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What are the opportunities and challenges posed by privatization of fresh water fisheries? (8 answers)

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Welcome to the first topical discussion of the African Inland Fisheries community. Please share your experiences in regards to how Privatization of Fisheries offers opportunities and/or threats to sustainable fisheries management. The following contexts are optional points of departure for discussion, but feel free to suggest others.

Large-scale commercial fishing investments. 
In some global water bodies, fishing effort is increasingly dominated by large-scale commercial investments in mechanized fishing vessels. Some would argue that impacts on Africa's artisanal fisher livelihoods are clearly negative, while others argue that fisheries management is more likely to succeed if based on fewer large-scale fishing trawlers than in attempting to manage fishing effort by a large numbers of small-scale fishers.

Large-scale cage aquaculture. 
Most African inland fisheries are judged either be fully or over-exploited due limited effectiveness of current management institutions. In order to address declining per capita fish consumption and in the hopes of generating foreign revenue, some governments are interested in permitting large-scale cage aquaculture by private companies in Africa's large water bodies. Some would argue against this as poor government capacity to monitor impacts may result in large-scale ecological changes. 

Institutional ambiguity and elite capture. 
In times of institutional change, such as with the introduction of decentralized fisheries management regimes (i.e. co-management), or where traditional and government mandates overlap, regulatory ambiguity can create opportunities for rural elites or urban investors to purchase rights to fisheries that were previously freely accessible to local users.
-- Updated Dec 1, 2008 --

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Dec 4, 2008
A concentration of fishing capacity in the hands of fewer, larger owners/operators will not serve the development agenda in SSA. Equitable and sustainble benefit, not simply net benefit or most efficient stock management, should be our overarching goal. That said, we must work on improved and participatory governance based on limited entry and managed access. We must recognize this as the medium to longer-term process that it is, and (as the donor community) insist that governments are committed to partnership and meaningful reform. The 'social safety net' value of fisheries is at times overplayed, but there are clear linkages between declining stocks and over-exploitation and destructive practices of terrestrial ecosystems (e.g., connection between declining stocks and increased use of bush meat). There is no "optimization" of fisheries management without a full-view of all social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits.

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    Dec 2, 2008
    "You will, however, more or less know my position from the 'Management, co-management or no Management' report..and the presentation I gave in Zomba: Privatization of freshwater fisheries (at least in Africa) will have no biological benefits (it is a dream and a myth from economic models), but it will have severe social consequences as it will close the 'social security' system (last resort) in many countries."

    I enclose a revised version of my Zomba talk (that I gave at AFS in August). It gives all my thoughts and arguments.

    3 major questions to the underlying assumptions on CPT and Y/R:
    • Why does the common property theory (CPT) only apply to man, and not to other predators? – they are also harvesting a common.
    • Why are we against open access (effort control), while we at the same time refine and develop the catchability (q)?
    • Why is man the only predator that has a harvesting pattern completely opposite to all other predators?

    SSF management = Copy+paste
    • Industrial fisheries are single species fisheries with single species management
    They are so large and valuable that research and CMS is invested for management decisions
    • Small-scale fisheries are multi-species, multi-gear, too small to warrant research.
    Our ‘understanding’ and assumptions on which we base our management is directly inherited from large-scale fisheries.

    Does Common Property Theory (CPT) apply?
    • Effort in African lake fisheries seems self-regulated by system productivity
    • Effort grows until the average catch rate per fisher reaches around 3 ton per year
    • Highest effort in most productive and resilient systems. Less effort in low productive
    vulnerable systems.Is there need for effort control?

    Is non-selective fishing bad?
    • There is no empirical evidence
    • The notion comes from a theoretical model (Y/R) which is 100% synthetic and biologically wrong (constant parameters + no density dependence)
    • On the contrary we know that selective fishing is bad, but we still advocate it!
    • And how do we impose gear-, mesh-, and size restrictions in a multi-species fishery?

    Conclusions
    • Economic theory on common property and increased efficiency will NOT alleviate the fishing pressure.
    • Under low technology – effort regulations are not an issue – it will be regulated by CPUE.
    • Thus, closing open access is not necessary but will close the social security system in many developing countries.
    • Enforcement of mesh- and gear regulations has no ecological justification and will lower the yields.
    SSF - with limited investments and technological development - appear to behave like ‘natural’ predators, harvesting the system optimally.
    • By fishing ‘indiscriminately’ (read non-selective) and adapting to rapid changes in productivity, they appear to have reached an ecosystem approach to fisheries.
    • Despite negative connotations these fisheries are more ecosystem conserving than modern management theories.
    • The economic value of open access (social security system) has never been considered

