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Fishery Management: No Single Medication

(Gestion des pêches: pas de panacée universelle)

Chandrika SHARMA

02 / 1998

Menakhem Ben-Yami, in the keynote address delivered at the St. John’s Conference of Harvesters in the North Atlantic fishery, raised some vital issues for fishery management policies, as summarised below.

Fishery management is not only about the quantity of fish to be extracted or effort to be exerted. It determines, admittedly or not, the allocation of resources among the various sectors of the industry, and who and how many people are going to make their living out of the fishery. The catalogue of possible management steps is quite large. One needs clear policy objectives to select rationally those that fit the particular local sociocultural, economic, political, biological and physical situation.

Some people seem to be attracted to a single medication for all maladies. The fashionable one now is the famous Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs)that one can purchase or win on auction from the government and then sell on the free market. Some of the thinking goes like this: excessive fishing effort keeps increasing because fish are a `common property’ and everybody is trying to increase their share of the cake.

This inevitably leads to `tragedies’: depletion of stocks and impoverishment of the fisherfolk. So, let’s manage the stock by `privatizing’ the fishery. The highest private (or corporate)bidders would exploit the resource for their best financial profits. The best way to `privatization’ is through marketable quotas. Simple, isn’t it? All the more so since such thinking is in line with the fashionable economic trend that everything that’s private works better than anything that’s public, and that the best decisions are taken according to the supply-and-demand game and the resulting profits.

Economic history, however, is full of examples of how resources that have become marketable have accumulated in fewer and fewer hands. There is little doubt that with marketable quotas and fishing rights sold to the highest bidder, sooner or later we will have Texas-size ranches and latifundia at sea.

This whole concept that fisheries management is about "how to extract maximum rent from the resource on a sustained basis" is justified by a presumption that any profits made are eventually recycled throughout society and everybody benefits. But how many countries can indeed boast of having the rent extracted from its resource by large-scale trawling fleets recycled in their own economy? And who can tell me where go the benefits extracted by a Panama-flagged vessel, owned by a multinational company registered wherever it is registered-Liberia? Cayman Islands? Ships like that are often manned by mixed Far-Eastern and Southeast Asian crews, most of them severely underpaid and slaving under disagreeable working and living conditions.

Unwieldy restrictions, privatization that dislocates fisherfolk, and inappropriate management systems can not be sustainable. All this is not against capitalism and free market. It is against capitalism going wild. There is nothing holy about markets. Some markets are monsters-take drugs or guns-and you know what they do to society if they’re left to go unbridled. Neither am I against quotas, transferrable or not. The point is that they may fit some but not other places and situations. Their application must be locally examined.

Quotas and privatization are inappropriate where resources are exploited by thousands of small-scale fishermen and the derived benefits widely distributed. On the other hand, ITQs may fit well in areas not accessible to small-scale operators or where fishing populations are too small. What’s just fine for one place may be totally wrong for another. Limiting access and effort control are only too often disregarded, though they may be quite efficient, especially in co-management schemes.

If fishery is about people producing food out of fish stocks, fishery resources are the resources of fish, people and their means of production. If so, fishery management must take care not only of fish and their environment, but also of the fishing people and their material resources.


poisson, gestion des ressources naturelles, pêcheur



That fishery management is not only about fish, but also about fishery people and their material resources, is vitally important. However, this fact is often ignored by policy makers. This results in the perusal of policies that work against the interests of fishworkers, especially of the small-scale sector. This has, time and again, proved disastrous, not only for the small-scale fishers and their communities, but also for the long-term survival of fishery resources. Governments need to re-think fishery management policies with these issue in mind.


Articles et dossiers

BEN YAMI, Menakhem, Stealing the common in. Samudra Report, 1998/01, 19

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

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