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Corruption in Fisheries Management

March 18, 2015


There’s a great new article out from Aksel Sundrström at Global Environmental Change. It’s particularly interesting as it provides theoretical development to Ostrom’s commonpool resource work (specifically how CPRs can be managed in corrupt environments) and, amazingly, a strong empirical look at fisheries corruption in South Africa. Below are a few choice excerpts.

1. On the data collection.

Confidential interviews where performed [sic] with public inspectors at the Compliance Directorate, of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). Also former inspectors – no longer facing risks for speaking openly – are interviewed, as well as former senior managers of this directorate and key stakeholders…

In total 43 interviews were conducted during the period from January to April 2014. Out of these, 34 persons were inspectors at the Compliance Directorate. Four were former senior managers from this directorate, including past directors. The other five were key stakeholders: two journalists specializing in covering developments in fisheries, a university professor focusing on the politics of fisheries, and two leaders of fishermen associations, all purposely sampled due to their insight into the situation.

2. On the theoretical contribution.

As Mansbridge (2010, 2014) has argued, the commons literature, in its focus on examples of successful self-governance, has neglected the often-important role of the state as the enforcer of existing regulations. However, I will argue that yet another blind spot of this literature is the lack of attention toward the fact that many of these government authorities are permeated by corrup-tion. Although difficult to define, corruption is most often described in the literature as ‘‘the abuse of public power for private gain’’ (Treisman, 2000, p. 399) and large-scale corruption, involving the influence of decision-makers in the policy process, is generally contrasted to small-scale practices of bribery, involving public officials and citizens (Hellman et al., 2000)…When this article refers to corruption in law enforcement it is specifically the latter type of bribery that is discussed.

3. On the empirical contribution: widespread corruption.

The respondents certainly perceive widespread corruption in the sector. While it is not viable in this type of sampling to estimate how common the practice of bribery is, it should be noted that respondents give a uniform image of the almost endemic state of bribery. The following quote is illustrative:

“We have eleven substations [on one part of the coast]. And out of these I know that only three of them are without corrupt officials. . . . If you should get rid of all corrupt inspectors, then out of our 200 only 30 would be left. (I:13)

Then what does it mean in practice that inspectors are corrupt? Accounts describe how inspectors become ‘‘blind’’ to violations. This process is built up over time as the inspector and fishermen establish a relationship where bribery is a key ingredient:

They will give me fish. They are preparing your mind. They want to have a favor. They think ‘‘tomorrow, you back me up.’’ . . . It is not a difficult choice . . . [and the following day] they will know if you are a guy who will fine them or be willing to build a relationship. (I:7)”

4. On the theoretical implications.

First, inspectors face a context dilemma, making the writing of fines useless as these disappear from bribery among clerks and judges in the enforcement chain. Second, they face an organizational dilemma where substation managers and actors in top management of their own organization are known to be involved in corrupt behavior, thus further demotivating the inspectors…

These are just a few possible excerpts. There is plenty more on the other outcomes of small-scale corruption and how we might use it to understand fisheries management from a theoretical perspective. So on the whole, the article is quite excellent and makes for great reading for anyone working on fisheries compliance issues.

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