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close this bookConflict over Natural Resources in South-East Asia and the Pacific (United Nations University, 1990)
close this folder5. Conflict over natural resources in Malaysia: the struggle of small-scale fishermen
View the document(introduction...)
View the document5.1 Introduction
View the document5.2 The 1950s early developments in the Malayan fisheries industry
View the document5.3 The experience with fishing co-operatives, 1957-1965
View the document5.4 A decade of trawling development, 1960-1970
View the document5.5 The poverty eradication programme of the 1970s: new deal for small-scale fishermen?
View the document5.6 Policy developments in the 1980s
View the document5.7 Conclusion
View the documentReferences


Lim Teck Ghee

5.1 Introduction
5.2 The 1950s early developments in the Malayan fisheries industry
5.3 The experience with fishing co-operatives, 1957-1965
5.4 A decade of trawling development, 1960-1970
5.5 The poverty eradication programme of the 1970s: new deal for small-scale fishermen?
5.6 Policy developments in the 1980s
5.7 Conclusion

5.1 Introduction

ROUGHY 40 per cent of the world's total fish production comes from Asia and for many years, the great proportion of this catch came from the vast number of small-scale or artisanal fishermen who live by the coastal water. The contribution of these fishermen, estimated in 1982 in the ASEAN countries alone to number 2 million (or 10 million including their dependents), to their national economies and the protein food needs of their countrymen has been enormous. In 1982 for example, it was estimated that the fisheries contribution to the economies of Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand was US$3.2 billion. Nevertheless, the economic positions of small-scale fishermen have never been stable. The low productivity of traditional fishing gear, the control of the market by middlemen, the seasonal nature of their income, their chronic indebtedness; all these problems have plagued small-scale fishermen for a long time and prevented them from reaping the full rewards of their labour.

In recent years, their precarious economic positions have worsened as a result of new threats and today there is a real danger that unless strong policies and measures are undertaken to counter the new and old threats, small-scale fishermen will be left out of the mainstream of economic and social development, and reduced to being the poorest of the poor in their countries. The new threats to small-scale fishermen, most visible in the ASEAN countries, are due in large part to the adoption of the policy of export-led growth through increasing foreign and local capitalist investment by the governments of the region in the 1970s and 1980s

In the larger national economy, the export-led growth strategy of ASEAN governments has resulted in misguided infrastructural development, the clearing of swamps, and the establishment of industrial areas close to traditional fishing grounds, thereby destroying fish spawning areas and denying fishing communities easy access to the rivers and seas. The depletion of fish stock available to small-scale fishermen has been further aggravated by the consequences of other types of economic expansion. As an example, the Sungai Skudai in Johore, Malaysia, is so heavily polluted by the untreated discharge from 30 factories that hardly any aquatic life forms can live or propagate for a distance of more than 6 miles upstream. Water pollution all over the ASEAN countries is also being caused by the excessive use of fertilizers, insecticides, and rodedicides.

Within the fishing industry itself, the rapid development of heavily capitalized, export-oriented large-scale fishing operations has had adverse consequences on the well-being of small-scale producers. Invariably, the large trawler fleets of this 'modern' fishing sector have competed directly for the fish resources of the coastal waters worked by small-scale fishermen, to the detriment of the latter. As a result, a clear pattern has emerged of diminishing catches by small-scale fishermen. In the Philippines, it is estimated today that 98 per cent of the fishermen produce 50 per cent of the total catch whilst 2 per cent of fishermen engaged in large-scale industrial-type fisheries net the other 50 per cent. In Thailand, large capitalist enterprise fisheries now produce 65 per cent of the total catch while small-scale fishermen net only 35 per cent.

Although the fact of marginalization of small-scale fishermen throughout the Asia-Pacific region has become quite indisputable, it is still important to know how exactly this process has taken place so that the lessons learnt can be applied to help traditional communities dependent on other types of natural resources avoid the same fate. What are the forces at work that have undermined the interests of traditional producers? What has been the role of government in the transformation of the fisheries industry from one based on smallscale producers to large-scale ones? How has fisheries as a natural resource been affected by the transformation taking place within the industry? This case study will answer these questions through the use of a historical approach so as to show how conflict over a crucial natural resource has been generated over a long period of time and the impact of the conflict on the interests of various parties. By focusing on a single country- Malaysia and examining the role of government through a study of administrative policies towards the fisheries sector, it is also hoped that a clearer understanding would emerge of the reasons why national governments behave as they do towards natural resources and the communities that exploit them.

5.2 The 1950s early developments in the Malayan fisheries industry

Our review of fisheries in Malaysia begins with the immediate postwar period when the colonial government began reconstruction of the country's battered economy, and concern for the proper development of the fishing industry was expressed by the authorities due to the urgent problem of adequate food supplies for a population much ravaged by the war. At that time, too, the colonial authorities had recognized that important changes were beginning to take place in the traditional fishing industry, mainly as a result of the impact of modern technology. The High Commissioner, in a foreword to a publication by one of his officers, had sounded the warning that when 'fishing areas receive the full impact of modern technology the resources must not be permitted to diminish' (Kesteven, 1949: I). He also commented that the question of marine resources was 'a problem on which scientific investigation and wise administration' must be turned to since 'unlike the land, the sea has no barrier'. These words were to prove prophetic as the issue of technological change in the industry and its impact on fishermen who could not participate in the change was to become a recurrent problem over the next four decades until the present, when it is still largely unresolved.

Despite the acute perceptivity with which some officials in the colonial administration viewed the problems of development in the fishing industry, the colonial government appears to have done little for the fishing industry in the short interregnum between the war's end and the passing of authority over to an independent government. Rehabilitation of the industry following the gear losses and depreciation brought about by the war was largely due to the initiative of individuals within the fishing community. Similarly, the use of artificial fibre nets and the mechanization of boats came about less through the efforts of the Fisheries Department than the private sector's own interests in improving the industry's efficency and profitability. Preoccupied with a prolonged guerrilla war waged by the Malayan Communist Party and more important political developments, it was not until the eve of independence that the authorities began to initiate a closer scrutiny of the fishing industry. In September 1955, largely at the urging of the local representatives in the Legislative Council, the colonial government established a committee to investigate the fishing industry in view of the fact that 'the occupation of fishing is one of the lowest rewarded in the country' and to suggest 'ways to improve the economic condition of the local fishing population' (Anonymous, 1956: I). Unlike other committees appointed by the colonial government, the committee was not dominated by government representatives who might have minimized the seriousness of the fishing community's problems in defence of colonial economic policies. Ten of its eleven members were Malayans and the strength of local representation appears to be largely responsible for the unambiguous character of its output and the candid recommendations made. The committee's report produced in 1956 warrants discussion as it was in many ways a landmark study that can be used to evaluate the shortcomings of government policy towards the small-scale fishing community during the following years.

