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John Kurien
Associate Fellow
Centre for Development Studies
Trivandrum, India

“Our struggle
Is to ensure
A future --
For us and fish”

(Statement of a small-scale artisanal fisherman of Kerala State, India, on the sixth day of his indefinite fast demanding a seasonal fishing ban by trawlers.)


1. Common Concerns

The decade of the 'eighties has witnessed a rising tide of calls for the greater involvement of fishworkers 1 in the process of fisheries development and management in general and fishing management 2 in particular. The lack of participation of fishworkers, the problems arising out of it, as well as the need to bridge the gap, have found expression in the fora of both policy makers and fishworkers.

The document on the “Strategy for Fisheries Management and Development” adopted by the FAO World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development in July 1984 states:

“…Fishermen are more likely to comply with management measures when they are able to see the benefits which will arise from those measures and where they have been involved in the formulation of the measures.”

Further in the same vein , addressing the situation in developing countries, the document states:

1 Following the definition of the International Conference of Fishworkers and their Supporters (ICFWS) we will use the term fishworkers to refer collectively to “men, women and children engaged as crew members, small fishers, processing workers and sellers” and fishermen to refer to the menfolk who fish.

2 Fishing management refers to management of the harvesting activity alone whereas fisheries management embraces activity in all sectors of the fish economy.

“The cooperation and participation of fishermen is necessary to ensure the success of small-scale fisheries management schemes. Fishermen's organizations should be considered as a channel through which management decisions can become operative…”

The report of the International Conference of Fishworkers and their Supporters (IFWS) held also in July 1984 higlights:

“Projects for fisheries development, many backed by international assistance, often fail mainly because of lack of participation of the local people in the conception, preparation and implementation of the programmes.”

It further recommends to national governments:

“…Associate local fishermen's organizations or fishing communities in devicing and implementing regulatory measures - but with the possibility of their effective control.”

2. Our Focus

Fisheries management and fishermen's participatin in it are likely to be topical concerns in the realm of world fisheries for some time to come. Neither of these however are new concerns.

The numerous “species collapses” brought about by excessive harvesting using over-efficient technology - spurred by rising demand, growing profitability and open access - made management of the fishery resource an inevitable concern in many developed maritime countries several decades ago.

The participation of fishermen's organizations at various levels of devising and co-managing fishing management regimes had achieved desirable consequences in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. In the Scandinavian countries, on the other hand, fishermen's organizations have historically been more concerned with the management of on-shore activities: the first sale of fish and its processing.

There is now a new emphasis in the developed countries - particularly in the market economies among them - of giving more responsibilities for fishing management to fishermen's organizations. This can be interpreted as part of the efforts to enhance efficiency by decentralising decision-making by allowing a greater role for competitive self-interest.

It is the contention of this study that in the developing tropical maritime states, particularly of the Indo-Pacific Region (hereinafter referred to as Region), the gamut of considerations around the question of fishworkers' participation in fisheries management must be viewed in a different context.

There are important historical, predominantly cultural, compelling socio-economic and ecological factors which account for this difference. These factors in turn have given rise to a new genre of fishworkers' organizations in the Region which exhibit certain similar characteristics irrespective of the socio-political context of the country in question. These organizations have, in a short span of time, made significant headway in wresting for themselves a say in questions relating to fisheries management in general and fishing management in particular. If however they are to consolidate the gains made so far, new realms of action, fresh alliances and greater empathy from several sources will be essential.

This brief study will examine these issues in an attempt to provide a perspective for understanding the basis of, rationale for and impediments to greater involvement of fishworkers' organizations in fisheries management within the Region. The bias will be towards understanding the role of small-scale fishermen's organizations and their role in fishing management.

The study is divided into four parts. The first provides a backdrop and fishery history of the Region which are essential to understand the context in which the new genre of fishworkers' organizations have developed. The second part then examines the general characteristics of these organizations. This forms the basis of the specific case studies of fishworkers' organizations in India (Kerala State), Indonesia and Philippines (Luzon) contained in the third part. This third part is based on a combination of the author's own involvements, first hand information from the respective fishworkers' organizations and secondary material. The fourth part attempts to spell out the ways in which the gains achieved by the determined efforts of the fishworkers can be consolidated to provide new vistas of involvement.


1. The Fishery Context

The marine fish economies of the developing countries of this Region were in their “natural state” until about the middle of this century. Traditional fishing communities, except in the small island economies, were geographically, economically, socially and culturally at the margins of mainstream society. In this context, the participation of fishworkers in the decisionmaking process of fishery activity was high. They were largely their own masters: almost fully in the realm of harvesting, very significantly in the processing activity but less so in fish distribution and trade. Fisheries were essentially a source of livelihood for different sections of fishworkers and fish essentially had use as a food value.1

The fishery resources of the Region, unlike in temperate waters, are marked by the multiplicity of species. They are spatially dispersed but tend to be more densely concentrated in the coastal waters. The interactions between species, as also the prey-predator relationships, are vastly complex.

