|Conflict over Natural Resources in South-East Asia and the Pacific (United Nations University, 1990)|
|5. Conflict over natural resources in Malaysia: the struggle of small-scale fishermen|
What are the lessons to be learnt from the Malaysian experience with the development of the fisheries industry over the past 30 years? An obvious one is that the nature and dynamics of the environment and its resources (including aquatic) is a critical factor to take into consideration. Not only is the distribution and abundance of fish greatly controlled and affected by variations in the environment, but at the same time, the environment itself is affected by the type of exploitation carried out. Unfortunately, in most countries in the region, the present pool of knowledge with regard to the geographical, limnological, and oceanographic characteristics affecting water masses and aquatic resources, and fish resources themselves, continues to be extremely limited. No country in the region has, as yet, systematic information on the biological characteristics of even the most economically important species. Without such baseline data, it is difficult, if not impossible, to calculate potential yield or what are sustainable levels of fishing activity, and design policies which will ensure optimal returns to small-scale fishermen over a long-term period.
A policy recommendation flowing from this is that no government in the region should permit the introduction of new fishing technologies or expansion of new fishing fleets in its waters unless a data base exists showing conclusively a position of underutilization of stocks. Meanwhile, policies preventing the further undermining of the big-ecological basis of fish stocks by the imposition of strict environment standards on all existing and new land-based programmer should be immediately pursued. A start has been made in this by some countries in the region with the enactment of environment standards legislation, but there has been little or no implementation capacity so that the legislation have remained pieces of paper.
Since information on the sustainable exploitation of fish resources on an ex-post-facto basis is not very useful from the experiences of Malaysia and other countries, it is also proposed that an assessment of the demersal stocks fished by small-scale fishermen be immediately conducted and data on size, identity, growth-rate, etc., collected and evaluated to enable suitable policies and restrictions to be designed to limit over-fishing. At the same time, since present modern theories of fisheries management are based upon work carried out in high-latitude single-species fisheries, new conceptual tools to assess multi-species have to be quickly devised and policy decisions regarding level of exploitation, type of technology, and other crucial aspects of fisheries arrived at.
The difficulties in obtaining and interpreting the data on fish stocks, relating it to a wider environmental matrix and to current and future levels of exploitation by small-scale fishermen and arriving at policies which permit a long-term maximum sustained yield per small-scale fisherman unit must not be under-estimated. To achieve it requires much greater national and international effort in the scientific and technical spheres than has been obtainable and a co-ordinated link between research management, education, and training.
At a different level, the problems of small-scale fisherman communities relating to low income, adverse conditions of production, limited access to credit and marketing in Malaysia and many other countries of the region are relatively well served by a strong data base and the general directions of policy orientation required to resolve them are clear although they might vary in detail from country to country. In general, the problems of small-scale fishermen require an integrated bottom-up approach as opposed to the conventional approaches of development planning. Such an approach would entail, first, the direct involvement of small-scale fishermen in solution-seeking through field-led dialogue and, secondly, the participation of small-scale fishermen themselves in project formulation and implementation. Placing small-scale fishermen at the centre of the policy will ensure not only participation but also permit the socio-economic and cultural needs of the communities to be taken into account and their own sense of priorities respected.
In making these recommendations, two key assumptions have been made. One is that national objectives of maximizing protein yield, employment, and foreign currency can be achieved by a systematic programme of long-term improvement in the social and economic status of small-scale fishermen. In this respect, the courting of corporate-type fisheries development by the countries in the region through joint ventures with foreign companies must be condemned as short-sighted and injurious to small-scale fishermen and national interests. The second assumption is that small-scale fishermen can be presumed to act as rationally as other groups in society wanting to improve their lives. Thus, they will be ready to adopt or adapt new technologies which will improve their catches and incomes, but they will not support restrictions which seek to conserve and increase fish stocks and rehabilitate depleted fishing grounds if these restrictions are not understood by them, and they do not see how their interests are best served by such action.
Finally, it must be emphasized that the future development of the fishing community is to a great extent dependent 011 the availability of resources other than fisheries provided to it. Many small-scale fisherman groups are extremely mobile, moving from fisheries to agriculture and back, according to the season. This mobility can be used advantageously by policy-makers to widen the economic base of the fishing community through the establishment of supplementary means of livelihood based on agriculture and land-based projects.