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Fishers need policies to improve the viability of their activities
Fishers need policies to improve the viability of their activities


The cornerstone for the survival and growth of fishery dependent communities and regions is the economic viability of the fishing activity. Most public sector fishery policies include strategies aiming to establish institutions - or public sector frameworks - that will ensure that communities are helped in maintaining and improving the viability of their fishing/aquaculture activities. A major role of these institutions is to assure that viability is improved without causing negative externalities of any kind.

Historically, the public institutions primarily and directly concerned with fisheries and aquaculture in rich, industrialized countries were centralized in a public fishery administration. The administration would aim: (i) to monitor fishing effort and enforce fishing regulations (MCS); (ii) to monitor fish stocks and advice on appropriate levels of exploitation of major commercial stocks; (iii) to report on the volume and value of production in the sector; (iv) to inform and instruct fishers on new technology through extension services; (v) to develop new fishing and fish processing technologies through public research centres; and, sometimes, (vi) to run offices dedicated to promoting trade and/or consumption of fish products. In addition, within government, the fishery administration functions as a spokesperson for the sector vis-à-vis other government departments and other sectors of the economy. With growing economies, increased mobility and expanding trade the outside demands on the sector stretch continuously, placing considerable demands on the fishery administration.

Open market economy policies

However, with the advent of policies linked to open market economies, fishery administrations in industrialized countries came under pressure to reduce in size. In addition to a general downsizing, this led fishery administrations to request that users pay for the services that those same administrations provided.

The success of policies derived from the open market economy varies. A main reason for, at best, partial success is that some functions can be reduced in size or eliminated; others not. For example, while arguments can be found for discontinuing technology development and extension services in rich industrial countries, even these countries require that publicly controlled MCS services, as well as the monitoring of wild aquatic resources, continue.

Public funding and development

In several countries, public funding for technology development in capture fisheries has been reduced. There are two major reasons for this. First of all, resources are being fully used and where effort is not controlled, improved technology leads to overexploitation, which in turn often causes a decline in livelihoods for the majority of the stakeholders. This of course reduces the urgency of government to participate in developing new technology. A second reason is that the know-how and resources needed for technology development are becoming more and more expensive and sophisticated. In fact, the public sector cannot afford the staff and infrastructure needed to compete in this field with vessel, engine and fishing gear manufacturers. Similarly, as the manufacturers of gears and equipment introduce most new technology, the need for extension services is falling.

An inspector measures the mesh of a trawl net, part of monitoring efforts
An inspector measures the mesh of a trawl net, part of monitoring efforts

Other functions - such as quality control of fish products and MCS of fishing effort - cannot be so easily abolished or reduced. For the well-being of the fishery sector it is essential that MCS remain under the control of the public administration, although it is one of the most costly services provided to fishers. And the need for MCS persists even where entry controls have been introduced. Where quotas are used it is still necessary for some authority to monitor that quota holders do not exceed their share. This is because quotas do not generally correspond with an exclusive economic or fishing zone. However, successful entry limit schemes often lead to the generation of economic rents for those who remain in the fishery. Thus the industry should be able to contribute to the payment of MCS and resource monitoring services.

Another equally important function - that does not lend itself easily to private sector execution - is the monitoring of the state of wild stocks. Although it remains a costly undertaking for most fishery administrations, it must be continued and, if possible, improved.

Recent trends

In the late 1990s, governments in some developing countries had the time and resources to establish full-fledged fishery administrations. But only in the very large countries did these institutions become well established and fully supported through the public budget. In smaller countries with important fisheries such administrations often received significant support in the form of staff, equipment and funding through international aid. But most of the fishery administrations had not become economically self-sustained by the time aid ceased and outside forces constrained governments to adopt policies inspired by the open market economy ideal. For many countries this put an effective stop to efforts aimed at developing appropriate fishery administrations.

Today, in many of the poorest developing countries the fishery administrations are not able to effectively execute the tasks they originally were intended to undertake because they are not provided the means needed to do so. Unfortunately this also reflects negatively on the administrations' capability to act as a spokesperson for the sector vis-à-vis other government departments and other sectors of the economy.

As can be expected - given the costs and infrastructure involved - fishery administrations in developing countries have particular difficulties in monitoring the status of resources and in monitoring and enforcing capture fishery regulations. Also, the resources dedicated by governments to technology development in fisheries are insignificant. The exceptions are large countries - mostly Asian - with large fishery sectors (e.g. China, India, Thailand, Indonesia). Staff assigned to undertake extension services are few and have difficulties in performing their tasks for lack of funds and training.

Quality control of fish products is also an essential public function
Quality control of fish products is also an essential public function

In small and poor developing economies - especially in Africa - the situation is indeed critical. As population grows and the fishing pressure mounts on a finite resource, the need for effective resource monitoring and MCS becomes acute. This is true even as more use is made of a property rights-based approach to fishery management. Furthermore, at this time it is unrealistic for most of these countries to consider assuming publicly executed technology research and development programmes in support of either fisheries or aquaculture.


Effective and easy communications between fishers and the administration is a major problem in poor countries. Where such communications are deficient, it is a severe obstacle for development of the sector as there is a growing recognition that the fishery and aquaculture sector, like others, must be governed in part by, and above all with the consent of, the stakeholders.

Transparent and frequent communications with stakeholders is a precondition if a consensus is to be achieved on a realistic approach to the management of the sector. For such communication to take place it is becoming increasingly important that fishers are organized and that the management of their associations be prepared to interact with the representatives fishing communities.

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