The fish harvesting technologies of these communities deserve special mention. They were evolved over centuries of learning-through-labour using locally available material and indigenous skills. They were marked by their variety and diversity of design, exhibiting an underlying sophisticated understanding of their aquatic milieu and the behaviour of their “prey-in-context”. Such tools of production were attuned to Nature. Combined with other technical and economic factors they maintained harvest levels to subsistence needs. The possibility of “exhausting” the fish resource was remote and the Garrett Hardin tragedy was unlikely to occur.1

1 This does not negate the fact that there was a significant amount of trade in fish and fish products between countries of the Region

It was these objective conditions which lay at the root of the cultural perspectives and world-views of traditional fishing communities of the Region. They considered the harvest from the sea as “limitless” and the sea as “perpetual provider” and “Mother”. As children of the sea - co-equal owners and trustees - they asserted communal rights to its bounties and communal duties to safeguarding their patrimony.

Resulting from this, many communities had adopted well integrated systems of customs governing fishing practices and rights of access to the sea. While individual rights were nebulous, the right of the ocmmunity was unalienable. “Externalities” existed - but they were small and reciprocal. The enforcement of these customs for common interest did not in the course of time impede growth of harvests or stifle responses to trade. However, it is likely to have limited the acceptance and diffusion of certain types of technological innovations.2

Conservation of the resource in this milieu cannot be viewed as the deliberate act of husbanding a resource by limiting harvests to ensure its sustainability. Conservation and sustainability were built into the production system by applying the adaptable/appropriate technology and the proper mode of harvesting. It was an ethic the basis of which was the view a community took about its relationship with nature: one of symbiosis rather than dominance.

Quite clearly then, the concepts of the sea being “common property” -connoting absence of ownership or right of free access - and conservation as a separate action or afterthought were alien to the time-honoured fishing traditions of the Indo-Pacific Region. Traditional fishing communities even today see their future in the sea. In a more formalized economic sense it would be right to surmize that they view the sea and the living resources therein as inter-generational social capital - they are equally concerned about its “stock” and its “flow” dimensions.

1 Shiva (1987) has pointed out some assumptions which Hardin makes in his famous piece on “The Tragedy of the Commons” which merit comment in our context. The assumptions are those of Hardin himself which by an act of transference he foists on the poor unprotesting herdsmen. These assumptions are (a) that each herdsman (in our case artisanal fishermen) sees himself as an atomized individual who is pitted against the rest of the community in a deadly competition for grabbing as much of the commons as he can, (b) that in all societies production is not for satisfaction of needs, but for exchange in a monetized market with a view to making immediate profit, and (c) that every herdsman (fisherman) is so short-sighted (“rational” in Hardin's vocabulary) as to sacrifice his future survival on the altar of immediate gain. We may also add to this that a further assumption is that each herdsman (fisherman) has the resources to make unlimited investments in cattle (fishing assets) without reference to other socio-economic constraints

2 The fishing technologies in the small-scale fishery of the Region are marked by the diversity of design. Some of these are the result of cultural and trade relationships between the countries within and outside the Region. The techniques are marked by their appropriateness to the fishery resource. To arrive at such a “mix” several exogenous techniques are likely to have been rejected.

2. The Fisheries Development Decades

Following the Second World War many of the developing countries of the Region obtained their political independence from the colonial powers. These economies then embarked on various paths of “modernization” and “planned development” taking after the patterns of economic growth in the developed countries.

Fisheries development followed much the same path. To achieve it, a considerable amount of blind imitation, particularly of craft and gear technology of the developed countries in the temperate zones, was perceived to be inevitable. This technology, though labour displacing, was favoured because it was more “efficient”.1

In this process a rich heritage of indigenous technology and encyclopedic cultural knowledge of the traditional fishing communities was neglected. Most of the traditional inbuilt conservationist values and adaptive strategies long employed to manage and conserve the fishery resource were construed as barriers to development. Communal control of the fishery resource was seen as contrary to the entrepreneurial ethic required to maximize output. The extension of the boundaries of the fish economy and the need to link it through trade and aid to the developed countries was portrayed as inevitable if the development process was to be a continuous and dynamic proposition.

Fisheries development, far from being merely a change of artefacts, physical processes and expansion of the economy - from the canoe to the trawler, curing to freezing, local consumption to export orientation - brought a total change in the social, economic, ecological and cultural structures and values of the erstwhile fish economy. This expansionist, capital and energy-intensive growth and export-oriented socio-economic process was spurred primarily by the prospects of quick profits which could be made by exploiting a freely accessible renewable resource. Three important consequences followed.

First, the new craft-gear technologies, spurred by new cost/benefit possibilities2 and most of ten without the effective control of the traditional fishermen, created a wide disparity in the access-capability to the fishery resource. It had the effect of an “enclosure movement”.3There was a growing conflict for space in coastal waters. A certain negative unidirectional externality was imposed on those with historic rights.

1 Efficiency was viewed from the very narrow short-term perspective of input/output relationships. It hardly considered the long-term implication of this on the sustainability of the resource.

2 The phenomenal profits to be made from exporting of shrimp to the US and Japanese markets provided the major incentives. This was a Region-wide phenomenon.

3 A parallel is being drawn here to the moves made by landlords in Britain in the mid-eighteenth century who, following the rise in the price of wool, enclosed common fields and pastures for rearing sheep. In this process they forcibly dispossessed peasants who had traditional rights of access to these common lands (Hobsbawm, 1984).

Second, due to the higher “efficiency” of these new technologies, there was an initial quantum jump in the physical output and its value. However, the distribution of this enlarged “fish-pie”, as also its control, was hardly in favour of the fishworkers. This resulted in fisheries development becoming largely divorced from fishworkers' development. Consequently the earlier avenues and possibilities for effective participation of the fishworkers in matters relating to their livelihood and future was virtually cut-off.

