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The life of a fisherman: A socioeconomic survey

June 21
12:00 2008

Written By : Sun Fiji Newsroom. By Jagjit Singh

A sea change into something rich and strange.

With the advent of globalisation, fisheries have increasingly become an important employment generator and a major source of protein for millions of people. The fisheries industry has stimulated economic development through forward and backward linkages of ancillary activities such as ship building and repair, construction of harbours and jetties. Additionally, this industry, through exports of processed fish and other marine products has become a major source of foreign exchange earnings in many developing countries.
Unfortunately, a decline in fishery stocks has increased conflicts among the user groups. Fishing nations compete for depleting stocks outside the 200-mile exclusion zone. In developing countries, commercial fisheries are in conflict with those who feed their families, making fisheries policy a difficult undertaking.
FAO estimates show that between 1970 and 1990 the number of people engaged in fishing has doubled from 13 million to 28.5 million.
Additionally, the FAO estimates show that in 1996 16 kg of fish was available per person. It was further reported that in 1996 fish exports was USD 52.5 billion. The trade surplus from Developing Countries from fish and fish products was USD 16.6 million. (ILO: Safety and Health in the Fishing Industry).

Marine resources of Fiji
Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is in the vicinity of 1.45 million square miles. The area is rich in commercial fish species of highly migratory tuna species inclusive of yellow fin, skipjack, albacore and big eye.
However, the total allowable catch of tuna with long line is 15,000 metric tons in Fiji. Aside from the migratory tuna, there is a wide range of deep sea fishes (e.g. Deep Water Snappers marlin, sailfish, mahimahi, barracuda and opah) around the extensive reef slopes and sea mounts in Fiji waters. Additionally, the 410 registered customarily and communally owned inshore fisheries ( qoliqolis) of indigenous Fijians are also rich with diverse marine life.(Department of Fisheries, Annual Report, 2004 p.1) Estimates of fish caught inside Fiji waters (excluding ‘subsistence’) shows a dramatic increase in production since 1999. Prior to that year, the yearly catch was around thirteen to seventeen thousand tonnes. However since 1999, there has been a 60 per cent increase with an estimated mean catch of twenty thousand tonnes in the last five years with total earnings of F$81.4 millions in 2004 (close to ninth in value of the total exports from Fiji in that year). .
Both primary and secondary data was utilized in the course of this research. Much of the background information was based on data collected by the Fiji Government. Socioeconomic information was collected through structured interviews. As the aim of the research was to describe the socioeconomic conditions of Indo Fijian artisanal fishermen, data collection on a random basis was not necessary.
There are currently eighty licensed fishermen that operate out of Ba River. Of this number, a sample of 47 was considered reasonable to assess the socioeconomic conditions of the Indo Fijian artisanal fishermen.
Checking and rechecking of information was undertaken through triangulation to ensure reliability. This technique was especially useful in relation to questions on income, age, residence and marital status.
Organisation of Indo-Fijian fisheries network
Indo Fijian fishermen in the fishing business can be put in five categories1. The different categories in the typology have been given a creative name:

Type 1: Machua
In this study, the focus is on artisanal Indo Fijian fishermen (Machuas). Artisanal Indo Fijian fishermen are those who are involved in small scale fisheries. The catch is partly used as a source of income and partly as a source of family protein. It includes all fishers who participate in actual fishing.
Thus of all the categories of fish catch and distribution, the focus in this research is on the fishers who participate in the actual catch. In this conceptualization, Gayas would be a subset of Machuas, thus excluding Dayas, Mayas and Jayas who would be part of the distribution chain and not involved in actual fishing.

Type 2: Gaya
In this situation, the fisherman owns the boat, the outboard and the fishing equipment. He hires a crew (generally two) to assist him on fishing trips. All expenses including that of food is shared by all. In most situations, the total catch is apportioned into five shares-one for the boat owner, one for the owner of the outboard and one each for the three fishers. Generally the boat and outboard owner also act as the captain of the boat. Fishermen (type 2) that fit this description are referred to as Gaya.

