Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP)


Until recently the development at the international level of harmonized statistics on the number of fishers has been neglected. This is almost certainly due to the fact that, generally speaking, until about 20 years ago there was little effort at the international level to control the structure of fishing fleets and thus a knowledge of the number of fishers likely to be affected by structural measures was not required. Structural measures that were applied nationally and the countries applying them adopted definitions for employment in the sector that suited their national purposes. Recent studies by, for example, the EU to determine the possibility of harmonizing fishers statistics have shown that definitions, concepts and methods of compiling data are subject to significant national variations and that unless there is a stimulus from the need to apply internationally administrative measures to regulate employment in the fishing industry, there is little chance of obtaining harmonized fishers statistics.

Although the subject of the definitions to apply to the workforce in the fishing industry has been discussed by CWP, in view of the widely varying national situations, it has not laid down firm guidelines for application at the international level. However, CWP did reach a wide degree of agreement on the definitions that would be appropriate should such guidelines be fixed. These definitions are:

Full-time fishers receive at least 90% of their livelihood from fishing or spend at least 90% of their working time in that occupation.

Part-time fishers receive at least 30% but less than 90% of their livelihood from fishing or spend at least 30% but less than 90% of their working time in that occupation.

Occasional fishers receive under 30% of their livelihood from fishing, or spend under 30% of their working time in that occupation.

CWP noted a number of challenges in identifying and enumerating separately fishers as primary producers among the economically active population. These challenges arise largely from the seasonal availability of the various fishery resources compounded by the seasonal availability of more lucrative occupations. In many countries the number of people whose only source of income is from a year-round activity in fishing is small compared with the number of people entering the industry at peaks of activity in that industry, or low-activity periods in a more lucrative industry. For example, fishing is often of major importance in developing regions where the other major industry may be tourism. (Refer FAO Fisheries Circular 929, Revision2). The fishing season may be adapted so that it does not coincide with the peak tourist period from which earnings might well be higher.

Another challenge is associated with subsistence fishing which is undertaken on a full-time, part-time, or occasional basis in many developed or developing communities as part of the occupation of the economically-active populations. However, people who are too young or too old to be normally included in the economically active population may be involved in subsistence fishing. These issues are further complicated where subsistence fishing merges with recreational fishing. For example, sports fishers and people owning and operating pleasure craft might try to offset their capital expenditure and running costs through the sale of fish caught during trips of such recreational craft.

CWP, while not issuing any firm guidelines, has agreed on the coverage of the fishing population that it would wish to see included in statistics of the industry. This coverage is as follows:

  1. All commercial, industrial and subsistence fishers, operating in freshwater, brackish water, and marine waters in economically inspired efforts to catch and land any of the great variety of aquatic animals and plants, should be included. People working on fish farms, hatcheries, and employed in shellfish culture operations, should also be included. The term fisher should include not only those operating from fishing vessels of all types, but also those operating land-based fishing gears and installations from the banks of rivers, lakes, canals, dams etc., and from beaches and shores which do not require the use of auxiliary boats. Where possible a breakdown by the type of activity should be included.
  2. The crews on fish factory ships, mother ships to fishing fleets, and on auxiliary craft such as, fish carriers, and fish transport craft should be included.
  3. The data collected nationally should include nationals, and others employed on nationally registered vessels landing their catches in foreign ports.
  4. Foreign fishers working on foreign vessels landing in national ports should be excluded from the data. However the data should show, preferably separately, the national fishers working on foreign vessels chartered to national companies.
  5. Fishers on whaling vessels should be recorded separately.
  6. The crews of state-operated fishery patrol vessels, fishery protection vessels, hospital ships, etc. should be excluded from the fishers statistics.

It was recognised that, while the above would greatly improve the current situation regarding fishers data, there were a number of points which, albeit of relatively minor importance in terms of the number of people involved, still had to be resolved. For example, while a spotter on the bridge, or on the mast of a fishing vessel would probably be included in the fishing population, it was not so certain that a spotter in an aircraft or helicopter scouting for a fleet would.

It is hoped that the above notes, while not laying down firm guidelines for fishers statistics, will assist national offices wishing to establish, or modify national systems and that, as a result, the statistics will become better harmonized at the international level.

As part of the FAO annual statistical enquiry of world fishing industries, annual questionnaires to collect numbers of fishers according to the time spent in fishing have been dispatched to countries regularly. For various reasons, including incomplete and irregular replies by some national statistical offices, and implications for world aggregates of the lack of harmonization in national occupational classifications, the data collected have not been published for several years. However, as a result of greater attention to social and economic problems related to employment in fishing, increasing demands from users have led to the dissemination of the data collected, despite their shortcomings.

The questionnaire for reporting employment in capture fisheries and aquaculture was originally mapped to the occupational categories of the former International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88). A mapping table can be used to relate the questionnaire’s working domain to the current International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-08). The questionnaire also provides the opportunity for reporting by gender, as recommended by the United Nations Statistical Commission.

Refer also to the section on socio-economic dimension. Data on fishers are collected by means of the statistical questionnaire FISHSTAT FM.


FAO. 1999. Numbers of fishers 1970-1996. FAO Fisheries Circular No. 929, Rev. 1. Rome, FAO. 124 pp. (also available at

International Labour Organization (ILO). 2012. International Standard Classification of Occupations
ISCO-08 Volume 1 Structure, group definitions and correspondence tables. Geneva, ILO. 420 pp. (also available at