Third, having adopted almost in toto the same model of technology and development followed by the developed maritime states, it was only natural that the resource-catastrophe-potential inherent in the model was also duly inherited. The initial growth phase quickly gave way to the crisis and catastrophe phase. The humble Peruvian anchovy dramatized the point on an international scale. Other examples, though more localized, had chaotic effects on the fish economies of most developing countries of the Region. It brought some tragedy to the commons but much more to the commoner - the small-scale fishermen!

3. Responses to the Bitter Fruits of Development

These consequences merging together held back the tide of expectations which envisaged that fisheries would become the Cinderella of industries in the Region. These bitter fruits of development resulted i ripples of discontent. in some countries of the Region they turned into waves of protest.

3.1 Responses of the Fishworkers

The increasing number of the new genre of vocal fishworkers' organizations1 in the Region is a direct consequence of the unfulfilled expectations. Unlike in developed countries, the prime concerns and demands of these organizations pertain to resource allocation and management questions rather than the better known issues of lack of control over their fish and the exploitation by middlemen and merchants.

It is important to note that the resource conservation issues and the demands for greater participation in its management are essentially questions of equity. However they are also inextricably intertwined with issues related to the choice and control of the technology of harvesting; the restoration of certain historic rights; and the revival of certain value premises as regards man's relationship to Nature. The few spontaneous, as well as the more sustained and organized movements among the fishworkers in this Region, give simultaneous expression to this and are therefore at once socio-political and techno-ecological.

3.2 Responses of Governments

The responses of the provincial/national governments of the Region to such new forms of activism among fishworkers have necessarily been varied. We may generalize that, by and large, it is the “equity” considerations which have overshadowed the “efficiency” solutions. The policy makers and politicians have had to come to terms with the sheer numerical political clout of the large numbers of protesting fishworkers. Decisions to placate the agitated fishworkers have had to be taken at the highest political levels. In general, governments of the Region have come to terms with the fact that the future course of fisheries development and management without some form of participation of fishworkers is unlikely to be smooth sailing - at least from the socio-political perspective.

1 In the earlier years, particularly at the advent of the development decades, many governments in the Region formed various kinds of organizations through which they hoped to deliver the fruits of development to the fishworkers. The most common form was that of the “cooperative” created from above and handed down to the fishworkers. They rarely succeeded in their aims.


A word about the predominant character of these new fishworkers organizations is appropriate at this juncture.

The vast majority of these organizations are associations of fishworkers with areas of operations spatially limited to a province or district. In some countries within the Region these base-level organizations have federated to form a state or national level network or forum. The small-scale fishermen's organizations among them can be linked to the peasant organizations common to the agrarian sector of the Region.

At the programme level it can be said that these organizations are occupied by a variety of activities centrally concerned about the “rights” of their members most of which they hope to largely obtain from their respective governments. Their actions commonly include awareness-creation exercises for members and public1, lobbying with policy-makers and politicians2; and organizing of demonstrations to focus attention on their cause.

In the case of the small-scale fishermen's organizations the four most common items on the action-agenda are (i) an appeal for a recognition and preservation of some of the traditional, historic rights of access of their members to the in-shore fishery resource; (ii) a demand for the control or total ban of some of the harvesting technologies introduced during the fishery development decades - particularly trawling and purse-seining; (iii) a plea for more appropriate technology and sustainable resource management; and (iv) a call for greater participation by their members in the formulation and implementation of fishery development and management policies in future.

At the concrete organizing level these associations and fora are genuinely “bottom-up” organizations with committed membership essentially from among the fishworkers. At the the leadership level there is often a co-sharing of responsibilities between active fishworkers and a class of social activities who may be called “supporters”. The latter tend to be professional social workers/community organizers. They have been joined more recently by a growing number of social and physical scientists who, in the course of their professional work, have come to identify themselves with the fishworkers' cause. Because of the involvement of these “non-fishworkers” one common feature of these organizations is their close links with voluntary associations concerned with socio-economic and ecological issues.

1 Many of these organizations have their own newsletters intended to keep members informed about the activities. They also conduct seminars, training sessions and discussions for their cadres.

2 By submitting mass petitions to government authorities they constantly keep up the pressure.

It may appear premature to review the role played by these fishworkers' organizations in the fisheries management regimes of the Region for the simple reason that there are hardly any major experiences to report of concrete participation of fishworkers' organizations in the actual implementation process. However, there are several cases to illustrate how fishermen's organizations have brought to bear strong pressures on governments to initiate steps for fisheries management. That fishworkers initiated this process of introducing management measures is an all-important and necessary first steop to their participation in its future effective implementation. To illustrate this we shall consider three brief case studies from three parts of the Region with different political and fishery contexts.


1. INDIA, Kerala State

Kerala State, situated in the South-West coast of India, has traditionally been the foremost fishery area of the Indian sub-continent. The State accounts for a tenth of India's coastline of 6,000 km and about a third of its half a million active marine fishermen. They net about a quarter of the marine fish production of India.

The history of Kerala's fish economy, as well as its more recent decades of fishery development, follow rather closely the general description of this process which we outlined above1.

One of the world's richest shrimp resources is located off Kerala. Unlike in South-East Asia, shrimp was never an important part of the local cusine. It was harvested and mainly exported in the dried form to South-East Asian markets. In the early '60s, following the rising demand for shrimp in the international market - particularly in the USA, freezing technology and a small variety of trawlers were popularized in Kerala by a fishery aid project2.

