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Environmental, Economic and Social Evaluation of Africa's Small Scale Fisheries

19 June 2015

Small-scale fisheries (SSFs) in developing countries are extremely important for local communities, as they are a major source of food, livelihood, and income. This report from the World Bank looks at several case studies of fisheries in Africa and how they perform.

Small-scale fishing communities are vulnerable to overexploitation of fish stocks owing to insecure access and use rights to the fishery resources and limited alternative livelihood.

This is most often the group in extreme poverty and also one that is frequently overlooked.

To cast some light on the status of SSFs in Africa and their relationship with the existing institutional and governance arrangements, the World Bank (former Africa Region Environment and Natural Resources Management unit together with PROFISH) and the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) commissioned a series of case studies across Africa in 2013.

The fisheries case studies range from inland to marine, single to multispecies, East to West African, and from artisanal to semi-industrial fisheries.

A template was developed to provide structure and guidance for these case studies.

Each case study involved the following elements: (a) characterisation of SSFs (at both the national and case-study levels); (b) legal and institutional framework for case-study countries and communities; and (c) social, economic, and environmental performance of case-study fisheries.

This synthesis report focuses on element (c) by using the standard Fishery Performance Indicators (FPIs) to do the comparison analysis.


The FPIs are a new set of evaluation tools to measure the triple bottom line sustainability of a particular fishery recognising that the sustainability of fish stocks, fishing industries, and fishing communities are interrelated and that none can provide benefits without the others.

The FPIs consist of two categories: output indicators that measure the wealth generation status of a fishery and input factors that enable or contribute to the success or failure of fishery wealth generation.

All of the indicators are coded on a five-point scale, with the bins chosen to reflect the quintiles of performance on the global metric. FPIs are designed to be easy to collect. They are quantifiable, understandable, accurate, and feasible.

This evaluation tool strives to balance accuracy with rapid assessment as no primary data collection is required, which makes them very cost effective, particularly for data-poor countries.

It also has the potential to change how fishery managers, stakeholders, and aid agencies measure progress, as it focuses on three dimensions at the same time. So far, it has been tested in more than 50 fisheries by researchers all over the world.

Another feature of this evaluation tool is the quality score for each measure, which indicates how confident the scorer is regarding the accuracy of the chosen bin.

Despite the ease of application, the quality of the data is high, yielding a good snapshot of the biological, economic, and community conditions associated with the corresponding fishery.

This report uses the quantitative results from the FPIs to explore commonalities and differences among and between the nine African fisheries in six countries (Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone) and to infer their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Additionally, the existing FPI dataset (which includes 50 other fisheries) allows the analysis to be expanded to include a comparison with African fisheries in general and with fisheries in developed and developing countries around the globe.

Key Findings

Overall, there are large performance gaps in the recent African SSFs in terms of the output performance. These fisheries have unhealthy fish stock, highrisk volatility, weak market performance, and postharvest performance.

Moreover, they also lag behind in harvest performance, harvest asset performance, and postharvest asset performance.

They appear to slightly outperform the rest of the database in wealth accumulating to processing workers. The following is a summary of these fisheries’ performance with regard to the triple bottom line.

Ecologically, the environmental performance of these case-study fisheries is very low relative to the rest of the database, especially relative to fisheries with effective harvest rights.

The only exceptions to the norm of abysmal ecological indicators are the Liberian fisheries. This can be attributed to the success of a recently implemented trawler spotter program that has been effective at keeping illegal industrial trawlers out of inshore zones.

Economically, as we would expect, the performance of these fisheries is poor. In the absence of infrastructure, these fisheries lack the capacity for valueadded processing and are forced to smoke, dry, or ferment the harvest to prevent spoilage.

The case-study fisheries have a low per centage of landings going to fresh market or international market, very few processing facilities that are certified to export, and a low proportion of harvest undergoing product enhancement.

