Book: Social wellbeing and the values of small-scale fisheries


Table of Content

Scroll down to see the table of content (includes individual abstracts).

This book advances discussions of values in fisheries by showing the rich theoretical insights and connections possible when value is grounded in a multi-dimensional social well being approach. Questions of value have long been a central, if often unacknowledged, concern in maritime studies and in research on fisheries. Social scientists have looked at changing perceptions of value as coastal regions and fisheries have industrialized, economic interconnections have deepened, ecosystems have been depleted, shifts in population have occurred, and governance arrangements have been transformed.

With a focus on the diverse ways in which small-scale fisheries are valued, the contributions to this volume address these and other themes through cases from numerous countries in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

    • First book-length application of the social wellbeing approach to small-scale fisheries
    • Shows that social and cultural values are at least as important if not more so than economic considerations in fisher and non-fisher assessments of the contributions of small-scale fisheries
    • Promises to stimulate debate and further research about how to measure the contributions of small-scale fisheries

To order the book, click here.



Book editors Derek Johnson, Tim Acott, and Natasha Stacey revealing the book cover on July 6, 2017 at the MARE conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands


“This volume provides a timely contribution to the development of new approaches that seek to capture the complexity of how fisheries can be understood beyond standard monodimensional, and often economic, interpretations. Each chapter makes a clear and stand-alone contribution to conceptual and methodological advancement, and collectively these works cover a wide range of frameworks and schools of thought.” [Dr Sarah Coulthard, Senior Lecturer in International Development, Northumbria University, UK]


“The list of contributing authors [is] impressive and covers a wide geographical range of illustrative examples, [which] helps to demonstrate the global value of small-scale fisheries.” [Professor J. Allister McGregor, Professor in Political Economy, the University of Sheffield, UK]


Table of content (with individual abstracts)

Chapter 1. The Values of Small-Scale Fisheries by Derek S. Johnson

Abstract This chapter, and the book that it introduces, are part of a larger project that aims to contribute to reversing the relative neglect of small-scale fisheries in fisheries policy globally. The project seeks, in other words, to build an argument for the societal contributions that small-scale fisheries make. In this chapter I position that effort in relation to a fuller understanding of value, one that goes beyond just value as contribution but recognizes the diversity and relationality of values in small-scale fisheries. To provide a framework for our effort, I turn to the social wellbeing approach which sees wellbeing not only as living well according to a reference set of values but also as the material, relational, and subjective capabilities that facilitate or hinder the pursuit of that which is valued. The social wellbeing framework provides the logic and structure for the development of a relational approach to values in small-scale fisheries that integrates quantitative and qualitative elements. The chapter concludes with an overview of the ways in which the remaining contributions to the book creatively engage with, and sometimes dispute, the framework presented here.

Chapter 2. Co-constructing Cultural Ecosystem Services and Wellbeing Through a Place-Based Approach By Tim G. Acott and Julie Urquhart

Abstract Reductive practices in fisheries management have tended to focus on ecological and economic dimensions that have rendered the social and cultural importance of fishing largely invisible, at least in the context of governance and policy making. This chapter builds on 5 years’ research in the English Channel and Southern North Sea in which the authors adopted a sense of place perspective as a framework for understanding the social and cultural value of small-scale fisheries. Through a number of case studies, the chapter describes how small-scale fisheries result in a series of ‘transformations’ as the marine environment is translated into cultural ecosystem services in coastal settings giving rise to socio-cultural value. This perspective is further developed by considering the value of the social wellbeing ‘lens’ to broaden the sense of place / cultural ecosystem services framework. In pursuing ‘values’ through sense of place, cultural ecosystem services and social wellbeing we discuss how the dualistic treatment of nature and society is problematic. We conclude that a relational co-constructionist approach, although challenging, offers a way of making visible an array of social and cultural values that emerge from the activity of small-scale fisheries.

Chapter 3. Symbols of Resilience and Contested Place Identity in the Coastal Fishing Towns of Cromer and Sheringham, Norfolk, UK: Implications for Social Wellbeing by Carole Sandrine White

Abstract Fishing has been a core part of the identities of Cromer and Sheringham, rural coastal communities with a long tradition of inshore crab fishing in the East of England. However, given the decline in the number of fishing boats and wider demographic, economic and social change, the fishing identity of these towns is perceived as threatened. Drawing on qualitative research, this chapter develops a conceptual approach drawing on perspectives from place research and social wellbeing to explore the different place meanings held by coastal residents, visitors and fishermen. A focus on how different people relate to place and with each other provides a more nuanced understanding of social wellbeing. Tensions over place identity are exposed particularly between ‘newcomers’ and local residents, and over aspirations for economic development. Cromer and Sheringham’s fishing identity is being defended by the fishermen and those who value the fishery. This case study reveals the political nature of how different understandings of place, development and wellbeing are constructed and contested. The future of the fishery and the town will depend on whose values and place meanings are privileged and represented in governance processes.

