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5.1 Economic impacts on specific stakeholder groups
5.2 Interactions in the local and regional economy
5.3 Indebtedness
5.4 Criteria for measuring benefits and negative impacts
5.5 Costs of fisheries development and management

The economic factors involved in any fisheries management measure will always require their own detailed analysis using tools specifically designed for economic analysis. However, sociological analysis also has to look at the influence and interaction of economic and sociological issues as there are many ways in which these areas are closely linked and sometimes difficult to separate.

5.1 Economic impacts on specific stakeholder groups

5.1.1 Gender issues

As women are often involved in very small-scale fisheries, the economic contribution these make can be easily underestimated. In some areas, women have special skills which have developed into important money-earning fisheries. In coastal areas of Bangladesh, for example, women are among the most important producers in the very extensive fishery for shrimp fry which is vital for the expanding shrimp culture industry.

The economic contributions to the fishery made by women may not always be obvious or may be difficult to analyse in the same way as more formal "commercial" enterprises operated by men. Some apparently very unproductive fisheries with little "economic" importance in comparison to other fisheries may be relatively far more important for those actually involved in them. For very poor or vulnerable households, which are often female-headed households, the small amounts of fish they obtain from pushnetting in nearby swamps may play a far more important role in providing them with a livelihood than a much more commercially oriented fishery carried out by other households as one among a range of enterprises and not necessarily the most important.

Sociologists need to assist in first identifying the range of activities carried out by women which contribute to the fisheries economy and in measuring their importance.

Gender-specific impacts of fisheries interventions

Some fisheries interventions can have direct impacts on women's access to the fisheries in which they are active, as illustrated in Box 3. The effects of interventions or changes can also be more subtle. Involvement of formal fisheries agencies in attempting to develop or regulate the fisheries in which women are engaged may improve the status and productivity of those fisheries and lead to their being taken over by men, at the expense of women's ability to contribute to the household economy.

Where women are displaced from a fishery, for whatever reason, their social status, cultural norms regarding their behaviour and their reproductive roles within the household are likely to affect their mobility and their ability to take up alternative forms of income-generating or income-substituting activities.

5.1.2 Age issues


In much of south-east Asia the widespread use of fishing gears which specifically targets small, and frequently juvenile, fish in estuarine and mangrove areas is thought to play a significant role in coastal fisheries resource depletion. Fishers from coastal communities throughout the region employ a multitude of pushnets, liftnets, bagnets and traps which are relatively unselective and tend to catch many juveniles of species which use inshore waters as nursery grounds. The control, or even banning,, of such fishing gears may be desirable from the biological point of view, but these are often precisely the fishing gears most used by the poorest fishers. They provide the small, low-value fish and shellfish (including juveniles of larger, commercially important species) most used by women in local communities for processing and the manufacture of fish paste and other fermented fish products. These small-scale processing activities, and the added-value products they produce, may be practically the only economic activities available to women in remote coastal communities. Small, "undersized" fish may also be the only readily accessible source of animal protein for their families. Fisheries management measures aiming at the control of these "destructive" fisheries would probably have a disproportionate impact on women.

Potentially significant economic contributions by young and old people involved in fisheries also need to be considered.

Like women, older people in fishing communities may depend on open access fishing for a relatively important part of their diet even though the amount of fish they catch may be small.

Also, old people sometimes play significant roles in activities servicing the fisheries sector such as the repair of fishing gear and in fish processing. This may be one of the only ways in which older people in fishing communities can contribute to the family's livelihood and be important in maintaining their status within the household. Clearly such contributions can be affected by changes in the types of gear promoted by fisheries development programmes or by the introduction of new fish-processing technology.

5.2 Interactions in the local and regional economy

Sociological analysis of fishing activity at the community level needs to consider a variety of economic factors which are likely to influence the structure of the fishing community, patterns of dependency and patronage and the flows of benefits within the community.

5.2.1 Interdependence of fisheries and other economic activities

In some areas, particularly remote coastal communities, fisheries may be the "motor" of the community which effectively drives all other activities by providing income and employment. Box 4 describes such a case. In such circumstances, changes which might affect the contribution of the sector to the local economy, or threaten the sustainability of the sector, need to be carefully studied with a full awareness of possible "ripple effects".


