Examples of community management and research in the Fisheries sector

SWOT Analysis | Government Views | Samoa community management | Fiji's community/government partnership | Vanuatu's community trochus project | Community monitoring | Solomon Bait Fishery Monitoring | Samoan subsistence fishery assessment

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SWOT Analysis of the use of community participants to achieve sustainable Fisheries management.


Pacific island fishers have a long history of sustainable use of marine resources. Efforts to "develop" coastal fisheries have weakened many of the traditional management systems. Encouraging local subsistence fishers to be a party to fisheries management, helps bring traditional management information back into vogue.

Local communities know who is doing what on the reefs, including fishers who use destructive fishing techniques. If they claim ownership of a coastal management plan, they can apply social pressures against those who infringe on the plan.

Community social obligations are more important than money and violators of social mandates are severely punished. By contrast, National laws and regulations are generally ignored and unenforsed.

Local communities and fishers monitor the state of the nearshore resources daily. They know by inspection if there are problems or opportunities with the resources. Trained National Fisheries Biologists can both learn from local fishers and impart valuable understanding of biological processes in a participatory management scheme.


Traditional knowledge of fish and reef ecology is rapidly vanishing or has already degraded. Participatory skills would enable National Fisheries extension agents to help gather this valuable information and distribute it throughout the country.

Use of destructive fishing gear and techniques is often easier for inexperienced fishers than techniques requiring training and skill. They may not realize the long term impact of their incompetence until the damage is done. If National fisheries agents work with villagers using participatory techniques they can gain community understanding of the reasons for national laws against destructive fishing techniques.

When fish are caught for a family's own use, their appetites are satisfied with a reasonable catch. When fish are caught commercially the fisher's appetite for money is never satisfied and they catch all the fish they can. A community sense of moral responsibility to protect the marine fauna, is the only possible counterbalance for this hunger.

Fisheries agencies are usually located in urban centers and are poorly funded and unable to monitor or assess nearshore fishery activities. Forming partnerships with village resource users is a realistic alternative to doing nothing.

Non-compliance with National Fisheries regulations goes undetected and unpunished even when it is detected. Where community management plans exist, and the dangers to the stocks are understood, fishers who violate regulations will be detected quickly and subjected to strong social pressures to stop.

Confusion over resource rights and conflicts between commercial fishers, subsistence fishers, and fishery officers make any form of management difficult. Participatory techniques help ease these conflicts at the start by involving all interested parties in development of the management plan.


Local development of marine reserves and sea ranching provide areas for reef and fish population recovery and double as research areas for pharmaceutical exploration and tourist sites.

Partnerships between government, NGOs and communities to manage coastal resources sustainably reduces government costs, increases compliance with regulations, and provides a means of gathering and networking important assessment and monitoring information.


Coral reefs are degraded from pollution, physical breakage, and overfishing near all centers of human populations in the Pacific islands, even small villages. While local people realize the problem, they believe the responsibility to do something rests with the national fishery, or environmental organization. Participatory techniques bring the responsibility home to those who are actually causing the damage to the reefs.

Loss of valuable inshore habitats - coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangrove forests - leads to a significant decrease in the ability of marine creatures to withstand fishing pressure. Participatory research techniques can help local resource users understand these relationships and modify their behavior accordingly.

When fishing success decreases, subsistence fishers employ ever more destructive fishing techniques and catch ever smaller fish and invertebrates. The loss of important fish and invertebrate stocks in turn cause the coral reef habitats to degrade even further. This cycle of destruction can only be altered by a united community approach and support - at least in spirit - by National Fisheries.

These strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats encourage the emergence of an entirely new approach to resource assessment and economic policy making. It is an approach with great potential for harmonizing sustainable policy between sectors and between levels of society. How is this process actually working in the Pacific islands?

Government views on participatory fisheries assessment and management in the Pacific islands.

The basic idea behind participatory processes is simple. When people co-operate to find answers to common problems, they come to understand the issues. Conflicts are resolved when all parties discuss the results of the information gathering process and form common policies for future action. Many fisheries agencies in the Pacific now advocate community participation in the assessment, policy making, monitoring and management of their resources.

