INSIGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
Fisher folks in Gaburia demand government support for alternative livelihoods
V2V Research Assistant | University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
15 Sep 2021
People of Gaburia Union of the Satkhira district mainly depend on fishing in the mangrove river system. However, livelihood restrictions are being imposed by natural and governance issues. First, agricultural production is negatively impacted by existing salinity problems in the area. In addition, fishing activities have become limited due to conservation measures. Currently, the Department of Fisheries (DoF) protects 90% of the Sundarban area, which restricts fishing activities, and imposes a 6-months strict fishing ban to protect fish stock and biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem. As a result, fisher folks complain that with such limited scopes of fishing activities they cannot support their livelihoods. Fishers are stricken with debts and poverty that sometimes lead to conflict with the wildlife conservators. As a solution, they now demand alternative livelihoods and a better incentive program by the government to save the fishing communities of Gabura.
In September 2021, researchers from an ongoing research project from the Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, conducted interviews with fishers to understand governance and conflicts related to small-scale fisheries. In total, researchers interviewed 18 fisher folks equally divided into three groups with equal gender representation from the Gabura island. The fisher folks stated that the government is strictly ensuring the safety of the mangrove ecosystem with a fishing ban and protected areas. However, it is failing to compensate the mangrove-dependent communities with alternative livelihoods and incentives. At present there is no initiative to create alternative livelihoods for the communities; nor is there any micro-credit support for them. Currently, incentive programs are flawed and insufficient. For instance, incentives are only provided to fishers who have registered fishing cards in their name, but the incentives do not reach the people that need them the most. Moreover, many fishers who work in contracts remain out of the coverage because fishing cards are issued to boat owners only.
Such discrepancy in the incentive scheme and lack of livelihood support is negatively impacting the fishing communities' income security. While agriculture is not feasible and fishers lack the necessary skills for switching to other well-paying jobs, they mostly rely on migrating to other areas for low-paid day labourer jobs. Because low-paid jobs are not sufficient to support their household expenses, fishers take informal loans with high interest. They are not eligible to receive loans from formal organizations because of not having collateral evidence. As a result of low income compounded by increasing loans trap them in a debt cycle and poverty. Fisher folks mention that they have to cut on their expenses of education, health, and food in order to make a living. Even when the fishing ban is not in place, they cannot recover their loss as they have to repay their loans.
Many fisher folks cannot withstand the crippling effects of poverty, and at some point, they indulge in conflicts with the authority. Many people disobey the rules and fish during the ban period by bribing the authority. Some use current nets to get more harvest. Even though catching shrimp fry is illegal, some women catch fry and sell them to farm owners, they also damage other species in bycatch. Even though many people face punishment and fines if caught breaking the law, they again exploit the system to fill their economic needs. This attitude of exploiting the system shows that the purpose of protecting the biodiversity is vulnerable to the fisher folks' helplessness.
Fishers suggest that the government should protect both biodiversity and fishing communities together, otherwise, conservation measures will not be sustainable in the long run. Combined with conservation measures, alternative livelihoods and an efficient incentive system are needed. If adequate alternative livelihoods are available, incentives may not even be required. Fishers hope that the government will take their demands into consideration and act positively.
Write-ups for the Fifth Edition of V2V Commons
V2V Previous Events
Reflections on the V2V - Chilika Virtual Field School 2021
Chilika Field School had a different tone this year. With restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, the field school was adapted to a remote school. However, many elements of the ‘field’ were interestingly in place. The field school was fruitful in many ways, here, I highlight three big learnings from this year’s Chilika Field School.
First, adaptation is required in times of change and uncertainty. This adaptation from in-person to online field school allowed for a larger number of participants and a broad range of speakers from around the world. The school counted about 50 participants from 12 countries and 15 well-recognized speakers active in science, practice and/or policy in different fields surrounding coastal sustainability and development. This was a plus of the online field school, while the interaction with local fishers was still in place – this time online. On the other hand, an online school loses some of the experiential learning, including the perception of the environment and human interaction when ‘using the 5 senses’.
Second, when rethinking coastal sustainability, we recognize that “there is no blueprint for effective governance; context is key” (Derek Armitage, August 7, 2021). Effective coastal governance requires an understanding of how people interact with one another; how stakeholders value coastal resources; who gets what, when and how. Thus, rethinking coastal sustainability entails the political context, social norms and cultural dimensions of local livelihoods, demographics, and literacy characteristics of stakeholders, as well as key social-ecological changes in place. Context involves an understanding of complex interactions in different levels and scales. It is not only local, rather, it ranges from local to global and is key to pursue a transition from vulnerable to viable coasts.