Recent studies in rural areas of Malawi located near the shores of Lake Malawi have highlighted the important role which fisheries plays in these areas as one of the few economic activities which generates some surplus. Agriculture in many of these areas is extremely underdeveloped and starved of basic inputs and resources. Little capital is available locally for the basic improvements and investment required to boost production and earnings and encourage growth in the rural economy. However, along the lakeshore, fisheries still represents a viable economic activity which generates relatively high levels of surplus. In fact, migrant workers returning from South Africa frequently invest their savings in fishing operations as it is one of the few money-earning enterprises available for local investment. The opportunities for using fisheries, and fishing communities, as a starting point for encouraging more diversified development has been noted in several studies. Given the general lack of other sources of capital, fisheries could play a key role in "kick-starting" local economies along the shores of Lake Malawi. This could actually be linked to efforts to control fishing effort on the lake by encouraging people in lakeshore communities to invest fisheries earnings in alternative activities.(IMM, 1995)

The degree to which other activities in the community and surrounding area depend on particular types of fishing activity has to be clearly understood before interventions are recommended which might change the productivity or locations of fishing activity. Apparently minor shifts in the types of fisheries being targeted may result in changes in patterns of handling of catches which can radically change local economies.

For example, a change in the fishery from targeting fish primarily for processing to targeting fish for fresh sale may lead to a change in landing-place or change in handling procedures which could negatively affect a whole range of sideline activities which may have depended on fish landings - servicing of fishing operations, informal sales of food, cigarettes and other goods, provision of fuelwood for smoking, scavenging of fish discards, and any number of local services could suddenly be deprived of their customers by an "improvement" in fisheries production.

5.2.2 Support networks for fisheries

Small-scale fisheries operations are often dependent on flows of resources, notably credit, which are linked to fish marketing channels. The relationships between fishers and credit providers are extremely complex. On the one hand, bonds of obligation and dependence may bind fishers to particular buyers/moneylenders in a way which effectively prevents them from obtaining economic independence. Interest rates, measured by normal financial tools, are often usurious and exploitative. But frequently these links between primary producers and various middlemen responsible for channelling fish back to the consumer are essential for the support of risky, small-scale operations. Middlemen/moneylenders are often the only source of easily available credit in remote rural and coastal communities and they often provide flexible terms and a range of other services and assistance which it is difficult for formal credit institutions to imitate. Perhaps most importantly, they may be related to fishers themselves or at least come from the same community, speak the same language and be familiar with the needs and problems (and weaknesses) of local fishers.

5.2.3 Economic diversification

The degree of diversification of the economy in areas where fisheries interventions are planned will affect both people's motivations to enter fisheries, in the case of fisheries development programmes, and their ability to find alternative sources of livelihood, in the case of fisheries management programmes.

Sociologists have to take into account the extent to which the economies of fishing communities or particular areas may be linked and integrated with other communities and centres of trade and consumption through such channels. This will enable managers to understand how impacts at different points of the production chain may affect groups and individuals at other points.

Fisheries, particularly coastal marine fisheries, tends to be an activity which "catches" people falling out of other sectors. Therefore fishing pressure is often sensitive to shifts in other sectors which result in people looking for alternative employment. The perception is often that fishing is open to anyone who can afford a net. Therefore developments in other adjacent sectors need to be carefully looked at in order to understand what is happening in fisheries. Box 5 describes a case from Melanesia where the links between fisheries and other sectors were of considerable importance in determining intensity of exploitation of the fisheries resource and therefore very significant for fisheries managers.

5.3 Indebtedness

Particularly in small-scale fisheries, levels of indebtedness among fishing households can be an important economic factor which managers need to be aware of before considering recommendations which might require further investment of resources among fishers or fish-processors.

Problems can arise where debts are "informal", as is often the case where loans from fish traders or middlemen are concerned. These debts may be difficult to quantify as they are "paid back" through regular sale at preferential prices rather than by any fixed repayment at a set interest rate. However, such debts may still constitute a set of obligations which will be extremely important for fishers as they are also linked with more complex sets of social exchange mechanisms and obligations.


