being reached.

Two overarching constraints are evident. One is the limited extent to which decentralization has resulted in local capacities to manage resources and to deliver services. The Department of Agriculture, for instance, had devolved more than 50% percent of its staff to LGUs by 1992, but respective budget provisions did not follow up devolution (as observed in decentralization scenarios worldwide, financial capacity/autonomy is the ultimate determinant of effective devolution of functions and capacities to local government). In the municipalities visited during the evaluation, means to implement management measures, in particular to enforce compliance were scarce at best, in spite the growing autonomy of LGUs to generate fiscal and other revenues. “Bantay dagat” boats, for example, were not available (no gasoline or under repair) or not fast enough to pursue violators and funds to buy or replace delineation markers, e.g. for marine protected areas (MPAs), were lacking.

Another factor impeding effective management was the organizational structure of the LGUs. There are three levels of local government, with the province at the top. The second level consists of municipalities and component cities. Component cities and municipalities are divided into barangays, the smallest political unit in the Philippines. Municipalities and evenbarangays, however, are not homogeneous socio-political entities and even where they consist mainly of fisherfolk, there are conflicts of interest. This is illustrated by the different organizations (FARMCs on municipality and barangay level, commercial fishermen association, or multi-purpose cooperatives including fishers) co-existing on LGU level and representing different interests. Although the Fisheries Code provides for a minimum of small-scale fishers to be included in the FARMCs, it was reported that groups not representing the interest of small-scale fishers often dominated the councils.

Vertical communication and interaction, between line agencies, municipal and barangay FARMCs, were found to be limited by lack of funds and logistics. The partner agency of the TA project evaluated, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, depended largely on funds provided by the German side for carrying out fieldwork on LGU level.

Except for a few cases, as the alliances mentioned above, little horizontal communication/coordination (between differentbarangays and municipalities) existed, impeding integrated CRM in the sense of a holistic ecosystem approach. In some cases, this led to problems being “exported”, i.e. fishers who abstained from dynamiting in their municipal waters continued to do so in neighboring fishing grounds.

Limited capacities of LGUs, low levels of organization and legitimacy of representation of FARMCs, heterogeneity of interest and little vertical and horizontal integration all contributed to the limited performance of the LGUs/FARMCs, both with respect to the decentralization process and the implementation of the legal framework of fisheries and CRM.

To this, evident imperfections of governance contribute. Elected or appointed political players have to balance loyalties to their appointing sponsor(s) and/or electorate with their duties to serve the common good. The resulting granting of concessions and favors are often to the detriment of environmental protection and little organized and represented groups like small-scale fishers. The latter who are disadvantaged with respect to a judiciary which lacks democratic representation and which is often partisan of towards the more influential industrial vessel owners. In the few cases where commercial fishing vessels were intercepted while intruding in municipal waters, for example, the arbitrariness and favoritism in court decisions prevented deterrent sentences.

Conflicts between “commercial” vessels and small scale municipal fishers is of particular relevance for the the Visayan Sea. Vessels are categorized “commercial” when they exceed 3 GT (gross tonnes) and for many of these boats municipal waters are the traditional fishing grounds, because of their limited reach and because most stocks are found inshore. Although not necessarily pertaining to a different socio-economic strata, they are better organized and represented. Also, they argue (according to observers with some reason) that destructive fishing is done mostly by municipal fishers.

In conclusion, the following factors are considered decisive for the unsustainability of present fishing practices in the Visayan Sea:.


The Tonle Sap Great Lake (TSGL) and the Mekong River are the main freshwater resources of Cambodia. On entering Cambodia the Mekong River joins the Tonle Sap River near Phnom Penh. The Tonle Sap River links the Great Lake which has an area of 0.25 million hectares and a maximum depth of about 3.6 metres in the dry season and which expands to 1.25 million hectares and is more than 10 metres deep in the rainy season, when rising waters flood the lower lying lake shores.

