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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fisheries livelihood diversification

In my last blog posting I mentioned Bob Gillett's name in connection with the publication of an FAO/SPC-sponsored review of issues in spearfishery management in the Pacific Islands region.

Bob Gillett enquires whether this Tongan trochus is F1 or F2?
(photo linked from the SPC trochus information bulletin)

Young Bob is nothing if not productive, and he has also just put together the final draft of a short review of "alternative income generation" or "livelihood diversification", as a fishery management tool.

The spearfishery review mentioned in the last blog posting was the result of visiting a bunch of countries and interviewing a lot of people, all in the context of several decades of personal experience. This alternative livelihoods review however was the result of getting several people from different countries together in Noumea, locking them in a room, and trying to reach consensus opinions on the basis of their various experiences.

It is likely to take some time before the paper is published, so I want to release a preview here. It should provide some food for thought, particularly for those who are about to embark on fishery management or conservation actions and who may assume that there are simple, well-established ways of accommodating those who are affected by these decisions, short of a direct buy-out, or who hope that people can be reliably be "diverted" from particular fisheries, thus avoiding the need for expensive management interventions.

The abstract says:

  • The use of livelihood diversification has long been promoted for relieving fishing pressure on inshore marine resources of the Pacific Islands region. Four main types of alternative activities have been promoted to reduce fishing pressure: aquaculture, fish aggregation devices, deep reef slope fishing, and alternatives outside the fishing sector. In reviewing the situation over the last thirty years, it is difficult to identify cases where the use of livelihood diversification as an inshore management tool could be considered clearly successful. It is relatively easy to cite examples of livelihood diversification failure, but a potentially more productive exercise is to identify successes. Past experience in the use of livelihood diversification points to some important overall conclusions. Perhaps the most important lesson learned about livelihood diversification in the Pacific Islands is that its performance has not been to the level where it can be considered an effective resource management tool. In many cases, livelihood diversification could even be a distraction that deters communities from gaining an awareness of the need for, and benefits of, more effective forms of marine resource management.
The paper itself is currently entitled "Livelihood Diversification as a Marine Resource Management Tool in the Pacific Islands: Lessons Learned", and the authorship is Robert Gillett, Garry Preston, Warwick Nash, Hugh Govan , Tim Adams and Michelle Lam. The work itself was sponsored by WorldFish and SPC. Keep an eye open for it.

We hope that there will be several more papers on "lessons learned" about fisheries development and management in this series. We've done one or two things like this in the past (our 1993 article on "Pacific Island Lobster Fisheries: Bonanza or Bankruptcy?" was an archetype), and these have proven to be popular (the lobster paper was the most-hit item on the SPC website for several years - overtaken only when we introduced a recipes page), but they do pose a dilemma for us as an intergovernmental agency: - how far can we go in being critical of things happening in our member countries?

Obviously national fisheries planners can learn as much from from failures as they can from successes. But when hard information is scarce, and when the judgement of success or failure depends upon consensus opinion, the publication of that opinion might have an unwarranted effect on individual or national reputations.

However, I notice that there is very little hesitation to publish success stories, and in terms of lessons learned, "false positives" can be just as damaging to the broader development effort as "false negatives" might be to individual reputations.

As a result, we have hesitated to do much in this area, but history is valuable, and when you see decisions being made in favour of actions that you know have failed in the past, it probably does more harm than good to avoid talking about past mistakes.

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