Governance of Fisheries Conflicts and Resources – Multiple Approaches.

By Carsten Wentink

Results of the REINCORPFISH project on small-scale fisheries (SSF) were presented through three presentations with a special focus on South African and South Asian small-scale fisheries sectors, including various comparative perspectives on these two cases. Both SSF sectors are characterized by a post-conflict situation. In South Africa this is characterized by a re-allocation of the ‘right to fish’ to previously disadvantaged black and coloured fishing communities through a new SSF policy. In South Asia the papers presented are characterized by the Sri Lankan post-conflict setting. Here the Tamil small-scale fishing population was banned from fishing as they were seen as a possible threat. In the post-conflict context fishers returned to the sea while Indian trawlers largely occupied their fishing grounds within the Sri Lankan EEZ, leading to a bilateral conflict between Sri Lankan small-scale fishers and Indian industrialized trawlers.

In this context, presentations at the panel focussed on political ecological approaches to SSF governance and associated conflicts; bottom up approaches in SSF governance through Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and NGOs; and South African SSF value chain governance and the implications thereof for coastal livelihoods.

Discussions started on the dynamic role of NGOs in SSF governance and the differences in fisher collective action and human rights in the two case studies. The presentations underlined the importance of bottom up engagement of communities through NGOs, and the importance of NGOs/CBOs for participatory governance and fisher mobilization. One point discussed in this regard is that NGOs should not be seen as static entities. Instead it is important to consider that NGOs may represent different views and strategies on how to achieve an economically and ecologically sound solution. Therefore more reflection on the specific role of such organizations may be insightful. Particularly the relation between NGOs and fisheries communities and their CBOs is pointed out to be very complex and could benefit from further research. Key in this regard is the role of ‘community leaders’ from CBOs. In South Africa these work jointly with fisher folk, resulting is a strong trust in a common SSF vision and the NGOs who represent this vision. Meanwhile in Sri Lanka it appears that there is no supportive environment for such CBOs and NGOs to function like there is in South Africa. In view of this it is pointed out to be important to consider a whole range of actors which can be involved in this process, beyond those that are particularly concerned with fishery, including for instance churches and labour organizations.

Also with regards to NGOs, some reference is made to ‘green grabbing’ of marine regions, possibly induced by NGOs. Discussions in this regard focussed on contested benefits of marine protected areas for small-scale fishers.

Having discussed the governance structures of SSF and in particular the role of NGOs, it was pointed out by one participant that discussions appear too focussed on a narrow issue, being SSF. It was pointed out that a broader perspective is needed as marine resources are public goods. This would require a focus beyond SSF where issues such as sustainability are addressed as well. And in this context, where is action particularly effective in achieving a desired outcome? What are specific ways to move forward?

A key point in response to this is that the general perception in India is that there is nothing wrong with the status quo, where Indian trawlers catch in the Sri Lankan EEZ. Opportunities to resolve this were pointed out to be sought in the international arena, possibly through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. Another participant however noted that the South Asian political system appears quite averse to such external influence. Therefore change would ideally be sought in the local institutional context.

Where value chains are concerned, the improvement of equity in transactions is pointed out to be essential in this regard. This could improve coastal livelihoods, possibly without putting unsustainable pressure on fish stocks. In order for fishers to unlock opportunities in value chains collective action by fishing communities is pointed out to be essential, making this a priority area of action. NGOs, CBOs and Government can play an instrumental role in this regard. Meanwhile the South African department of fisheries approaches the support of collective action in a top-down manner, which is likely to be ineffective. The top-down proposed fisheries cooperatives are unlikely to be accepted by communities that are facing a high degree of conflict.

Carsten Wentink recently graduated at Wageningen University with the degree Master of Science in Environmental Policy, focusing on marine governance. Currently he is writing a paper based on his master thesis results which will be about different modes of governance applicable to seafood value chains and the implications hereof for small-scale fishers well being.