Country Views on Community Involvement and Traditional Management Systems


Comment on Community Involvement


Cook Islands "The major trend in management policy within the Department of Marine Resources is to encourage local-body involvement in the management of their fisheries." Bertram & Newnham. 1995
Fiji "The management of nearshore fisheries, both artisanal and subsistence, vested as it is with traditional fishing rights owners, will need to be geared towards co-management between these owners and Fisheries Division." Ledua1995
Kiribati "There is a need to involve the community in the management of fisheries resources." Kiribati Fisheries Division 1995
PNG "Management policies now include:
  • Ensure village level desires are adequately expressed in the coastal fisheries projects.
  • Participants in coastal fisheries should come from local communities and the resource owners to avoid conflicts of interest."
Opnai & Aitsi 1995
Solomon Islands "Due to a complex marine tenure system in the islands, the direct management of the inshore fisheries by the Fisheries Division is not possible. In light of this difficulty and the current over-exploited situation of the inshore resources in many areas of the provinces, the establishment of a good educational program to educate the resource owners on proper resource management is an urgent requirement to address." Diake 1995
Tonga "The concept of community based management appears to be consistent with the sentiments in the Cabinet-approved Sixth Development Plan. The plan promotes community participation in resource management, district-based fishing management committees, and indicates that village elders are to be authorized as fisheries wardens." Petelo et al 1995
Samoa "The monitoring and managing of the marine resources is the responsibility of both the national government and traditional resource owners, which are the local coastal villages." Mulipola, Ropeti & Losefa. 1995
Vanuatu "Resource owners don't like to be told how to manage their resource. They want to be made aware of what the types of management available and current legislation involved are and choose the management regimes which suit them best." Jimmy 1995


Fisheries agencies in the Pacific islands have not yet got the process of community partnerships fully worked out, being partially blinded by governmental and fishery science traditions. Still, strategies now recognize the need to involve the communities in fisheries management and the need for fisheries agencies to work in partnership with resource rights owners. The problem is that fishery personnel often don't know how to - or don't want to - actually do it. Fisheries training does not include sociology or psychology and fisheries officers are often not very good people managers. Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands have had favorable, if limited, field experience in co-partnerships in marine resource management.

The Samoa Fisheries Extension and Training Project

The Samoa Fisheries Extension and Training Project, supported by AusAid, is one of the most innovative and successful examples of community/government partnerships for coastal fisheries management in the Pacific region. It produced a series of information sheets (written in Samoan and English) intended for the Village Councils. The project began in 1995 and by 1996 was working with 30 villages. As of February 1997, 16 villages had created and approved fisheries management plans. The plans include bans on use of explosives and chemicals, a reserve area, recognition of size limits and other restrictions. The plans also provide for strict enforcement of the regulations.

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The fisheries extension process in Samoa (King 1996)


The extension process takes about three months. The socio-biologist on the team believes this is the minimum time required for the people to take ownership of the project.

King (personal communication) gives the following tips:

  • The key to a successful village fisheries management plan is having the villagers develop it because they understand the issues and wish to protect their own fishery resources. If they have other motivations (expecting foreign aid or free goods and services) the project will not succeed.
  • The village fono must become excited and determined to improve their own fishery resources, find their own solutions to the problems (with scientific advice from Fisheries) and develop their own fisheries management plan.
  • Unless the village was sincerely interested, the extension agents did not continue the process after the initial meeting. As the program progressed and the sincere villages did set up proper fisheries management schemes, some of the villages, which were not interested at first, approached the Fisheries agents and asked if they could participate. After some 30 villages became involved in the program, other villages began approaching the Division rather than Fisheries officers approaching the villages.
  • The officers can provide scientific advice, training and other assistance to help people learn ways to protect the marine environment. The Division does not have money, boats and other things to give away. It does not do things for people but will assist people to do things for themselves.
  • In helping villages to make the process their own, the extension officers do not provide answers or give instructions. They ask questions -

What is the condition of your fisheries?

If the villagers report various problems the officer asks,

What do you think is causing the problem?

and later, after this is discussed,

What do you think might be done to solve the problem?

The project found that most village councils knew the answers to these questions, sometimes better than the fishery agents did. By asking questions, everyone learned and the villagers gained a feeling of ownership of the program.

The Vanuatu Community Trochus Management Programme

Vanuatu's fisheries department is fully committed to forming partnerships with communities for resource management, especially of Trochus (pearl shell). Amos (1995) provides valuable insights into their experiences.

"The Fisheries Department concentrated only on enforcing the Fisheries Regulation and over-looked one very important aspect of sustainable management and that is, going out to the people in rural areas and explaining to them in simple language the importance of respecting the minimum size limit of 9.0 cm. Why it is important to promote trochus fishing at both economically and biologically sustainable levels.

It failed to discuss management alternatives that will help those who depend mainly on marine resources as their main source of income."