The committee prefaced its report by noting that although it was able to provide recommendations in some detail for the improvement of the equipment and operations of fishermen, it did not feel sufficiently confident to provide more than a limited and superficial survey of the marketing and distribution side of fishing, which were extremely complex activities related to the capital structure of the industry. Nevertheless, its main recommendations were directly connected to the question of changing the prevailing ownership and control patterns in the industry. Principally, the committee found that the industry's main problem arose from the dependence of fishermen on financing, and through the loan of boats, gear, and nets, by capitalists who rarely went to sea themselves and exploited the former group by offering them low prices for their catches and charging high prices for the equipment or goods sold. To free fishermen from this exploitative capital structure, the committee proposed that provision be made for financial assistance in the form of boats and gear to selected groups of fishermen. Specifically, the government was advised to encourage fishermen to form themselves into co-operatives or associations which would receive loans in the form of credit for the purchase of equipment, repayable over a certain period with nominal interest and including a non-repayable subsidy of one third the amount of the loan. To administer the co-operatives, the committee recommended the establishment of a Fisheries Board which was set up as a statutory body with an initial capital of M$3 million. Recognizing the difficulty of administering a loan scheme successfully from previous government experience with loan defaults, it emphasized that the Board should be provided with adequate advisory and supervisory staff. Other major recommendations of the committee were directed towards overcoming the 'utter dependence of fishermen upon the sea for a livelihood and upon the almost complete lack of alternative employment' and the inadequacy of amenities and social services for fishing communities. To overcome these problems, it put forward a wide range of recommendations requesting that the government give special consideration to providing land for fishermen, the introduction of cottage industry and agriculture, the construction or improvement of fishing harbours, jetties, and roads, the expansion of training for fishermen, and control over the price of ice.

Clearly, the committee had performed well its task of identifying 'the relevant problems connected with the fishing industry' and recommending 'ways to improve the economic condition of the local fishing population'. Besides meeting with representatives from all sectors of the industry, its members had also visited fishing villages to study at first-hand the opinions of fishermen and the fishing communities. The resultant report was a comprehensive yet thoughtful document which could have been the basis of a long-term programme to bring about the upliftment of the fishing community. However, this did not happen. Although it was a government-appointed committee and despite the presence of three senior members of the Alliance party who were later to reach the ministerial ranks, it failed to make an impact on the incoming government's policies. Except for an attempt at establishing fishing co-operatives and providing them with credit, little was done to implement the other recommendations and the urgency which had prompted the committee's investigation of the poverty-stricken fishing community was quickly lost. Why this happened is not clear. It could be that the recommendations were unworkable or that they became a casualty of the political differences between rival factions of the post-independent government. Whatever the reason, it was to weigh heavily on fisheries development during the next decade.

5.3 The experience with fishing co-operatives, 1957-1965

The general failure of the newly independent government to implement smoothly the committee's recommendations is clear when government policy towards the industry and small-scale fishermen during the next ten years is examined. The decade from 1956 to 1965 saw the implementation by the new government of two national Five year Plans. These Plans could have provided for the advancement of the fishing community through the correction of the adverse consequences that neglect by the colonial government had produced (and which were identified so clearly by the 1955 fishing committee). But little progress was achieved. No doubt, the Plans included public expenditure allocations for fisheries development and had ambitious schemes to extend fishing co-operatives throughout the East and West Coasts, provide facilities such as jetties, fishing gear, and ice stores, and accelerate the mechanization of fishing boats to enable fishermen to operate in deeper waters. However, the sums set aside were wholly inadequate for the purpose. Amounting to M$2.4 million for the first development plan for Malaya and M$7.2 million for the second, these sums amounted to 0.24 and 0.33 per cent of the total public expenditure budgets respectively, and the public funds committed hardly lent credence to the professed aim of the country's development plans to accord the 'highest priority' to improving the livelihood of peasant fishermen (amongst other peasant groups) by raising output and diversifying and intensifying production. The inadequate allocation of funds was one problem but more important was the absence of a clear-cut policy of fisheries development aimed at the small fishermen community and the lack of an effective administrative structure to supervise ongoing projects.

Some indication of the government's failings in these two key areas can be obtained from an analysis of its policy in the area of cooperatives. The history of the government's attempts to establish fisheries co-operatives which had been suggested by the committee as a means of enabling fishermen to purchase their own equipment and free themselves from the clutches of middlemen-financiers has been examined by various scholars (see, for example, Fredericks, 1973; Gibbons, 1976). Their findings indicate that the experiment with cooperatives was a failure. In the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia between 1957 and 1963, a total of M$1.4 million was loaned by the government to a marketing and transport union formed by 43 fishing cooperatives which supervised its disbursement to fishermen to enable them to buy equipment. An estimated 16 per cent of the 21,000 fishermen in the East Coast were said to have participated in the scheme but only a negligible amount of the loans was repaid and the extent of operations of the unions was short-lived, with the scheme coming to a virtual standstill by l962. The loan-scheme did result in some diffusion of improved technology and provided an alternative source of credit but it generally failed to make much inroad into the entrenched capitalization patterns which were disadvantageous to fishermen and did not bring about significant improvement in the income levels of fishermen. This was the first major attempt made by the government to benefit fishermen through their own organizations and its failure demonstrated the ill-preparedness of the government.

In the West Coast, a redesigned co-operatives scheme was introduced between 1961 and 1966 but just as little success was achieved as with the earlier effort in the East Coast. Of a total of M$841,000 loaned by government to seven fishing co-operative establishments, only 13 per cent was repaid. Three co-operatives had completely collapsed within a few years and few benefits of a lasting nature had been provided to the small number of fishermen who managed to participate in the schemes (Gibbons, 976: 97)

Why did these attempts at fisheries co-operatives fail when they had so much potential to benefit fishermen? In 1968 a paper by the Malaysian authorities reviewing fisheries development since independence attributed the failure of its attempts to organize fishermen into co-operatives to an 'apparent lack of leadership' among fishermen and their low level of education (Anonymous, 1968: 229). 'Good and able leaders are few and far between and in turn when they lack organization and co-operation amongst themselves they can easily fall prey to any unscrupulous middlemen or profiteers,' argued the paper. It was no doubt true that the fishing industry was not served by good leaders, but the critical lack of leadership was more within the bureaucracy than with fishermen. According to Fredericks (1973: 123-4), the Cooperatives Department, in explaining the failure of the East Coast scheme admitted in a departmental document that there was inadequate staff for administrative and supervisory work, share capital requirements were unrealistically high, there was divided administrative responsibilities and authority, and a lack of coordination between the Departments of Fisheries and Cooperatives.