Fishing pressure on the north coast of Efate Island in Vanuatu is by no means constant. Local people indicate that, up until the late 1980s, fishing was generally regarded as a minor activity, important for household consumption but generating limited income. People's principal source of cash income came from the cultivation of coconuts and the processing of copra, an activity which has dominated the local economy since the early part of the 20th Century. Then, in the late 1980s, the price of copra on world markets fell dramatically. In recent years the prices have fallen so low that most of the copra smoking ovens in the area have ceased operation and, if people sell coconuts at all, it is as fresh green coconuts which now command a better price, even if the demand is relatively limited. The fall in copra prices effectively gutted the local economy in many rural communities in the area. People have had to seek out alternatives if they want to earn any cash income, and fishing on local reefs represents one of the few alternatives readily available. Marketing links with the growing urban population in the capital have been developed and fishing now represents the main source of income for some villages. Local fishers have noted the effects of this rise in fishing pressure on the relatively limited resources of reef fish in the area.
(MRAG, unpublished)

5.4 Criteria for measuring benefits and negative impacts

Most introduced changes will generate benefits and negative impacts which need to be measured in order to assess the effects of those interventions. Measurement of these positive and negative impacts in economic terms is clearly important but sociologists also have to assist in identifying benefits and disbenefits as they are perceived by local people. In some cases there may be important benefits which cannot be readily measured in economic terms but which can be very important for local communities.

In some cultures, assumptions that wealth maximisation is a key criteria for engagement in a particular occupation are invalid. In many rural communities greater importance is attached to networks of reciprocal obligations and efforts to raise social status than to accumulating personal wealth and "developing" fishing enterprises through reinvestment. Understanding how people express value and and measure benefits or success is critical if interventions are to be designed which effectively respond to real needs and priorities among local people.

5.4.1 Perceptions of benefits and disbenefits of management

Understanding people's perceptions of what is important is likely to be particularly crucial in fisheries management programmes where fishers and those dependent on fisheries may be asked to renounce immediate benefits with a view to ensuring that the exploitation of the resource as a whole performs better in economic terms and is sustainable into the future. While the argument in favour of management may seem extremely clear to fisheries scientists and fisheries economists, other forms of argument may be given far higher priority by resource users.

Communities living at a minimum level of subsistence and generating little or no surplus may simply not be able to afford any kind of renunciation of the exploitation of whatever resources are at their disposal, including fish. In such circumstances, fisheries managers' arguments for ensuring the sustainability of resources for the future are unlikely to carry much weight unless supported by tangible alternatives and concrete forms of compensation.


Fishers living on the floodplains of Bangladesh have a long tradition of managing the fisheries on which they depend. The traditional owners of the deeply-flooded areas where fish concentrate at the end of the flood season have historically had a role not just as exploiters of the resource but also as custodians. The owners of these beel, or those appointed by them, would have responsibility for keeping the beel healthy, ensuring that access routes for water and fish were kept clear and placing brush-parks (katha) in the deeper parts of the beel to provide the fish with shelter and feed (and facilitate their capture when required). Beel would only be fished in cycles which would allow the large, migratory carps, which apparently come back to the same beel each year, to reproduce and grow to a large size. This indigenous management regime has now been largely undermined by a variety of factors. The steep rise in population, and thus in the numbers of people fishing, means that any fish which are not caught this year are increasingly unlikely to make it back to the beel next year. Government-controlled leasing arrangements over fisheries areas have given progressively shorter tenure to leasees with no guarantee that the same leasee will reap the benefits of current management measures in years to come. The cumulative result has been to discourage leaseholders from investing time and expense on managing their beel and encouraging them to "mine" the resource as exhaustively as possible when they have control of it.
(FAP 17, 1994)

Arguments regarding future economic benefits resulting from current management will also be strongly affected by the extent to which specific groups or communities can control access to the resource being managed. The case from Bangladesh in Box 6 illustrates how changes in population and patterns of tenure over fisheries resources in a floodplain area can radically alter people's interest in "managing" the resource.

5.4.2 Compensation - evaluating the impacts of management

Efforts to mitigate the impacts of management measures often rely on monetary compensation as a means of softening the impact on people's livelihoods. In most "developed" economies, such an approach is more likely to be acceptable as the notion of putting a monetary value on people's means of livelihood is more familiar and fairly precise data on earnings can be obtained to help in the evaluation of people's livelihoods. Debate tends to centre around the relative levels of compensation, so the issue is above all economic.