    by Jeppe Kolding
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    Dec 4, 2008
    A concentration of fishing capacity in the hands of fewer, larger owners/operators will not serve the development agenda in SSA. Equitable and sustainble benefit, not simply net benefit or most efficient stock management, should be our overarching goal. That said, we must work on improved and participatory governance based on limited entry and managed access. We must recognize this as the medium to longer-term process that it is, and (as the donor community) insist that governments are committed to partnership and meaningful reform. The 'social safety net' value of fisheries is at times overplayed, but there are clear linkages between declining stocks and over-exploitation and destructive practices of terrestrial ecosystems (e.g., connection between declining stocks and increased use of bush meat). There is no "optimization" of fisheries management without a full-view of all social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits.
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      Dec 10, 2008
      While I am in general quite sceptical of large commercial interests gaining access to Africa's natural resources, I would suggest that the example of large-scale cage aquaculture might provide some opportunities for nations to increase food production with limited negative impacts (if well managed). If these are only allowed to locate themselves well off-shore, in locations that are not key fishing areas, they need not have significant negative impacts on small-scale fishing livelihoods. I have drafted a paper comparing nascent large and small-scale cage culture programs in Lake Malawi that I attach to this posting.

      Realistically, many governments' inabilities to manage effort in fisheries has resulted in depletions of local fish stocks, and the responsible agencies have limited funding or capacity (and sometimes will) to reverse the situation. A much easier means of increasing national food supplies as well as attracting foreign investments are large scale commercial ventures in land-based or cage aquaculture. Cage culture is currently a development-avenue being used or explored in at least Ghana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, yet very little research has sought to understand the impacts that these activities will have on small-scale fisheries livelihoods. All feedback is welcome.
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    Dec 4, 2008
    Aaron: I jsut wanted to throw in a couple of comments based on past work in malawi (mainly Lake Malawi and Lake Chilwa). First, regarding "commercial" fisheries, a GEMINI study in Malawi a few years ago showed that there are three very distinct classes or sizes of fishing operation on Lake Malawi: small ("two-men-and-a-boat"); medium four to eight men and a couple of boats - perhaps plank boats rather than dug-outs); and large - trawlers). The interesting feature of this pattern was not only the numbers of operations in each category (about 10,000 small, perhaps 100 medium; and less than a handful of large) but that there was no real continuum across the categories. The implication is that small-scale fishers can't seem to make the jump to being medium scale operations and that the medium-scale operations don't grow into large. I think there are simple simple economic explanations for this but it's important to recognize the "constraint" if we are expecting to promote livelihood improvements through "investments" in fisheries.

    My second point relates to elite capture: in Malawi, relatively few commercial fishers (even the small-scale operations) actually own the gear and boats. Outside "investors" (rural elites, if you will) typically own the gear and often drive the fishing practices. What we have seen in several cases in Malawi is that working with the fishers themselves may have little impact on fisheries management if they are simply hired laborers. While working with the members of Beach Village Committees (Malawi) or Beach Management Units (Uganda) is certainly essential for addressing issues at the grassroot level, ignoring the fact that "non-fishers" may be driving the fishing practices can lead to watsed time-and-effort.
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      Dec 10, 2008
      In response to Richard’s comment regarding the need for access limitation, unfortunately Jeppe Kolding can’t join us for the discussion, and so I will try to represent his argument. Based on his analysis he would argue that effort in small scale fisheries in Africa is quite responsive to fish stock catch and profitability, and that the key to preventing over-exploitation is to maintain the open-access regime that allows fishers to move in and (and more importantly) out of the fishery.

      Andrew also mentions that there is limited evidence of the ability of fishers to transition between small and medium scale fishing activity. While absentee ownership of fishing vessels and gears is common in Southern Lake Malawi, in central and northern Lake Malawi, mid-scale fishing gear owners are differentiated from small-scale fishers, and small-scale fishers are differentiated from fishing crews by their improved integration of fishing with non-fishing livelihood activities. Most fishers are well-aware of the vulnerability of their livelihoods, and so rather than over-investing in fishing gears, most successful fishers (in my research contexts) seek to increase livelihood resilience through fishing mobility, and investments in trading, farming, and livestock. Therefore, rather than establish limits to access, would it not make more sense to improve peoples’ abilities to invest in and out of fishing?

      This raises a significant constraint related to fisherfolk access to government services. In comparison with farming communities, fisherfolk are particularly poorly served by those government extension services that might improve fisherfolk success in other livelihood activities. Access to savings and credit schemes seems like one of the most limiting factors that inhibits people’s investments in longer-term livelihood activities.

      I would also like to make a comment regarding local acceptance of access limitation. While territorial fishing rights have long been documented along African Rivers and small lakes, I would suggest that there is little cultural acceptance of access limitation to fisheries in Africas larger lakes. There is much greater willingness to establish reserves in fish breeding areas that are closed to all, or to limit particular fishing gears that are deemed overly destructive of fish breeding habitats.
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        Dec 11, 2008
        I guess I’ll take the bait. I agree that people tend to behave in ways that they deem rational, at least rational to themselves, but when it comes to common property resources ‘system rationality’ tends to lose out to ‘individual rationality’. And while I can’t speak with any great degree of experience regarding inland fisheries, the marine realm is replete with examples where unlimited, unrestricted access has failed, or is failing, as a successful fisheries management strategy.

