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Highlights of special FAO studies



In 1995, a conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security was convened by the Government of Japan, in collaboration with FAO, in Kyoto, Japan. One of the conclusions of the conference was that an understanding of the culture of fishing communities is fundamental for equitable governance and management of capture fisheries and aquaculture and for sustaining food security in fisheries-dependent regions.

As part of the follow-up to the conference, FAO commissioned a study on the culture of fishing communities. It was decided that the study should be based on a review of the literature, supplemented by a set of specially commissioned case studies. The study has been completed and will be published as an FAO Fisheries Technical Paper.1 It provides guidance to fisheries officials with the aim of increasing their understanding of the cultures of small-scale fisher communities and, ultimately, helping them to improve living standards within such communities. It is based on the generally accepted notion that ensuring decent living conditions for fishing people is just as important an aim as sustaining healthy fish stocks or obtaining the maximum economic yield from fisheries resources, and that achieving this aim will require a greater understanding of and respect for fishers' cultures and social arrangements.

A few highlights of the case studies are given in the following section, which is followed by a summary of conclusions. Most of these are drawn from a review of the literature and some are illustrated by the case studies.


The six case studies of contemporary fishing communities from distinct cultural regions throughout the world illustrate how fisheries management practices and policies may strengthen or weaken small-scale fishing cultures.

Community-based, species-oriented fisheries management

The case study by T. Akimichi, on species-oriented resource management on reef fish conservation in the small-scale fisheries of the Yaeyama Islands, describes the complex and highly participatory steps that must be taken in order to promote cooperative community-based fisheries comanagement.

Around the Yaeyama Islands in southwestern Japan, recent degradation of coral-reef marine ecosystems and heightened fishing effort by both commercial and recreational fishers have prompted concerns about introducing new and more comprehensive methods of fisheries management. Responding to these concerns, the prefectoral government launched a project to promote the community-based management of a single species of emperor fish (Lethrinus mahsena), which has long been one of the most important food fishes in the region. The commercial fishers who target this species do not comprise a homogeneous or unified group, but instead take different approaches to fishing and use different methods. However, they are all members of the region's fisheries cooperative association (FCA), which coordinates fishing effort within the territories ascribed to it and has prerogatives regarding certain management measures, although it does not have jurisdiction over recreational fishers. Recreational fishing interests in the region are also somewhat diverse, consisting mainly of party-boat operators, fishing guides and the owners of fishing tackle shops.

Prefectoral and local governments coordinate among the FCAs within their jurisdiction and exercise some other management prerogatives. They also play an especially important role as mediators in disputes among the various FCAs under their jurisdiction, as well as in disputes between these and the FCAs in bordering jurisdictions or with non-FCA sectors, such as recreational fishing. Japan's national Fisheries Agency in Tokyo oversees the administration of the prefects and local governments.

During 1996 and 1997, the prefectoral government prompted a series of meetings at Yaeyama's FCA, at which management proposals were presented to the various commercial fishers of emperor fish. FCA members, prefect and other government officials as well as individuals from the recreational sector took part in these meetings. It proved difficult to obtain a consensus among FCA members about the proposed management measures, mainly because of their diverse approaches to fishing, as well as some members' scepticism about the need for a new management programme and doubts that all members would abide by it. On the other hand, FCA members were virtually unified in their concern about the impact of recreational fishers on emperor fish stocks.

Eventually, after reworking the proposed management programme, a tentative consensus was reached among FCA members regarding their willingness to abide by it, while members of the recreational sector voluntarily agreed to promote its acceptance within their sector.

The FCA members' knowledge of the ecology helped the government authorities to develop the programme, while dialogue among all the parties with interests in emperor fish stocks helped to ensure that it was comprehensive and effective. The current programme is not complete and is expected to evolve as greater experience is gained among the various interest groups, which have started to collaborate with one another more fully than before.

Using traditional credit systems for small-scale fisheries development in Nigeria

M. Ben-Yami's case study, on the integration of traditional institutions and people's participation in an artisanal fisheries development project in southeastern Nigeria, illustrates how limited access to credit can constrain the productivity of small-scale fishers. It reports on a successful credit development scheme aimed at helping small-scale fishing communities in southeastern Nigeria. The success of this project depended on a high degree of community participation in all of its phases, from initial planning to final project implementation.

Ben-Yami observes that the overall fishing effort in the small-scale sector was not limited by fish stocks, which had long remained stable and underutilized, but rather by difficulties in gaining access to reasonably priced credit, which was needed for sustaining fishing operations. The local communities already had traditional credit institutions, but these were not able to provide the higher levels of reasonably priced credit that would facilitate significant increases in fishing production. By connecting traditional community-based credit institutions with a modern lending bank, the development effort was able to capitalize on an important, pre-existing component of local community culture.