Type 3: Daya
In this kind of a situation, a critical role is played by an independent investor. The investor pays for the boat, outboard and the fishing equipment. The fishing expenses (food etc) are shared by the crew. The investor is not involved in fishing but takes two fifths of the catch as ‘return’ on his investment. In some situations, Daya has his own retail outlet, thus further maximizing his profit. In the fish catch/distribution chain the independent investor (type 3) is referred to as Daya

Type 4: Maya
Here the middlemen (Maya) intervenes between the fishermen and the consumer to make a living for himself. In Fiji generally, the middlemen awaits for the fishermen to buy the catch wholesale in kilograms. In Ba, the middlemen pays $6 per kg for ‘walu’ and other types of ‘A’ grade fish. He/She then sells the fish in the market or by the roadside at a price 20 to25 per cent higher than was paid to the fishermen to make profit. This lower level middlemen (type 4) is identified as Maya.

Type 5: Jaya
In this case, a retailer buys a smaller quantity of fish from the middlemen (Maya), divides the catch in smaller bundles and sells the bundles of catch in his or her community, thus making some profit from the potential travel costs of the ultimate consumer. Those involved in last tier (Type 5) of the fish catch/distribution chain are referred to as Jaya

Fishing Behaviour.
Sixty four per cent of the fishermen in the sample were Hindus, thirteen per cent Muslims and seventeen per cent were Christians. There was a six per cent non response the question on religious affiliation. All were married with a mean household size of five. Most of the respondents lived within a radius of 10 kilometers of Ba township. Fifty five per cent of the respondents had primary education, thirty six per cent had secondary education and the remaining four percent claimed that they had some tertiary training at the Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT). Four percent of the fishermen did not respond to this question…
While fishing was the predominant occupation of most respondents, there were some who had multiple sources of income. One fisherman claimed that aside from fishing, he was also a boat builder, a painter and middleman fish seller. Mean number of years spent fishing was seventeen with a few claiming that they had been in fishing business for over forty years.
Eighty three per cent of the fishermen claimed that they made two trips a week, fifteen per cent daily trips while two per cent made three or more trips a week. The ones that made two weekly trips generally left for the sea on Mondays and Thursdays returning on Wednesday and Saturdays respectively.
Travel times to fishing ground have tended to vary with distance traveled, engine size and weather conditions. Seventy two per cent of respondents spent 5-8 hours while nineteen per cent spent 1-4 hours to reach their fishing ground. Six per cent claimed that they spent over 8 hours to reach their fishing spot.
There was a two per cent non response to this question. Some noted that from Downtown Ba to Votua village on the mouth of Ba River was itself an excruciating nine mile journey which at times took two hours of travel time.
Weather was a critical determining factor of the trip frequency and the catch size. Most of the fishermen fished in Naviti, Vomo in the Yasawas, Yadua and parts of Vanua Levu. A few respondents fished in and around Votua and the mouth of Ba River.
The average size of catch on a two day trip was 200 – 300kgs. The size and type of the catch again very much depended on the weather conditions. During moonlit nights, ‘crown fish’ such as sabutu, kawago and kawakawa were commonly caught. On dark nights however nuqa, saqa, walu and tuna were popular catches. In most instances, fishing line was widely used to catch the fish.
Donu and Kawago were the most expensive reef fish selling in the Ba municipal market at an average price of $9.41 and 9.33 a kg. respectively. The cheapest fish was salala selling at $2.72. The most popular fishing ground was Naviti where much of the preferred fish like donu, dakonivalu, kawakawa and silasila were found. Other popular fishing areas were: Baraki, Cacaumai, Cacaulevu, and Potulolu.

Expenses per trip
Approximately 87 per cent of the fishermen spent around $30 to $100 on food and $100 + on fuel per trip. Eighty one per cent of the fishermen spent between $20-$30 on ice at a rate of 11 cents per kg. All the fishermen spent $50 on hooks and $20 per trip on nylon lines. In most situations, labour was not paid a stipulated amount but paid a certain percentage of the net profit. Profit sharing was divided into five parts:
In short the total catch is shared among the workers and the owner of the boat and the engine from the net takings.

Sales and marketing
It was found that about ninety two per cent of the fishermen sold their catch ‘wholesale’ to middlemen and the remaining eight per cent sold either in the Ba market, roadside, anchorage spots or to hotels.
The price paid by the middlemen varied with the kind of fish. Currently walu was being sold at $ 6.00 per kg. Other fish was sold in the range of $4 to $6 per kg. Fishermen who claimed selling the fish in the market considered it a ‘rolling business’ with profit and loss in a ratio of 50:50. However those that owned the boat and engine considered commercial fishing a profitable business.

