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Wide-range of small-scale fishery operations

Small-scale fishers operate millions of fishing craft varying from traditional to sophisticated vessels. At one end of the spectrum one can find an aluminium-hulled, twin-engine, electronics-laden salmon gill-netter operating in North America; at the other end artisanal fishers may use small, flat-bottomed wooden pirogue in West Africa.

However, with technological advances and reduced production costs, availability of modern models is not only improving but becoming more affordable. As well, boat and equipment designers and manufacturers are producing designs and products aimed in particular at small-scale fisheries. As a result, today's small fishing craft have a large cruising range, powerful engines, high speed and a fairly high degree of seaworthiness. Many such boats can carry considerable amounts of fish, are equipped with up-to-date technology and are able to operate a wide variety of fishing gear. These features enable them to work fishing grounds previously inaccessible to small-scale fishers.

While, in some developing countries modernization has been slower, nonetheless substantial progress can be seen: fishers use motorized canoes for ring-netting and purse-seining; traditional fishing craft are outfitted with outboard engines; mechanical haulers and echo-sounders are introduced; and trawling and shrimping from small boats is occurring, just to mention a few. Clearly, the sophistication of fish-location and gear-handling techniques, as well as the level of working and living conditions on board vary from place to place, depending on the general and local technology level, the availability of capital and the economic output of the fishery.

Risks and dangers

New and more sophisticated technologies also mean increased risks and a higher need for appropriate safety measures.

Some risks and dangers of small-scale fisheries include1:

  • Bad weather: Sudden gales, major storms and heavy fog are significant causes of small boat accidents often resulting in capsizing, grounding, becoming lost and collisions. Several types of artisanal fishing craft are buoyant and do not sink even when capsized, which increases the survival chances of their crews. Where weather warning systems and radio communication with fishermen at sea are poor or non-existent, casualties due to bad weather are more frequent.
  • Loss of power: This is a major cause of accidents. Many small fishing boats are powered by an outboard motor and do not carry either a spare engine or sailing rig.
  • Fire on board: This is less common on board small fishing craft, as most of them are open boats or rafts where fire detection is usually instantaneous. However, fire on board canoes (and pirogues) powered with outboard engines and carrying large amounts of spare fuel is extremely dangerous.
  • Inadequate boat construction standards: Many small-scale fishing boats are not designed and constructed to sufficient safety standards. Frequently, also, the boats’ design and construction are unsuitable for the conditions they are used in.
  • Unsuitable boats: During the last decades of the twentieth century, small fishing craft are sailing farther offshore on prolonged fishing trips. Many of these craft, built for inshore fishing and day trips and often lacking basic safety equipment, are too small and otherwise unsuitable for offshore operations. Consequently, their crews’ safety has steadily deteriorated.
  • Fisheries management: Certain management strategies may motivate fishermen to increase their earnings by taking risks that they would not take otherwise. Such strategies involve, for example, limiting fishing time and area, and transferring and leasing catch quotas.
  • Economic hardship: Economic hardship, or even transitory financial difficulty, often causes fishermen to take extra risk, when their better judgement might suggest otherwise.
  • Inadequate communication: Lack of radio contact essentially precludes efficient SAR action. Additional problems may arise where radio-telephone contact exists, but there is no adequate common language between the people at sea and the people who may help them. Consequences may be tragic.
  • Fishing operations: Trawling vessels of any size may capsize when their gear snags on a fastener (any snaggy obstacle on the sea bottom), while small seiners may capsize under the downward pressure of a large catch of fish "sinking" during the last stage of net hauling. People can be swept overboard if caught up in nets or because of ropage running out while they are setting the gear. Various injuries may occur during fishing both from contact with fishing gear and deck mechanisms, and from bites, stings and tail kicks by fish and other marine animals. Wading and diving fishermen are particularly at danger from large predators and various poisonous creatures.
  • Lack of accessible shelters: In many parts of the world, small-scale and artisanal fishermen are unable to operate from fishing ports or shelters and are forced to cross oceanic or other surf on the way to and from the beach or to enter badly accessible shelters and anchorages. Surf crossing takes a big toll on lives and equipment.

Fisheries insurance

In general, major risks confronting fishers and fish farmers can be divided into general categories: asset risks, production and management risks, and market risks and personal and health risks. Asset risks include loss of or damage to fishing vessels, equipment, and gear and aquaculture installations, as a result of natural or man-made disasters. Production and management risks involve the loss of catch, production failure and fish disease. Market risks relate to changes in the prices of outputs and inputs, as well as increases in interest rates. Personal and health risks include accidents at sea and death and job-related illnesses.

While the development and establishment of fisheries insurance schemes is rising, overall, there is still significant scope for further promoting such schemes, particularly in developing countries.

In view of the high level of risk and the many types of risks associated with fisheries and aquaculture, private insurance companies are still reluctant to get involved in this sector, particularly, in traditional small-scale fisheries and fish-farming activities – especially in developing countries. However, fisheries insurance should be viewed from the perspective of the small-scale fishers and fish farmers, which comprise the majority of the fishers population in developing countries. Such fishers need protection against losses caused by natural and human-made disasters. Fisheries insurance schemes are therefore indispensable and government support is necessary for their establishment.

The advantages and benefits provided by fisheries insurance vary from scheme to scheme. However, in general, the principal benefits of fisheries insurance are:

  • protecting fishers and fish farmers against accidents and natural hazards beyond their control;
  • providing basic compensation for the loss of or damage to fishing vessels, gear and catch (or harvest), thus contributing to stabilization of incomes within the fisheries sector;
  • reducing the risk to financial institutions, which provide credit to fishers and fish farmers, in relation to fisheries credit;
  • reducing the risk for fishers and fish farmers in investing their own resources in the adoption of new technologies and acquiring improved equipment;
  • fostering mutual assistance and cooperation among fishers, fish farmers and their organizations;
  • reducing the unpredictable burden on government of providing emergency assistance in the wake of natural disasters;
  • promoting stability in fishery enterprises and contributing to the general welfare of fisheries communities; and,
  • stabilizing the contribution of the fisheries sector to national economy.

 1 Based on "Risks and dangers in small-scale fisheries: An overview" by Menakhem Ben-Yami, Fisheries Development and Management Adviser, Kiryat Tiv’, Israel, International Labour Office, Geneva, August 2000. 

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