Overall, the project enhanced the well-being of many of the people living in small-scale fishing communities, although its success was eroded by individuals (usually from outside the communities) who tried to exploit the project for their own benefit, and by inflationary trends in the national economy. A few years later, other development projects were launched in the same region. However, project organizers did not consult the local people first, which resulted in considerable expenditures being made on technological innovations that turned out to be inappropriate and did little to improve the well-being of the people living in the fishing communities.

Cultural identity and small-scale whaling in North America

M.M.R. Freeman's case study on small-scale whaling in North America focuses on the aboriginal Inuit people of northern Alaska and Canada, and illustrates how the Inuits' traditional whaling practices have helped them to maintain their cultural identity while also promoting effective conservation of whale stocks. Thus, although whaling plays a significant role in the contemporary Inuit subsistence economy, its symbolic importance within their cultural identity is perhaps even more important.

In particular, the community-wide distribution of foods derived from whale is an important means of maintaining social cohesion and a cultural identity in which it is the distribution process itself, rather than the actual quantities distributed, that is most valued. Thus, over the past two decades, while the Inuit population has doubled, the average number of whales taken annually has remained nearly constant, and there is little interest in increasing the commercialization of these resources.

Freeman argues that conventional fisheries management approaches, which treat whales as merely another wild stock to be conserved and allocated as a human food resource, would threaten the sustainability of the Inuits' unique cultural identity, as well as the whale stocks themselves. The key to sustaining both the Inuit culture and the whales lies in understanding the multidimensional significance that whale hunting and the distribution of whale products hold in the Inuit culture.

Socio-cultural considerations in small-scale fisheries development in India

J. Kurien's case study on the socio-cultural aspects of fisheries and their implications for food and livelihood security reports on a project in Kerala State, India, and illustrates the inappropriateness of developments in small-scale fishing communities that ignore traditional cultural adaptations. He describes the small-scale fishing communities in Kerala, where the population's level of well-being declined as a result of development initiatives that ignored their long-established traditional approaches to managing their fisheries.

Before the developments, access to fisheries and the allocation of fisheries resources were regulated by communal traditions and institutions that emphasized the sharing of seafood and the incomes derived from it, as well as promoting community-based participation in fisheries management. Traditional practices had also provided effective means of conflict resolution and ensured that an abundant supply of seafood was sustained throughout the region. However, since about four decades ago, development policies that favour the expansion of a modern shrimp-exporting industry have refocused fisheries policies on the needs of that sector, although it provides comparatively little employment for the people living in small-scale fishing communities.

Important marine ecosystems started to become degraded, while regional seafood supplies decreased and the employment of women in the region's seafood markets declined. Within the small-scale communities themselves, other development efforts were compelling small-scale fishers to turn away from traditional approaches to fishing and promoting a new ethos of competitive individualism that was oriented towards markets rather than the communities themselves. This subverted the cultural traditions that had long guided social and economic life in the region, prompting new social and political divisions both within and among the communities.

Kurien maintains that future fisheries policies should make the promotion of well-being within small-scale fishing communities their first priority. He also recommends that the traditional communal ethos and community-based fisheries management be revitalized, that traditional approaches to fishing be given greater consideration, and that women's return to regional seafood markets be promoted as a way of reviving those markets.

External effects on traditional resource management in a Dominican Republic fishing community

R.W. Stoffle's case study, entitled When fish is water: food security and fish in a coastal community in the Dominican Republic, illustrates the range of interconnections that a small-scale fishing community has with people and cultural systems outside its own area. He describes a small, rural-coastal village in the Dominican Republic, which seems to be isolated but which, in fact, has a web of interconnections at the local, national and even global level. This case study outlines the ramified implications of a fishing community's linkages with the outside world and illustrates how these can influence the well-being of the various people involved.

The village's full-time fishers - who are referred to locally as fishing specialists - produce fish to supply their families with food and to sell in regional and national marketplaces, where it generates income. Much of the lower-quality fish that they catch is sold in the nation's coastal cities, where it provides an important source of animal protein for the urban poor. However, in order to understand the local, national and global roles that the village's fishers play, their interconnections with village farming people must also be taken into account. When local farmers experience declines in their subsistence food production and incomes, brought on by localized drought or by national or international economic policy changes that depress the prices of cash crops, many turn to fishing as a temporary measure to augment their household food and income deficits. Such increases in the overall fishing effort lead to corresponding reductions in local fish stocks.