Perceiving significant profit opportunities, a new class of non-fishermen investors entered the fisheries sector. This spurred a proliferation of trawlers and freezing capacity. With increasing fishing pressure, the trawlers moved from the deeper to the shallower waters entering into competition with the artisanal fishermen over fishing space and soon over product as well. From the mid '70s sporadic instances of conflict were reported but being localized were treated by the authorities as a law and order problem.

By the end of the '70s the ripples of dissent of the small-scale, artisanal fishermen - faced with declining productivity and hampered access to inshore waters due to trawler operations - turned into waves of organized protest. The threats to their immediate livelihood brought them together under the banner of an independent trade union (i.e. not having direct affiliation to any particular political party) - Kerala Swatantra Malsya Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF) - Kerala Independent Fishworkers' Federation. The KSMTF has its village and district level units with active fishermen cadres at every level. A small but influential minority of community organizers, radical Christian clergy and nuns and social scientists played an important role as facilitators and animators in the union-building process.

1 For details about the specific case of Kerala State see Kurien (1985).

2 This aid project takes the credit for being the world's first development assistance project. It was funded by the Norweign Government. For a detailed analysis of its role in the specific context of Kerala's fisheries see Kurien (1985).

In 1981, the KSMTF organized State-wide demonstrations along nodal points of the State's 600 km coastline to focus public and policy-makers' attention on the need for immediate management measures to safeguard the future of the fishery resource. The active participation of the womenfolk in the agitation was an unusual feature and played an important role in capturing public support. The specific demands of the KSMTF included: an exclusive fishing zone for small-scale fishermen; a closed season for trawling operations during the monsoon months of June to August; a total ban on purse-seiner operations; and also a list of subsidiary demands for greater welfare measures for fish workers.

Opposing the KSMTF demands for closed seasons and purse-seiner bans was the economically powerful lobby of trawler and purse-seiner owners.

The Government (at that time a coalition of political parties with the communist parties dominating), confronted with the dilemma of having to please both sides enacted appropriate zoning legislations1 but was unable to strictly enforce the law due to the lack of technical and financial resources. However quick measures were taken to implement the welfare schemes - village societies, insurance schemes, more liberal credit, housing loans and the like.

An expert committee was appointed in order to look into the “scientific and technological issues and assess the socio-economic consequences of the fishery management demands of the fishermen”. It came to be known after its chairperson as the Babu Paul Committee. The committee had representatives from the scientific community, the State administration, the small-scale fishermen's unions and the trawler owner associations. The most reputed of the scientists on the committee failed to appear at meetings on the plea that the fishermen's demands were “more political than scientific”. He left the administrators to resolve the diametrically opposing positions of the fishermen and the trawler owners. The committee could not arrive at any consensus. Its proceedings were wound up with the fishermen organization representatives presenting a dissenting note to the chairperson2. A stalemate prevailed.

Meanwhile fresh elections in the State brought a new political alliance into power. It was more conservative. Its approach was to placate the fishermen by providing more financial assistance and access to intermediate technology. It gave impetus to the motorization spree of the small-scale fishermen1 and created a new “fisheries development federation” to cater exclusively to the needs of the small fishermen.

1 The Kerala Marine Fisheries Regulation Act 1981.

2 Babu Paul, 1982.

Despite the motorization trend, overall fish production continued to stagnate. With each approaching monsoon season, the fishermen became more restive. In 1984, the KSMTF announced renewal of its monsoon agitation. Its primary demand was for a total ban of trawling during the period June to August - the breeding season for many fishes - and for stricter enforcement of the zoning provisions of the Kerala Marine Fisheries Regulation Act (KMFR)2.

The vast array of political parties in the State created or revived their dormant fishermen front organizations not wanting to have their future electoral calculations to be upset3. The 1984 agitation resulted in a widespread social upheaval of the coastal belt. The predominatly non-violent agitational tactics were occasionally marred by violent encounters between irate fishworkers - men and women - and the police. Many fishworkers and social organizers were arrested. The national media focussed great attention on this uprising. While serious editorials commented on both the social and ecological aspects of the movement, the local newspapers spotlighted the KSMTF sponsored indefinite hunger satyagraha of a Hindu fisherman and a Catholic nun.

The Government was unyielding to the major demand of the three month trawl ban. Its spokesmen constantly highlighted the phenomenal “costs” of such a step - massive fall in the State's foreign exchange earning and unemployment of trawler crew and processing workers.

The KSMTF is associated at the all-India level to the National Fishermen's Forum (NFF) - a confederation of fishermen's trade unions. The NFF -whose member units in the Indian States of Goa and Tamilnadu have spearheaded similar agitations in their respective States - proposed the idea of an experimental closed season during the monsoon months to be combined with participatory monitoring of the effect of the trawl ban on the resource.

Seeing a virtual cul-de-sac to their agitation the KSMTF approached the State Government with the experimental ban proposal. The NFF suggested that the FAO Fisheries Division to provide its expertise to achieve this.

The State Government however did not take up this suggestion. Instead they appointed another three-member expert committee to re-examine the management issues.

1 Unlike the rest of the Region, the southern parts of India entered the “outboard motor revolution” phase in a big way only after 1980. There were a few isolated experiments tried out earlier but the artisanal fishermen never took to the motors seriously at that stage. They found it hardly necessary then.