The government also could not claim that the problem of infiltration of co-operatives by influential and opportunistic individuals or interests was unexpected. In many other parts of the world, the history of co-operatives is littered with failures chiefly due to poor management, incompetence, and dishonesty, and a pattern of individuals or groups not representative of the target community's interests gaining control of the co-operative management and monopolizing the activities. The 1955 committee investigating the fishing industry had anticipated these same problems in Malaya and cautioned that the government should ensure 'the provision of adequate advisory and supervisory staff whether under the Department of Cooperative Development or otherwise, since these Associations will for the most part lack that degree of satisfactory leadership without which they cannot hope to survive' (Anonymous, 1956: 5). Neither was the government unaware of the inherent difficulties in trying to organize often dispersed groups of individualistic fishermen to whom the advantages of co-operative production or marketing were not easily discernibly. In more congenial conditions in rural and urban Malaya, co-operatives had failed time and again, thus putting the onus on the government to approach the subject with caution.

The key to the co-operative experiment is the attitude and response of the participants and their perception of the benefits likely to be attained. Without genuine participation by its members, no cooperative venture could hope for success. This was known to the government. At the same time, a selective programme of co-operative establishment with sufficiently trained and motivated government personnel supervising activities, together with stringently administered financial procedures, could have prevented many of the subsequent problems of mismanagement, abuse, and dishonesty which plagued co-operatives and reduced their effectiveness in assuming a leading role in the development of small-scale fishermen.

The immediate result of the unhappy experience with cooperatives was to deter the authorities from supporting their expansion. The defaults on loans were viewed with much concern by the financial authorities and the regulations for credit procurement were stiffened with fishermen being called upon to provide as much as 70 per cent of the capital cost of new projects. Although this large proportion of initial capital investment was later relaxed, the lower requirement was still beyond the resources of most fishermen. One effect was to restrict the opportunities available to fishermen to adopt more productive gear through loans obtained from the public sector which could lessen their dependency on middlemen-financiers. Another effect was to discourage co-operatives from embarking on projects which could bring benefits to members. In the light of this, it is not surprising that even functioning co-operatives failed to provide much benefit to their members and there were few, if any, examples of successful small-scale fisherman collective activity that the authorities responsible for fisheries could point to, so as to justify an increased financial and institutional commitment from the government. It was a vicious circle of failure breeding neglect and inadequate support, which in turn created more failures.

The lack of success of fisheries co-operatives sounded the warning that there were important inadequacies in government policy and the implementational capacity of the administrative machinery entrusted with the task of protecting the interests of small-scale fishermen and developing the industry. However, it failed to lead to any serious review of the problems faced by smallscale fishermen and the fishing industry. Within the Department of Co-operatives, it appears that an investigation was conducted on the reasons for the failure of the East Coast cooperatives scheme but it was mainly an internal exercise, confined to the department and inaccessible to other interested parties. Thus, valuable experience which could have been the basis for improved policy and effective administration was quickly forgotten and lost. That the government's inability to objectively carry out a selfexamination of its weaknesses and initiate the necessary policy changes weighed heavily on fisheries development can be gauged from the fact that when co-operative development in fisheries was encouraged again in the 1970S, the same problems which had dogged the earlier efforts at co-operative establishment were treated by the authorities as if they were entirely new ones.

5.4 A decade of trawling development, 1960-1970

The next critical development in the fisheries industry was to expose more glaringly the shortcomings in government policy towards the sector of small-scale traditional fisheries. During the 1950s and 19605, despite the absence of a leadership role by the fisheries department, the fishing industry had seen much technological change. These changes centred on the increased use of powered craft, synthetic fibre nets, and more efficient gear and had important results on the structure of the industry. Some indication of the impact can be inferred from Table 5.1, which shows that although the number of craft in the peninsula declined by 15 per cent between 1957 and 1967, the quantity of fish landed increased to almost three times.

The story of how the increased production was achieved is more complicated than the statistics suggest. Prior to the 1950S, although the fishing industry was characterized by a diversity of gear and craft, the greater proportion of landings had come from the traditional small-scale sector of labour-intensive fisheries which mainly relied on unpowered craft with limited fishing range and simple gear. In the 1950S and early 19605, increasing numbers of fishermen in the traditional sector, many with credit obtained from financier-traders, began to invest in powered craft and synthetic nets which helped raise their productivity. In so far as this development represented an upgrading of the technological levels of small producers, it was certainly to be welcomed as it resulted in greater efficiency, higher productivity, and an increase in income trends. A properly organized government programme providing deserving fishermen with ready access to new but more expensive inputs could have ensured that the distributive effects of the new technology would be more widespread. However, as pointed out earlier, the failure of co-operatives which the authorities had intended to use as focal points for the distribution of government assistance prevented this from happening, so that most of the financing for the new technology came from the ubiquitous financier-traders, who extracted a high price for it.

The absence of government assistance would not have had such adverse effects on traditional fishermen had not trawler fishing been introduced at this crucial period. Introduced from Southern Thailand into Malayan waters in 1959/60 (there is some dispute as to whether it was first introduced into the East or West Coast), trawler fishing was a major technological advance over all previous fishing methods found in the country. Carried out by dragging large, machine-winched trawl nets along the seabed, the method required heavy capital investment in bigger boats, larger capacity engines, and expensive nets but it justified its high capital costs by proving highly efficient and productive in comparison with the passive traditional methods of fishing which mainly relied on stationary gear. Trawling quickly established itself as the most lucrative fishing method and attracted the attention of a large number of capitalists who were lured by the prospect of quick profits. According to one report, about 400 trawlers were operating mainly in Perak, Selangor, and Johore by 1965 but another source estimates that there were as many as 200 large trawlers and 700 small ones operating by 1963. The example above of conflicting information about how many trawlers were found in the peninsula and where they were operating points to the failure of the authorities to mount a close watch on the industry during the early period of its development and monitor its scale of operations and impact on fish resources, which could indicate more precisely the economic and social benefits and disadvantages of the new technology.