This contributes to low postharvest wholesale prices relative to similar products and inhibits the fisheries from extracting maximum economic rents from their value chains.

The only exception is the Kenyan octopus fishery in which processors from the coastal hub of Mombasa play a large role in targeting export markets.

The postharvest sector of this octopus fishery performs particularly well with regard to ex-vessel to wholesale margins and the facilitation of international trade.

The case-study fisheries experience more annual fluctuation in total revenue, landings, and prices than the average African fisheries or FPI database fisheries.

The instability fostered by such fluctuations inhibits harvest sector investments and efficient exploitation of the resources in those SSFs.

Socially, the community performance of the recent African SSFs is much closer to the average for all FPI databases. This can be attributed to community measures that are scored relative to local alternatives and not entirely on a global scale.

Additionally, the recent case studies all concerned fisheries in which the majority of harvesting and processing is undertaken by locals, whereas many high-revenue fisheries attract participants from outside the community who may extract resource wealth without contributing to local economies.

Another community issue that the FPI scores allow us to analyse is that of equity within the fishery. When the scores for income, education access, health care access, local residency, and social standing are averaged across the four occupations in the fishery (boat owners/captains, harvesting crew, processing owners/managers, and processing workers), a picture of the wealth distribution within the fishery emerges.

It appears that fisheries with strong tenure systems tend to see more wealth accumulating to the harvest and processing capital owners but that wealth does not seem to come at the expense of the harvest crew and processing workers. It is interesting that the average wealth distribution in the recent African SSFs is very close to being equal.

The outlier is the Kenya octopus fishery that relies on export processing and shows clear accumulation of wealth to boat captains and processing owners.

When looking at input factors, the case-study fisheries consistently score lower than the average FPI database in each input dimension except for the comanagement dimensions of collective action, participation, community, and gender.

Another dimension in which the recent case studies score relatively high is that of markets and market institutions, probably because these fisheries tend to have competitive landing pricing systems with many buyers and very few official tariff/nontariff barriers to international trade.

There are large performance gaps in the recent African SSFs in terms of macroindicators such as general environmental performance, governance, and economic conditions. In addition, they also lag behind in fishing access rights, harvest rights, data management, and infrastructure.

The role of women was very similar across the case-study fisheries. Women are dominant in the postharvest sector (on average, from 60 to 80 per cent of processors were female).

The Ghanaian fishery demonstrated a high degree of female participation in businesses owing to the traditional role of the “Fish Mommy/ Monger/Queen,” who is the local authority on postharvest operations.

This “Fish Queen” exercises a high degree of control over the local market by setting the prevailing price at the beginning of each trading day after examining the first three landings and making a judgment on the price that day.

This degree of influence by women in these African SSFs is far greater than that of most developed country fisheries, where both harvest and postharvest sectors tend to be dominated by men.

All of the case-study fisheries have very weak data management. Small samples with lots of missing data are collected irregularly, which prohibits proper management. Even when data on landings exist, they are used only inconsistently or irregularly.

Despite the proliferation of cellular phones, price and quantity information are often inaccurate, delayed, or available to only a few and very little historical data are recorded.

All of the case-study fisheries have limited basic infrastructure. Many of the recent fisheries are in remote locations where ocean/air shipping from landing site to port of export is unavailable or available only occasionally. The roads are most likely to be poorly maintained gravel or paved two-lane roads at best.

Technology adoption is limited to cellular phones and there are no sophisticated fish finders or production technology as is the norm in other fisheries. Where electricity is available, supply chains often lose produce because of irregular fuel supply or unreliable generators.

Importantly, ice is available but not in sufficient quantities to meet the demand. It is often reused and is not applied to the entire catch throughout the supply chain, which explains why product improvement is often so low.

All of the case-study fisheries can be classified as regulated open access. There is a local authority who must be consulted before accessing the resource but these authorities have chosen not to limit the number of harvesters, which undermines their ability to exercise control over the sustainability of the resource.

