* ICLARM is now known as WorldFish Center

Naga - The *ICLARM Quarterly
Vol. 22, No. 4 (October - December 1999)

Four Blocks to Controlling Fishing Pressure

The world's fish stocks are under heavy fishing pressure from both large and small scale fishers. Their productivity can only be restored if this pressure is reduced. Yet, this apparently simple prescription is very difficult to follow.

Why is it so hard to reduce fishing pressure and where do the solutions lie?

Four major factors hinder efforts to reduce fishing pressure: economic dependency; political advocacy; uncertainty about the status of the resource; and lack of adequate management measures. The sum of these factors and their interdependence make for a powerful resistance to reduction in fishing pressure.

Owners of fishing gear, from large commercial fleets fishing in the oceans to small individual fishers fishing in inland and nearshore waters, are directly dependent on fisheries. So are a large numbers of wage laborers in fishing and related activities as well as fish sellers. Any reduction in fishing will have an immediate and direct impact on their incomes, especially where there are few alternative economic opportunities. Creating viable alternatives can remove this limitation. For example, fishers in San Salvador Island, Philippines, were dependent on blast fishing for their livelihoods, despite its risks and dangers. A community-based program helped stop this practice and designated part of the island into a protected area. When this was combined with a program to help the fishers capture reef fish for the live aquarium trade using better methods, the economic dependence on the former destructive fishing practices vanished, fishing pressure was reduced, the resource condition improved and the livelihoods of the fishers improved with new markets.

Political activism is a block that often results from conflict over rights to scarce resources. Often, powerful commercial interests vie for the same resources as small fishers. This distorts or delays policy decisions, especially when the third factor comes into play - uncertainty. How much does the fishing pressure need to be reduced, for how long, and will it achieve the desired results? Where time and financial resources prevent full scale resource assessment, rapid and participatory assessment methods using local knowledge can be very useful in clarifying the parameters and suggesting solutions. Providing the policymakers and managers with knowledge about fisheries and the tools to assess them can help them withstand pressures and make well-informed decisions.

Both traditional and modern management regimes lack the necessary control mechanisms. Here it is necessary to look at the issue of access rights, the true public value of the resources, how to improve compliance and, most important, involve local communities in the planning and implementation of resource management systems.

Although the four constraints are formidable, they can be surmounted if programs are established to create alternative economic activities, inform and support politicians and administrators, provide effective assessment tools, and improve the levers of control for the management of fisheries. Sooner or later, the issues of fishing rights must be addressed. The prescription is not simple but the stakes are high – fisheries must be made more sustainable and this almost always means controlling the fishing pressure.

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