Third, understanding the complexities of viable coasts requires a transdisciplinary lens. This includes rethinking a social contract and transitioning from top-down decisions on sustainability and development. Sharing power and enabling local voices and knowledge to inform decision-making can better tackle contextual factors. Moreover, the subjective dimension of sustainability is key. This includes themes such as wellbeing and happiness. Subjective dimensions of sustainability refer to one’s perception about his or her life, which will shape behaviour, and mediate human-nature interactions. For instance, climate migration is a key adaptation strategy in areas impacted by extreme weather conditions. The subjective perception of the new life is a relevant part of the effects of climate change in the human population, in addition to environmental effects. Thus, a transdisciplinary lens helps to depict this complexity.
- Ana Carolina Esteves Dias | Postdoctoral fellow and a member of V2V’s secretariat, University of Waterloo, Canada
I am grateful for the opportunity of joining others in the V2V - Chilika Virtual Field School 2021. Everyone was intensively engaged with the panels of experts through the power talks given. The most striking talk held in that eight-day journey was about the actions and policies revolving small-scale fisher folks around the world since it resonated with my current research. All the experts involved echoed the crux of the matter that cannot be denied – communication with the fisher folks and initiating instruments to aid them in realizing their rights and voice.
- Athena Kimberly Sipaun | Master’s student, Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNIRAZAK), Malaysia
I experienced a feeling of satisfaction throughout all eight 8 days of the V2V - Chilika Field School 2021. I have enjoyed all the insightful sessions on the concept of “RETHINKING” in relation to various aspects of coastal zones management. The flagship knowledge I gained is that “RETHINKING” is more “ADD AND REMOVE” to meet new challenges than “CHANGE”. My understanding of developed topics during this field school has been confirmed the last day by my presentation entitled RETHINKING FISHERIES POLICY: WHEN AND FOR WHAT? During this school, I also met new friends and researchers interested in future collaborations.
- Edeya Orobiyi Rodrigue Pelebe | Postdoctoral Fellow in Fisheries Science at the Africa Centre of Excellence in Coastal Resilience, University of Cape Coast, Ghana
Emerging island countries such as Indonesia are aggressively developing a maritime-based economy given the breadth of fishery resources, also known as the blue economy concept. But we need to consider the potential of maritime resources as public "goods" that have a non-rival and non-exclusive nature that is open access. These types of goods include common property rights which means anyone can use them for economic purposes. The possibility of sectoral ego to utilize fishery resources excessively by each sector becomes an alarm in the application of the blue economy concept. This indication may arise because of the freedom of utilization of natural resources from various sectors that causes collective action of excessive utilization of natural resources that damage nature. This is the so-called failure of collective community action in the utilization of natural resources.
- Aini Nur Furoida | Master’s student, Diponegoro University (UNDIP), Indonesia
Rethinking in relation to coastal sustainability involves learning and unlearning some theories, concepts and knowledge we have had over the years to improve coastal development and sustainability. Rethinking in a transdisciplinary way is needed since, in the actual sense, nothing stands alone. All aspects of life are interconnected. There is a need for strategies that cross many boundaries to create a holistic approach in the quest for a developed and sustainable coast across countries. In rethinking concepts, the concept of value should be emphasized. This is because if there is an understanding of the measure of the value of livelihoods derived from the environment which includes the coast, then you would do everything possible to protect and sustain it. In all, stability in methodological approaches is imperative. This field school has helped me in having a broader knowledge of coastal livelihood.
- Chineboaba Araba Afful | PhD student, Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), Senegal
Chilika Field School presented the most unexpected, exciting, experience. The school sessions were very instructive, practical, and fun. The multidisciplinary approach allowed experiencing the small-scale fisheries from varying angles. Our coordinators and resource persons were vast in knowledge, confident and firm, you could have thought we were in a traditional class. What stood out was the teamwork spirit and respect for each other, working within the smaller and larger groups. Each voice was heard, and the messages were received. The session with the fishermen brought with it nostalgia, the spirit of togetherness, connection to nature and the desire to preserve and leave legacies for generations.