During these periods of decline in farming, the village fishers sell relatively more of their lower-quality catch to their agricultural neighbours instead of to urban markets. This, in turn, diminishes the fish supplies of the urban poor, many of whom cannot afford alternative sources of animal protein. At the same time, the village fishers have increasingly had to resist the encroachment
of better-capitalized fishers from outside the community, as well as the expansion of national and international tourism which is having a negative impact on fish stocks and other important fisheries resources.

Furthermore, because the village's potable water is often in short supply - a common problem for fishing communities, especially in developing countries - local fishers are sometimes compelled to sell their families' subsistence fish supply in order to buy potable water for drinking and for cooking inexpensive, high-calorie staple foods.

The effect of fisheries policies on small-scale fishers in Scotland

D. Thomson's case study on the social and cultural importance of coastal fishing communities and their contribution to food security illustrates how small-scale fishing communities in the Hebrides and on the west coast of Scotland are being culturally and economically impoverished by fisheries policies that favour larger-scale, more industrialized approaches to fishing.

Thomson notes that western Scotland is one of the most remote, rural and economically peripheral regions of the EC where, despite long-term declines, capture fisheries and their ancillary activities still provide about 20 percent of total employment. Until the early 1980s, the natural marine resources of this region had been abundant, supporting a robust and localized small-scale fishing sector, as well as a large number of fishing enterprises that came from outside the region. Since the early 1980s, however, the region's fisheries have steadily and continuously declined as a result of years of overharvesting and the encroachment of marine pollution.

The impact of this decline has been devastating for small-scale fishing communities, not only in the production sector, but also in the fish processing and distribution sectors, which formerly employed many women. Recently, large-scale fishing enterprises from other parts of Scotland have been competing for and buying fishing licences (only a limited number of which are issued) from economically marginal, smaller-scale localized fishers, who can no longer sustain fishing activities. This has led to increased prices of licences and has further decreased the small-scale fishing communities' participation in the very fisheries they had long depended on.

In addition to this, the region's small-scale fishing communities are now likely to be impoverished further when the EC's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is fully implemented, permitting access for all member countries' fleets. This will almost certainly lead to an escalation in the trade of licences and quotas, putting them well beyond the reach of most of western Scotland's small-scale operators and transferring more and more of the economic benefits of the region's fisheries to foreign interests. Thus, while regional development is one of the objectives of the CFP, Thomson argues that its current structure favours larger-scale approaches to fishing so much that it may lead to the demise of small-scale fishing communities and cultures.

He recommends that the EC make the well-being of the region's small-scale fishing communities the first priority in its fisheries policies. The widespread benefits of doing so would be increased food security and employment in the coastal communities of western Scotland; more efficient harvesting of the region's fish stocks, with a correspondingly less deleterious impact on its marine ecosystems than is the case when larger-scale fishing is adopted; and a general reversal of the long-term loss of population and economic decline that has been affecting this region.


The principal conclusions of the FAO Fisheries Technical Paper underline the importance of focusing on small-scale fishing communities in the future development of fisheries management practices and policies, as well as the need for a more thorough understanding of the cultures and social arrangements within fishing communities. The paper emphasizes the importance of community participation in the establishment of fisheries management practices and policies and recommends that communities buy guaranteed rights of access to and exploitation of fisheries resources.

These conclusions and recommendations are based on the accumulated knowledge and expertise of a large number of individuals. The experiences of those who have tried to achieve sustainable and equitable fisheries in small-scale fishing communities, and have encountered a set of cultural characteristics that are common to many other small-scale fishing communities, are of particular relevance and importance to fisheries officials. In most cases, the cultural characteristics of a small-scale fishing community are developed by its members in order to sustain fishing livelihoods and meet other human needs. In many instances, fisheries management can be more successful when it capitalizes on certain characteristics, or at least helps to minimize those that are problematic. The following are some of the most important and common of the cultural characteristics of fishing communities:



In the first half of the 1990s, FAO's Fisheries Department studied the viability of the world's fishing fleets. For these studies, countries provided FAO with information about the size of their fishing fleets and recorded landings. Drawing on its accumulated knowledge of the various fleets' operations, FAO developed broad estimates of the costs and incomes of fishing operations for different size categories of fishing vessels. The results showed that, for the world's fishing fleets as a whole, costs exceeded incomes by substantial amounts.

This result seemed to be contradicted by the fact that most individual fisheries appeared to be economically successful. The Fisheries Department then decided to monitor the incomes and costs of the world's major fisheries. This task was begun in 1995, in close cooperation with fisheries research institutions and national fisheries in selected countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.2 A first comparative analysis of the findings of the national-level studies completed in 1997 were published as an FAO Fisheries Technical Paper.3 The highlights of the findings are summarized in this section. The data presented are based on the studies, which were carried out between 1995 and 1997, with the exception of a traditional Indian fishing craft (kattumaram), for which information collected in 1999 is used.