TABLE 5.1 - Number of Powered and Unpowered Boats and Catch by All Boats in Peninsular Malaysia, 1957-1967

Year Number of Powered Boats Number of Unpowered Boats Total Boats Total Landings (tonnes)
1957 6,283 17,541 23,824 110, 863
1958 7,296 17,752 25,048 112,104
1959 7,884 14,379 22,263 118, 622
1960 8,940 14,608 23,548 139, 469
1961 9,665 13,293 22,958 150, 650
1962 9,772 12,338 22,110 170, 207
1963 10,483 12,262 22,745 183, 636
1964 10,727 10.903 21,630 192, 158
1965 12,183 10,281 22,464 198, 377
1966 12,535 8,371 20,906 236, 607
1967 13,032 7,204 20,236 301, 856

Source: Anonymous (1968), pp. 215-16

Despite the absence of information on the early development of the trawler industry in the country, there is much evidence to show that its impact on traditional fisherman interests was immediate and adverse. Although fisheries in Malaysia, as elsewhere, are a common property resource in the sense that there is open access to it, there has arisen over time some notion of fishing boundaries and prior rights over fishing areas among the various traditional fishing communities. Few serious conflicts seem to have arisen in the past on the crucial matter of rights over fishing areas partly because of the small size and limited power of traditional boats which restricted their range of operation, so that communities were mainly confined to working the waters closest to them. The advent of powerful boats with longer fishing range and with crews drawn largely from outside the traditional fishing industry who had no knowledge of or respect for long-established rights of fishing villages quickly upset the previous stability. Although equipped with more powerful engines which could have enabled the boats to operate much further offshore, trawler fishermen preferred to work within the inshore waters where the more profitable demersal fish resources and prawns were located. This often meant intruding into the established grounds of fishing villages in pursuit of profitable shoals and damaging the nets and other gear of traditional fishermen when these came in their way. Less immediately provocative but also a cause of concern to traditional fishermen was the resource-damaging nature of trawler operations, in which small-mesh nets were dragged along the seabed, damaging breeding grounds and sweeping up young fish, prawns, and other marine life before they were commercially valuable.

It was inevitable that bad feelings between trawler fishermen and traditional small-scale and inshore fishing communities should grow and take a violent turn. By the early 1960S relations between the two fishing groups had worsened and bloody conflicts began taking place regularly. Between 1964 and 1976, a total of 113 incidents involving 437 trawlers and 187 inshore vessels were reported, mainly along the West Coast, with 'considerable loss of property and life (Goh, 1976: 19 These figures are official estimates and probably represent only a small part of the total number of clashes, with many clashes either going unreported or failing to make their way into the official records. Besides the threat to law and order, there were other good reasons why strong government intervention in regulating relationships between inshore small-scale and trawler fishermen was required. Almost all the trawlers were owned by non-fishing capitalists who recruited largely Chinese crews comprising mainly unemployed urban youths. Many inshore fishing villages, on the other hand, contained predominantly ethnic Malay populations, although there was a fair sprinkling of mixed communities. In the clashes between the trawler and inshore fishermen, there was a potential danger of ethnic conflict which could affect the wider society.

TABLE 5.2 - Estimated Landings per Trawler Unit, Peninsular Malaysia, 1966-1972

Year Estimated Trawlers in Operation Landings by Trawlers (tonnes) Landings per Trawler (tonnes)
1966 425 24 500 57.6
1967 1,099 58 100 52.9
1968 1,305 64 800 49.7
1969 2,056 56 400 27.4
1970 3,548 84 700 23.9
1971 4,272 112 200 26.3
1972 5,378 109 900 20.4

Source: Jahara Yahaya (undated), p. 7. Table I.

Another compelling reason for government action was the danger to fish resources that unregulated trawler operations posed. Although no accurate statistical data is obtainable, it is now generally agreed that the rapid build-up in trawler numbers and the expansion in their operations have been the main factors contributing to the present situation of overfishing, which faces some species in the inshore waters of the West Coast. By 'overfishing' is meant that catches were exceeding the maximum sustainable yield of species, thus bringing about the depletion of the resource. The problem of overfishing was not only an outcome of the increase hi the number of trawler boats and their operation in inshore waters but it was due also to the illegal use of small-mesh nets which resulted in a high proportion of the juvenile marine-life being caught in the nets. Some indication of the overfishing can be deduced from Table 5. 2, which shows the declining productivity of trawlers as measured in landings per unit, between 1966 and 1972. At the same time, the proportion of 'trash' fish (which includes juvenile fish and prawns) increased considerably. For example, Yap (1980 :29) estimated trash fish to comprise 60 per cent of the total increase of trawler landings between 1973 and 1974. In Perak, which had the largest increase in trawlers, increases in trawler fish landings accounted for 99.5 per cent of the total increase in fish landings.

As a result of the depletion in fish resources, trawler fishermen have had to increase their catch effort to maintain a level of production that ensures profitability. More seriously affected were the inshore fishermen, who were caught in a vicious spiral of smaller catches which reduced their incomes and inadequate capital to increase their catch effort or purchase bigger boats and engines. By the mid-1970s, the outlook for small fishermen was gloomy, with 'unemployment and underemployment in the fishing village' teeing grim, daily realities' (Golf, 1976: 22).

The government's response to this crisis, which mainly affected fishing along the West Coast, has been studied by other scholars and what is provided here is a summary of some of the main findings (Gibbons, 1976; Yahaya, undated; and Yap, 1977 and 1980). The initial government response to the introduction of the new technology in gear and engines had been to welcome it. This can be seen from the thrust of policy objectives in the First Malaysia Plan which was towards greater productivity in fishing. By 1965, the country had transformed itself from a net importer of fish to a net exporter for the first time since it obtained independence, and the authorities were optimistic of greater returns from further development.

The Fisheries Division's programme of activities strongly reflected the production-oriented approach of the First Plan. Among the priorities were the training of fishermen to man larger, more powerful, arid more sophisticated vessels, the provision of financial assistance to the industry to modernize, and the expansion of research and fisheries extension services to support the development. Although it had no firm data as to the size of fisheries resources in the country, there was a strong belief amongst fisheries officials that the country's waters were under-fished and trawler fishing was assigned a major role in fisheries development since it was regarded as the most productive method and had the greatest potential for expansion. In 1968, a report produced by the Division of Fisheries on the position of the fishing industry declared that it was the policy of the government 'to encourage trawling' and 'steps had been taken to encourage this objective' (Anonymous, 1968: 221).

These steps consisted in part of the government's resistance to the strong pressure exerted by inshore fishermen on the authorities to ban trawler fishing. In 1964 a ban on trawler fishing was imposed by the government in response to the escalating violence between the two fishing groups but this ban was short-lived. In 1965 the government reversed its decision and agreed instead to give out trawler licenses through co-operatives, subject to various regulating conditions such as minimum mesh size, fishing hours, specific landing centres' and a prohibition on fishing inside the 12nmi zone. In 1967, the regulations were relaxed to permit smaller trawler boats to participate and to expand the areas officially permitted for trawler fishing. On the surface, it appeared that government policy had taken a correct position by curbing the activity of individual trawler entrepreneurs and by paving the way for the poorer small-scale fishermen who were to be organized into co-operative societies to participate in the more lucrative fishing method. Also, restricting trawler fishing to beyond the inshore waters and during daytime would ensure that trawler boats did not intrude into the traditional grounds of the inshore group or operate undetected. In this way, both production and social objectives would be attained.

