Calling it Quits: When to stop fishing?

Most of us have had a bad day fishing—the fish aren’t biting, the bait isn’t right, or the weatherman got it all wrong.  And we each know what our threshold is for willing to make that one last cast. But what motivates someone who is dependent on fishing to give up trying?  This is the question Tim Daw and colleages address in a recent paper in PLoS One.

African fisherman (Source: oursurprisingworld.com)

Economic models make predictions based on economics, and such models predict that entry and exit from a fishery is based on—no surprise—profitability.  But a range of literature has found that micro-economic variables play
a larger role than you might think.  Cultural influences, such as family traditions, occupational attachment, and identity drive a fisher’s willingness to leave a fishery. The type of fishing (i.e., gear costs) are another factor, as is the state of the local economy and alternative livelihood options. In general, past studies trying to identify predictors have focused on small-scale areas and factors, which may account for such a wide range of results.  In the most comprehensive study to date, Dow et al. collected data from 28 different sites over 5 western Indian Ocean countries, ultimately drawing information from 599 fishers in order to best answer the question: What would it take for you to quit fishing.

The researchers surveyed fishermen about their expected response to different levels of declining catch and then used a three scale framework for identifying the factors that promote exit from a fishery. The scales they investigated were individual (e.g., age, education), household (e.g., wealth, household occupational structure), and site (e.g., country, fishing site, local economy). A classification tree was used to analyze multiple scales, and found that the largest scale, ‘site’, had the greatest predictive power when it came to readiness to exit a fishery. In other words, the “big picture” was found to be more predictive than the personal stuff, like education or family wealth.  Specifically, the variable ‘infrastructure’ explained a lot of the willingness to exit a fishery; fishers in low-infrastructure Madagascar were found to have high levels of readiness to exit, while fishers in the high-infrastructure Seychelles were more content to stick with fishing.

 Artisanal fishing dhow (traditional Indian Ocean sail boat) at sunset. (Source: Steve Midway)

Generally speaking, the authors expected that with more desirable site-level conditions—e.g., better infrastructure, better economy—fishers would be more willing to exit a fishery and explore other livelihoods and activities, whereas poorer overall conditions would lead fishers to stick it out and not exit.  The trend was the opposite of this expectation; more developed sites tended to have fishers less willing to exit, where poorer site fishers were very ready to leave and pursue other work. The authors posit explanations for this pattern, noting that in more developed locations fishing can be more specialized (greater investment), markets can be better, and governments stronger and more likely to provide subsidies.

Overall, predicting the willingness of a developing nation fisher to leave fishing is still not a straightforward proposition. There are a lot of possible influences when making personal economic decisions, and people are still people—that is, factors influencing decisions may not always be captured in a survey. But Dow et al. provide some important findings, particularly regarding site level factors, which were beyond the scope of many previous behavioral studies. I’m not convinced of the researchers’ assumption that a better economy would prompt a fisher to leave their job, but it is indisputable that in the face of dynamic fisheries, climate change, and fluctuating standards of living, it’s important to understand why people fish and how this effort is exacted on fishery resources.

To read the full article, click here.

Steve Midway

Please leave a comment to expand discussion about this topic.

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2 responses to “Calling it Quits: When to stop fishing?

  1. This paper does an excellent job of exploring the motivations of commercial fishermen. From your experiences, do you find that even when faced with poor returns (low catch rates), that recreational fishermen continue to fish? What ulterior motivations do recreational fishermen have that would cause them to stop fishing and find another recreational activity?

  2. A larger role than you might think. Cultural influences, such as family traditions, occupational attachment, and identity drive a fisher's willingness to leave a fishery. Specifically, the variable 'infrastructure' explained a lot of the willingness to exit a fishery; fishers in low-infrastructure Madagascar were found to have high levels of readiness to exit, while fishers in the high-infrastructure Seychelles were more content to stick with fishing.

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