More fishy business

Fishing Fleet, Hong Kong

A very interesting discussion last night at GlobaLab’s first pub-meeting. Most of our rants revolved around environmental othodoxies – perceived truths that dominate the public discourse, such as ‘desertification’ or ‘climate change’, which don’t necessarily have scientific consensus behind them – and the applicability of Tim Forsyth’s theories to the ‘real’ world.

There is a degree to which we all concur that it’s unwise to make sweeping statements and generalisations, for example about poverty and environmental degradation being mutually reinforcing. There are circumstances where this might be the case, and others where it might not. Having said this, it is equally dangerous to suggest that

‘[…] poor people are often able to adopt many local organizational and land management practices which lessen impacts of population growth, environmental degradation or economic change’. (Forsyth & Leach, IDS 1998)

While this might be the case in relation to land management practices – and arguably most of his supporting examples include short or medium-term migration as a classic adaptive strategy, something which is clearly not always possible – we found that things are slightly more complex at sea.

Emma offered an example from her work in post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Local fishermen were given new boats from the international community, who was trying to help them rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Often, more than what was needed, another classic example of donor coordination. As a result, fishermen went at sea and increased substantially fish catch around Sri Lanka’s coastline. The idea of them ‘naturally’ understanding the balance between fish stocks and reproduction cycles could not have been further away from the truth. Most of them were reluctant – for a variety of reasons – to disclose the real amount of fish they caught anyway.

It was only when an aid agency organised a training workshop explaining to them the short and long term economic impact of over-fishing that they realised the consequences of their actions. Paul rightly pointed out the built-in incentive of this argument – i.e. you are going to earn far less money if you carry on like this – which is much more appealing and understandable than abstract discourses about environmental protection. It would be interesting to find out what alternative strategies they adopted once (and if) they reduced their fishing catch.

Well, thanks to a recent article by Cafe Babel, I actually got a glimpse of what many Spanish fishermen in the Mediterranean have resorted to. Caught between Morocco and the EU’s Fishing Agreements, some 4,000 fishermen and over 10,000 people in the Spanish fishing industry have lost their jobs in the last 7 years. Many of them – 10% of Barbate’s population alone, according to the Spanish authorities – have turned to the drug-trafficking industry as a means to survive.

More (sea)food for thought…

[update: from the BBC – Europe’s cod puzzle hard to crack]

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2 responses to “More fishy business

  1. I agree; it was excellent and ought to be the foundation for fruitful discussion. I think we really need to push ourselves to think beyond disciplinary or historical constraints and begin to conceive of new – revolutionary – frameworks. I also look forward to soundly excoriating Martin Wolf at every legitimate occasion.

  2. the use of the word revolutionary is highly welcome in my presence. all we need to do is pick a colour in line with recent political upheavals. i think black would be very stylish.

    as for wolf, you know in the end he can’t win. remember little red riding hood? and the three little piggies? he’s clearly doomed.

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