Overview and comparison by continent

In spite of heavily and sometimes overexploited fisheries resources, marine capture fisheries are still an economically and financially viable undertaking. In most cases, they generate sufficient revenue to cover the cost of depreciation and the opportunity
cost of capital, thus generating funds for reinvestment. Marine capture fisheries are an important source of income and generate employment and foreign exchange earnings, particularly in developing countries. When comparing the findings of the studies by continent, the following picture emerges.

Africa. The following practices in Ghana and Senegal were studied: small-scale hook and line fisheries, driftnetting, bottom set gillnetting, beach seining, purse seining, small-scale multipurpose fishing operations, medium- and large-scale fish and shrimp trawling, and pole and line fishing. Only small-scale gillnetters in Senegal generated a negative cash flow. All the others generated a positive net surplus.

Latin America. All of the various types of trawlers and purse seiners studied in Peru and Argentina generated a positive net surplus.

Asia. All of the fishing fleet units studied in the Republic of Korea, Taiwan Province of China and Malaysia generated a positive net surplus, as did five of the seven typical medium- and large-scale fishing units in Indonesia. The fishing units that generated positive net returns include purse seiners, bottom and mid-water trawlers and pair trawlers, jiggers, stow netters, set netters, seiners, tuna and other longliners, and pole and line vessels. Negative net results were recorded for small-scale gillnetters in Indonesia and smaller bottom pair trawlers and stow netters in China. In India, three types of medium- and large-scale fishing units - tuna longliners, purse seiners and trawlers - generated a positive net surplus, while two of the three small-scale fishing units studied - seiners and handliners - scarcely broke even or had a negative cash flow.

Europe. Of the 27 types of small-, medium- and large-scale fishing vessels studied in France, Spain and Germany, only two types of deep-sea trawlers operating in France had negative net results. The other 25 types - including handliners, gillnetters, seiners, pole and line vessels, longliners, and inshore and offshore trawlers - all generated positive net surpluses.

These results are similar to those found by a study of the economic performance of marine capture fisheries in European countries, which was carried out on behalf of the EC.4

It is interesting to note that those few categories of fishing units that incurred operational losses at the time of the study are located at the extreme ends of the scale of fishing operations (i.e. the very small-scale and the very large-scale) and include both artisanal gillnetters and large industrial
deep-sea trawlers. In the former case, overexploitation of inshore fisheries resources and competition from more efficient capture technologies, such as purse seiners and coastal trawlers, seem to be responsible for the negative financial performance. In the latter case, excess capture capacity and related excessive operational and investment costs for limited fishing grounds and fisheries resources seem to be the important factors.

Cost structure of trawlers and small-scale fishing vessels

The cost structure of trawl fisheries differs significantly between developing and developed countries. The differences seem to be related mainly to variations in the remuneration of labour, which depends on the overall level of economic development.

As could be expected, and is illustrated in Figure 30, labour is the most important cost component in the developed countries studied (i.e. France, Germany and Spain). The second most important cost component is running costs, closely followed by vessel costs.5

In the developing countries studied (i.e. Peru, Senegal, India, Malaysia and China), labour costs only account for between 17 and 40 percent of the total operation costs for trawlers, while running and vessel costs account for the major share. As countries develop and their levels of remuneration increase, these differences in the cost structure can be expected to disappear. The Republic of Korea, where the cost of labour has become at least as important as it is in the European countries studied, exemplifies this trend.

When looking at the cost structure of trawl fisheries in absolute terms and in relation to gross earnings, it is interesting to note that the cost of production per unit of gross earnings is significantly higher for trawler fleets in OECD countries (i.e. Argentina, France, Germany, the Republic of Korea and Spain) than for trawler fleets in developing countries (i.e. China, India, Malaysia and Peru). An exception is Senegal, where a French company operates trawlers under a joint venture arrangement. (This also explains the relatively high vessel costs shown in Figure 30.)

As can be seen from Figure 31, the cost of producing US$1 of gross earnings varies between US$0.91 and US$0.78 in the OECD countries studied, while the corresponding range for developing countries lies between US$0.74 and $0.68.

The cost structure of small-scale fishing vessels (Figure 32) compared with that of industrial trawl fisheries (Figure 30) shows some interesting differences. In France, as a developed country, the labour costs of small-scale fishing vessels remain the most important cost component, as is the case for industrial trawl fisheries. Running costs, however, are the least important while vessel costs emerge as the second most important cost component.