- Foluke Omotayo Areola | PhD student, Lagos State University (LASU), Nigeria
One of the events that I participated in was the V2V field school which lasted for 7 days. It was sad that it had to be done online but Iam glad it didn't detract from the essence of the event itself. It was a valuable experience for me being able to receive knowledge from very extraordinary speakers. I would like to reflect on the event on the theme of the fifth day titled 'What does a policy by, of and for the people look like?' and 'Rethinking policies as if they matter’:
Small-scale fisheries are vulnerable to politicization and it's important to protect them with policies that support them. As academics, we can help in creating the insight to build or develop the policies.
Implementation cannot be done quickly and can take years to fully implement. The process itself is also costly and time-consuming. Since the circumstances of small-scale fisheries are dynamic, implementation is a continuous process and adapting to the circumstance. While the governance principles stated in the SSF Guidelines may remain, the policies and actions that follow should change according to how they are implemented, their location and lessons learned through the process.
<< To act and to change>> It is recommended that lawmakers, governments and relevant fisheries stakeholders consider incorporating fisheries laws and other relevant fisheries policies to improve fisheries management. This will help target assistance and protection programs to those who need it and empower and improve the standard of living of small-scale fishers.
My research is to find out what causes vulnerability, what is their adaptive capacity, what is their situation and what should be done to develop a good management strategy. A good policy is a policy that is created in accordance with the needs of the community. Transdisciplinary is very important to keep bringing together researchers from various disciplines of science under the V2V umbrella.
- Hapsari Ayu Kusumawardhani | Master’s student, Diponegoro University (UNDIP), Indonesia
I am very grateful to the V2V collaborators and CSD, ULAB, for giving me the privilege of participating in the field school with leading experts and vibrant students coming from different parts of the world. It was very mesmerizing to witness the collaboration of people from different disciplines on a single agenda-development of coastal small-scale fishing communities. Such mutual interest is the true reflection of the transdisciplinary approach which is greatly needed and believed in academic communities to achieve sustainable development. While there is a lot of talk about the barriers and difficulties of involving researchers from different disciplines for a common purpose, this field school sets an example model for everyone. Insightful talks from leading experts and interesting engagements with peer participants on the importance of rethinking governance, policy, action and advocacy, knowledge and theory, as well as political ecology enhanced my knowledge and changed my outlook. I now can think more clearly about the significance of all these factors to obtain a holistic understanding of problems and to design their solutions. I look forward to participating in the next V2V school.
- Mohammad Budrudzaman | Undergraduate student, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), Bangladesh
Participating in the V2V-Chilika Virtual Field School (2021) was an eye-opening experience for me. Although the global pandemic encumbered our in-person meet on the shores of Chilika Lagoon, web-based space of the field school provided us overwhelming opportunities to connect and share thoughts with each other. Vibrant-themed sessions comprising lecture series by panelists, aptly conveyed as “Words that Inspire”, made my field school days fascinating. For me, the most captivating session was the online workshop and interaction with Chilika Fisher Federation. While listening virtually to our “mentors at the field”, I inevitably felt the imperatives to rethink remote, yet unfettered connectivity with the people who surround the reasons for (re)thinking sustainability issues, knowledge, concepts, practice, mindset, policies in our research.
- Raktima Ghosh | PhD student, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, India
I tried to picture how I was going to have this virtual field school without difficulties. I thought it would be difficult interacting with different people around the world with diverse educational backgrounds, but I was proved wrong. The Chilika experience was one of the best virtual field schools attended. The knowledge shared by different panel members helped me gain an in-depth understanding of the plight of the ordinary fisherman trying to make ends meet, thinking this was enough, I realized that was just the tip of the iceberg. The breakout session and the climax of the field school were phenomenal. I hope the next field school will be physically held to give more room for more interaction where there will be fewer constraints on time.
- Selorm Awiah Dzantor | Research Assistant at the Africa Center of Excellence in Coastal Resilience, University of Cape Coast, Ghana
V2V hosted a virtual field school starting August 7th with the core focus on rethinking the sustainability of SSF. I have worked with only SSFs at a local level, but the virtual field school had participants and speakers from almost every continent, resulting in us forging a more concrete understanding of the plight of the SSF and how to move forward with the knowledge we acquired. My only wish is that we have more interaction with the Chilika fisherfolk as the pandemic forced us into a virtual environment, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well-structured the entire event was.
