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1. The fisheries sector in coastal areas

The fisheries sector (which is defined in these guidelines to include both capture fisheries and aquaculture, unless specifically stated to the contrary) depends on natural resources that are found in a great variety of environments, ranging from the high seas through natural inland water bodies to human-created ponds. However, for a number of reasons the sector is particularly dependent on the coastal area; most capture fisheries are based on coastal stocks, others exploit offshore stocks that spend part of their lives in inshore waters (e.g. in a nursery or feeding area). Coastal aquaculture is also heavily dependent on the coastal area for space and resources.


1.1.1 Food security and employment

Fish has always been a primary source of food for coastal populations and remains so today despite the difficulties the sector is facing. The transport of fresh fish over increasing distances, together with more sophisticated processing techniques such as freezing, has led to increasing demand and allowed consumption to spread ever further from the coast.

Aquaculture has been practised for centuries, if not millennia, especially in Asia. Most aquaculture activities continue to be based on traditional, small- to medium-scale operations employing mainly extensive and semi-intensive production methods. In some countries, some types of aquaculture are increasingly being transformed into semi-industrial occupations. Aquaculture is contributing to a growing share of global fish supply of both marine (primarily molluscs and seaweeds) and freshwater (primarily carps) species.

In developing countries, it is estimated that 27 million fishers (including those engaged in production, harvesting and landing site-based activities) are dependent for all or part of their livelihoods on coastal fisheries; together with their dependants, this amounts to some 135 to 150 million people (FAO, 1996c). Artisanal fisheries produce about 25 percent of the total world marine fish catch and contribute about 40 percent of the fish destined for direct human consumption. The contribution of coastal fisheries to the labour force and to local food security is important, particularly in terms of animal protein supply in isolated communities. The social relevance of coastal fisheries is important because fishing communities are often poor, geographically isolated and have very little access to the benefits of public infrastructures and services or coverage by social policies.

Artisanal fishing communities are characterized by: special patterns for remuneration of labour and capital inputs (e.g. prevalence of sharing systems rather than fixed wage); professional training within kin groups; integration of workplace habitation/profession-specific settlements; labour-intensive methods of production; usually among the poorer population groups; and high fertility. Families with an abundant labour force are at an advantage in the exploitation of open access fishery resources and a large family facilitates diversifying the sources of income (which is especially significant in view of the uncertainties surrounding fisheries' nature and decreasing productivity).

Fishing, which is almost everywhere an open access or `free' resource, may also serve as an occupation of last resort for landless and impoverished rural populations.

Where fishing is concentrated and intensive, it plays an economic catalyst role, through activities that build up around the fishing community but that are not directly related to fisheries. The employment aspect, for instance, is not limited to the act of fishing in itself but also extends to boat-building and repairs, mechanical workshops for engines and gear, net-making and repair, handling, processing, packing and transport.

In remote areas, and in countries where fish is a major resource, or where the land has low agricultural potential, the importance of the fisheries sector for employment and food security is proportionately even greater (for example in Mauritania, and in islands of the Pacific and Indian oceans).

Despite the huge catches taken by industrial fishing fleets off the richest coasts, small-scale capture fisheries still account for the greater part of the fish landed for direct human consumption.

Although fisheries require an unpolluted environment, they are in fact the ultimate sink of pollution generated by rivers and the atmosphere. Productivity is adversely affected by an increasing demand for coastal space and resources and more often than not, this competition is reflected in further degradation of the marine environment. Changes may be generated either within the fisheries sector itself or, more frequently and usually with a larger impact, outside the sector.

With regard to the first of these factors, the damage to fish habitats caused by the fisheries sector can be significant. Among the principal causes are: trawling, which may adversely affect certain habitats and bottom fauna; the use of dynamite and other destructive fishing techniques; the destruction of coastal wetlands and mangrove areas by aquaculture pond construction; and water pollution by intensive coastal aquaculture.