Loan obligation
It was found that 50% of the respondents had to meet monthly loan obligations for the purchase of their boat and or the engine. Loan repayments were generally to ASCO motors, the agents of Yamaha boat and outboard engines. Another popular funding agency was the Fiji Development Bank (FDB) which often financed the purchase of fishing equipment at a nominal rate of 8 per cent on the principal. An interesting observation was that none of the fishermen contributed to any superannuation schemes, although in Fiji there is an excellent and viable pension scheme offered by the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF). The Fund has recently relaxed its membership rules to include informal workers in rural Fiji and the fishermen should be advised and encouraged to be members of FNPF.

Economic conditions
It was found that forty nine per cent of the fishermen did not own any land. These respondents resided in rented homes which had access to piped water and electricity for lighting and cooking. There were a few cases of fishermen living on squatter settlements while others on family owned land.
Forty three per cent of the fishermen had land ranging from 10 acres to 30 acres. While most of the respondents had native or State leaseholds, one fisherman in the sample had 12 acre freehold land on which he grew sugar cane. Most of the fisherman in this category also claimed ownership of animals (cattle and goats) as well chickens. They had partly wood and partly concrete homes with piped water and reticulated power connections with Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA).

Assessment of well being.
On a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing an ‘unhappy’ while 7 representing ‘very happy’ state, it was found that 38 per cent rated their happiness as being in the range of 1- 2.
One explained his situation in an abject manner as ‘no other choice’. Forty seven per cent of the fishermen ranked their happiness as being in the range 3-5. Only 9 percent rated their happiness as being 6-7. There was a six per cent non response to this question.
The overall mean value for happiness was 4. It was found that there was a significant (.03) relationship between happiness and average catch per trip.

The major problem was exorbitant fuel prices accompanied with an ever increasing cost of living. Some would like to opt out of fishing but due to high unemployment in Ba town, they were forced continue making a living out of fishing.
All the fishermen in the sample had experienced some kind of harassment and extortion from the Fijian villagers over issues ranging from unauthorized fishing in traditional fishing grounds and or illegal use of dynamite to catch fish.
The Government has through its bureaucracy legitimized the indigenous fishing grounds (qoliqoli). Permission is required from the qoliqoli owners prior to the issuance of the mandatory annual fishing license by the Fisheries Department. Receipts from the qoliqoli owners have to be attached to the fishing license application. The qoliqoli owners generally demand a thousand dollar annual fee which oftentimes is reduced to five hundred if proper Fijian etiquette is followed.
Some respondents claimed that they were harassed despite having a fishing license and fishing approvals from the qoliqoli owners. The problem here arose from confusion over the qoliqoli boundaries. The fishermen were victims of harassment in cases where the contiguous qoliqolis were not clearly demarcated. In the Ba area, there are three large qoliqolis: Nailaga, Votua and Varoka. Of these, the largest one is Votua. It was claimed by some respondents that qoliqoli boundary disputes can easily arise in the ‘commons’ especially in stormy weather conditions.
In conflict situations, boats are generally ceased by the villagers and all catch is confiscated together with fishermens’ belongings. In most of these situations, the fishermen were ‘chased away’ from the fishing area after the loot. In one situation the fishermen were caught using dynamite. In this case, the matter was reported to the Fisheries Department. The Department in turn resolved the conflict in a traditional manner: traditional gifts, payment of damage and a ‘promise’ not to repeat the offense.
In summary, in addition to the Government License of thirteen dollars and twenty cents ($13.20) per year, the Indo Fijian fishermen are required to pay qoliqoli owners, monies ranging from $500 to $1,000 for access and the use of fishing grounds.
Additionally it was found that majority of the fishermen had a reasonably good quality of life. Most lived in their own homes with piped water and electricity for lighting and cooking. Some with skills (boating building, carpentry) or those with access to land grew sugar cane, owned cattle, goats and chickens to supplement their earnings from fishing.
However, most seemed apprehensive about the rising cost of living (inclusive of fuel prices) and occasional conflicts with the Fijian villagers over fishing in not clearly demarcated traditional fishing grounds (qoliqoli).

Jagjit Singh, Senior Lecturer School of Economics, The University of the South Pacific,
Laucala Bay

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