"The most effective way to disseminate information is to go out and meet with the people. This is very important because in the eyes of the people, the Fisheries Officer has some concern over their marine resources and thus has lowered himself/herself to their level, willing to eat and sleep with the people and to sit with the people in their Nakamal (meeting house) to discuss sustainable management. This is how a Fisheries Officer can gain respect from the people, especially the Chief (which is very important) and to establish a working co-operation with the people."

"The major feature of customary rights is that controls are expected at the local level, not from outside. Controls exerted at local levels are much more effective than controls exerted from the outside, for example, the Vanuatu Government Fisheries Management Regulations. Controls exerted at local levels are set and implemented by the people directly affected by the controls. This promotes self-confidence amongst members of the community and can create a good working partnership for trochus resource management between the Fisheries Department and the Community."

"The Fisheries Research Division therefore relies on the co-operation of the resource users and resource owners for the protection of the trochus juvenile re-seeded sites. This working co-operation can only be achieved through negotiations with the people, which involves talking, listening, and learning from the people."

"The difficult part of the combined management system is establishing a working relationship between the Fisheries Department and the resource users and resource owners. Precaution is required when discussing and addressing appropriate sustainable management systems and establishing a form of a working partnership with the people. The people get very defensive and apprehensive if their views concerning the management of their resource are over-looked or considered not relevant for modern development needs."

"The Fisheries Department and the people need each other to manage the marine resources. The people are made aware that the Fisheries Management Regulation is a supplementary management system to their existing Traditional Management System, to safe-guard their trochus resources. It should not be taken as a threat to overwhelm their custom environmental knowledge and practices. While the Fisheries Department respects their custom environmental knowledge and practices they should in the same way respect the Fisheries Management Regulation."

Fiji's Government/Community fisheries partnership

Fiji's legal recognition of community fishing rights is probably the most comprehensive in the world. The Native Land and Fisheries Commission is responsible for surveying fishing rights areas, holding inquiries to settle boundaries with traditional owners, maintaining a register of owners, and handling appeals. In consultation with the people, it is responsible for deciding ownership and boundaries of fishing rights areas. There are presently 410 fishing rights areas.

The key responsibility for resource management and control of commercial fishing lies with the registered owners of each customary fishing rights area. Through a permit system, Fijian people determine which commercial fishermen are allowed to fish in their area and impose restrictions on each fisher (Ledua 1995).

Gillnets have been a boon to coastal fishers and a disaster to coastal fish and habitats. They are easy and quick to use, but wasteful, catching any kind of fish, birds, or turtles and often left unsupervised for long periods. When schooling fishes, like mullet, move through well-defined and restricted routes, especially when spawning, a few well-placed gillnets can destroy a stock. In Fiji, and other Pacific Island countries, fishing communities realize gillnets are damaging their resources. But almost all commercial fishers have the nets and feel they would lose a competitive edge by giving them up. It would require hard scientific evidence to convince political leaders to authorize a ban on gillnets. Ironically, without evidence, it is hard to convince political leaders to authorize expensive research needed to get the evidence (Adams 1997).

The Macuata coastal communities get together each year to decide on coastal fishery access policy for the coming year. In 1990, many people in the communities expressed the fear that commercial gillnetting was spoiling their subsistence fishing. The chiefs of several major fishing rights areas decided not to issue permissions commercial gillnetting.

"This decision was taken without the intervention of the Government Fisheries Division and, although the decision was supported by the Division at community meetings and through the licensing procedure, the Government was unable to provide more than circumstantial evidence on the state of the fishery, and on the likely result of this action. The justification, the decision, and the effective action all took place at the local level. Even the subsequent enforcement was mainly at the local level, through the long-established network of honorary fish wardens nominated and maintained by the community" (Adams 1997).

"There was no baseline survey carried out on the state of the fishery before, or just after, the ban was imposed. The Fisheries Division lacked the capability for a scientifically rigorous investigation of a multi-species fishery over such a large area. Even so, most reports from the area suggested that the bans were having definite effect and, even if it was difficult to judge the difference quantitatively, certain qualitative effects were obvious. Three years after the initial ban, fisheries staff reported seeing species of fish in subsistence catches from the Labasa River estuary that had not been noted for decades." (Adams 1997).

The Fiji Fisheries Division decided to study the fishery to justify their support for the ban and to document the results as a possible positive example for other fishing rights areas in Fiji. The survey team arrived at Labasa in 1996, six years after the ban on gillnets went into effect.