Activities outside the sector also have a major impact on fish abundance. Fish habitats are being rapidly degraded in many parts of the world by industrial, urban and agricultural pollution, landfill, damming and diversion of rivers, clearance of mangroves, sedimentation, resource mining, marine-based pollution, deforestation in the hinterland, etc. In some areas, the destruction of fish habitats has become the prime cause of the reduction of fish abundance. This is particularly so in a number of marine areas dependent on the harvesting of shellfish. Such degradation results in the loss, or a reduction, of the economic value of the goods and services provided by the affected ecosystems and a loss of biological diversity and genetic resources.

Related to this is spatial conflict, where fishers have insecure property or use rights and are displaced from their traditional areas by other coastal developments, especially urban sprawl and tourism. The fundamental issue is that of open access and, therefore, of resource allocation. Competing, multisectoral, demands on scarce resources require rational choices in the use of those resources.

The economic and social benefits of coastal fisheries should be apparent, if the sector wants to demonstrate its contribution to society. Conflicts with other sectoral interests apply both to the capture fisheries sector, where there has been a widespread failure to come to terms with the factors underlying overfishing (especially the open access nature of such fisheries), and to aquaculture where `industrial' operations can lead to the demise of artisanal ones.

1.1.2 Productive habitats

Much of the primary activity in the fisheries food chain is concentrated in shallow inshore waters where environmental impacts are likely to be widespread. In particular, the degradation of natural habitats poses a serious threat to the fisheries sector. Box D.1 describes the major types of coastal habitats and their roles in the food chain.

Major types of critical coastal habitat

Mangroves and other coastal wetlands are a key resource in many areas since they produce nutrients for most tropical shrimp and many fish species; provide physical habitat for a number of fish species especially in their juvenile phase; and protect the coastline from natural hazards such as tidal waves. Mangroves can be affected in a number of ways including excessive siltation or sedimentation and major oil spills. A particular problem has been the clearing of mangroves to reclaim land for other uses such as aquaculture, agriculture or housing.

Sea grass systems play a similar role to mangroves in providing nutrients and shelter for fish and shellfish. Again they may play a particularly important role as nursery areas. They may be affected by excessive siltation and water pollution. They may also be damaged by trawling, an example of an intrasectoral effect, demonstrating the difficulty of defining sectors appropriately from a management viewpoint.

Coral reefs, which are living organisms, contribute to fisheries in three ways Ð reef fishing itself, fishing in shallow coastal waters where the reef forms an essential part of the food web, and offshore fisheries which depend in part on the reef's productivity. It has been estimated that one-third of the world's fish species live on coral reefs (WRI, 1986). Many artisanal fisheries also depend on coral reefs. Such fisheries represent 90 percent of fish production in Indonesia and 55 percent in the Philippines (Clark, 1992). There tends to be a high level of conflict over coral reef usage, especially between fishing, tourism and coral mining. Regrettably, all three activities may contribute to the perturbation of reef ecosystems. Clearly, coral mining leads directly to physical degradation as do some fishing methods, notably muro-ami.3 Recreational visits may also cause damage, e.g. anchoring. Reefs are also subject to a variety of natural disasters, including hurricanes, reef-destroying animals (crown-of-thorns starfish) and disease.

Lagoons and estuaries make contributions similar to the other habitats', notably the provision of organic materials to outside waters via tidal activity and the provision of habitat to fish species, especially in their juvenile phase. They may be seriously affected through waste disposal, residential development (via land reclamation), construction that changes water circulation (e.g. of harbours) and oil and chemical pollution.


1.2.1 Open access

Many coastal fisheries are de facto under open access regimes,1 except where common property rights are enforced and where private ownership exists (e.g. immobile resources, especially shellfish). Until recently, almost all of the world's high seas fisheries existed under conditions of free and open access. At the international level, exclusive jurisdictions are now widespread, although enforcement poses serious problems for small countries with large exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

In the coastal area, however, common property regimes2 in which the resource being exploited is subject to commonly agreed rules are frequent. The precise nature of such rules depends on particular cases but might include, for example, agreements on who is allowed to fish, what type or quantity of gear might be used, and how much fish may be caught. These agreements have developed in particular where territorial boundaries relating to the use of the resource can be easily identified, such as by a coral reef or lagoon, for relatively sedentary species, or where fishing occurs on specific segments of the coastline (e.g. beach seining).