In three of the four developing countries included in Figure 32 (i.e. India, Senegal and Ghana), labour costs emerge as the most important cost component of some of the small-scale fishing units studied. This is related to a system of remuneration in which the proceeds from fish sales are shared among the crewmembers. In cases where crewmembers are paid on a fixed wage basis, running costs remain the most important cost factor.

The production costs of the small-scale fishing vessels studied in relation to their gross earnings show some distinct differences from the production costs of trawlers. First of all, they are lower. As shown in Figure 33, for most of the small-scale fishing vessels, the cost of producing US$1 of gross earnings ranges between US$0.56 (for Ghanaian gillnetters) and $0.78 (for French gillnetters).

At the extreme ends of the cost range are the traditional sail-powered Indian trammel netter, which spends only US$0.19 to produce US$1 of gross earnings, and the large Senegalese handliner, which spends as much as US$0.91. The data suggest that, unlike industrial trawl fisheries, small-scale fishing vessels do not show any typical differences between developing and OECD countries as far as the costs of production in relation to gross earnings are concerned.

Productivity and financial performance

Regarding the productivity and financial performance of trawl fisheries, noticeable differences can be observed between OECD and developing countries. While productivity, measured as the value of production per crewmember was found to be generally higher in developed countries, the rate of return on investment was found to be generally higher in developing countries (Figure 34).

Productivity was highest in France, followed by Argentina, Peru, Germany, Spain and the Republic of Korea. The highest rate of return on investment, on the other hand, was found in the Republic of Korea (37 percent), followed by Peru (34 percent), India (24 percent), Ghana (22 percent) and China (15 percent). The higher levels of productivity found in the OECD countries studied can probably be attributed to a higher degree of mechanization and sophistication of equipment for fish detection, capture and on-board handling. The higher profitability of trawl fisheries in the developing countries studied can be explained by these countries' lower cost of operation in relation to gross earnings and their lower cost of investment/higher depreciation because of the use of older fishing vessels.

As labour costs increase in the course of the overall economic development of developing countries and as old fishing vessels are replaced by new ones, it can be expected that the difference in profitability of fishing operations compared with those of developing countries might gradually disappear.

In the case of small-scale fishing vessels, the differences between productivity, on the one hand, and financial performance, on the other, are even more pronounced. As can be seen from Figure 35, productivity is highest, by far, on handliners and gillnetters in France. This is owing to extremely small crew sizes and a relatively high degree of mechanization and catch efficiency.

At 15 percent for handliners and only 1 percent for gillnetters, the rates of return on investment, however, are far lower than those of most of the small-scale fishing units studied in developing countries.

The financial performance of the small-scale fishing units studied in developing countries is better because of the lower costs of investments and operation. An outstanding example is the smallest and most traditional of the small-scale fishing vessels included in Figure 35 - the Indian sailing log-raft trammel netter, locally called the kattumaram or teppa. This fishing craft has an annual rate of return on investment that is as high as 388 percent because of the extremely low investment and operation costs and the use of a selective fishing method that targets high-value species.


The findings of the study suggest that, with the exception of some small-scale fishing units in Indonesia, India and Senegal, some of the large-scale industrial trawlers in France and one type of pair-trawler and a stow netter in China, marine capture fisheries in the Latin American, African, European and Asian countries studied usually generate sufficient revenues to cover their operating costs and also supply funds for reinvestment.

The findings of this study seem to contradict earlier FAO studies that concluded that, when all the world's fishing vessels are considered as one fleet, that fleet is losing money. There are two plausible explanations for this discrepancy.

The first concerns active versus non-active vessels. In the earlier global studies, all vessels - whether active or not - were included, while the more recent study includes only active vessels. The second factor is related to subsidies or "financial transfers". The global studies included pro forma estimates of income and costs, developed by FAO on the basis of the average known costs of the major factors of production and the longevity of physical assets. They therefore did not include any country-specific financial transfers from government to fisheries sectors. The more recent study uses a different approach. The costs and incomes derived for the various fleets are based on expenditures and income over time, and do not consider individual financial transfers. The present study includes any financial transfers, while the global studies excluded most of them.

The degree to which either of these factors can explain the difference between the two studies is difficult to assess, although those familiar with both studies regard the first factor as being particularly significant.

The more recent study also shows that marine capture fisheries provide employment and income, as well as contributing much-needed export earnings in many developing countries. They also play important roles in meeting the nutritional needs of the population and in food security, particularly in developing countries. However, the generally positive economic performance of marine capture fisheries is being achieved in an environment where fisheries resources are fully exploited, and in many cases overexploited; so how long can it last?