- Syed Tauheed Raihan | Research Assistant at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD), University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), Bangladesh
It was a pleasure for me to participate in the V2V - Chilika Virtual Field School 2021. During the program, I had the opportunity to listen to myriad educational talks delivered by several hardworking and conscientious researchers and academics whose styles of presentation were superb and worthy of emulation. I found the topics very interesting, especially “The Secret to Happiness” and “We are in an age of Transdisciplinarity”. Although the program was commendable, considering the rampant illegal activities in many fisheries across the world, I believe that much attention should be given to topics that focus on behavioural change in fishers.
- Evans Kwasi Arizi | Lecturer, University of Cape Coast, Ghana
Write-ups for the Fourth Edition of V2V Commons
Social mobilization: A key factor in moving from Vulnerability to Viability
The scientific process underway in V2V, given the diversity of the institutional actors involved and the themes on its agenda, is indicative of its progressive, even humanistic, character. From my past experience with the scientific community, both in my country and internationally, I can say without gross error that V2V is a framework that recognizes the importance of the human and social sciences, which have been marginalized for a long time. It is obvious that interesting proposals for a transition to viability will emerge from the various initiatives underway, but to be effective, they need to be integrated into public policies, which is a factor of vulnerability itself.
The political dimension in which SSF is embedded must not be overlooked in our V2V approach. Indeed, the political dimension in which SSF is embedded must not be overlooked in our V2V approach. Indeed, I know that, as researchers, we have a limited role to play in the immense task of ensuring the transition to viability. But given that poor governance and unsustainable public policies are among the main factors behind vulnerability, it is becoming imperative, in my opinion, to study the various ways in which V2V (on a strictly scientific level) could contribute to the agenda of SSF organizations and Social movements.
Overmore, climate change is most often indexed - in a context of internationalization of the related debate - as the source of all the socio-economic and environmental challenges faced by SSF communities. It has become a strategy used by policy makers to absolve themselves by licensing poor governance, expressed through unsustainable fisheries policies. Indeed, climate change is increasingly used to try to externalize responsibility. Moreover, if one is animated by a grain of objectivity, it must be recognized that the political will required from decision-makers to mitigate vulnerability is not yet there. If this were the case, the implementation of certain international instruments - albeit optional - on the part of States should considerably cushion the impacts of shocks and risks to which SSF communities are exposed. The same is true of the SSF Guidelines to which states have committed themselves through Article 14 of the SDGs but whose effective implementation by states does not seem to be in the offing. Based on what has been said above and taking into account our institutional limits as a scientific community, we must promote a form of collaboration with key players who have the prerogatives to negotiate with political decision-makers. Our collaboration with the latter could, for example, be limited to capacity building for leaders of SSF associations and movements, through the sharing of the various materials resulting from our work: scientific articles, videos, etc.
I believe that without losing our souls as researchers, we can strengthen these organizations by providing them with a variety of resources. For example, we can host workshops to discuss the results of our work (e.g., I-ADApT) and discuss documents demonstrating the commitment of the States to contribute to a V2V transition - for which V2V is designed and implemented - but without follow-up, for lack of a real political will on the part of these States. We have the example of the SSF Guidelines which recommendations, if really implemented should significantly contribute to the expected transition. It is in view of this factual situation - in general, does not mean commitment - and with a wish to see our scientific opinion effectively contribute to the transition, that I wished our proposals on viability to be considered not only as recommendations. But to achieve this, only the communities through their social movements/organizations will be able to exert their weight on the decision-making processes in favour of sustainable governance for artisanal fisheries. It is with respect to this that CREDETI¨P has planned (as part of the Senegal plan of actions) a certain number of workshops and related activities.
Country in Action: Bangladesh
By: Sabiha Ahmed Diba | University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
The Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) - ULAB has prepared the V2V Situational Analysis report on Small Scale Fisheries (SSF) of Bangladesh based on existing and ongoing research and literature from secondary sources (from 2011 to 2021). The report focused on SSF according to a geographic location within the country, such as rivers and coastal areas.