However, the limitations of these policy decisions were quickly exposed. There was an almost immediate increase in the number of trawling co-operatives and the granting of a large number of trawler licenses with the liberalization of the previous restrictions. But, contrary to expectations, inshore fishermen continued to be largely excluded from the industry. Findings from Gibbons' study investigating the impact of public policy on fishing development in Penang and Kedah reveal that the trawler co-operatives were dominated by non-fishermen entrepreneurs who joined the cooperatives solely to obtain its substantial financial and preferential benefits, a development which should not have been surprising to the authorities since co-operatives were the only means through which licenses for trawling were given. These entrepreneurs who provided the boats and working capital worked closely with the local-level elites and state- and federal-level politicians who facilitated their obtaining the trawler licenses and membership in the co-operatives. Not only did genuine fisherman participation in trawler co-operatives fail to materialize, the great mass of inshore fishermen also failed to obtain substantial employment benefits from the development of the trawling industry, contrary to the hopes of the Fisheries Department. This was because most of the trawling positions were taken up by new entrants to the industry. Also, trawlers generally require less labour per unit of catch compared to traditional gear and did not create as many employment opportunities as their numbers would lead one to expect.

Number of Licensed Trawlers, Penang and Perak, 1966-1972

Year Penang Perak Year Penang Perak
1966 21 10 1970 212 53
1967 48 15 1971 250 1,713
1968 89 21 1972 280 1,582
1969 159 23      

Source: Goh (1973), p. 19.

Clearly, the decisions taken by the in 1965 and 1967 to permit trawler development were short-sighted, especially given the inadequate resources it could muster to ensure that the regulations on trawling were properly observed and its inability to ensure that large numbers of small-scale fishermen could share substantially in the benefits arising from the relaxation in anti-trawling policy. What is surprising is why the situation was permitted to continue unremedied for so many years and why the government tolerated the political interference which permitted a small group to reap substantial benefits to the detriment of the larger inshore fisherman interests. One would have expected that the loss of political credibility, if not damage to national interests, would have produced pressure for decisive remedial action from the more responsible ranks of the government, but this did not happen. As one puzzled high-ranking government member (who was not yet in power when the policies were formulated) puts it: 'By the 1960’s, it was already known that the inshore waters of the West Coast were being over-fished and the marine resources were being fast depleted. Yet the situation was allowed to drag on and grow worse for another decade until the mid 1970's ...' (Goh, 1976: 23). It was not until 1975 that the government arrived at the decisions not to issue new trawler licenses for boats of below 25 gross tons except in the East Coast, to ban night fishing by small trawlers, and to renew only licenses which had no previous record of violation of regulations. These decisions restricting entry into the industry left it too late to alter the pattern of ownership and control in the trawler industry or to arrest the declining productivity of the West Coast waters, especially since the new rules were not accompanied by any great increase in the government's enforcement capacity. Moreover, a new generation of illegal mini-trawlers have managed to evade the efforts of the Marine Police and Fisheries Department at implementing the new regulations. Various estimates put the annual landings of demersal finfish for the West Coast at 125 000-178 000 tonnes for 1973-80 with a substantial proportion coming from the trawler landings. The estimated maximum sustainable yield, however, is estimated at about 110 000 tonnes per annum, leaving a tonnage of overfishing of between 15 000 and 68 000 tonnes annually. In fact, demersal fish landings had peaked by 1977-8 and begun to decline thereafter. Other evidence of overfishing include the increasing incidence of trash fish in the demersal landing and the decline in the value of catch per unit effort. In the coming years, the full impact of the substantial overfishing of the 1970s was to be felt more severely.

5.5 The poverty eradication programme of the 1970s: new deal for small-scale fishermen?

The adverse impact that major policy decisions in the 1960s regarding trawling development had on small-scale fisherman interests could have been cushioned by other policy initiatives in the transformed political context of the 1970s. This was because in the aftermath of the May 1969 violence in the nation's capital, the government decided on a new economic policy (commonly referred to as the NEP) to eliminate what it regarded as the major factors underlying racial conflict in the country. There are two prongs of the NEP: one aimed at restructuring the economy such that Malay participation in the modern sectors would be greatly increased and the perceived identification of race with economic functions would be removed, while the other seeks to eradicate poverty through a variety of development programmes aimed at the poorer groups. Since the fishing community contains a high proportion of poor as well as Malay households, the implementation of the NEP held much hope that the fishing community's long-standing grievances would finally receive the attention they deserved.

In fact, a promising start was made with the establishment of a new public authority, Majuikan (Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia), in 1971 as a parastatal corporation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to take charge of fisheries programmer. The establishment of Majuikan, to a great extent, mirrored the government's disappointment with the Fisheries Division and its inability to provide institutional support for the development of the fishing community. It also represented an effort by the government, through a separate public body, to participate in such aspects of the fishing industry as production, processing, and marketing, which the Fisheries Division was not equipped to do. This aim of the government can be deduced from Majuikan's objectives, which include developing and exploiting fisheries resources in accordance with sound fisheries management practice, generating employment opportunities in the fisheries sector by expanding and modernizing fish production and related secondary industries, and supervising, promoting, and undertaking the economic and social development of Fishermen Associations. Thus two broad roles were defined for the new body: on the one hand, fostering the social development of artisanal fishermen and, on the other, engaging in commercial operation in competition with the private sector.

To build up Majuikan and finance its activities, the government allocated large amounts of public funds to it. This can be seen from a comparison of the allocations to fisheries in the four Malaysia Plans up to 1985. In the First Plan period, fisheries was allocated M$22 million. The Second Plan saw the allocation to fisheries almost doubled to M$42 million but since the total public expenditure budget was also substantially increased, fisheries' share of total public expenditure in fact dropped to 0.41 per cent compared with 0.49 per cent in the earlier Plan. With the Third Plan came a dramatic increase in the allocation to fisheries to the sum of M$323 million or almost eight times the previous Plan allocation. This amount, about 1.0 per cent of the total public expenditure budget for the period, was a formidable injection of public funds and a considerable portion was set aside for Majuikan's development and its programmes. The Fourth Plan (1981-5) further increased public expenditure allocation to fisheries to M$434 million or about 1.1 per cent of total public expenditure.