Chapter 4. Adapting to Environmental Change Through the Lens of Social Wellbeing: Improvements and Trade-Offs Associated with a Small-Scale Fishery on the Atlantic Forest Coast of Brazil by Carlos Julián Idrobo

Abstract Small-scale coastal communities around the globe are dealing with environmental change associated with the fisheries crisis, integration with global markets and climate change. Understanding how coastal people adapt to these challenges is not only a theoretical but also a practical concern that relates to the continuity of ways of life associated with small-scale fishing practice and the sustainability of the natural resource base on which they depend. In this chapter, I examine how people from the small coastal community of Ponta Negra, located in the Juatinga Ecological Reserve on the Atlantic Forest Coast of Brazil, have experienced and  responded to environmental change in their recent history. To do so, I employ the social wellbeing framework that provides a multidimensional lens to assess how people’s current situations, as well as their desires and aspirations, shape and have been shaped by their relations with their environment. Melhorar (to improve), a common narrative, allows us to reflect upon how people in Ponta Negra negotiate the social, cultural and other trade-offs associated with livelihood transitions that reduce local reliance on the natural resource base and increase dependence on wage labour, out-migration and the growing regional tourism economy. The case of Ponta Negra highlights the challenges and opportunities small-scale fishers face in a changing world.

Chapter 5. Understanding Social Wellbeing and Values of Small-Scale Fisheries amongst the Sama-Bajau of Archipelagic Southeast Asia by Natasha Stacey, Dirk J. Steenbergen, Julian Clifton, and Greg Acciaioli

Abstract The Sama-Bajau represent one of the most widely dispersed Indigenous groups in Southeast Asia. Recent estimates indicate a total population of approximately 1.1 million, with around 200,000 living in areas of high biodiversity in the islands of eastern Indonesia, 347,000 in Malaysia (Sabah) and 564,000 in the Philippines. Sama-Bajau culture is intimately connected to marine environments on which they depend for subsistence and cash income, as well as their cultural identity. Culturally defined patterns of fishing activity (including migratory expeditions) unite all sectors of Sama-Bajau communities through catching, consuming, processing and trading of marine resources. Fishing and gathering of shellfish and other strand resources provide the focus for individual and communal relations within villages and across extensive kin and trading networks. The maintenance and transmission of Indigenous language and knowledge between generations occurs through socialization into livelihoods and related social and cultural activities. As such, customary beliefs and practices in relation to boats and sea spirits endure among the Sama-Bajau, and are primarily oriented to ensuring return on fishing effort. Sama-Bajau small-scale fisheries (SSF) across insular Southeast Asia therefore present a highly relevant case study. We will explore the dimensions of social wellbeing in the Sama-Bajau context and identify how the Sama-Bajau have responded to endogenously developed and exogenously induced drivers. Utilising our collective experience of Sama-Bajau society in diverse locations across Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, we will discuss the parameters of continuity and transformation in the Sama-Bajau way of life. The case study offers the opportunity to explore how historical and contemporary drivers have contributed to the variability of Sama-Bajau social welfare, spatially and temporally.

Chapter 6. How to Capture Small-Scale Fisheries’ Many Contributions to Society? – Introducing the ‘Value-Contribution Matrix’ and Applying It to the Case of a Swimming Crab Fishery in South Korea by Andrew M. Song

Abstract To facilitate a systematic and comprehensive capturing of small-scale fisheries’ societal contributions, this chapter proposes a ‘value-contribution matrix’ and applies it to the case of a swimming crab fishery in South Korea. In the matrix, objective, subjective, and relational values are identified for the major stakeholder categories such as fishers, a coastal community and the wider society. Through consideration of these values, multifaceted contributions of the swimming crab fishery were examined and their governance implications drawn. Around the world, small-scale fisheries have been unduly dismissed in policy despite their ubiquity. This analytical tool could prove to be an accessible and pragmatic heuristic for highlighting their varied (both positive and negative) contributions. Learning about which values are being emphasized or neglected, and for whom, and the consequences they generate for stakeholders’ wellbeing, could point to alternate ways of creating a more governable fishery and help to alleviate fishery sustainability challenges.