The fishing industry, both small- and large-scale, and the general public have a vital interest in safeguarding and sustaining the beneficial economic and nutritional role of fisheries. If sustainability and viability are to be ensured, there is an urgent need to strengthen and put in place efficient measures to limit fishing effort and rehabilitate coastal areas and aquatic resources. In order to be successful, these measures must be designed and implemented in close cooperation with fishers and fisheries industry associations.

The impact of fisheries management measures on the economic performance of the fisheries industry and its various sectors needs to be closely monitored through studies similar to the one described in this article so that benefits can be maximized and negative impacts minimized. Another important area for monitoring in the future is the impact of subsidies, economic incentives and fiscal policies and measures on the profitability and sustainability of fishing operations.

In order to safeguard the important economic and social role of the small-scale fisheries sector as a provider of employment, income and food, particularly in rural areas of developing countries, special efforts are needed to protect that sector. The findings of the study suggest that the sector's economic performance has already been negatively effected by the overexploitation of coastal fisheries resources and competition with more catch-efficient commercial fishing vessels, such as purse seiners and trawlers.

Government and private sector support to the fishing industry, both small- and large-scale, in the form of technical advice and guidance, training and investment and credit support, is essential for successful adaptation to the changes accompanying the introduction of responsible and sustainable fishing practices and related management measures and regulations.



Following the publication of its first global review of marine fish stocks,7 FAO's Fisheries Department has been monitoring the state of these stocks. The results have been published intermittently in The state of world fishery resources, marine fisheries, a document that describes and comments on trends in the state and use of these resources. This article presents a summary of the knowledge available, building on status reports accumulated between 1974 and 1999, the last year for which information is available. The analysis considers:


The available data for 1998 from the 16 FAO statistical regions (see Box 16), considering the Antarctic Ocean as one region, indicate that four ocean regions - the Eastern Indian Ocean and the Northwest, Southwest and Western Central Pacific Oceans - were at their maximum historical level of production in 1998.8 All the other ocean regions are at lower levels (Figure 36). While this might result, at least in part, from natural oscillations in productivity (e.g. resulting from the El Niño phenomenon of 1997 in the Southeast Pacific Ocean), the lowest values observed may indicate that a high proportion of the resources are overfished (e.g. in the Antarctic and the Southeast and Northwest Atlantic Oceans).

BOX 16
FAO statistical areas

In order to help organize its data, FAO has broken down the world's fishing areas into statistical regions, identified by a two-digit number (21 to 88). The abbreviations are used in Figures 36, 38 and 39.

AEC Atlantic, Eastern Central (34)
ACW Atlantic, Western Central (31)
ANE Atlantic, Northeast (27)
ANT Antarctic, total (48, 58, 88)
ANW Atlantic, Northwest (21)
ASE Atlantic, Southeast (47)
ASW Atlantic, Southwest (41)
IE Indian Ocean, Eastern (57)
IW Indian Ocean, Western (51)
MBS Mediterranean and Black Sea (37)
PEC Pacific, Eastern Central (77)
PCW Pacific, Western Central (71)
PNE Pacific, Northeast (67)
PNW Pacific, Northwest (61)
PSE Pacific, Southeast (87)
PSW Pacific, Southwest (81)


The data available to FAO at the end of 1999 identified 590 "stock" items. For 441 (or 75 percent) of these, there is some information on the state of the stocks and, although not all of this is recent, it is the best that is available. The stock items are classified as underexploited (U), moderately exploited (M), fully exploited (F), overexploited (O), depleted (D) or recovering (R), depending on how far they are - in terms of biomass and fishing pressure - from the levels corresponding to full exploitation. Full exploitation is taken as being loosely equivalent to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) or maximum long-term average yield (MLTAY). The following are some of the features of stocks in each of the different classifications:

Stocks tagged as U and M are believed to have the potential to produce more under increased fishing pressure, but this does not imply any recommendation to do so.

Stocks tagged as F are considered as being exploited at levels close to their MSY or MLTAY. They could be slightly under or above this level because of uncertainties in the data and stock assessments. These stocks are in need of (and in some cases already have) effective measures to control fishing capacity.

Stocks tagged as O or D are clearly exploited beyond their MSY level and are in need of effective strategies for capacity reduction and stock rebuilding.

Stocks tagged as R are usually very low compared with historical levels. Directed fishing pressure may have been reduced (by management or lack of profitability) but, depending on the specific situation, these stocks may still be under excessive fishing pressure. In some cases, their indirect exploitation as by-catch in another fishery might be enough to keep them in a depressed state, despite reduced direct fishing pressure.