However, even in a relatively developed economic context, problems can arise where management measures force people to abandon fisheries altogether. Besides forcing people to change their livelihood, this may also require changes in life-style and place of residence. In these conditions, compensation packages may need to include measures to facilitate the movement of people affected into other occupations and all assistance to overcome the problems which may arise from such a move. This in turn may require specific programmes of retraining and access to credit facilities. Generally, in more developed economies, there should be more opportunity for fish workers who lose their livelihood as a result of management to invest their compensation package in other sectors and occupations. But support services and access to good advice regarding alternative activities and investment opportunities is likely to be very important.

5.4.3 Compensation - non-quantifiable impacts

While the social and cultural boundaries between fishing communities and non-fishing communities in "developed" countries may be less marked than in some "traditional" societies, fishing communities the world over tend to have a distinct identity linked to the nature of the profession. Changes in profession will lead to a loss of social identity which can be very disorienting for the individuals and families involved. In addition, such communities often have cultural practices and sets of beliefs and customs which may risk being lost when shifts are made out of fishing.

The extent to which the customs peculiar to fishing communities represent a part of the nation's cultural heritage, and the value which is attached to such a heritage will depend very much on national priorities. But, in any case, the extent to which such a heritage might be threatened by changes in fisheries, whether through management or development, needs to be assessed as part of the sociological analysis.

In artisanal fisheries, compensation may represent a more complex proposition. Compensation for loss of livelihood is generally viewed as a means for assisting people to establish themselves in alternative occupations. In poor rural areas where alternative economic opportunities are extremely limited, compensation packages may end up being used up by their recipients for short-term survival without any opportunity arising for reinvestment in new, sustainable activities. Movement into alternative occupations may have very little to do with having access to the required capital and more to do with having ties of kinship or traditional associations with people within that occupation.


In the Chalan beel area of north-western Bangladesh, communities of traditional Hindu fishers have found their ability to ensure a reasonable livelihood from fishing over the last 20 years under increasing pressure. This is due to rapid population growth, the movement of Muslim farmers into fishing and the subsequent increased competition for fishing grounds. In response, many Hindu households have migrated to India. In one community of rajbangshi caste fishers, Bildahar, only 9 households were left in 1993. Over the course of the last generation, this remaining group has shifted from their traditional, caste occupation of fishing to sweet-making, taking advantage of the tradition of cattle raising in the area and ready access to milk supplies. Significantly, some other people in the area still refer to this community as "fishermen" and rajbangshi, but the rajbangshi themselves, while still aware of their roots, have changed their name to sarkar and set about the long process of re-establishing their social identity as a non-fishing community.
(FAP 17, 1994)

In some parts of South Asia, in particular, it can be socially and culturally impossible for a fisher to simply change professions, no matter what economic support they are given. It may take generations of gradual change for a shift in occupation to be accepted. An example of this sort of process is provided in Box 7.

In many high-density rural areas there is often such intense pressure on any form of employment niche that movement at any point within the system is liable to cause considerable disruption all around - for example if fishers want to become agricultural labourers what happens to the people already working as agricultural labourers who they are likely to displace?

The social and cultural impacts and general viability of compensatory packages in "less developed" countries therefore need to be carefully considered. Interventions to limit or eliminate certain types of fishery or significantly change the structure of the sector may have to be inserted into quite complex, integrated programmes which train resource users in alternative occupations and, at the same time, look at the entire local economy to ensure that local livelihood strategies are not seriously compromised by changes in fisheries. Credit availability, small enterprise development and the acquisition of new marketing skills are liable to be key components in any such programme.

5.5 Costs of fisheries development and management

Most fisheries interventions, whether for development or for management will generally entail costs in terms of the time spent on activities and costs in terms of renounced benefits from other activities. External agencies encouraging communities to undertake management have a responsibility to call stakeholders' attention to these costs and help them to decide how they are likely to be covered. It is frequently the case that the enthusiasm of a few community members who appreciate the value of management may be able to generate sufficient enthusiasm to initiate management measures on the simple grounds that "conserving natural resource for future generations is a "good thing". Equally frequently, this enthusiasm lasts until people realise that there are real costs involved and that they are expected to bear those costs, at which point management can easily collapse.

Prior discussion of costs and benefits of management, and a community analysis of how to deal with the costs and mitigate their impacts can ensure better sustainability.

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