Unfortunately, no detailed accounting of how the organization has spent the money is available but the indications from public statements are that the thrust of Majuikan's expenditure has been towards commercial operations. The major investment of Majuikan has been in a programme to develop trawler fishing in the East Coast with M$24 million being spent to construct a large number of trawler vessels of 40 tonnes and above to exploit the South China Sea offshore resources. During 1971-80, a total of 152 boats were launched under the programme, whose expressed purpose was to increase Malay fisherman participation in the modern sector with Majuikan initially acting as a caretaker to the trawlers until a fixed period of time had elapsed and ownership of the trawler boats could be transferred to the selected fisherman participants. According to the programme's publicity, a substantial number of fishermen would benefit if the scheme proved successful. This objective, however, was clearly unrealistic since the proposed beneficiaries (several hundred boat owners and fishermen involved in construction work) would comprise only a tiny minority of the East Coast fishermen estimated at 35.000 The fear that an elite class of fishermen was being created by Majuikan's programme has been compounded by evidence indicating that the authority's management of the new fleet has been an operational and financial disaster.

Trawling is only one of a wide range of ambitious projects being undertaken by Majuikan. Other projects include joint ventures with foreign capital on deep-sea fishing in the East Coast and Kuching, and the establishment of aquaculture farms, processing plants, ice factories, and marketing complexes in various ports. As with the trawler project, most of these other activities, designed with predominantly commercial objectives in mind, have had to rely on a considerable amount of government financial support. Concentrated in the main fishing ports, it is likely that the new facilities will mainly service the offshore industry, leaving the thousands of small fishermen seattered in the hundreds of small fishing villages still lacking in infrastructural support. It could be that such heavy investment is necessary as an inducement to the private sector to invest in commercial fishing and to enable Majuikan itself to engage in commercial development, but if so, the purpose must be clearly expressed and must not be confused with the needs of traditional fishing communities, which are of a different nature.

Little else is known about Majuikan's activities but from the above evidence, there is a need for the authorities to explain which Majuikan projects are intended to help traditional fishermen and in what way, and which projects are commercial with little or no direct relation to improving the well-being and welfare of traditional fishermen. This distinction is necessary because, as one fisheries development expert correctly points out, '[T]he strategy of planning artisanal fisheries must be related to welfare criteria of assisting fishermen in a social as well as an economic context. This may be contrasted to the aims of modern commercial fishery, which are more concerned with increasing productivity' (Lawson, 1975: 10).

Apart from the question of the distribution of social and economic benefits which affects the fishing population's interests directly, other questions, such as the economic cost/benefits of the programme and the extent to which subsidization of a public organization having virtual monopoly powers is justifiable, must be answered by the authorities managing Majuikan. This is especially so since the projects involve substantial amounts of public funds and it has been found by one consultant who had access to privileged data, that 'the commercial operations directly managed by Majuikan are incurring substantial and in some areas heavy losses' largely as a result of a lack of sufficient expertise over too many functions (Moore, 1976: 3).

The ambiguity that surrounds Majuikan's activities and its precise role in the socio-economic development of small-scale fisherman communities has clearly become one of the major obstacles standing in the way of a consistent government policy towards these communities. This ambiguity has troubled Majuikan ever since its establishment and is an issue addressed by a number of missions of international development agencies during the 1970s advising the Malaysian government on fisheries development (Crutchfield et al., 1975; Lawson, 1975; Moore, 1976). All these missions agree that there is a need for the authorities to clarify the responsibility and functions of Majuikan, especially in terms of its relationship to the Fisheries Division. As explained earlier, Majuikan had been set up mainly because of the dissatisfaction with the performance of the Fisheries Division and the desire to create a more appropriate institutional framework for overall fisheries development. However, in doing so, the authorities have unwittingly created a vague division of responsibility between the two institutions which has been detrimental to the interests of fishermen.

A number of examples can be cited. Until Majuikan's formation, the development section of the Fisheries Division had been responsible for the drawing up of development programmes and the implementation of schemes, including subsidies, grants, and other assistance to fisherman organizations. When Majuikan was formed, it was entrusted with control of Fishermen Associations which were to be the main vehicle through which government assistance to traditional fishermen was to be channelled. The impact of this transfer of power from the Fisheries Division to Majuikan has been documented in the case of one Fishermen Association. In early 1973, the Geting Fishermen Association in Keiantan established an open auction scheme for its members. The scheme was a success and together with the sale of ice and fuel, brought in a monthly income of more than M$3,000 to the Association. In March 1974, a Majuikan commercial fisheries scheme was established in Geting. At about the same time, overall central control of Fishermen Associations was transferred to Majuikan while local supervision was in a transitional stage between Majuikan and the Fisheries Division. In September and October 1974, the Association found itself in financial difficulties and Majuikan Headquarters, despite opposition from the members of the local Association, transferred its marketing and input supply functions to Majuikan. As a result, the Association collapsed and ordinary fishermen were said to be boycotting the Majuikan marketing scheme because of the low priority given to them.

Another example of traditional fishermen's interests being adversely affected by the lack of clear division between the two departments in their functions is the proposed programme for the integrated development of artisanal fishermen in the East Coast undertaken by the Fisheries Division. The basic purpose of the programme is to improve income opportunities of fishing communities both within and outside the fisheries sector. To succeed, the programme requires strong and independent fisherman organizations that can function as pressure groups for community development. However, with management and policy control of these organizations located in a separate government body, it is difficult to envisage how the Division can carry out its work successfully. This is especially so since Majuikan also has interests in trawler development along the East Coast which obviously are contrary to the interests of the great majority of small-scale fishermen and which, if successful, could depress the standard of living of inshore fishermen through increased competition for limited stocks.

To defuse the 'unhealthy rivalry' between the two institutions which could result in both failing to attain their basic goal, namely the development of fisheries in Malaysia, it would be better if Majuikan could take primary responsibility for commercial activities, that is, control over the operation of fishing fleets, joint ventures, processing plants, and commercial marketing, while the Fisheries Division handled socio-economic development, including financial support and subsidy programmes. This separation is required because there is no way in which Majuikan can presently meet both production targets for the nation's fisheries and economic and social development goals for the traditional fishermen without serious internal pressures on the organization and the need for compromises.

Even if the government does take decisive action in clarifying the allocation of functions between the two organizations responsible for fisheries development and the interrelationship between them and other departments engaged in activities which impinge on fish resources, it should be manifestly clear that its efforts would still come to nought if the organizations are not provided with competent and dedicated staff who will work for the interests of small-scale fishermen. Such staff must be willing at critical points to stand up against vested or opportunistic interests and exercise control and guidance which can assist the broad mass of small-scale fishermen and bring about their development in an orderly fashion. Otherwise, the outcome is an expansion of the bureaucracy and the drawing up of policies dictated by weightier economic and political interests.

