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Scientific evidence on the status of resources

Derek Staples (FAO Consultant)

This presentation covered a range of scientific evidence showing that the fisheries resources in the APFIC region had declined dramatically since the introduction of modern fishing technologies (boats and gears) during the 1960s and 1970s. This evidence included a summary of trends in fishery catches across the region, time series analyses of research surveys, stock assessments that were available for some countries and analyses of ecosystem changes that had occurred. In many seas of the regions, although total catches of fish had either continued to increase or had stabilized over the past few years, major changes had occurred in the composition of the catches. In some cases these could be linked to environmental changes (e.g. pelagic fisheries off Japan), but in many, "fishing down the food chain" had occurred. This was a result of bust and boom exploitation and expansion of fishing where the longer-lived predatory species had been replaced by more shorter-lived species lower down the food chain. Based on this evidence it was stressed that there was an urgent need to reduce fishing capacity and combat IUU fishing.

The concept of "optimal capacity" was also discussed and it was stressed that what could be considered "optimal" depended on the objectives of fishing management (i.e. what were you trying to achieve?). As a critical first step, there needs to be agreement on whether the fishery is being managed to achieve social, economic or ecological objectives. Fishing capacity, in theory, could then be adjusted to meet the desired outcome. However, due to severe data limitations in most fisheries of concern, in practice it was probably better to set a pragmatic target for capacity reduction such as a target of "reduction of fishing capacity to 40–50 percent, starting with trawlers". Due to their high numbers extreme pressure that they exert on fisheries resources, the presentation recommended that a focus should be on reduction the number of trawlers and push-netters in the region. This would provide huge benefits in terms of increased catches, increased profits, healthier fish stocks and improved livelihoods for the small-scale artisanal fishers in the region.

It was recognized in discussion following the presentation that the proposed capacity reduction would create unemployment and efforts to secure alternative employment opportunities or other social welfare support would be necessary. Although there were few alternatives for displaced fishers, the workshop agreed that it was important for governments to be forward looking and positive on this issue. The movement of fishers out of fisheries would probably need to be gradual and related to longer-term opportunities related to education opportunities for the next generation of would-be fishers. The workshop was reminded that in many Asian countries governments had opted for softer options and there was a reluctance to reduce the number of vessels and fishers operating, even though overcapacity was recognized as a major issue.

The issue of moving away from high-volume/low-value fisheries to those of a low-volume/high-value character was raised. The workshop took the view that there were opportunities for such a movement, noting that they these higher-valued fisheries could provide enhanced livelihoods for some fishers. It was considered prudent to identify those fisheries where such a transition might be made.

What the fishers are saying

Suriyan Vichitlekarn (SEAFDEC)

This presentation provided an insight to the views and perception of fishers in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, on selected management issues and specifically relating to overcapacity and IUU fishing. The presentation outlined the unique characteristics of fisheries in the sub-region and emphasized the importance of designing management frameworks reflecting such characteristics. Open-access regimes were common in countries in Southeast Asia, which to a large extent contributed to "capital stuffing" and the "race for fish", particularly in countries or fisheries that had weak management systems. Multi-species/gear/landing site fisheries, dynamic mobility of fishing, conflicts among various aquatic resource users were among the key characteristics of these fisheries. The more complex situation of coastal development and the management and limited means of livelihoods of small-scale fisheries, which dominated the sector, were also discussed.

While noting a wide range of initiatives and cooperation on fisheries addressing improvement of management at the local, national and sub-regional levels, it was noted that several indications of overfishing including declining fishery resources, overcapacity, destructive fishing and IUU fishing. According to the fishers, particularly from small-scale fisheries, differences in economic and technological capacity of different types of fishing (e.g. small-scale vs large-scale fishing) were perceived as unfair competition in resource utilization. Fisheries conflict was perceived as a symptom and not a root cause of fisheries management that largely resulted from weak or ineffective management frameworks. Lack of answers on questions on clarity, coherence, continuity and the development process of management policy and framework also contributed to limited cooperation and compliance of fishers.

The "back firing" of fisheries management was identified as an issue which resulted from the shifting of problems without addressing the root cause and the presentation noted that solutions to management problems were often short-term without having clarified the longer-term objectives and plan. Many fishers' have indicated their willingness to leave the sector but highlighted their concern on the feasibility of existing "exit" options offered to them and the uncertainties this raised. The needs for appropriate social preparation to support community roles and involvement in fisheries management as well as continuity and scaling-up of management initiatives/success cases were also raised as ways for longer-term improvement of fisheries management by the small-scale fishers.

In discussion following the presentation the workshop agreed that national agencies should coordinate their policies to support the outward movement of fishers so that fishers to send clear signals to fishers. It was also noted that small-scale fishers were generally aware of when they operated illegally and that some also of them knew that they operated vessels without the proper authorizations. Continued engagement with fishers, therefore, is not simply a case for increased awareness.