There was some variation across the recent case studies owing to differences in the exclusivity (some had more intrusion from industrial trawlers or aquarium fishers); in the flexibility (some were subject to very strict gear/area restrictions); and in the security/durability (certain fisheries had a very strong tradition of de facto open access whereas others were subject to arbitrary federal government decisions).

Access rights in Malawi were the strongest because there was a higher degree of exclusivity than elsewhere with fewer incursions from outsiders owing to the remote nature of the lake fishery.

Ghana also scored relatively high because of the strong tradition of de facto rights that influenced participants’ perceptions of security and durability. Liberia scored slightly higher because of the recent trawler spotter efforts, but they still suffer from low security scores because of the unstable nature of the national government.

The recent African SSF samples have shown stronger leadership and social cohesion. In the case of Ghana, the scores are exceptionally high because they have a century-old tradition of leadership from the Chief Fisherman and Fish Mommy, who govern the harvest and postharvest sectors, respectively, with absolute authority.

Within the region, Ghanaians are renowned as expert fishermen and their heritage of shared cultural norms and centuries of fishing experience is demonstrated in their high social cohesion scores.


Preliminary analysis leads to the following recommendations:

» The FPIs are a useful tool for data-poor fisheries because they provide cost-effective yet holistic estimates of the existing state of fisheries management by efficiently relying on the input of local experts. Fisheries can be scored using the FPI framework in only one to two weeks, yet the information gathered provides insight into economic and social variables that are traditionally ignored in fisheries management benchmarking. The exercise demonstrates that even in such datapoor fisheries, we can still obtain adequate quantitative scores that facilitate comparison and inference by collecting the FPI scores.

» Ecological variables alone are not suitable proxies for economic welfare or community well-being. The variability of fishery rankings when done according to either ecology, economics, or community FPI output scores lead us to conclude that economic and social variables cannot be omitted and replaced exclusively with stock assessments.

» Access and harvest rights appear to be positively correlated with ecological and economic sustainability, whereas other inputs such as leadership and social cohesion do not contribute to the same increase in scores. Although some fisheries management experts have predicted that the implementation of rights-based management (RBM) will lead to higher levels of inequity within the fishery, the lack of declining community scores with more exclusive rights arrangements leads us to conclude that this is not true.

» FPI data should be collected regularly to track progress and impact of interventions. This report demonstrates that collecting data on the FPIs provides decision makers with valuable baseline data on the ecological, social, and economic performance of their fishery and also allows for informative comparisons across fisheries. The FPIs have the power to test hypotheses from a range of social science models and are constructed to measure enabling factors alongside a multitude of outcomes. Even in the short term, crosssectional analysis permits policy makers to draw useful conclusions about the relative importance of factors, but a more rigorous test of hypotheses from a range of social science models will only be possible if FPI data are collected in the same fisheries over time. In the long term, repeated collection of FPI data within a given project is an important component of evaluating and monitoring the Bank’s investments in fisheries management. Data should be collected within these case-study fisheries at regular intervals so that managers can map the intermediate steps that accompany policy changes.

» Comparison of the recent case studies leads to the recognition of two key outliers: ecological outcomes in Liberia and economic outcomes in Kenyan octopus. Trawler spotter programs such as the one operating in Liberia can be effective at generating short-term ecological gains and we recommend that such efforts be scaled up and accompanied by efforts to simultaneously limit the activity of smaller vessels so that stock recovery is not temporary. The Kenyan octopus fishery suggests that a postharvest sector focused on value addition and export is capable of generating large economic gains for boat owners and processing managers that do not appear to come at the expense of the local community.

» Improvements in infrastructure should be coupled with strengthening tenure to enhance the efficiency of the value chain. In the absence of effective federal or local management, processors have a vested interest in ensuring the sustainability of the stock, especially if they have sunk capital investments in the form of facilities and improved technology.

June 2015

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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