Where such systems have remained stable, they have often allowed fisheries based on highly variable resources to flourish over extended periods of time. However, in many cases, a disruption of these systems has been observed. Factors leading to their breakdown include: the coexistence of insufficient legal protection of the rights under these regimes with the increasing value of the resources; shifts from subsistence to cash economy; increased population pressure; technological progress; and a general lack of understanding of the benefits of restricted access (Christy, 1982). This has often resulted in a rapid increase in the number of users and in conflicts, and either some alternative has had to be sought or the fishery has degenerated into the open access category.

Open access fisheries suffer from two fundamental problems:

Where open access exists, improvements in the environment and other factors (e.g. higher prices) that make fisheries more profitable are likely to be short-lived (Willmann and Insull, 1993). Increased profitability will attract increased fishing effort (either from new entrants or by existing fishers working more intensively) so that average returns are depressed to their previous level, or below it. Indeed, free access also poses another problem for many economies in that a decision has often been (implicitly) taken to use rents to fund the overcapitalization of the sector.

1.2.2 Economic and ecological consequences of overexploitation

Excessive exploitation levels resulting from open access regimes are usually followed by biological overexploitation.

Economic overexploitation. Fisheries are vulnerable to changes in fish prices, fishing costs or stock availability; negative changes in any of these variables have a serious impact. Economic overexploitation occurs when resources are used inefficiently, for instance when fish stock is exploited beyond its optimal level, there is excessive capitalization in the fishery or resources are engaged in fishing rather than more profitably elsewhere in the economy. The problems will be worse in more valuable fisheries (where the potential resource rents are higher); ironically, the more profitable the fishery and the greater its potential contribution to economic welfare, the faster it can be expected to decline. It is common to find various kinds of subsidies being granted to the fishing industry (e.g. fuel oil, investment grants, tax write-offs), leaving the impression of an industry that is a burden on society in general and is consequently of little inherent value. Where conflicts arise between fishing and alternative resource uses, the chances are that fishing will be seen as an activity of marginal economic importance. Yet the resource on which fishing is based is in fact very valuable. Fisheries represent a renewable gold mine, provided they are managed correctly.

Biological overexploitation implies that increases in effort decrease the size of the fish stock to the point where its long-term productivity declines. Increasing levels of exploitation tend to be associated with a number of undesirable features:


Aquaculture can provide food, income and employment; it also contributes to diversification of primary production and compensates for the low growth rate of capture fisheries. Aquaculture can contribute to rehabilitation of coastal rural areas through the reuse of degraded land. Stocking and release of hatchery-reared organisms into coastal waters support culture-based fisheries. Culture of molluscs and seaweeds may, in certain cases, counteract processes of nutrient and organic enrichment in eutrophic waters. Conversely, productivity of oligotrophic waters may be enhanced as a result of the nutrient and organic wastes released from aquaculture farms.

Aquaculture can be extensive, semi-intensive and intensive (according to the density of cultured organisms, water supply and exchange rates, degree of supplementary feed provided and other factors), and sea- or land-based. The environmental compatibility (and performance) of coastal aquaculture may be determined by a wide range of factors: biophysical characteristics of the site (i.e. biological, hydrological, locational, meteorological and soil and water quality factors); specific characteristics of the cultured organism; the culture method (i.e. design and construction of the aquaculture site, operation and production levels); skills; access to credit and information; appropriateness of technology, etc.

In many cases, several authorities have direct or indirect jurisdiction over the use of land and water for aquaculture, which usually causes confusion. In some cases, aquaculture is still not considered as a legitimate use of land and water resources because similarities between aquaculture and agricultural practices are often not recognized. The type of tenurial arrangements, such as short- or long-term leases of land or water surface, can influence the development and life span of aquafarms. Uncertainties in the allocation of land and water resources under public domain can result in social conflicts with other users.4 Environmental legislation, if it exists, often does not cover specific requirements and characteristics of the various coastal aquaculture practices.