Besides the establishment of Majuikan to improve government capacity to develop the fishing industry, the government has attempted to initiate changes at the level of fishermen co-operatives to enable them to participate in the new development programmes. Earlier we had seen how co-operatives, as an instrument to improve fishermen welfare, have been largely discredited by the experience of the 1950s and Ages. Various studies which have looked closely at these experiences at the local level have identified, among other factors, bad management and inadequate supervision of schemes as being responsible for their failure. In the early 1970s, the authorities decided on rebuilding fisherman organizations to act as conduits for the increased government assistance which was to flow into the sector and to enable the fishing community to participate in new economic and social activities. This was mainly done through the establishment of Fishermen Associations the transference of responsibility over the new Associations and existing Fishermen Co-operatives from the Departments of Fisheries and Co-operatives to Majuikan in 1974 and the amalgamation of the associations and co-operatives into a new organization called Koperasi Nelayan.

Two levels of the new organization have been established by Majuikan: one at local level, referred to as Koperasi Nelayan Kawasan, and the other at national level, Koperasi Nelayan Nasional, which is to engage in trading, fishing enterprises, finance, credit and loan services, and education and training. Forty-two local-level Koperasi Nelayan had been established in Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak by 1985. To ensure that the new organizations could carry out the planned activities, the government made available a grant of M$23.8 million during the Fourth Plan period to be used as a revolving fund for the association and co-operatives to finance their activities. Whilst these efforts at building local organizations of producers which can sell cheaper inputs, provide easier access to credit, and initiate schemes to improve the common welfare are to be lauded, the priority given to the establishment of a formidable organizational structure is premature. Even though the various government-sponsored fisherman organizations have a substantial number of members-it was estimated that by 1977 there were 40,000 fishermen enrolled as members of these organizations or 48 per cent of all fishermen in Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak-there is little participation in their activities and the authorities have assessed that only 14 out of 98 of these organizations could be considered to be active. Until the local-level organizations can function effectively, there seems little use for the national organizational structures that are being created by the authorities.

One of the key problems in the development of Fishermen Associations has remained unchanged since the earliest attempts to build up fishermen co-operatives - the short supply of committed management staff who are sensitive to the aspirations of the fishing community and strong enough to withstand the pressures that will invariably he exerted. Judging from past experience in fisheries and other sectors where active government intervention has taken place, it would require a new breed of managers from those presently available who can meet these exacting requirements and initiate the necessary projects which can enable the associations to function effectively. At the same time, caution must be taken against the opposite tendency of too much bureaucratic control of fisherman organizations. Since a cooperative or producers' organization is by definition a small-scale body comprising members from a specific area who share common benefits, its ideal form is where the community itself is involved in project identification and solution-seeking. Over-management can lead not only to insensitivity to the communnity's needs and the setting up of priorities different from those that the fishermen desire, but can also stifle local initiative and result in a situation of dependency of the fishermen on bureaucrats. The means to establish the correct balance between a lack of management and over-management in such a way that local initiative and participation is stimulated rather than retarded unfortunately still eludes the government. Until this admittedly difficult pre-condition is obtained, cooperative organizations of fishermen or any other impoverished producer community will remain either dormant bodies unable to provide any meaningful service to its members or captive organizations of vested interest groups working for narrow ends.

We have outlined so far the delivery systems through which the authorities are attempting to implement the development programmes aimed at eradicating poverty among small-scale fishermen, an objective promised in the New Economic Policy. In doing this we have briefly considered the developmental activities of Majuikan, the new organization assigned to restructure the fishing industry and improve the livelihood of fishermen, and found it more oriented towards commercial ends than relieving the poverty of small-scale fishermen. At the same time, the various fishermen organizations through which the fishing community was to participate in the new programmes have also been found wanting.

In addition to these measures aimed at the fishing community as a whole, the government has attempted to provide direct assistance to individual small-scale fishermen through the granting of subsidies. The granting of subsidies is not a new idea for helping fishermen, having been used intermittently by the authorities in the past to fund inputs at below market rates and offer fishermen increased access to engines, boats, and nets. It was hoped that this form of direct assistance would increase the incidence of ownership of productive assets among fishermen and therefore their productive capacity. Since non-ownership of the necessary means of production is commonly held to be an important factor forcing the fishermen into a subordinate position with respect to the financier-traders and hence subjecting them to poverty. the subsidy programme was seen as playing a role in helping to free non-owning operators from their bondage to owners of the boats and gear.

The new schemes were initially introduced in 1972 to fishermen in the East Coast as a result of a M$1.5 million allocation under the Second Plan. Initially very generous to the favored few recipients who received gear and engines on a full-grant basis, the level of subsidy was subsequently reduced in 1973 and 1974. As with other government subsidization schemes, the scheme quickly ran into problems of 'political interference and abused (Lawson, 1975: 25). In late 1974 it was suspended with only one-half of the sum set aside having been put to use. However, it was restarted in 1976 with greatly increased funds made available under the Third Plan. The new allocation of M$70 million reflected to some extent the country's extremely favorable fiscal position in the late 1970s which enabled the authorities to inject more money into the depressed peasant agricultural and fishing sectors. At the same time, it was a recognition that the small-scale fisherman community deserved a higher level of public assistance to subsidize their low incomes until such time as development plans for the community began to take effect.

The main application of the scheme has been in the East Coast where, according to government estimates, the distribution of M$142 million worth of subsidies has benefited thousands of fishermen and helped increase production considerably. Between 1976 and 1980, an estimated 15.000 fishermen received subsidies in the form of nets and other equipment whilst 1, 846 were provided subsidized engines. The value of the scheme to recipients is undoubted but whether the subsidies have reached the really needy fishermen is open to question. According to its present regulations, the scheme is available only to bona fide fishermen with Fishermen Association members receiving first priority and members of Fishing Co-operatives, second priority. At the same time, participant fishermen must only operate unpowered fishing boats or boats powered with an engine of less than 45 hp. However, according to field interviews conducted with fishermen in five villages in North-east Malaysia, it is mainly people of influence (who have obtained membership in the various associations and co-operatives in one way or another) or well-to-do fishermen who do not deserve the assistance who are selected to receive the subsidies. As evidence that poor fishermen are not benefiting, it has been pointed out by respondents that according to existing policy, the grant of subsidies is being confined only to engine and boat owners. This has resulted in the exclusion of the poorest fishermen who do not own their own boats or whose boats are in bad condition. The question posed by one boatless fisherman is apt. 'Siapa yang lebih miskin Orang yang memiliki bot atau orang yang hanya ada tenagapenjual tenaga? Bukankah ini satu skim untuk menolong orang yang lebih kaya?' (Who is poorer? Someone who owns a boat or someone who is merely a seller of his labour power? Isn't the scheme only to help people who are more well-to-do?) Another cause of complaint is the rule permitting people who work on the sea for only 90 days a year to qualify for subsidies. According to most interviewees, many part-time fishermen generally have other sources of livelihood such as padi land, dusun (fruitland), or petty businesses and therefore they should not be permitted to apply. One full-time fisherman exclaimed, 'Ninety days in a year is really not fair! They work only one quarter of a year on the sea. And yet they receive assistance.'

