A Focus on Artisanal Fisheries: Characteristics and Assumptions
What is an artisanal fishery? There is, as yet, no universally-accepted definition. For example, sometimes the term is used interchangeably with ‘small scale fishery’, and sometimes it is considered a subset of ‘small scale’.
But in spite of the definitional challenge, I think we agree enough on the core elements to be able to talk about them. I’ve found that most everyone can agree that artisanal fisheries are ‘local’, ‘labor intensive’, and exhibit little ‘organizational hierarchy in fishing operations’.
Demuynck (1994) goes a step further and provides a nice overview of general characteristics of ‘artisanal’ fisheries found in the literature:
The following elements can be called almost general characteristics to artisanal or small-scale fisheries (Tvedten & Hersoug, 1992 and Seki & Bonzon, 1993):
- it uses a relatively simple technology;
- it is labour-intensive;
- it consists of small groups of operators;
- it takes relatively low capital inputs;
- marketing and distribution are handled by specialized non-fishing intermediaries;
- the risk-aspect is always present;
- production, distribution and social organisation are strongly interdependent;
- kin-group ties influence all levels of organization;
- fishing is a low-status occupation and fishing communities suffer from poor community infrastructure and living conditions.
The only element I’d really challenge here is the idea that artisanal fishermen are necessarily poor or low status relative to their communities. Coulthard et al. (2011) discuss this misconception, which I point to in a past blog post (see #1).
Stepping back, there are some big remaining questions: do artisanal fisheries have more consistent sustainable targets than commercial fisheries, lower bycatch rates, or higher compliance rates when sustainable targets are in place? I’d want to know that to really answer if artisanal fisheries are any better.
The artisanal fishing sector—regardless of any technical debate over its precise definition — provides direct employment to tens of millions of people, and indirect employment to tens of millions more (many of them women involved in fish processing). Artisanal fishing comprises 90% of all fishing jobs worldwide, approximately 45% of the world’s fisheries, and nearly a quarter of the world catch. They provide critical income and edible protein to hundreds of millions across the globe. Moreover, artisanal fishers operate in some of the biologically richest and most sensitive waters on earth, often in tropical coastal zones where interactions with coral reefs and land-based ecosystems introduce complex interdependencies.
- On Sustainability: What is the environmental impact of the artisanal fishery relative to its employment? Relative to its yield? Would a commercial fishery greatly reduce the environmental destruction of gear? What is the rate of compliance in artisanal fisheries and are their catch/effort targets sustainable? If highly destructive, would a commercial fishery (and thus fewer operators) better enable fisheries managers to reduce the environmental impacts?
- On Employment: Is it better to protect low-tech, high labor fishing operations or let operators compete through innovation and cutting labor costs? A nice question to gauge your market philosophy. And does the employment justify by the environmental impacts? Is such a fishery even sustainable?
- On Tradition: Does the artisanal fishery have unique cultural value? Would its demise bring the end of a unique cultural community or way of life? I do believe we should afford special protections in such cases. Man, too, is a member of the ecosystem. And to speculate, I think what people are more deeply concerned with is subsistence fishing. So a subsequent question is, would competition or a fishery reform mean that subsistence fishermen go hungry?