Chapter 7. Undefining Small-Scale Fisheries in India: Challenging Simplifications and Highlighting Diversity and Value by Adam Jadhav

Abstract Indian marine fishers and fishing practices vary considerably, from semi-industrial boats crewed by two-dozen to the lone fisher paddling a tiny canoe. It is difficult to capture this in simple statistical measurements, leaving much of the small-scale sector as less-than-legible. Policymakers often default to defining fishers – and particularly the small-scale – in the aggregate as locked in poverty and part of the underdeveloped “backward classes.” This view results in development focused on capitalizing and “modernizing.” This paper seeks to challenge this reductionist perspective. Following a discussion of the difficulty in defining small-scale fisheries (SSF), the paper reviews of the Indian fisheries development context. Analysis of census data from India’s Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute examines the questionable but widespread generalization that Indian SSF are synonymous with poverty. The analysis finds considerable variability in the characteristics of fishing communities and the predictors of poverty within and across geographies. Inspired by the social wellbeing framework, the paper finally attempts to describe India’s small-scale fisheries in terms beyond simplistic techno-economic measures. This more nuanced statistical picture of India’s fisheries questions the narrative that SSF are inherently destitute and leads to an argument that politics, policy and scholarship should shun overly simplified economic abstractions and reconsider the diversity and values of SSF.

Chapter 8. Enhancing the Wellbeing of Tamil Fishing Communities (and Government Bureaucrats too): The role of ur panchayats along the Coromandel Coast, India by Maarten Bavinck

Abstract Legal pluralism is a prominent feature in the fisheries of Nagapattinam and Karaikal Districts, India, and it is with the role of customary village councils (ur panchayat) that this chapter is concerned. Ur panchayats still constitute a major force in protecting and facilitating the wellbeing of small-scale fishers in this region. The chapter considers the structure, scope and activities of ur panchayats and positions them on a scale running from ‘traditional’ to ‘modern’. It describes their functions with regard to social, economic and environmental dimensions of fisher wellbeing and looks into two contemporary hot issues: the incidence of pair trawling and ringseining. The chapter also examines the value of ur panchayats for their counterparts in government. It asserts that although ur panchayats engage in multiple wellbeing processes and produce important outcomes, they are independently not able to deal with all the challenges that face small-scale fisheries.

Chapter 9. Nomadic Fishers in the Hilsa Sanctuary of Bangladesh: The Importance of Social and Cultural Values for Wellbeing and Sustainability by Mohammad Mahmudul Islam and Ratana Chuenpagdee

Abstract This chapter employs a social wellbeing approach to assess the importance of small-scale fisheries in delivering viable livelihoods for a fishery-dependent nomadic community on the Ramgati coast in the Meghna River system of Bangladesh. The nomad communities of focus (known as Bede) are a fishing people, living on houseboats and travelling throughout the river ways. In recent decades, they have faced numerous threats and stressors affecting their traditional occupations and livelihoods, including growth in population as a result of the material success of their fishing occupation. The fishing Bede have persevered amidst these pressures, however, with positive relational and subjective benefits. The hilsa fishery has been very important as a basis for perpetuating the Bede community and culture. The identification of the social, cultural and livelihood contributions of small-scale fisheries through the social wellbeing lens has important implications for poverty alleviation and for the importance of securing sustainable small-scale fisheries.

Chapter 10. Labour, Identity and Wellbeing in Bangladesh’s Dried Fish Value Chains by Ben Belton, Mostafa A.R. Hossain, and Shakuntala H. Thilsted

Abstract Dried fish products play an important role in the diets of fish consumers and in the livelihoods of actors in fisheries value chains throughout Africa and Asia. In Bangladesh, a large proportion of marine and freshwater fish landings are processed by drying. The scale and significance of dried fish production, trade and consumption is rarely acknowledged and poorly understood, however, in part because of a tendency for fisheries research to focus on fishers, thereby overlooking actors and processes in mid- and downstream value chain segments. Adopting social wellbeing as an analytical framework, this chapter explores the material conditions faced by labourers engaged in drying fish in Bangladesh, and the ways in which their subjective experiences and objective circumstances are meditated by and constituted through a range of social relations. Case studies are presented from three field sites, where laborers with very different social origins are employed in fish drying under a diverse mix of relations of production, resulting in widely variable but frequently negative social wellbeing outcomes for the women and men involved. The case studies reveal how institutions and identities that constitute important components of social wellbeing for fishers may also be implicated in the exploitation of subordinate groups of labour.