The TSGL and its floodplains are one of the most productive aquatic ecosystems in the world and support a freshwater fishery producing an estimated 235,000 tonnes of fish(Van Zalinge et al., 2000). The system is thus of central importance for rural livelihoods and for food security. Unlike in most other countries, where fish is becoming less and less affordable for the poor, fish is still a mainstay of the diet of consumers from all sections of society in Cambodia, accounting for 75% percent of the animal protein intake. During the peak fishing periods, for example, when small whitefish (trey riel) are abundant and cheap, tens of thousands of people, including many from upland fish deficit areas, harvest, buy or barter fish which they process into fish paste (‘pra hoc’), take home and store as a year-long protein supply.

However, the TSGL, as the main feature of Cambodia's inland freshwater fishery, is still a finite resource. Effects of an ever increasing resource pressure are becoming more and more evident, with respect to large species from the upper reaches of the food chain becoming scarce. Another indicator is the decline of fish catches per unit of effort many people and communities complain about. Sverdrup-Jensen compiled data which showed that the 3.3 fold population increase between 1940 and 1995/96 (with fishing community members around the TSGL growing from 0.36 million to 1,2 million) had resulted in a decline of average catch by community member of 44%, per cent in spite of an 1.9 fold increase in production (Sverdrup-Jensen, 2000). For domestic consumers, this trend has resulted in rising prices, with retail prices of some fish tripling over the last year.

Thus, indications are that the “carrying capacity” of the TSGL ecosystem is approaching its limits and there is an urgent need for management if the contribution of the system to Cambodia's economy and food balance is to continue. Management must consider both domestically generated and transboundary problems. The latter include main stream dams in China and over 6 ,000 dams constructed in the lower Mekong basin since the 1950's. Interventions in upstream countries, but also existing and planned dams on the TSGL tributaries are concidered, by many scientists and observers, to be the main factors threatening not only the Lake but the inland fisheries of Cambodia as such.

The growing domestic problems that negatively impact on aquatic resources and habitats include, interdependently, imperfect governance and increasing poverty. Governance related problems have virtually impeded management and regulatory measures provided under the existing legal framework, the FIAT Law on Fishery Management and Administration of 1987 provides for (the legal framework is being revised at present), i.e:including the following.

Lack of enforcement of these potentially effective regulations led to a situation where the existing legal framework was all but ignored by stakeholders. Furthermore, groups or individuals holding power, whether through public office or informal mechanisms, drew benefits from inland fisheries, by direct exploitation, by providing protection to illegal fishing operations or by extracting "fees" from fishers, middlemen, and processors etc.and others.

Abuse of power, in particular by lot consessionaires expanding the area of their lots and intensifying fishing by sub-leasing, (often with the help of armed guards,) and large-scale illegal fishing by members of military or police led to widespread and dramatic conflict at the turn of the century. In response, Government, by a Prime-Ministerial Decree, returned 56% percent of the total lot fishing area to open access in recent years. The areas “liberated” under the “fishery reform” were to be managed as “community fisheries” by fishing communities under the auspices of the Department of Fisheries (DoF) and a respective “sub-decree on community fisheries” was drafted.

However, the political will of Government to foster community-based natural resource/fisheries management encountered problems:

Thus, fishing communities were unable to take over from lot operators who had previously controlled access before. Together with weak DOF structures at provincial and district level, this created a power vacuum. As an immediate result, everybody who had any means to do so engaged in indiscriminate and destructive fishing, and the plundering of fish resources increased to levels never experienced before.

Today, more than three years after having been set in motion, the “fishery reform” is still in its inception phase. Local authorities and fishing communities, Government, in particular DoF and its Community Fisheries Development Office (CFDO), the donor community and NGO's have engaged in multiple efforts to improve the situation, drafting a new legal framework and helping fishing communities to take up their mandate. Successes are, as in the case of the Visayan Sea, scarce, with the Belgian funded, FAO implemented project “Participatory Natural Resource Management in Siem Reap Province” leading the way.