        The goal of “managed access” is more than just reduced effort; it is equally about stewardship. It is about ensuring that users have a long-term vested interest in the health of the resource. And of course that means much more than just the health of the fish stock; stewardship includes advocacy and action to curtail habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and efforts to reduce the conflict inherent in most multiple-use, open-access systems. Throw-in population growth, climate change, and the globalization of seafood trade, and the “internalities” of managing a fisheries begin to share the stage with a whole host of “externalities” that must be simultaneously addressed. As the complexity of issues grows, so does the vulnerability of fish stocks to collapse.

        Open access (i.e., unlimited, unrestricted access) – at least in the marine realm – will eventually drive most (if not all) fisheries to depletion. The result of ‘fishing down the food chain’ is well-described in the literature, or if one prefers a more visual lesson start planning your next dive trip to the Philippines! But I hope we can also agree that our objective is not simply biological sustainability … it must also be economic profitability and sustainability. Here again (in the marine realm at least) most fisheries are significantly over-capitalized, and therefore in aggregate are performing at an economic loss – and this, at times, even without subsidies.

        Despite all of this, I totally agree that fishers express very little willingness to accept managed access and reduced effort, and that fishers are poorly served by extension services to assist with diversification of livelihood. Because of this, most reform efforts will need to be multi-pronged and longer-term. Over-fishing can be dealt with through rights-based regimes (involving reduced numbers of fishers), or through temporal/spatial/gear controls (including reserves), or through diversified livelihood options. Clearly, most fishers tend to rank these in reverse order in terms of what is acceptable to them today, here-and-now. That’s OK; it simply underscores our challenge. As we work to help develop diversified livelihood opportunities, we must also help with creating savings accounts and building tangible assets (other than fishing assets) than can be used to further collateralize lending for non-fishing activities. But like the reform of any large, complex system (whether global climate, global economy, global food crisis) we must utilize every tool at our disposal. And we must educate. At the end of the day, success will hinge on societal – not individual (alone) – resolve.
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          Jan 23, 2009
          I am uploading an article by Allison and Mvula from 2002 that highlighted some good points regarding the inadvisability of introducing access-limitation in Malawi's fisheries. Rather they found that mobility contributes to both livelihood diversification, optimization of aquatic resources use in aquatic environments characterized by significant variability, and deminishing the likelihood that the fishery will become over-exploited.


          Your comment regarding the dangers of fishing down the foodchan is well-taken however. Some environments are less resilient than Lake Chiuta, and this may have irreversible impacts on fish stocks.  I have also raised this point with Jeppe before (and invite his response) - when he says that no management is needed. I would suggest that the destructiveness of some fishing methods (such as beach seines) may warrant management due to their abilities to impact the potential of fish stocks to recover through destruction of breeding habitats.  Also, though fishing during much of the time in Lake Chiuta may not need management - protection of fish refugia during droughts does seem prudent.
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          -- Updated Jan 23, 2009 --
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    Dec 16, 2008
    I have browsed the 6 'answers' above and I don't fell I can add more than I already did in the first tag.
    Interestingly, I had a sort of 'deja vu' experience reading the answers. It was like 20 years ago when evolutionary biologist were hotly discussing whether natural selection was only an individual phenomenon, or if so-called "group selection" could exist (the debate was never really resolved, but that there is more to nature than the individual selfish gene seem now accepted - if not understood). I have the same feeling with common property theory. It seems engraved i our bones to an almost religious extend that individual (selfish) fishers will act against the common good and over exploit the resources. It is no longer a theory - it has become a dogmatic law. My only question is then again: why does this law only apply to humans and not to other predators?

    We have become obsessed with 'management' (it keeps a lot of people busy) - and the ruling paradigm is 'ownership'. This has nothing to do with biology (ownership does not exist in Nature), but all to do with economy. I think, in the present 'D' times, we may have to look a bit skeptical to economic theory?? Nothing has undermined the global economy more than greed and the truism of private ownership. Nobody will go fishing if the outcome is a loss in terms of money and labor. If they do, they are either so desperate, or so corrupt, that no management rules will be adhered to anyway. Only in places were there is either a) external subsidies, or b) desperate hunger, will fishers systematically overshoot the carrying capacity of the resources. Unfortunately, our management paradigms are inherited from fisheries that are subsidized (in some form or other). African inland fisheries are not. Why do we impose our western paradigms on them?

    Jeppe

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Date CreatedMonday, December 1, 2008 10:54 AM
Date ModifiedMonday, December 1, 2008 1:08 PM
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