Figure 37 shows that, in 1999, 4 percent of the stocks appeared to be underexploited, 21 percent were moderately exploited, 47 percent fully exploited, 18 percent overexploited, 9 percent depleted and 1 percent recovering. As MSY (modified by environmental and economic factors) is an important reference point for management that is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, these data imply that 28 percent (O + D + R) of the world stocks for which data are available are below the level of abundance represented by MSY (or have a fishing capacity that is above this level) and require fisheries management action aimed at rebuilding them to at least the MSY level. Some of these stocks may already be under such a management scheme. As a further 47 percent of the stocks are exploited at about the MSY level, and they too require capacity control in order to avoid the overcapacity syndrome, it appears that 75 percent (F + O + D + R) of the world stocks for which data are available require strict capacity and effort control if they are to be stabilized or rebuilt to the MSY biomass level, and possibly beyond.

Figure 37 indicates that 25 percent of the stocks (U + M) for which data are available are above the level of abundance that corresponds to the MSY level (or have a fishing capacity that is below this level). When the 47 percent of MSY-level stocks are taken into account, it emerges that 72 percent of stocks are at or above the level of abundance corresponding to MSY (i.e. they have a fishing capacity below this level) and should therefore be considered as being compliant with the basic requirements of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

These two ways of looking at the data indicate that the "glass is half full and half empty" and are both equally correct depending on the viewpoint taken. From the "state of stocks" angle, it is comforting to see that 72 percent of the world's resources can still produce MSYs if required. From the management point of view, however, it should be noted that 75 percent of resources require stringent management of fishing capacity. Some stocks are already under some form of capacity management (mainly in a few developed countries), but most require urgent action to stabilize or improve their situation. For 28 percent of them, there is no doubt that forceful action is required for rebuilding.


The data available on state of stocks can be examined by region and compared, keeping in mind that the quality of the data, the proportion of stocks for which information is available and the relative size of the stocks differ from case to case. Once again, a comparison can be made in terms of a stock's relation to the MSY.

The percentage of stocks exploited at or beyond MSY levels (F + O + D + R), and therefore reflecting a need for capacity control, ranges from 41 percent (in the Eastern Central Pacific) to 95 percent (in the Western Central Atlantic) (Figure 38). In most regions, at least 70 percent of the stocks are already fully or overfished. The percentage of stocks exploited at or below MSY levels (U + M + F) ranges from 43 percent (in the Southeast Pacific) to 100 percent (in the Southwest Pacific and Western Indian Ocean) (Figure 39). As a measure of management and development performance, the proportion of stocks that are exploited beyond the MSY level (O + D + R) ranges from 0 percent (in the Southwest Pacific and Western Indian Ocean) to 57 percent (in the Southeast Pacific).


The following analysis considers trends in the proportions of stocks in each of the various states of exploitation. The years mentioned in the text and figures refer to the year of publication of the FAO Fisheries Circular Review of the state of world fishery resources: marine fisheries.

Figure 40 shows that the percentage of stocks maintained at MSY level (F) has slightly decreased since 1974, while underexploited stocks (U + M), offering the potential for expansion, have decreased steadily. As would be expected from these trends, Figure 40 also shows that the proportion of stocks exploited beyond MSY levels (O + D + R) has increased during the same period, from about 10 percent in the early 1970s to nearly 30 percent in the late 1990s. The number of stocks for which information is available has also increased during the same period, from 120 to 454.

The trend for stocks exploited beyond MSY levels can be decomposed according to major regions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Figures 41 and 42).

In the following analysis, distinctions are made between northern (mainly developed) areas of the oceans and central and southern areas (mainly tropical and developing). Data have been plotted together with their trend, as represented by a third-order polynomial.

The results for the North Atlantic (FAO Fishing Areas 21 and 27) and the North Pacific (FAO Fishing Areas 61 and 67) (Figure 41) show an increasing proportion of stocks being exploited beyond MSY levels until the late 1980s or early 1990s. In the North Atlantic the situation seems to have improved and stabilized in the 1990s, while in the North Pacific the situation seems to have remained unstable.

Figure 42 shows a growing percentage of stocks exploited beyond MSY levels in both the tropical oceans studied. This increase might be reaching an asymptote in the tropical Atlantic (FAO Fishing Areas 31, 34, 41 and 47) but this does not seem to be the case in the tropical Pacific (FAO Fishing Areas 71, 77, 81 and 87). It can also be noted that the situation is more severe in the tropical Atlantic. In fact, a cross-comparison of Figures 41 and 42 shows that the magnitude of the problem is similar for the tropical and northern regions of the Atlantic, while, in the Pacific, the southern areas are less affected. For the southernmost areas of these oceans (the Antarctic) the situation appears to be more serious but improving.


