As with all research projects and studies, there is a fair amount to do before the actual survey work can start. Planning for a study is an important process and the quality of the preparations can be essential for how good results we achieve. Hence, sufficient time and effort have to be allocated for the planning phase of the work. Some of the questions we need to answer before we start a fisheries subsidies study are:
What is the objective of the study, i.e. what questions is the study trying to answer?
What scope should the study have? Should it cover the whole of the fisheries sector or only selected subsectors or regions? Should it cover all subsidy types or only certain categories?
What are the resources available for the study? How much time do we have?
Who should carry out the study? What competences need to be represented on the study team?
What other preparations are needed with regard to background reading and development of methodologies?
The clearer the objective of the study, the more focused the work can be and better results are likely to be achieved with fewer resources. If the study is carried out in a given context, maybe requested by a department or ministry with defined terms of reference, the objective is likely to be defined as well. However, if this is not the case and if it is the first time a review is to be carried out, we may want to keep the study quite broad, giving more of a general inventory of existing subsidies and related issues. A first subsidy study may have as an objective to identify issues to be studied further.
The scope of the study is in some ways closely related to the next question in the list above, i.e. what resources are available. The more extensive the study, the more resources and time we will need. Time and resources needed will also depend on the general availability of data and the size and complexity of the fisheries sector. It is of course easier to carry out a fisheries subsidies study in a small country with a relatively limited fisheries sector for which there is already a good data collection system than in a big country with a very large - and maybe dynamic - fisheries industry for which data are generally not available with the central administration.
Nonetheless, the minimum time required for a study also in a relatively easy country or region is probably at least three to six months if we want to cover the whole fisheries sector, i.e. all subsectors including input industry, capture fisheries, aquaculture, processing, and marketing and distribution. This time is likely to allow us to identify the main existing subsidies and to assess and give values to most of the more direct subsidies of categories 1 and 2 (see chapter 5). Of course, the time required also depends on the number of people in our study team and on whether we work full-time on the study or not. However, even with a large team and full-time engagements, there are going to be delays in the data collection considering the large number of contacts that will be needed for a complete sector coverage.
If we want to examine some of the more complicated subsidies in more detail, i.e. categories 3 and 4 subsidies covering longer-term effects and non-interventions (see chapter 5), considerably more time will be needed. To examine issues such as free access to resources or the actual effects of gear regulations may require a focused effort. In fact, we may want to organize the study in a way that allows a separate study team to look into details of specific issues. If only a limited number of these issues are being included and the special efforts organized at an early stage - to be carried out in parallel with other tasks - time can be saved. Nevertheless, it would be expected that a more detailed fisheries subsidies study would require at least six months to a year to complete, from the starting of the planning phase to the finalization of the report.
In addition to ensuring that we have enough time, it is very important that our study team includes the right competences. With team members that are already familiar with the fisheries sector, the economic framework of the country or region, and with the concept of subsidies in general, the work on the study is likely to be easier. However, we should be more specific than that and, firstly, it would appear absolutely essential that at least one person - the team leader - has excellent analytical skills in addition to a general knowledge of the sector and the issues as well as the necessary time and interest for investing in the study. It is important to point out that the Guide is just that: a guide for facilitating the conduct of a fisheries subsidies study. It does not, however, give a complete set of rules to follow or set forms to fill in. It provides a basis for creating the tools needed to carry out a study and guidelines for the identification, classification, description and assessment of subsidies in a systematic way. Still, someone needs to develop these tools and analyse the results.
Much of the work on assessing subsidies, in particular with regard to government costs, is based on information from the public accounts. Many of the calculations use accounting principles and standard methods for financial analysis. It would hence also appear important to have at least someone on the study team who is an accountant who is familiar with the structure of the government accounting system. The team should also include an economist. Without these two disciplines, misunderstandings could occur and the results become unreliable. Likewise, access to information is fundamental for the study and this aspect also needs to be taken into consideration when appointing our study team members.
With regard to other preparations before starting the actual survey, it is usually always a good idea to conduct general interviews with key informants and resource persons as well as to consult existing relevant documentation in order to establish a preliminary overview of the structure of the economy, the fisheries sector and existing subsidies. This preliminary investigation is particularly important for study team members who are not familiar with the subject area.
Once we have a plan for what we would like to do, it is recommended that we put it down in writing. Clear terms of reference and a timeframe for the work, including milestones for the completion of various subcomponents, will help us to keep the right focus of the study and to monitor the work.
Figure 2: Planning and preparing for a fisheries subsidies study