Socio-economic indicators of overcapacity

V. Vivekanandan (South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies)

This presentation covered a series of seven case studies from India and Sri Lanka that explored the various dimensions of overcapacity in fisheries. He stressed the importance of looking at overcapacity, not just at the national level, but at local and sub-sector levels (trawl fleet, artisanal fleet, etc.). It was noted that overcapacity was often sub-sectoral and the result of competition between sub-sectors and also within the same sub-sector. Managing capacity was not just about matching resource availability with fishing fleets and equipment but also taking decisions on who should fish and who would have priority in resource use.

The presentation also pointed out the unpredictable chain reactions that were resulted as a result of overcapacity in one sub-sector in one area in other sectors in other geographical areas. It also noted the impacts overcapacity could have on women involved in post-harvest activity, something rarely taken into account. As far as IUU fishing was concerned, the presentation used the case of fishing on the Indo-Sri Lankan border to stress that a legalistic or state centred definition of IUU fishing may not always have been appropriate and fishermen views also needed to be integrated to arrive at effective policy.

Costs/benefits of capacity management

Rolf Willmann (FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department)

The economic aspects of the management of fishing capacity were covered in this presentation The typical consequences of unmanaged fisheries included harvesting overcapacities, declining catch per unit of effort, change in catch composition towards short-lived low-value species, growing intensity of the "race for fish", proliferation of IUU fishing, the perverse incentive that fishers had to adopt indiscriminate and active – rather than selective and passive – fishing methods such as trawling and pushnetting, and impaired opportunities for post-harvest value addition. It was noted that the economic losses incurred by unmanaged fisheries in the region and globally were very high.

With reference to an ongoing study on fishery rent losses in the world's marine fisheries by the World Bank and FAO, the presentation noted that a first very rough model by Professor Ragnar Arnason, University of Iceland, indicated current global rent losses in marine fisheries in the order of US$50 billion per annum. As much as one half of this rent loss was likely to occur in the fisheries of the Asian and Pacific region. Better information on rent losses in the region was expected to become available through several case studies to be conducted over the next 18 months under the rent drain study programme. These fisheries were identified in a small workshop of participants from the region held immediately prior to this workshop. As an example of a past rent estimate in a fishery from the region, it was noted that the annual rent loss in the Gulf of Thailand due to trawl and pushnet overcapacities was estimated at about US$230 million.

With reference to the costs of transition towards well-managed fisheries, it was pointed out that adjustment costs were high in terms of reducing fishing capacity and fishery access, the need for social safety measures for affected fishers, the need for the creation of alternative employment opportunities and the introduction of rights-based management regimes that would effectively limit fishing capacity and harvesting effort. Some of these transition costs could eventually be re-covered through the charging of resource rents.

A final comment was that transition costs typically arose upfront, while benefits were of a longer-term nature. The result of this was that there were weak or limited incentives for decision-makers to make the hard choices that had to be made in the move towards rights-based fisheries management and decisions as to who should have access to the fishery resources in future. In this connection, awareness creation could help about the large economic gains from improved fisheries management.

Social implications of capacity reduction: Small-scale fisheries perspective

Chandrika Sharma (International Collective for Small-scale Fishworkers)

The ICSF presentation highlighted the need to address issues of overcapacity in socially sensitive ways, given the importance of fisheries for livelihoods, food security, employment, income and culture in an Asian context. Drawing on two workshops organized by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) in 2001 and 2007, with the participation of small-scale fishworkers and fishing community organizations and their supporters from Asia, the presentation advocated a small-scale model for fisheries development to address issues of overcapacity, highlighting its appropriateness from a social, ecological and economic perspective.

The presentation stressed the need for community-based and co-management processes that addressed issues of overcapacity and fisheries management, starting with options proposed by communities. It highlighted the need to phase out fishing methods and gear, such as bottom trawling, that contributed substantially to overfishing, overcapacity and export of capacity, and, at the same time, providing social safety nets, particularly for crew of vessels affected by capacity-reduction measures, and retraining opportunities for re-employment within, or outside fisheries. It also stressed the need for better data, especially socio-economic data, on which to base management decisions, enhanced MCS and regional cooperation, and appropriate enabling legislation.

On the issue of capacity management, it was observed in discussion following the presentation that solutions should be "home grown", resulting from consultations with local communities and in an Asian context. The experiences of other countries outside the region were interesting and relevant but needed to be drawn on selectively to ensure they fitted the Asian situation.

With respect to fisheries access, the workshop agreed that open-access regimes could not be supported in the future. However, small-scale fishers were uncomfortable with movements to "privatize" fisheries through the assignment of property rights. Rather, they preferred a system of preferential access where community-based management would prevail.

In considering preferential access for small-scale fisheries, the workshop recognized that fisheries were not static and that changes were always taking place, for example, as fishers moved progressively to larger vessels. In line with these changes it was noted that co-management should be promoted. It was recalled also that many of the problems facing small-scale fisheries resulted more from the type of gear used rather than from the size of vessels.

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