Fishery degradation in Pakistan: A poverty-environment nexus?

The number of fishing vessels in Pakistani coastal waters has been steadily increasing but the fish catches steadily decreasing. Press reports blame this on poverty driven over-fishing by the artisanal fishers with banned nets. Poverty-resource degradation nexus is, however, mediated via a poverty-credit market nexus. Addressing it and empowering communities will ease the poverty-resource degradation nexus

 
By Shahrukh Rafi Khan
Published: Monday 30 November -0001

The number of fishing vessels in Pakistani coastal waters has been steadily increasing but the fish catches steadily decreasing. Press reports blame this on poverty driven over-fishing by the artisanal fishers with banned nets. Using qualitative methods and tapping into local stakeholder knowledge, this study dispels simplistic views by exploring in depth the coastal artisanal fisheries sector in Pakistan and documenting the challenges faced by it. We argue that the poverty-resource degradation nexus is mediated via a poverty-credit market nexus and that addressing this problem will resolve imperfections in both the credit and product markets. Further, we argue that fishery degradation also has other causes and that addressing these and empowering communities will ease the poverty-resource degradation nexus

Fishery degradation in Pakistan: A poverty-environment nexus? This essay is based on a paper published in the Canadian Journal of Development Economics (Vol. 32, No. 1, March 2011, 32–47). Our research indicates that one cannot rule out the “poverty-resource degradation” nexus as one of the causes of marine fishery degradation in Pakistan. The poor are indebted and pushed into using destructive fishing methods which reinforces their poverty. However, the policy response cannot be simplistic bans. Since destructive fishing methods are a response to poverty, until that is addresses the powerful motivation to do what is necessary to sustain families will remain. We found that the poverty-resource degradation nexus in this case is mediated via a credit-market-poverty nexus with feedbacks into the product market.

Thus, the more promising alternative is to address the problem of the imperfect credit market that results in the indebtedness and the more intensive exploitation of fishery resources. State supported community based micro-credit is spreading fast in Pakistan and there is clearly a case for extending it to the fisher-folk. In this case, there is no need to “manufacture entrepreneurship,” the products of which may or not have a market, since entrepreneurship is intrinsic to artisanal fisheries. Through community mobilization, an accord could be reached with the fisher-folk that gives them a policing role to reverse unsustainable practices. We document that communities are better able to police and sustain resources that their livelihoods depend on. Participatory approaches or co-management frameworks tapping local knowledge have been found effective. The vulnerability of the Bangladeshi community needs to be addressed. As a practical measure, the state can check entry but it should grant dignity and security and to those already present; thus also removing a source of pressure on fisheries.

Once the credit and vulnerability issues are addressed, the imperfections in the product market can also be resolved. The monopsonistic market power results from credit dependency, and, once that problem is resolved, the institutions to ensure a fair market price are already present. While the poverty-resource degradation nexus is one source of the problem, others such as pollution, fresh water capture and mangroves degradation, unsustainable foreign exchange driven fishing policy, and jurisdictional overlaps would also need to be addressed. We did not explore policy responses in this paper, but if these sources of degradation are successfully addressed, it will also simultaneously attenuate the poverty-resource degradation nexus. There is obviously no panacea that applies across the board.

In other contexts, options such as Marine Parks and ITQs (Individual Transferable Quotas) have been attempted to promote fishers rights and conservation. It is tempting to endorse Marine Parks (MPs) since only 0.6 percent of the world’s oceans are protected compared to a CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) target of 10 percent by 2012 (Mwaipopo, 2008). The International Collective in Support of Fish-workers (ICSF) commissioned six studies in Brazil, India, Mexico, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand to explore the social dimensions of MPs. Findings suggest that MPs might be a biological success but a social failure. There have been considerable costs to traditional fishers from exclusion, and, apart from Brazil, communities are expected to implement management plans but were not part of the process of designing the plans causing resentment and resistance. The new policy governing MPs in Brazil announced in April 2007 has in principle recognized the need for greater participation by affected fishers and to marry scientific with local knowledge.

ITQs have been tried in North America and much success claimed for them. However, Ecotrust Canada (2009) has sounded a note of caution including that they promote absentee sea-lords via leasing quotas. This goes against the spirit of conservation via good stewardship by fishers and also of equity since there is a divorce of returns and effort. ITQs also require sound science to set the quotas, good governance for monitoring, and a legal framework to embed functioning markets in. In low-income countries there may be a deficit on these counts and so relying initially on local knowledge and some form of participation might be preferable.

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