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Managing capture fisheries is crucial to successful development
Managing capture fisheries is crucial to successful development
Courtesy of NOAA

Public policies to "develop" fisheries are at times still understood as policies simply aimed at increasing the volume - and hence the value - of production. This understanding rests on the idea that "development" of the sector is needed in order to make it a larger, or more reliable, source of livelihood. Livelihood is then understood to be a satisfactory manner of earning a living, of obtaining adequate income. Often, the poorer the economy, the greater the tendency to consider "development" as synonymous with "economic growth".

However, in most commercial fisheries a strategy aiming to expand the volume of landings is no longer a valid option. Thus, among those responsible for establishing public policies towards fisheries, the view that development must incorporate effective management is now generally accepted. There is little debate about the affirmation that, in the long term, sustainable development of both capture fisheries and aquaculture will only be achieved if effective management accompanies development efforts.

If using the term "development" means a sequence of events that leads to a sustainable improvement in incomes, then the practices used in capture fisheries, aquaculture, post-harvest activities and trade must be socially and environmentally acceptable. To ensure these sustainability conditions, "development" is then seen as including "management". Therefore, government policies intended to promote development in the fisheries sector should also include provisions intending to ensure that the ensuing activities can be successfully managed. The need to manage is common to capture fisheries and aquaculture and to some aspects of post-harvest activities and trade - but the need is greatest in capture fisheries.

Until recently. fishing was considered the right of all - and fishery administrations treated the activity as such, i.e. access was open to all. In the past, this made sense as the amount of wild stocks per fisher was much larger than today - not only because there were fewer fishers (who were on average much less effective) - but also because the resource was "hidden". Although open access today is not in the interest of the majority, the majority has difficulty accepting this view, creating difficulties for development.

Indicators of sustainable development

Public development efforts are hindered by the possibility that they contribute to additional fishing effort. This difficulty exists even in fisheries where the principle of restrained access has been accepted. Management is costly and complicated to implement even where all stakeholders agree that it is required. It is complicated as for each fishery there is a need for agreed and practical procedures for monitoring and control of effort. Consequently, a growing attempt - partly by FAO - is now being dedicated to developing indicators of sustainable development that are consistent with the precautionary approach and applicable in marine capture fisheries.

Today, the need to ensure management of capture fisheries in order to promote their development is reflected in several public policies:

  • the use of a property rights framework for managing capture fisheries and aquaculture;
  • the application of the precautionary principle to fisheries management;
  • the use of an ecosystem framework for management of capture fisheries.

These policies are finding growing, worldwide application by national fishery administrations.

An expanding world population has meant increasing competition among fishers for access to resources as well as a gradual invasion of non-fisher users. This has affected fishers of all types in addition to those part-time aquaculturists who have practised extensive forms of aquaculture in coastal areas. There has been a growing need for fishers to learn how to share natural resources with other users while they simultaneously strive to develop their activities. In capture fisheries, this has often been done under the heading of integrating fisheries into coastal area management. In inland fisheries and aquaculture, it has lead to clear principles for the multiple use of inland water bodies and for the development and use of inland watersheds.

Long-term development strategies

The long-term strategies for development of any fishery are much influenced by the relationship between fishing capacity and resource availability. Three types of situations can be distinguished: the fishing effort is either larger than (excess capacity), about equal to, or inferior to, the volume of landings/production that the wild stocks can yield sustainably. Long-term development strategies are also influenced by the degree of economic well-being of the economy within which the fishery operates and by the rate of economic growth in that economy.

Governments are most concerned when fisheries experience excess capacity. Many fisheries find themselves in this situation, and the number seems to be rising steadily at the beginning of the 21st century. Thus, from the perspective of the public sector, the question of management has become more important than "development". In 1995, a large number of governments, with the support of the fishing industry and several non-governmental organizations, agreed to the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The Code addresses management of both capture fisheries and aquaculture and asserts the need for a precautionary approach in management and development of fisheries.

Precautionary principles should be applied for sustainable development
Precautionary principles should be applied for sustainable development
Courtesy of NOAA

In developed economies, the excess capacity situation has led to policies aimed at strict control of access, and thereby effort. There is a trend towards strengthening fishers rights by introducing quota schemes (effectively control access and effort) in fisheries that lend themselves to such management. However, not all capture fisheries are amenable to a rapid introduction of this form of management. It is easier to introduce licensing schemes whereby gradually only licensed vessels are allowed to fish. Also, replacement of vessels is increasingly permitted only under conditions intended to ensure that technological improvements do not cause growing capacity in the fleet as a whole. Where capacity excess is very large, fishery administrations tend to resort to vessel buy-back schemes and, if the collapse is drastic, to unemployment and social security payments. Where possible, unemployed fishers are enrolled in vocational training schemes aimed at permanently moving them out of fisheries.

Some of the long-distance fishing nations support their industries by negotiating access to foreign fishing zones, while some vessel owners obtain such access through private joint-venture schemes. Long-distance fishing nations and nations with important fisheries on straddling stocks are usually keen participants in regional fishery organizations, as the management schemes agreed in these bodies favour the fishing fleets of their members, and often de facto make fishing difficult for those who are not. The administrations in these countries are also those who argue in favour of rapid implementation of international instruments addressing high-seas fishing issues such as the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the Compliance Agreement.

Even when fleet capacity is in harmony with the exploitable levels of wild fish stocks, governments in developed economies have to deal with the prospects of excess capacity and with the issue of how to generate more economic well-being from the fishery sector. Attempting to capture more of the value-added in processing and sales of fish and fish products can do the latter. However, this strategy favours national fishers only as long as they are the main suppliers to the national market. When demand in processing plants exceed supply from local fishers, the need to ensure imports of cheap raw material may not be in the economic interests of the local fishers. In fact, when national demand for fish is far in excess of the supply by the national industry, consumers' demand for cheap products may make it difficult for the local capture and processing industry to compete. Japan seems to have been facing this situation for some time.

In countries where fisheries both contribute a significant share of the national economy and supply a large part of the production to foreign markets, national administrations will often aim to ensure that competition by other producers in foreign markets takes place on terms that are fair and equitable.

In poor, developing countries, the excess fishing capacity is more a problem of labour than capital. This means that the total fishing effort is the combined work of a large number of individual fishers. In such situations, any significant reduction in fishing effort will translate into less fishing for many fishers. This creates a large social problem as many fishers live on the edge of subsistence.

The problem is also practical. Most fishery administrations in poor, developing countries have few real means by which to control access. Licensing for the purpose of permitting fishing - as opposed to raising revenue - is seldom possible in artisanal or traditional fisheries. Forcibly excluding fishers - or their heirs - from fishing in many cases would jeopardize the livelihood of the individuals concerned and their families. A common policy designed to help artisanal and small-scale fisherfolk is to reserve the coastal area exclusively for them. However, few fishery administrations have the montioring, control and surveillance equipment needed to keep industrial vessels out of such zones. International technical assistance to capture fisheries in poor regions is increasingly taking the livelihoods approach, which aims to improve the effectiveness not only of the activities of fishing communities, but also of the public policies, institutions and processes that affect their livelihood.

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