Here, we highlight three interesting and noted insights from the Situational Analysis report from Bangladesh. First, is the fact that one species of fish (Hilsa) dominated the SSF economy. It is noted that Hilsa fish is the primary catch by SSF and is valued greatly due to its cultural and traditional importance (Islam and Chuenpagdee, 2018), thus many of the sources focus more on this specific catch and not on the bycatch. SSF data are mostly based on Hilsa fish, therefore these have been used interchangeably with generic SSF. Second, we identify the Fishing ban and lack of alternate livelihood during the ban as a core vulnerability in SSF. To adapt to the fishing ban, fisher families diversify their livelihoods through alternative income-generating activities which are usually low-paid and not adequate to address their needs. Because of the lack of other skill sets, the fisher households are not able to diversify efficiently (Nahiduzzaman et al., 2018) and a key vulnerability. Finally, the lack of modern technology in the fishing methods used by SSF (e.g., ice to preserve catch, no radio or sonar) was identified as a core vulnerability in SSF in Bangladesh.
We identified many interesting insights; however, we also faced some challenges in preparing the Situational Analysis. It was hard to find secondary data for some areas, which are not available online, but the facts exist for the SSF Bangladesh context. Moreover, there are some concept areas relevant to SSF Bangladesh which are new (e.g., SSF in sustainable blue economy growth) and thereby, little information is available.
Country in Action: Bangladesh
By: Jannat Shancharika Suchi | University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
Vulnerabilities in Small Scale Fishing Communities – Bangladeshi Perspective
Bangladesh is a riverine country which is constituted by three main river systems called Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Bangladesh's aquaculture production is continuously growing, which includes island fish production, but the marine and coastal fisheries have a huge production as well. According to FAO (2021), the total fish production contributes 4% of the GDP, and this contribution normally is made by the small-scale fisheries (SSF) of Bangladesh. In the Bangladesh context, small-scale fisheries include fishing that is conducted without boats or with small, wooden and non-motorized boats. However, the definition varies based on different social, economic and cultural considerations.
The fishers are mainly involved with fishing as a profession as it has been passed on to the over generations. Their forefathers were fishers and they inherited the skills and occupation of fishing from their forefathers. Being born into a fisher family most learn fishing and boating from their early childhood. Many of them did not even learn any other skills for their future life which is why they normally have no other income sources other than fishing. They have to face various complexities and vulnerabilities as fishers. One of the major challenges the fishers in the coastal areas face is the impacts from natural disasters resulting in loss of life and assets. Natural disasters are the reason many have become landless. These situations are definitely vulnerable and helpless. Moreover, a large proportion of fishers do not own boats, nets or other fishing instruments and they have to depend on others for support. When they do so, they have to share a portion of their profits with the owners that reduces their own income and makes them financially vulnerable. As a result, fishers are forced to take loans from the 'dadoners' (agents) to arrange finance for fishing and enter into contracts by which they are bound to sell their fish to the 'dadoners' at a predetermined price which is often significantly lower than the market price. At the fish market, the interference from the middlemen is a crucial factor influencing levels of fisher vulnerability due to their exploitative interference and control of the market chain. In Bangladesh, there are about eight layers of middlemen that control virtually every step of the fisheries, starting from fishing to final sale. Moreover, fish often get rotten often because they quickly lose their stock of ice on a typically multiday fishing trip to the sea.
On the ecological front, the fish stock in the rivers or sea is decreasing day by day although the government is trying their best to protect the fish by imposing the 22 days fishing ban. During this ban season, the fishers are not allowed to fish which makes their livelihoods increasingly vulnerable. They end up livelihood crisis due to lack of capacity to save for the future and the absence of alternate livelihood or income avenues. So, fishers have to go through additional hardship during these periods of the ban. Although the government provides some aid to the fishing communities during the fish ban, it does not reach all fishers in most cases due to corruption and multiple malpractices. Only those with a fishing identity card get the official support but many either do not have a card or those with cards don’t get the aid as it is syphoned away by people involved in disbursing the aid. Fishers are not easily eligible to get financial support (loans) from banks as the banks always want collateral. This is tricky as most fishers do not own significant assets that can be used as collateral. As a result, they are pushed into a vicious cycle of indebtedness and get trapped with private lenders and high-interest rates. Sometimes they have to work under the owners or lenders at low or no wages after taking a private loan. Most of the fisher families have only one income-earning member. Lastly, the fishers do not receive adequate training that could help them try alternate jobs for income generation. Lack of capacity development opportunity adds to their vulnerability and pushes them to think that they are born as fishers and will probably die as fishers.
1. FAO Fisheries & Aquaculture - Country Profile, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, http://www.fao.org/fishery/facp/BGD/en, (accessed March 4, 2021).