If community based fisheries management is to become the central instrument of aquatic resource management of the TSGL, there are major problems to be overcome. They concern the generally poor understanding of the concept of CBNRM on the part of many stakeholders (including most communities), an astonishing (considering the amount of funding which went into scientific research over the last decade) lack of data on the state of the living aquatic resources and the ecosystem at large, and the scarcity of other technical and socio-economic information. In fact, the community level management plans facilitated by the above mentioned project in Siem Reap Province rely, almost entirely, on local knowledge.

While these and similar “technical” shortcomings may be adressed through sensible and sufficient development support centring, for example, on grass-root capacity building and empowerment, major problems relating to the general social, political and economical context may prove much more difficult to overcome. As in the case of the Visayan Sea, they concern governance, including issues of decentralization, and poverty.

Poor governance has been and is a prime constraint to the enforcement of the legal frameworks regulating the utilization of natural resources, including aquatic resources. UNDP, in its 2001 Draft Proposal on Integrated Resource Management in the Tonle Sap Region listed governance-related deficiencies concerning inland fisheries on three levels (quoted from Schmidt, U.W. Griffiths, D. and Chap, P., 2002) described below.:

Cambodia is still recovering from the impacts of war, genocide and civil strife and governance problems will continue to constrain sustainable use of natural/aquatic living resources for some time to come. CBNRM, as envisaged in the sub-decree on community fisheries, supported by a legal and regulatory framework on meso and macro level is possibly the most promising avenue to overcome the legal vacuum in which resource utilization takes place at present. However, an implementable regulatory and legal framework to support CBFM is still not in place (a recently completed project sponsored by ADB “to improve the legal and regulatory framework of inland fisheries” fell short of operationalizing the multiple governance related problems of fisheries management and proposed heavy-handed investment in infrastructure and technology-based solutions instead).

Another factor conducive to CBNRM could be SEILA, the decentralisation policy in which the Government has been engaged in since 2000. Indeed, a major reason for the achievements of the FAO Participatory Natural Resource Management Project in Siem Reap was the fact that community fisheries could be integrated into local planning processes in spite of the lack of legal provisions supporting this process (see above). However, progress in effectively devolving functions to local level, in particular to the commune councils (who have the mandate of NRM, except for forestry resources) and village development committees is slow. Whithout management based on locally evolved and supported management plans and integrated into/ streamlined with overall NRM by local government, holistic management of the TSGL ecosytem will not be possible.

However, the dominant obstacles to sustainable management and utilization of the natural resources of the TSGL ecosystem are population growth and growing poverty, however. . Poverty, induced by inequitable land distribution and increasing landlessness because of “land grabbing” by the powerful has steadily increased resource pressure. More people are entering fisheries because entry barriers are low., and Especially for the landless, fishing is a last resort, together with hunting and the collection of fuel wood. At the same time, environmental degradation increases, because undiversified, marginally low production farming systems force small holder farmers to encroach on flooded forests and other floodplain habitats which are vital for fish production.

In conclusion, and in comparison with the Visayan Sea coastal fishery, factors perpetuating unsustainable use of the fishery resources of the TSGL ecosystem are more aggravated. As in the Visayan Sea, population pressure and increasing landlessness clearly translate into the management need to limit access. Legal provisions exist (or will, in the forseeable future, be in place) but rational resource management by empowered communities will require more effort and a longer process than in the Philippines. The institutional framework required on local level will be forthcoming only slowly, because the decentralization process continues to be obstructed by interest groups seeking short term financial and political gain.

Imperfect governance, with little transparency and accountabilty is not fostering a stronger commitment, by Government, to the long term preservation of the environment and the natural resource base of inland fisheries. The donor community and many NGOs, on the other hand, shy away from the social and political costs of resource conservation, as documented by the fact that multi-and bi-lateral external assistance in forestry and fisheries have steeply declined in recent years. However, as in the Visayan Sea, not incurring these costs now, or as soon as possible, will ultimately destroy the livelihoods of future generations of people depending on the fishery of the TSGL.