2 See Kurien (1984) for details about the economics and politics of this agitation.

3 Kerala State is a geographically enlongated State with numerous coastal constituencies. An unpredictable fishing community could bring electoral ruin to any political party. In a multi-party democracy such risks tend to be much higher.

This new committee, commonly referred to as the Kalawar Committee, presented its findings in 1985 (Kalawar et al, 1985). It did not approve the closed season for shrimp harvesting. It however strongly favoured a drastic reduction of the trawler fleet size to half its strength. In place of trawlers the commission stressed the need to encourage the more passive shrimp harvesting gear like trammel nets which were newly introduced by artisanal fishermen in 1983. The committee recommended a total ban on purse-seiner operations in coastal waters and cautioned about the massive motorization drive being encouraged by the Government. It also highlighted the need for fishermen's participation in management.

The main recommendations of the committee remain to be implemented, although the Government which appointed the committee had committed itself to carry them out. In 1987 the Government was voted out of power. The swing in the coastal votes against it played an important role in the defeat.

Six years after their first major agitation in 1981, with three changes of government during this period and a continued crisis in the fishery, the fishermen's organizations in general, and the KSMTF in particular, face an impasse.

The KSMTF is now making a new demand aimed at securing greater participation for active fishermen in the fish economy. It is calling for an aquarian reform: only active fishermen should be given ownership of fishing assets. There has also been a new form of action by the KSMTF. Fishermen collectively apprehend trawlers/purse-seiners violating the zoning regulations and thus force the Government and the police authorities to take legal action under the KMFR Act. In this manner, while they do take the law into their hands, they force the Government to act in their favour. By taking on the self-appointed role of policing their exclusive zone, guaranteed under the KMFR Act, they are bringing to bear on the State the usefulness and the inevitability of having fishermen participate more formally in managing the resource. However, neither the Government nor the unions themselves want the entire responsibility for resource management given to the fishermen.

The coastline of Kerala is marked by clearly identifiable fishery zones. Within each zone, physical geography, fishery resources distribution, craftgear design, infrastructural facilities and market access are fairly homogenous. This fact provides the primary rationale for a greater involvement of the fishing community in the development and management of fishery resources. The overall coordination must necessarily rest with the State. Striking the right balance is the need of the future.


The Indonesian archipelago of over 13,000 islands forms one of the most important fishery nations of the Region. It has an active fishermen population of around a million who live more dispersed than the rest of the population2. As in the Kerala State example, the more recent phase of planned fisheries development under the REPLEITA (the Five Years Plans) has followed rather closely the general description we had given of this process earlier in Part I.

1 This section draws heavily on the work of Conner Bailey, see Bailey (1984 and 1987).

2 Whereras 81% of the total population live on three islands - Java, Madura and Sumatra - only 52% of the fishermen live on these islands.

The expansion of commercial trawling for shrimp in the 1960's and '70s - mainly for export - contributed significantly to localized over-exploitation of inshore demersal fishery resources. The small-scale artisanal fishermen were at a disadvantage in competing with the trawlers. The trawlers were initially introduced by persons of Chinese descent and this is likely to be an additional reason for the native Indonesian small fishermen resenting their proliferation. The competition led to severe conflict - death of many artisanal fishermen whose boats were rammed by trawlers and destruction of many wooden trawlers by the artisanal fishermen. The south coast of Java was the most affected by these wars at sea. The anti-trawl sentiment was so high that even government research vessels using trawls for stock assessment could not be assured protection by the authorities.

In response to the mounting violence several Minister's Decrees were enacted in the 1970's. They proclaimed measures for sustainable management of the fishery resource and for providing protection to the small-scale fishermen. The regulations included restrictions on the number of trawlers and the area of their operations. Despite these legal enactments, enforcement proved difficult. Some important reasons have been attributed for this: (i) lack of adequate personnel and equipment; (ii) lack of clear enforcement responsibilities; (iii) political influence exerted by trawler owners.

Despite the decrees there was a continuing increase in the number of trawlers. Conflicts became more violent and widespread. The secondary material available to us does not give an indication of the presence of any formally organized fishermen's organizations spearheading these anti-trawler agitations in the initial years. However, it is unlikely that they were totally unplanned and anarchic. It is likely that cohesive village-level groupings of artisanal fishermen came together for such concerted action. The Director of Fisheries of Indonesia of that period states that “disturbances like physical clashes between trawlers and traditional fishermen (were) followed by arrests and demonstrations in several villages” (Sardjono, 1980).

At the same time, in Indonesia's political context, it is unlikely that the latent unrest could have been channelled into any form of organized protest on a massive scale. In this connection, the existence of the Himpunan Nelayan Seluruh Indonesia (HNSI) - All-Indonesian Fishermen's Association - merits mention. The HNSI is a non-governmental organization but did not have the freedom of expression and autonomy of mobilization enjoyed by the KSMTF in Kerala State, India. The HNSI, through its role of organizing meetings, lobbying, awareness programmes and participation in issues of fishery policy and research, acted as a buffer and link between the policy-makers, the military and the increasingly restive fishermen in the coastal villages.