The overview of the state of world stocks obtained from the series of FAO biennial reviews clearly indicates a number of trends. Globally, between 1974 and 1999, there appears to have been an increase in the proportion of stocks classified as "exploited beyond the MSY limit", i.e. overfished, depleted or slowly recovering. When the information is stratified by large oceanic regions, the North Atlantic and North Pacific show a continuous worsening of the situation until the 1980s or early 1990s, with a possible stabilization afterwards - particularly in the North Atlantic. In the tropical and southern regions of these oceans the situation seems still to be deteriorating, with the possible exception of the tropical Atlantic, where stabilization might have started. These conclusions are in line with the findings of an earlier FAO study by Grainger and Garcia.9

These conclusions should be considered with caution because they are based on a sample of the world stocks and are severely constrained by the limited information that was available to FAO. The extent to which this information reflects reality is difficult to ascertain. There are many more stocks in the world than those referred to by FAO. In addition, some of the elements of world resources that FAO calls "stocks" are really conglomerates of stocks (and often of species) and it is not clear that a statement made about a conglomerate is valid for the individual stocks in that conglomerate.

However, in general, it is safe to assume that the global trends observed reflect trends in the monitored stocks, because the observations generally coincide with reports from studies conducted at a "lower" level, usually based on more insight and detailed data. For example, an analysis of Cuban fisheries was carried out for FAO by Baisre.10 Using the same approach that Grainger and Garcia took for the whole world, Baisre's analysis led to surprisingly similar conclusions, based on less coarse aggregations and even longer time series, and with more possibility of double-checking the conclusions with conventional stock assessment results.

There is, of course, the possibility that stocks are "noticed" and appear in the FAO information base as "new" stocks only when they start to face problems. When this happens, scientists accumulate enough data to start dealing with the problems, thereby generating reports that FAO has access to. This could explain the increase in the percentage of stocks exploited beyond MSY levels since 1974, although this seems an unlikely hypothesis for the following reasons:

1 FAO. Understanding the cultures of fishing communities: a key to fisheries management and food security, by J.R. McGoodwin with T. Akimichi, M. Ben-Yami, M.M.R. Freeman, J. Kurien, R.W. Stoffle and D. Thomson. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 401 (in press). Rome.
2 By 1997, national sample surveys and case studies had been completed in 13 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. In 1995, these countries accounted for 49 percent of the marine capture fisheries production of their regions and 41 percent of global marine production. The parameters studied include the techno-economic, operational and economic characteristics of fishing fleets and individual fishing units; the availability of such financial services as institutional credit programmes for the fisheries sector; levels of exploitation of fisheries resources; and national plans for fleet restructuring and adjustment. At present, the studies are being updated and expanded to include the role and impact of catch utilization. Information on the impact of subsidies on profitability and the sustainability of fishing operations will also be sought. Among the additional countries being included are some in the South Pacific, the Caribbean and northern Europe. The methodology for studying and analysing data on costs and earnings of fishing units follows the one used in: Agricultural Economics Research Institute. 1993. Costs and earnings of fishing fleets in four EC countries. The Hague, Netherlands, Agricultural Economics Research Institute, Department of Fisheries.
3 FAO. 1999. Economic viability of marine capture fisheries. Findings of a global study and an interregional workshop. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 377. Rome.
4 Agriculture Economics Research Institute, op. cit. footnote 2.
5 Labour costs include wages and other labour charges such as insurance and employers' contributions to pensions funds. Running costs include fuel, lubricants, the cost of selling fish, harbour dues, the cost of ice, and food and supplies for the crew. Vessel costs include vessel and gear repair and maintenance expenses, and vessel insurance.
6 The basic data used in this section are updates of the data published in FAO. 1997. Review of the state of world fishery resources: marine fisheries. FAO Fisheries Circular No. 920. Rome. 173 pp. (An updated version is in preparation.)
7 FAO. 1970. The state of world resources, by J.A. Gulland. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 97. Rome. 425 pp. and J.A. Gulland. 1971. The fish resources of the ocean. UK, Fishing News Books (International). 255 pp.
8 Fishstat Plus (2.3), FAO 1996-2000.
9 FAO. 1996. Chronicles of marine fishery landings (1950-1994). Trend analysis and fisheries potential, by R. Grainger and S.M. Garcia. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 359. Rome. 51 pp.
10 FAO. 2000. Chronicles of Cuban marine fisheries (1935-1995): Trend analysis and fisheries potential, by J.A. Baisre. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 394. 26 pp.

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