Even among the successful applicants interviewed, some dissatisfaction was expressed with regard to the working of the scheme. One common grouse was the length of time said to be required to process applications. Some applicants for prawn nets, for example, alleged that they received the nets only after the prawn season had passed, so that they had to wait for the next season before they could use the subsidized nets. Many instances of unsuitable gear and engines were also reported and some respondents said that the difficulty of getting replacements often compelled them either to underutilize the engines or to sell them off discreetly.

All these problems emphasize the need for the authorities to monitor more closely the progress and effectiveness of the subsidy scheme. However, whilst correction of administrative problems or the weak implementational capacity of the personnel managing the scheme is possible, the problem of preventing domination or monopolization of the scheme by better endowed fishermen with greater economic or political leverage is more difficult. Given the existing unequal access at both local and national levels, it is difficult to be optimistic about the prospect of the subsidy scheme serving the interests of the great masses of poor fishermen. Beyond the question of the equity of subsidy distribution looms the larger one of the resource base which will surely be affected by a drastic increase in technological levels of a large body of fishermen. Thus, it is obvious that subsidies to artisanal fishermen working the inshore zone in the West Coast will result in over-capitalization and bring about a faster rate of diminution of already endangered stocks. In other words, subsidization, beyond a certain stage, is counter-productive and should be regulated not only with welfare considerations in mind but also within the larger matrix or market impact and the availability of fish resources or else it could create more difficulties than it resolves. Because of this, it is necessary that the concept and practice of subsidization should be linked closely to the question of surplus fishermen and its operation cover both retained and displaced fishermen.

5.6 Policy developments in the 1980s

By the early 19805, it had become clear to the government itself that much stronger measures were needed to overcome the problems of over-capitalization and over-exploitation which were affecting the well-being of small-scale fishermen as well as the fisheries resource base. A first step was the introduction of a zoning system in 1981 which reserved the first 5 nmi of inshore waters to traditional fishing gear and the 5-12-nmi zone to Malaysian owner-operated trawlers and pursesciners below 40 gross tonnage. Boats exceeding 40 gross tonnage were permitted to fish only in the 12-30-nmi zone while all foreign and partially Malaysian-owned vessels were limited to waters beyond the thirtieth nautical mile. Besides the allocation of fishing grounds, the also increased the trawl mesh size from 25 mm to 40 mm at the cord end in an attempt to regulate and control the minimum size and weight of fish caught. A moratorium on license issuance for small fishing boats operating in waters within the first 12 nmi was also imposed. Licenses were to be issued only to larger boats capable of operating in waters outside this zone. To deter violation of regulations, the Fisheries Act was amended in 1984 to increase the penalties for illegal trawling in inshore waters (up to M$100,000 for Malaysian vessels and M$1 million for foreign vessels caught infringing the rule).

However, the impact of these new measures has not been entirely to the advantage of small-scale fishermen. The zoning system, for example, has had the effect of eliminating all non owner-operator fishing units from inshore waters, thus discriminating against the poorest group of fishermen-those who do not own their own boats. The effect of the regulations on fishing conflict is also questionable. On the One hand, surveillance is grossly inadequate. With a coastline measuring some 2,899 nmi and a sea area covering 138 700 sq. km (inclusive of the Extended Economic Zone area) to look after, it is not surprising that the two bodies responsible for surveillance-the Department of Fisheries and Marine Police-have had little success. A further disadvantage is that both are poorly co-ordinated and suffer from a shortage of vessels, personnel, and equipment. The result has been blatant violations of the zoning regulation by the trawlers, especially in the stretch between Pangkor Island and Penang. This is also the area of greatest conflict between the trawling and the traditional fishermen. A recent case study of the Penang fishermen reveals that more than half (54 per cent) of them find the trawling ban to be ineffective while 5 per cent of them are not even aware of the ban. Another 21.6 per cent show ignorance of the regulation regarding the minimum mesh size of trawl net (Jahara Yahaya and Tadashi Yamamoto, 1988).

Lack of political support for the well-being of fisheries resources continues to be a major problem in the 19805. There is little political awareness of the problem of depleting marine resources in the country. As such, legal proceedings against violators of the zoning regulations are often met with political interference, as is the implementation of the moratorium on fishing license issuance and the regulation regarding minimum mesh size. The political reality of the country is such that politicians trade political favors for electoral support and such favors include assistance in obtaining fishing licenses and protection against government actions for violations of what they consider to be 'unreasonable' regulations.

It is quite inconceivable that rapid depletion of the marine resources in inshore waters can be arrested through fishing policies alone. Seasonal fluctuations and migratory patterns of the fish stock make the zoning system quite impractical. Moreover, given the scarce information available on the marine resources and resource potential, it is difficult to assess exactly the rate of 'over-fishing' and to decide what is the optimal number of fishing licenses to be issued; how these licenses are to be distributed by types of fishery, gear, and area; or to suggest alternative fishing methods in areas where trawling has been banned.

Despite the new policies, the government is clearly caught in a bind. Its past weak and vacillating policies have permitted trawling together with purse-seining, the other large-scale and capital-intensive technique, to become firmly established as the most important fishing methods in the country. In 1985, the two methods accounted for 2 per cent of total estimated gear and 69 per cent of total fish landings. Despite some evidence of a decline in man/boat ratio over the last ten years and the failure of poorer inshore fishermen to participate, the labour-absorbing capacity of the two methods has been considerable and in 1986 they provided employment to about 20,179 fishermen or 37 per cent of the total labour force in fisheries in the peninsula. Whatever the merits of the claim of small-scale fishermen that their livelihoods have been adversely affected by trawler fishing, it has been argued that to ban trawling altogether would not serve the overall national interests. Too much capital, human resources and skills have been invested which, if ejected by a drastic policy reversal, would not only flood the labour market with a large number of unemployed young men but would also result in a substantial decline in production, affecting the poorest consumers in the country for whom fish is still the cheapest and main source of protein. However, to permit trawler fishing to continue in its present form and at the prevailing intensity of operations runs the risk of a more serious and rapid rundown in already depleted fish stocks, aggravating the economic plight of inshore fishermen and causing even more widespread social distress. The latter two considerations deserve as much attention as trawler fishing's contribution to production and steps should be taken to minimize the heavy social and ecological price that is being currently paid for its development. Measures such as quicker phasing out of licenses, effective restriction of trawlers to certain waters, confiscation of offending trawler boats, increased charges on trawler gear and boats to discourage new contrants; all are immediately necessary but require a degree of administrative firmness and political will which the government has up to the late 1980S not shown itself capable of exerting.

5.7 Conclusion

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.


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