When all else failed to satisfy the fishermen, in 1980 the President enacted the now world famous Presidential Decree 39 (PD 39). By this all trawlers from the waters off Java and Sumatra were banned. It was a decision taken at the highest level with the full weight of Government behind the enactment. A total trawl ban implied numerous weighty short-term consequences. The more important ones were: the fall in fish production and foreign exchange earnings; the unemployment of the crew members and the onshore fishworkers involved in processing and distribution activities. It also meant that the Government would face stiff opposition from the powerful trawler lobby dominated by an influential minority community and also alienate foreign collaborators involved in the shrimp export industry.

It is indeed significant that all the above easily assessable short-term economic and political “costs” of PD 39 were considered less important than the more difficult to discern “benefits” of the long-term, dissipated gains which the trawl ban would bring to the million small-scale fishermen and the sustainability it would ensure to the inshore resources.

In maritime economies where there exists great population pressure on land combined with growing landlessness and little opportunity in other land-based sectors, inshore waters tend to provide an open-access resource of last resort. It is a safety valve for surplus labour. In populous countries like Indonesia, such pressures can have “explosive” implications not just for the fishery sector but for the economy as a whole.

The trawl ban proclaimed by PD 39 was essentially a decree which had acknowledged this basic fact. It had assessed the overall “equity” considerations inherent in the ban to be co-terminus with the “efficiency” of the economy as a whole viewed in the context of the overall socio-economic and political considerations in Indonesia at that time. The Director of Fisheries, General Sardjono, summarizing this concern states: “Every sudden change in policies or regulations by any government might indeed upset certain established systems or investment, but compared with the aim of reaching social peace and stability, by way of providing better protection to the poor traditional fishermen masses, the disadvantages become very minor (Sardjono, 1980).

In that sense PD 39 is a recognition of the important fact that “just as the fisheries sector may be unable to solve society's problems, so too the problems of fisheries management cannot be solved without reference to broader developments within society as a whole (Bailey, 1987).


The Philippines is composed of more than 7,000 islands and a coastline of over 17,000 km. In between the maze of islands are numerous highly productive large lakes and small seas. The total area of its marine and inland waters is five times the size of its land area.

The fishermen population number nearly a million of which over eighty percent are small-scale operators - “municipal fishermen” as they are called in the Philippines.

The fishery development pattern in the Philippines under the Martial Law Regime of President Marcos favoured foreign collaboration in the industry in contrast to the earlier policy of enhancing fish production to meet local consumption needs and of limiting the development of local fishery resources to Filipino citizens and corporations. A result of this was the significant increase of investment in infrastructure facilities such as fish ports, processing facilities etc. It also led to the heightened exploitation of the inshore and off-shore waters using capital-intensive technology which was outside the reach of the local fishermen. This influx of capital into the industry in an attempt to modernize it was at the expense of local employment and livelihoods.

Laguna de Bay

The experiences in Laguna de Bay in Luzon provide an example of how development programmes which go awry provide the grounds for unrest among small fishermen. Sporadic incidents lead to organized protests which in turn pressured the Government to implement management measures as we have already seen in the case of Kerala State and Indonesia.

Embracing a total of 90,000 ha, Laguna Lake has for centuries provided its lakeshore dwellers - a hardy population of fishermen and their families - a seemingly unlimited source of livelihood. In 1966 a Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) was created to “promote development within the lake area, conserve natural resources and promote the socio-economic wellbeing of its residents”.

The post Martial Law period, however, witnessed an unprecedented privatization of the lake through the rapid establishment of fish pens primarily to grow milkfish. Despite the intention of allowing fishermen cooperatives to have priority in allocation of the pens, it was clear that several Laguna town mayors, military officials and Government officers took control of many hectares of Lake water. A large number of these holdings were also illegal and undertaken without proper licence from the LLDA. The Lake was soon a maze of fish-pens of all makes and sizes. Watchtowers were erected with armed guards protecting the waters against poachers.

Deprived of their livelihood and having been denied access to their traditional fishing grounds, the small fishermen of Laguna Lake decided to fight back. In 1979, they formed the Samanan ng mga Maliliit na Mangingisda as Cavite, Laguna at Rizal ( Organization of Small Fishermen in Cavite, Laguna and Rizal). It is also called CALARIZ.

Their initial actions were restricted to letters addressed to the LLDA, the military and the Office of the President. Drawing upon two Predidential letters of instruction (LOI) issued earlier ordering the demolition of illegal fish-pens, the fishermen sought the assistance of government agencies in enforcing the LOI directives. With the LLDA unwilling to act in favour of the fishermen, CALARIZ decided to take direct action. However, the organized strength of the fishermen of Laguna Lake was no match for the forces which the private fish-pen owners could muster. Several leading activists of CALARIZ lost their lives.

This consequently produced a very volatile situation which led to the appointment of a new Chairman for LLDA. In an attempt to defuse the tension the new administrator had to implement a zoning and management plan for the Lake which was aimed at rationalizing and democratizing the Lake's resources. Removing illegal fish pens was the main focus. As much as 6,000 ha of illegal pens were demolished.

To achieve a more rational and equitable use of the resources, as well as defuse an explosive situation, the LLDA was forced to consider ways and means of involving fishermen's organizations in the development and management of the Lake. Profit-sharing economic ventures and the less formalized role of “safeguarding” the resources of the Lake by their organized vigilance were two of the ways envisaged.

CALARIZ has been receiving the backing and support of many NGO's and unions of workers from the other sectors of the Philippine economy in their efforts at building a strong organization.

With the recent greater democratization of their country the various fishermen organizations from all over the Philippines have united under one forum: Panbansang Lakas Ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya Ng Philipinas (National Movement of Philippines Fishermen's Organizations). It is also called PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas.

