How do socio-economic considerations influence small-scale fishery management?

Fisheries scientist Dr Nick McClean reports on the importance of considering socio-economic issues in the current management reforms for Indonesian tuna fisheries.

Mapping a fisheries management strategy

One of the greatest challenges for a fisheries manager lies in determining management measures that can safeguard both the overall health of the fishery, and the benefits it provides to society. Once we have ensured the health of the fish stock, how do we decide whether to fish for profit, or to ensure local food supply, or protect jobs in remote fishing communities? Do we have to choose between these options, or is there an “optimal” outcome, where each is maximised in relation to the others?

Social scientists and economists grapple with these questions when thinking about fisheries management. Using evidence based, informed decisions they go to the heart of ensuring that fisheries management is sustainable socially, as well as environmentally.

Recently, in support of the development of management measures for Indonesia’s vast tuna fisheries, I travelled to the shores of this archipelagic nation to gain a better understanding of current fisheries reforms and developments. Specifically, I went to learn more about the development of a harvest strategy for coastal tuna fisheries in Eastern Indonesia’s archipelagic waters – the seas surrounded by the thousands of islands between Sulawesi and West Papua.

Key questions I hoped to address were: Who participates in the fishery and its supply chains? What is their socio-economic position? How might they be affected by management interventions? How does Indonesia benefit from tuna fishing the most – as a source of food, a source of income, a source of identity and social cohesion for coastal communities? And by increasing our understanding and evidence relating to these social and economic issues, will we enhance the development of harvest strategy objectives? This was no small task in the world’s largest tuna fishing nation, but one I was excited to contribute to.

As part of my research I got the opportunity to go out into the field and meet workers from across the Indonesian tuna supply chain, including some inspiring tuna pole-and-line and handline fishers in Southeast Sulawesi. Through conversations, I got a real appreciation of how important the one-by-one tuna fisheries are for the preservation of cultural identity and community cohesion. Their stories are reflected in many one-by-one fishing communities throughout the region and the messages touch upon many of the key themes identified in this study:

In total, I identified four core themes that should form the basis for developing the social and economic aspects of the harvest strategy. These themes represent an interlocking system of priorities that, if managed strategically, have the ability to bring significant benefits to Indonesian society as a whole, and to the coastal fishing communities that depend on tuna.

Theme #1: Welfare of coastal and small-scale fishing communities
Isolated coastal communities have fewer livelihood options and are highly dependent on fisheries. They are the most vulnerable to impacts from changes in tuna fisheries management, especially the small-scale and artisanal fisheries. Investments in small-scale fisheries and non-destructive fishing practices under optimal conditions could increase overall employment levels in tuna fisheries.

Theme #2 Food security
Indonesia is a major consumer of fish, and tuna plays an important role in food security in Eastern Indonesia in particular. Small-scale fisheries provide substantial food security benefits directly to coastal communities through supply to regional markets and in the form of fish as wages in lieu of cash. In some provinces of Eastern Indonesia, more than 30% of protein consumed is fish, with tuna often being the top species. Among fishers, seafood is the main source of protein, and in some cases can account for up to 90% of dietary protein.

Theme #3 The economic value and efficiency of tuna fisheries
Indonesia is well placed geographically to access high value export markets over the long term. With many handline fishers already exporting to Europe and the US, improvements in supply chain efficiency and fish handling could open further opportunities in the lucrative Japanese sashimi market. Moreover, focusing on increasing the value of current catch through supporting small-scale and artisanal fleets using non-destructive fishing methods, while ensuring benefits are spread throughout the supply chain, has the potential to increase financial benefits for coastal communities, while also supporting increased employment.

Theme #4 Strengthening tuna fisheries governance
Indonesia is working hard to improve the management of its fisheries under Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Our interviews revealed that a strong, effective governance system is crucial for business investment, local employment and livelihoods, and environmental sustainability. Given the complex interactions between large, medium and small-scale sectors in Indonesian waters, putting in place an “archipelagic fishing zone” restricted to small-scale and non-destructive fishing methods, as implemented in the Maldives, Azores, and now St Helena, could also deliver considerable social and economic benefits by supporting local small-scale fishers and fish-workers and minimise conflicts in the fishery.

The path forward

Indonesia will continue to enhance the management framework for tuna fisheries throughout the year, and there are many potential directions for this strategy to go. It is my hope that further attention will be given to these socio-economic themes identified in this research which, ultimately, aims to assist decision makers and stakeholders to adopt policies that best support the fishery and the coastal communities that depend on it for livelihoods, food, and income. I’m optimistic about the Ministry’s ability to deliver on this. The future of coastal fishing communities depends on it.   

Dr Nick McClean is an interdisciplinary social scientist specialising in fisheries management. He is now a Post-doctoral Research fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, and a Visiting Fellow at the College of Asia Pacific, Australian National University.

This research was undertaken by Dr McClean with the support of Asosiasi Perikanan Pole & Line dan Handline Indonesia (AP2HI), the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF), and collaboration from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Funding was provided by the Australian National University's Indonesian Project Small Grants Scheme, delivered in partnership with the SMERU Research Institute, Jakarta.