"They did not expect to be able to demonstrate significant changes in the status of resources, given the lack of baseline information, but they concentrated on setting a benchmark fishery assessment through trial fishing, and investigating changes in commercial fishing methods and the marketing of fish, as well as seeking the views of villagers and fishing groups, to try and obtain some kind of overview on the effects of the gillnet ban. They fully expected to find indications of an improvement in resource status but of a decline in the local economy, and that it would be subsequently difficult to advise local decision-makers how to weight these factors. They were thus a little surprised to find that the local fishing economy appeared to have improved substantially since the bans were imposed" (Adams 1997).

After the ban, commercial boats fished using hook and line, and the improved quality of fish and distribution system resulted in a thriving business. Macuata fishermen, bought new boats. Private companies had taken over government activities, such as marketing the fish and supplying ice to the fishers. A private company trucked chilled fish to Suva and sold them for a good profit. Middlemen organized fishing boats into commercial units to support boats through lean periods in return for a levy on the catch when fishing was good. Subsistence fishers reported they caught enough fish for their families in a shorter time, or closer to home, than before. This was a real benefit to the women who carried out the majority of subsistence fishing. As far as could be determined, from licensing figures and market throughput, the total fishing pressure and the total volume of catch had not changed.

"All of these developments—the organization of fishermen into groups providing economies of scale, the private-sector development of iceplants, the development of distribution and marketing arrangements for high-quality fish, improvement of subsistence fishery sustainability—were precisely what the Government fisheries service had been struggling to encourage over the whole of Fiji for the previous two decades or more, without a great deal of success. The main principle suggested by this is not, of course, that community-based decisions to impose commercial gillnet bans will necessarily lead to the immediate improvement of an artisanal fishery, but that the will for action, if it comes from within the community, is far more likely to produce positive results than any external attempts to impose such values."

"It suggests that the role of government in Pacific Islands coastal fishery management, as well as providing the framework within which community decision-making can operate, is perhaps more effectively concentrated on providing appropriate information to provide a rational basis for community decision-making rather than on trying to actually take those decisions themselves at the government level. At a more specific level, from consultation with many fishing communities and governments around the Pacific there emerges the clear expectation that restrictions on gillnetting will be followed by immediate hardship. However, this Macuata case-study demonstrates that hardship need not necessarily follow and that, apart from the likely longer-term sustainability benefits, there may also be immediate benefit resulting from the mobilization and reorganization of community resources to meet the largely self-imposed challenge." (Adams 1997).

There is another lesson, too. What kind of assessment information did the chiefs need to make the economic and political decision to ban gillnets? Where did the information come from? Who made the observations? How much did it cost to get the information? When was the information made available?

Other fishing villages followed the example set by the Macuta people. How did the word spread? What evidence did the other fishing chiefs need to decide to ban gillnets themselves?

What role did the Fisheries service play in all this?

What is the normal role of the Fiji Fisheries service with respect to local fishing rights? Ledua (1995) provides some contrasting comments on the value of community management of fishery resources.

"A lot of problems, with regards to fisheries resource management, is caused by this comprehensive legal system. Such system has created problems such as lack of compliance, conflicts and contentions (between Fisheries and custodians, custodians and licensed fishermen, mataqali and their chiefs, Fisheries and licensed fishermen and Fisheries with District Administrators), illegal fishing practice, and most importantly the difficulty faced by Fisheries to implement effective regulations and the enforcement of those regulations."

Custodians have been caught using prohibited mesh sizes and selling undersized fish. Undersized mudcrabs, turtles, trochus and beche-de-mer are often found for sale. Bans on turtle fishing and protecting eggs are ignored in some places. "Fisheries staff find it difficult to enforce fisheries regulations effectively because of fishing right ownership system, culture and traditions, lack of enforcement officers, limited operational funds and distances between islands."

"Fijian fishing right owners regard the resources as their 'God given property', therefore should be given the freedom to do whatever activity or employ whatever fishing method they desire. Fisheries Enforcement Officers on many occasions are exposed to threats, arguments and humiliations, when attempting to confiscate undersize fish, crabs or to check fishing license, especially from Fijian fishing right owners."

Community monitoring of fisheries resources

Management of resources, such as the examples described above, requires some form of assessment and monitoring. Most of the assessment and monitoring associated with community based projects is what Johannes (1997) terms dataless management. It is based on simple and direct observations by fishers and the rest of the village people who live in the area and the information may, or may not, be passed on to the National fisheries agents. When information is specifically requested as part of the community management programme and a programme set up to collect the information, the villagers are likely to be more observant and communicative.

