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Artisanal Fisheries in Tanzania

Top-down Development

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

Along the Tanzanian coast fishing is primarily carried out by village-based artisanal fisherfolk, using traditional technology and small-sized boats. Their knowledge of marine ecology and fishing techniques is based on generations of experience. Their methods are essentially sustainable and non-destructive, and their management practices are sophisticated enough to maintain a sound resource base.

These fisherfolk have been exchanging ideas and designs with their counterparts from Arabia, Persia, South Asia and Polynesia. This can be seen in the similarities in boats and gear across the Indian and western Pacific oceans. In Tanzania, there are many different types of gear and craft that have been designed and used traditionally.

The village community exercises customary jurisdiction over the resources and controls fishing access, practices and intensity. Strict codes of conduct apply, and infringements are punished. Outsiders and migrant fishermen must seek permission to fish in zones controlled by particular communities. For example, fishermen from Zanzibar are granted permission to fish offshore from Kunduchi and Msasani during the nguru peak season each year so that they may have access to the larger markets of Dar es Salaam.

Conflicts arise if customary laws are not respected. In 1993 fisherfolk of Pongwe village, on the east coast of Zanzibar, had overexploited the pweza (octopus)on the stretch of reef which they customarily use. They had to request for permission to fish from the neighbouring village of Uroa, and had to bear the brunt of great teasing by the Uroa fisherfolk because they had not managed their own resources wisely.

However, during the past century, colonialism and the subsequent post-independence interventions have interfered with traditional systems of management, threatening the livelihood of traditional fisherfolk, the ecological balance and judicious resource utilisation.

Post-independence development plans, inspired by training received in Europe, North America and Japan, emphasised a modern industrial-scale fishery export sector. Trawling for prawn destined for export markets, for example, was introduced.

The Fisheries Division also attempted to promote development at the village level through extension services and supply of equipment and infrastructure, particularly after 1967. These have been met with mixed success. A `top-down’ approach was often adopted. The officials were usually sceptical of the coastal fishing communities who, in turn, were sceptical of official impositions. Fisheries training centres were established, but the curricula emphasised theoretical training and `advanced’ foreign technology. The ample facilities were under-utilised and largely inappropriate.

In response to criticisms about the lack of relevance, training programmes were instituted to teach selected fishermen how to mend nets and maintain outboard engines. Few recognised the traditional fisherfolk as being the real `experts’, nor were they allowed to participate in planning and decision-making.

Most research undertaken so far is of no interest to the majority of fisherfolk in Tanzania. The research undertaken by the Botany Department, and the Institute of Marine Sciences, is, however useful in addressing problems relevant to the traditional fisherfolk, and in influencing government policy on coastal zone management.

Some of the new technologies introduced are very destructive. Dynamite explosives, used mainly by urban-based fishing units to blast the coral reefs, smash the corals and destroy the habitat of fish and other reef-dwelling organisms. Similarly, trawlers disrupt the condition of the ocean bottom, especially seagrass. Large quantities of fish are dumped as `by-catch’ or `trash fish’ to make space in the freezers for export-bound prawns. Trawlers may also destroy nets and traps, with little thought about compensation.

Very serious conflicts have broken out between fishermen perpetrating the use of dynamite and local traditional fisherfolk. Coastal villages have organised to protect their coral reefs from the dynamite users. This has been quite effective in many areas, but in several serious cases, people have been killed in fierce clashes.

Palabras claves



Government interventions in the fishery sector in Tanzania, as in most other countries, have typically ignored the fact that traditional fishing communities have intimate knowledge about their ecosystem and their fisheries, and that they are, in fact, `experts’ on these issues. This has also meant that fishing communities, with a long-term stake in the fishery and its sustainability, are not consulted, or invited to participate, in decision-making processes.

Developmental activity in the fishery sector is heavily influenced by Western science and technology. The introduction of modern technology has facilitated the emergence of a new class of entrepreneurs from outside the fishing community, controlling this technology and the returns from the fishery. The consequences have been severe, both for the fishery resource base and for the communities who have traditionally depended on fisheries for a livelihood. With resource depletion, conflicts between the traditional sector and the `modern’ sector, have erupted in different parts of the developing world. Ironically, it is the artisanal sector which is having to bear the brunt of irresponsible practices that have been pursued by others, as they struggle to eke out a living from a rapidly shrinking resource base.


Artículos y dossiers

BRYCESON, Ian, A skewed kind of development in. Samudra Report, 1994/02, 9

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - India - - icsf (@)

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