Coordination of coastal aquaculture development, supported by adequate information bases and planning capacities, is still insufficient in many countries. Even though aquaculture development may be prioritized in national development plans, technical assistance to the sector and enforcement of supportive regulations is frequently not carried out as a result of lack of staff and/or financial resources. Inadequate institutional cooperation between the government authorities in charge of planned development of the various activities in the coastal area (agriculture, fisheries, urban and industrial development, sanitation, etc.) may hamper both overall development and environment protection efforts (Barg, 1992; FAO, 1997a).


There is overwhelming empirical evidence that, in the absence of effective management, the world's fisheries are set on a course for long-term decline. Good management of fish resources, which is still extremely rare worldwide, requires three apparently simple conditions:

However, a variety of risks and uncertainties pervade both fisheries exploitation and fisheries management. These include the variability inherent in numerous aspects of the fisheries system such as recruitment, biomass, spatial distribution and likelihood of catching fish, fish prices and input prices.

In seeking to explain variability, it may be difficult to separate the impact of fishing from the impact of environmental changes. This also makes it difficult to know precisely which management measures to adopt. For example, in the face of declining fish stocks, it makes sense to reduce fishing pressure. But there is no guarantee that such action will lead to recovery of the stock. On the other hand, failure to take action seems likely to worsen the situation.

In the case of mangroves, and possibly coral reefs, it may prove possible to design user-right systems, and research in this area would be worthwhile. The basic premise is that the beneficiary should pay the owner of the use right. In the absence of rights, it may seem easy to say that the remaining mangroves should be protected because of the benefits to fish production, but why should people who depend on cutting or clearing the mangroves be expected to give up their (open access) rights so that fishers can benefit? Where two or more interacting natural resources are exploited by two or more groups, some difficult resource allocation questions will eventually have to be addressed (e.g. the extent to which past involvement constitute a future right to use a resource).

In other words, the results of any fishery management process can never be foreseen with certainty. Interest groups opposed to management objectives may use this lack of certainty as an excuse for removing or not implementing a management strategy. However, in the long term, as already stressed, a managed fishery is likely to perform better, on any criterion, than an unmanaged fishery.

The challenge facing fisheries management is to design a system that will be both effective in the short term, and capable of gradual improvement with experience, drawing on the lessons of past mistakes. It is frequently claimed that, as a practical matter, management cannot be introduced until there is an economic crisis in the fishery. If the introduction of management must wait this long, then the management process will seem doomed to failure. As a general rule, the earlier the fishery development process is effectively managed, using a precautionary or preventive approach,5 the easier it will be to achieve good results. What is required is a move towards economic management methods based on user rights.

A first requirement is to document the natural variability of the fish stock, and it will be necessary to adopt flexible management systems that can respond quickly to changes in the fish stock and in the fishery. Management decisions will also have to take account of the need of small-scale fishers to obtain their daily income (and food) from fishing, the difficulty of converting the labour force to other activities, sources of livelihood and locations and, in the case of industrial fisheries, the difficulty of reconversion of capital (vessels, equipment) to other uses.

The development and management of the fisheries sector has tended to be pursued on the generally implicit assumption that the sector can be dealt with in isolation from other sectors of the economy. While this constitutes a working assumption in some circumstances, it has become increasingly apparent Ð especially in coastal areas Ð that pressures from, and interactions with, other sectors must be taken into consideration if rational resource use is to be achieved.

Rational resource use within the sector needs to encompass interactions: the fisheries sector may affect, positively or negatively, and other sectors (including itself) through its impact on the coastal area environment; other sectors may affect the fisheries sector through environmental impacts or spatial competition. ICAM should consider all of these aspects.

In an integrated management process, trade-offs between different uses are inevitable. A critical comparison of the benefits and costs embodied in the trade-offs is essential as a basis for developmental, environmental and natural resource policy. Where possible, this approach should be based on the valuation of alternative resource use (Japan, Government of, and FAO, 1995).

1 See Part A, Section 1.6.1 and Box A.2.

2 See Part A, Section 2.2.2 and Box A.2.

3 A type of fishing during which divers severely disturb coral and the sea bed.

4 See Part A, Section 2.2.2 and Box A.2.

5 See Part A, Section 2.2.4 and Box A.5.

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