PAMALAKAYA has been pressing the claim for fishworkers' representation in the newly formed Congress. It has urged President Aquino to implement genuine fishery reforms which will provide small fishermen communities with preferential access to municipal and inland fishing grounds. They also urge the repeal of those Treaties and Decrees of the previous regime which they perceived to be against their interests. Their most important demand is for instituting mechanisms to ensure the meaningful praticipation of the fisherfolk in the formulation and implementation of fishery policy.


1. New Roles, New Realms of Action

From the three case studies we see how, despite the differences in the political systems and the varying levels of freedom of association and expression of dissent, fishermen have been able to bring organized pressure on their governments to introduce changes in fisheries and fishing management.

In all the cases it was the introduction of inappropriate technologies controlled by non-fishermen and rapid commercialization of the fishery which was at the root of the marginalization of the fishworkers who were deprived of their rights and their livelihood. This crisis united them for concerted action. While the costs of their struggles so far were heavy in economic and human terms, the further actions to be taken for the benefits to be fully realized still remain unclear.

In the specific case studies discussed, as well as the developing countries of the Region as a whole, there seems to be a dilemma on this count.

On the one hand there is increasing appreciation of the fact that, because of the dispersed nature of fishery resources and (hence) the fishing communities, attempts at centralized measures for fisheries development, and more particularly fishing management, are often inappropriate and difficult to implement. In this context, some forms of local community participation in resource management seem both desirable and to some extent inevitable. On the other hand, the propriety of granting fishermen the primary right to manage what governments consider to be a nationally-owned resource is a subject of debate.

Having asserted their rights, the small fishermen's organizations have secured some initial gains - particularly in the form of legal enactments for exclusive zones for themselves, ban of certain destructive technologies and so forth. They still have a long voyage ahead to make certain that effective control of resource management at the micro and mezzo levels become a reality. Strong measures need to be taken to consolidate the gains.

There have been some recent “rediscoveries” of customary laws of sea tenure and use rights in fishing, practiced earlier by several small-scale fishing communities in the Region. These provide some indicators for giving concrete form to the ideals of community participation in resource management. This “step back to make two steps forward” will by no means be as easy as it is often made to sound. The grim reality is that the last two or three decades have witnessed a worsening in the standards of living of most small-scale fishermen. This has “forced many to emphasize narrow selfinterest and a neo-classical form of economic rationality as a means of survival (Bailey, 1987). Much of the ecologically sophisticated indigenous knowledge and harvesting technologies have been the major casualities of this pursuit. This has also caused a quick disintegration of community structures and traditional resources management mechanisms.

One important pre-condition for the revival of these customary practices is an aquarian reform wherein the rights of access to fishing assets are given exclusively to active fishermen1. Such a step would greatly reduce the excess investment now at sea. This would contribute significantly to resource sustainability. More importantly it would go a long way to reduce the social distances between fishermen by making them a class of more equal owner-workers. Only such a community of co-equals can continue cohesively together particularly after the “menace of trawlers” and “capitalist exploiters” are vanquished from the scene. Such cohesiveness, premised on socio-economic equality rather than the mere interest of fighting a common enemy, is a necessary condition if revival of community level welfare, management, tenurial systems and cultural knowledge are to be achieved. The struggle for this cause will be as demanding but more challenging than the “wars at sea”.

There is a second realm of action which the new genre of fishermen's organizations should take up. They must initiate a movement against those intermediaries whose control over the produce of the fishermen's labour can result in a total dissipation of the gains achieved from control over resources. In this, small-scale fishermen have many lessons to be learnt from the historic struggles of their counterparts in many of the present industrial countries.

There is a third area of concern. Fishermen's organizations in the Region should resist a tendency inherent in the other sectors of the economy of their countries: progressive enhancement of the scale of technology. This is a tendency to be curbed particularly in the fish harvesting activity. Small is not only economically and socially desirable in the context of the labour-surplus fishery sectors, it is eminently ecologically appropriate given the unchangeable characteristics of the tropical waters off the Region. Small-scale technology will be within the financial reach of greater numbers of fishermen, thus providing for more equity. Small-scale operations enhance the possibility for diversity of gear design: ensure decentralized spatial organization of economic activity; provide scope for multiple energy use which contributes to reduced costs of operation and can yet be amenable to the use of the most recent advances in miniaturized scientific technology.

2. More Empathy, Fresh Alliances

If this new class of fishermen's organizations, which arose out of genuine need of the fishermen, are to have more formalized roles in fishing management they would require more empathy and support from many quarters. We wish to elaborate on the roles of five: national governments, national fishery institutions, fish consumers, voluntary associations and international organizations.

2.1 National Governments

The decision to delegate formalized roles in management of resources to fishermen's organizations ultimately rests with national governments. At the moment there are no outstanding examples of such delegation of power. A survey of the scene indicates that it is only a matter of time before some countries may take bold decisions. From the concrete experiences of introducing regulatory measures, it is hard to predict which countries in the Region will take this step; neither the position of the ideological spectrum nor the extent of democracy provide a basis for such prognosis. Be that as it may, it is reasonable to conclude that only if the larger socio-economic and political consequences of such a decision are favourable will it be taken.