The foregoing community/government projects rely to an extent on local feedback of resource information but do not actively solicit and foster involvement of the community with assessment and monitoring. This is understandable as fisheries researcher training instills the belief that the taking and analysis of fisheries data is a difficult and highly specialized task.

Measuring how long a fish is or how much it weighs or how many are caught or what they are worth does not require expertise beyond the ability of a marginal high school student. Observing changes in key environmental or resource indicators can be done by anyone who has been asked to keep an eye on them.

In fact, most real environmental and resource issues are dead easy to see; even shockingly obvious. Solving them is usually just common sense and, as so many fisheries scientists now acknowledge, the people of the Pacific islands were doing just fine recognizing and solving fisheries resource problems for several thousand years before the scientists came along (Johannes et al 1993).

Community monitoring of a bait fishery in the Solomon Islands

An example of how village people can and do monitor their own marine resources comes from the Solomon Islands (Rawlinson 1995).

"Customary ownership or tenure over sea areas in the Solomon Islands still exists as a perceived and inviolable right of coastal people. Access to areas where traditional rights of tenure, or usage of natural resources have become custom, can only be maintained through negotiation of an agreement and the payment of compensation or royalty payments."

"Agreements were set up between pole and line tuna vessels and villages to fish for bait in the shallow custom waters. Fees were agreed to and fishing areas mapped and duly authorized. Since 1980, industrial relations officers have visited the villages prior to the start of a new season to discuss any problems that may have happened in the previous year, make up any underpayments, and re-evaluate boundaries or open new bait fishing grounds. This has greatly reduced complaints."

"Payments are made on numbers of nights fishing and the size of the vessel. The numbers of nights fished are recorded by the fishing captain, adjusted to the vessel size, and payments are made directly into the bait-ground account."

The villagers organized an association to deal with the fishing companies. Problems, such as the question of the impact of bait fishing on subsistence fishing, were investigated by the Fisheries Department.

Village people kept accurate records of fishing activity to be sure they were paid correctly. These were often different from the fishing boat records so, in 1981, a new system was set up to define the fishing areas. Maps were improved and provided to the boats by the Fisheries Department. At least one crew member in each boat was shown how to use the maps and the new log sheets. The log sheets were then passed to the Fisheries Department for reference in the event of village complaints. This new system reduced conflict, and the fishery has been reasonably successful.

Community subsistence fishery assessment in Samoa

In 1988/89, FAO/UNDP conducted a project to assess the subsistence fishery in Western Samoa. When the consultant arrived, the Fisheries Division lacked vehicles for transportation and manpower to conduct household surveys. Eventually, the project team used senior high school students to record daily subsistence catches in their own extended families. Students kept a "weekly fishing log" of household fishing activities (fishing methods, effort and catches) over a 7-day period (King, 1990). The survey could be repeated at intervals over the year to detect seasonal variations in catches. Teachers provided a data quality check by marking the student logs and indicating which entries were likely to be unreliable.

The survey forms showed illustrations of the major fish and invertebrate species, including how to measure them. The vertical axis of the table listed the English and Samoan names of major groups (crustaceans, mollusks, other invertebrates, reef/lagoon fish, offshore fish) and common types of invertebrates and fish taken (crabs, lobsters, giant clam, octopus, sea cucumber, sea urchins, mullet, milkfish, surgeonfish, parrotfish, tuna, etc). The number of people fishing per day and total hours spent fishing per day were listed at the bottom. The horizontal axis had the day of the week with two vertical columns for number caught and average length.

Instructions, in English and Samoan, are: "Enter the numbers and average length (cm) of all fish and other sea creatures caught by people in your household during each whole day (including the night). Measure the animals as in the drawings. Use this form for one week and fill in one daily column after each day."

The project yielded a surprising amount of information; even estimates of sustainable yield by area. The quantity and diversity of the catch from each village was found to be related to the area and type of ecosystem available for fishing as well as the numbers of fishers. The number of villages, and their populations, adjacent to different types of marine ecosystems were taken from existing government statistics and traditional fishing areas of each village estimated from charts using a planimeter. The survey team defined three ecosystems:

  1. Fringing coral reefs
  2. Lagoons and Barrier Reef
  3. Brackish water with mangroves

The project staff analyzed the data and calculated the number of kilograms of fish per hectare of reef per year. This provided an excellent index of the productivity of the reef (King 1995).