Lessons that can be learned from the examples support the “re-thinking” of management issues in small-scale fisheries of recent years, as expressed, for example, in the report of the Expert Consulation on the Role of Small Scale Fisheries in Poverty Alleviation and Food Security (FAO 2004), and provide, hopefully, some aditional insight with respect to the relevance of decentralization, governance and poverty for CBNRM.

4.1 Decentralization and Management

In both cases discussed, decentralization policies entail provisions for locally based, participatory NRM. However, decentralization does not necessarily mean that co-management or CBNRM will evolve. In the Philippines, after more than a decade of experience, participatory coastal resource management has materialized only in a patchwork fashion and with massive development support, e.g. by the Filipino/USAID coastal resource management project. One reason for the difficulties encountered appears to be the heterogenity of interests represented in the FARMCs, the designated fora for participatory local level management. Other reasons are deficient support/service delivery by devolved line ministry staff and lack of vertical (between central, meso-level and LGU-level) and horizontal (between LGUs) integration of efforts to implement a legal and regulatory framework.

In Cambodia, decentralization has reached a dimension where the de jure existence of local government has only just begun to foster, de facto, effective and particapatory resource management. The process is in motion, however, and there are some significant examples that community fisheries can be integrated into local government planning processes. But there are also tendencies to return to centralized power and decision making structures, and the abcense of a conducive regulatory framework may frustrate efforts, of community fishers and supporting government or non-government organizations, to implement CBFM. This is of particular relevance to the need to manage the TSGL ecosystem holistically, in a horizontally as well as in vertically integrated fashion.

The problems discussed should not downplay the actual and/or potential importance of decentralization for small scale fisheries and participatory, community based natural resource management (CBNRM). CBNRM requires decentralization and deconcentrated institutions on local level as the first interface with the institutional hierarchy of state. From experiences made over the last decades, for example those of the resident Paticipatory Natural Resource Management Project, a few elements on how to approach CBNRM can be gleaened, as follows.i.e.:

An example how decentralization can, if not actively foster, allow for CBNRM is given by Satria and Matsuda. The authors describe how fishing communities in the island of Lombok in Indonesia resurrected a traditional management system called awig-awig, meaning “a local rule”. This was done in response to the inability of local government to enforce a legal and regulatory framework potentially conducive to PNRM, in particular with respect to illegal and destructive fishing. The re-instatement of awig-awig proved effective, in spite (or because of) a catalogue of negative sanctions including “physical sanctions without resulting in death”, and “has grown under recognition of the local government” (Satria, A. Madsuda, Y. 2004).

4.2 Governance and management

From both cases discussed it is evident that effective decentralization is a function of effective good governance. The same has been said with respect to mangement, i.e. that effective natural resource mangement is a function of good governance. Unfortunately, many small-scale fisheries (not only in developing countries) take place under conditions of imperfect governance, for example e.g. with respect to basic democracy, accountability and transparency, elite capture and a biased judiciary. Under these conditions, effective political participation of small scale resource users is not likely to materialize as a result of development assistance conducted “from above”. Here, well functioning networks and patronages of political-economical power groups will be inclined to obstruct political participation of small-scale users and impede the “trickling down” of well meant “aid packages”. The means that they employ to achieve this are, well documented.

The Philippine and as well as, in perspective, the Cambodian cases discussed show the need for legitimate representation of small scale fishers. Where basic democratic structures are missing or deficient, pluralistically constituted advisory or decision making bodies as the FARMCs are likely to favor the more powerful and articulate. In order to voice their interest, small scale fishers must organize in truly representative fora restricted to owner-operators “bona fide” fishers ellegible to fish under exclusive use rights arrangements.

This leads to the obvious conclusion that CBNRM must be rights based. This means that legal/regulatory provisions for territorial or other exclusive use rights allowing for CBNRM exist/are enforced on local, meso-and macro-level and that an impartial judiciary is in place to support enforcement and provide for mediation. Only under such conditions can communities take the initiative and create a momentum where central and local government have to follow-up on the many management and development plans which provide a central role for CBNRM.