1 This would be restricted to technology of a smaller scale but there can be no common definition of what is small.

In this context fishermen's organizations which have spearheaded the movements for regulation and resource management need to demonstrate concretely to governments their competence to provide alternative forms of community-oriented management. National governments on their part may wish to provide the opportunity for a demonstration of this. A good starting point would be to initiate pilot projects for fishing management in areas where resources depletion and conflicts have been predominant. Fishermen's organizations should then be involved in the planning, implementation and monitoring along with government agencies. This could provide an avenue for mutual assessment of competences paving the way to remove unwarranted distrust.

Governments should also consider the feasibility of measures for aquarian reform of the type suggested earlier with a “fishing assets to the fisher” programme. Considering that it will affect the distribution of wealth in the fisheries sector there is bound to be strong resistence to the move from a lobby of fishing asset owners who entered the scene during the “fishery development decades”. A political decision at the highest level needs to be taken to make this reform a reality. It will go a long way to strengthen the position of active small-scale fishermen, making them more deeply involved and responsible for fishing management.

2.2 National Fishery Institutions

National fishery institutions in the Region involved in research, technology and training have unintentionally imbibed a bias against the small-scale artisanal sector. In their urge to “modernize” they considered this sector as being “unscientific, primitive and resistant to change”. A new superstructure was built following the research paradigms and priorities reflected in the developed maritime States. Over the few decades the result of this has been an alienation of the scientific community from the needs and priorities of the small-scale fishermen. This has led to a hostility between the two groups. It became visible in many of the countries of the Region following the rise of the new fishermen's organizations.

It is imperative to remove this hostility and foster in its place mutual respect and willingness to learn from each other. The onus of making the first step is with the scientists. They have to reorient their institutions to undertake a “co-evolutionary development” of the two knowledge systems - that of the small-scale fishermen and the fishery scientists1. This is the major need of the hour. Devising appropriate technologies and management strategies will depend crucially on the strength of this collaboration.

2.3 Fish Consumers

The experience in most of the developing countries of the Region has been that fisheries development has resulted in less fish for local consumption at higher prices. Were it not for the small-scale fishermen who continued to catch the species of fish that ultimately reached the local markets, this situation could have been worse. Implicit in the structure of small-scale fishing operations - its lower cost of production as well as the smaller size, greater variety and spatial spread of landing - is a bias which makes most of the harvests from its flow through widespread, labour-intensive distribution channels to be finally consumed locally as food. In the specific context of the developing countries of the Regin, a “fish-for-food-for-the-masses” orientation is therefore inextricably linked to the continuance of a dynamic, small-scale fishery. This, in turn, is vitally linked to the sustainability of the coastal fishery resource.

1 See Kurien (1987) for an elaboration of this concept.

There is a strong case for the numerous consumer associations in the Region to examine this proposition. Their concerns about lowering fish prices and raising availability of fish for food can be linked to a programme of support for coastal resources being managed by small fishermen. Fishermen's organizations in the Region need to build such alliances with consumer organization to help further their cause.

2.4 Voluntary Associations

One distinctive feature of the new fishermen's organizations which have come up in the Region is the strong association they have had with voluntary associations. In some countries there are voluntary groups who have had long and exclusive association with small-scale fishermen. These groups have played the role of facilitators and animators to fishworker's organizations. They have helped in highlighting the plight of fishworkers to public and policy-makers and have contributed significantly to the cause of empowering small-scale fishermen to assert their rights. The recently formed International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) provides the forum for such voluntary groups and individuals from all over the world to work in collaboration. The prime initiative for the creation of the ICSF came from the voluntary groups in the Region. Several new development projects have been undertaken and many laws and regulations have been passed by national governments which on paper provide a very sound basis for fisheries development and management. Their implementation needs to be monitored and the effects of this on fishworkers and the fishery resource assessed. The ICSF and the national/regional voluntary associations can undertake this task and provide the results of inter-country experiences to fishermen's organizations. Such information can provide useful negotiating and bargaining points for fishermen's organizations when dealing with governments. It will also promote greater solidarity among the fishermen's organizations in the Region.

2.5 International Organizations

Ideas translate more quickly into action when they are supported in international circles. Organizations like FAO, ICLARM and UNESCO have in the recent past emphasized the merit of involving fishermen in the implementation of fishing management programmes. This line of thinking advocated by them at international conferences and in working papers must continue with greater vigour. This will facilitate a faster “trickling down” to the national level through the aegis of progressive policy-makers and conerned scientists.

Agencies like FAO, when called upon by national governments to assist in fishing management schemes, must stress the importance of formalizing fishermen's participation at the planning, implementation and monitoring stages.


International fora - of policy-makers and fishworkers - stress the importance and desirability of giving fishworkers' organizations of developing countries the possibility for effective participation in fisheries management. As we have seen in our brief study, concrete realization of this objective is still to be achieved.

The history and specific context of the Region - the socio-economic, political and fishery - point to the need for a different understanding of the overall context in which this issue is situated. A total recourse to market mechanisms for arriving at “efficient” solutions to the question of access and control of the resource of the sea can prove to be socio-politically and ecologically suicidal. Governments of the Region are well aware of this. A centrally planned allocative process based on principles of strict “equity” is also unworkable, given the sheer diversity of the resource and the vast spatial spread for the active fishworker population. At the interface lies the role of fishworkers' organizations.

Finding the right blend between desirable and possible solutions is the need of the hour in the Region. Much thought and concerted action is required on the part of governments, fishworkers' organizations and their supporters. At stake is the future of fishworkers and fish.


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