Chapter 11. Risk, Reciprocity and Solidarity: The Moral Economy of Fishing in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka by Gayathri Lokuge and Mohamed Munas

Abstract This study explores the role of religious values at the individual and community levels in relation to the moral economy of fishing in Sri Lanka. Comparing daily interactions among Sinhala Buddhist, Tamil Hindu and Muslim fishers in the eastern coastal district of Trincomalee, this chapter explores how fishers choose and mix different value systems to justify various decisions and behaviours. Both religious and fishing motivations are examined. Our findings indicate that people take advantage of the malleable nature of seemingly static religious doctrine to mix, match and choose from different religions to suit the current need and the occasion. Religious beliefs and ideologies also create and sustain socio-political differences, which are further constructed by macro-level political discourses. This chapter also analyses how discourses on religious identity play out in everyday life and how economic rivalries over fishing resources spill over into—or are reinforced by—religious and ethnic tensions in the post-war context. In terms of fisheries governance, the analysis shows that managers need to recognise and understand the role of religion and value systems in shaping the moral economy of fishing, as well as the processes by which religious beliefs and ideology can create and sustain social cleavages.

Chapter 12. History and Social Difference in Arguments for the Societal Values of Small-Scale Fisheries in Gujarat, India by Derek S. Johnson, Rajib Biswal, and Jyothis Sathyapalan

Abstract In this chapter, we wrestle with the question that motivates this book: how to value small-scale fisheries? We do so in relation to an empirically rich case, the small-scale fishery of Gujarat, India. Our investigation of historical and social relational factors influencing the Gujarat fishery reveals the complexity of the notion of value. The fishery of Gujarat State is large, economically significant, internally diverse, and complex in organization and practice. Yet, even in comparison to other marginalized small-scale fisheries, Gujarat’s small and large scale fisheries are peripheral to the consciousness of most Gujaratis. We reflect on how the predominant value orientation of Gujarat has shaped its fisheries’ historical development and led to significant ecological and social contradictions in them. We argue that social wellbeing provides a productive analytical framework for understanding value in the Gujarat small-scale fishery in relation to history, social positionality, and scale. Our ethnographic evidence draws particularly on the researchers’ familiarity with two small-scale fishing harbours to explore how fishing articulates with caste, religion, class, gender, and history.

Chapter 13. From Poverty to Wellbeing in Small-Scale Fisheries: The Governability Challenge by Svein Jentoft and Ratana Chuenpagdee

Abstract Ascending out of poverty and achieving wellbeing is the end outcome of a very complex chain of interrelated factors, interactions and governance decisions, which makes wellbeing challenging to achieve. Governance interventions must be linked to social justice, sustainable livelihoods, food security, and ecosystem health in order to overcome poverty and wellbeing challenges. The multidimensional nature of the wellbeing concept, covering subjective, social and material aspects of what together make up a good life, aligns well with the holistic and integrative perspective of interactive governance. In particular, interactive governance posits that achieving wellbeing requires efforts in all ‘governing orders,’ i.e. the deliberation on values and principles, the design of institutions, and the daily practice of governance as deliberative systems and the technicalities of management. At the meta-order,

to achieve wellbeing, governing principles such as those related to decision-making and justice would need clarification along with consideration of the social values and norms that underpin them. From these principles, institutions governing stakeholders’ representation and participation, along with rules and norms guiding governing actions follow, as the second order. The first order then is concerned with the actual governing operation, including the selection and implementation of tools for management. Drawing from case studies of small-scale fisheries around the world, we provide examples of governing interventions at the different orders and how they contribute to moving small-scale fishing people and their communities from poverty to wellbeing, while sustaining the fundamental values that characterize small-scale fisheries as a source of livelihoods and a way of life.

Chapter 14. Reflections on Social Wellbeing and the Values of Small-Scale Fisheries: Implications for Research, Policy and Management by Tim G. Acott, Derek S. Johnson, Natasha Stacey, and Julie Urquhart

Abstract The contributors to this volume engaged in different ways with social wellbeing as an approach through which to investigate, identify and make visible a broad range of values associated with small-scale fisheries. In this concluding chapter, we highlight four themes that emerge from these contributions that are crucial for thinking about the diverse values of small-scale fisheries: (1) the broader context of transition; (2) integrating environmental considerations into wellbeing through co-construction and place; (3) recognizing the fertile, yet productively unsettled idea that value represents for small-scale fisheries, and; (4) putting into practice the social wellbeing approach to values that this volume develops. We point to connections between our approach and the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.