Being right based does not mean that everybody has the right to fish, however, without consideration of resource limits, as remarked by Macinko and Bromley: “fishing is a privilege granted to fishers by society, and not a right in the sense normally accorded to the word”. (Macinko and& Bromley 2002 cited in Zeller and Pauly 2004).

4.3 Poverty and management

In both cases discussed, poverty, as a function of population growth, is obviously the most persisteant problem of sustainable natural resource management. Population growth increases pressure on already severely depleted resources and resources increasingly under pressure in the Philippines and in Cambodia respectively. There is an urgent need for management, in particular for access limitations. However, increasing poverty and the lack of livelihood alternatives make access limitations a rational but socially and politically high risk choice.

Poverty is thus a central element of small scale fisheries management and CBNRM (poverty is understood holistically and multidimensionally here, as expressed in the OECD Guidelines on Poverty Reduction and the UNDP's Human Development Index, with emphasis on basic human rights including the right of households to provide for their basic needs, to security and to political participation). In order to classify different policies of combating poverty, this paper adopts the interpretations proposed recently in the “Draft Technical Guidelines on Small Scale Fisheries” presented for the Expert Consultation on the Role of Small Scale Fisheries in Poverty Reduction and Food Security (FAO, 2004, unpublished). The draft differentiates between poverty reduction, poverty prevention and poverty alleviation:

These definitions may appear semantic, but they help to understand the evident trade-off between poverty reduction and poverty prevention implied in management approaches to small scale fisheries, described below.:

If poverty reduction is the management goal, as it is the case, for example, in many poverty reduction strategies led by the Development Banks, increase in individual incomes and wealth generation is the intended effect of the resulting financial assistance projects. With most small scale fisheries approaching their respective “limits of growth”, however, investment in technology and infrastructure (with the intended result of inreased efficiency of fishing operations) further accelerates the “race for fish”, with fishers not able to compete successfully being marginalized and, ultimately, loosing their livelihoods.

In other words, where the economic term of “rent” is used “value-free”, without considering who benefits, it denies the importance of distributional impacts and the equity dimension of primary production using common pool resources. Thus, the rationale of many large scale investment projects, i.e. that production and growth is a common goal by definition, is an analytical shortcut creating the illusion that increased sector rent equals increase of both individual incomes and equity of income distribution. Abstracting from the fact that more and more fishers are “racing” for less and less fish, this “shortcut” explains, at least in part, the ineffectiveness of many such development interventions in combatting poverty.

If poverty prevention is the management goal, distributional impacts must be the determinants of decision making. In both the TSGL and in the Visayan Sea, distributional considerations have been central to the management decision to provide small scale fishers with exclusive use rights. This paper argues that, whatever structural problems (as “stuttering” decentralization processes), imperfect governance and institutional shortcomings are plaguing implementation of this political will, the decision was justified. The following arguments are offered.:

This does by no means project an “egalitarian” scenario where individual income and standards of living are independent from individual effort and performance. It is suggested, however, that the trade-off between polarisation and equity is of particular relevance for participatory and community based natural resource management (CBNRM). Here, a certain degree of equity, in the sense of sharing the resources granted to the fishing community by society (see Macinko and &Bromley 2002) will be a nessesary incentive, with “intergenerational equity” (Zeller and& Pauly 2004) serving as an additional incentive.

The causalities of decentralization, governance and poverty in the context of small scale fisheries and participatory, community based natural/fisheries resource management are certainly more complex and interdependent than discussed above. But, following the seemingly banal and oversimplified argument, what is the evident conclusion? The conclusion is equally banal: The trade-off between resource sustainability and poverty alleviation as discussed above has (at least) two dimensions:.

Preventing and/or alleviating poverty by accomodating too many, for political, humanitarian or whatever reason, may deplete stocks/degrade the environment to the “point of no return” and bring about the ultimate trade-off: less poverty today at the expense of dramatically increased poverty tomorrow, with the “thrown in” malus of increased food insecurity and sustainably diminuished fish supplies.


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133 The views expressed in this paper are sloely those of the author, Ulrich W. Schmidt.

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