| Co-Operatives In Natural Resources Management Workshop report 10 |
There were four case-studies on marine fisheries co-operatives presented at the Workshop. Nair and Singh (1992) presented an overview of the organisation structure, management practices, business operations, performance and problems of two marine fisheries co-operatives in Kerala. The study shows that modernisation has led to over-capitalisation and over-exploitation of the marine resources. As a result, small-scale artisanal fishermen have become worse-off, a phenomenon similar to the depeasantisation and pauperisation observed in the wake of agricultural modernisation in the Green Revolution areas. Hence the study cautions against indiscriminate increase in the number of motorised fishing boats which is an important contributor to exploitation beyond a sustainable limit.
The study also calls for a re-examination of the social desirability of new technology and the rationale of government subsidy to promote technology adoption. The modernisation programmes were introduced, in the first place, to improve the living standards of fishermen. The strategy adopted was to encourage fishermen to adopt better technology and thereby to improve their well-being. But the result, the study shows, has been counter-intentional: the lot of more of the fishermen has deteriorated. Hence the authors question the very strategy adopted, and make a strong plea for a more judicious exploitation and responsible management of the marine fisheries in the interest of millions of poor fishermen.
On the other hand, the study recommends stronger forward linkages in marketing, processing and even exporting. However, there is need to set export targets that are consistent with judicious exploitation of marine fisheries. This is so because once an expensive modern processing plant is set up or a valuable export contract is obtained the compulsion to ensure financial viability or to meet the export target will make restraining from over-exploitation much more difficult. Similar compulsions on the part of the sugar co-operatives in Maharashtra have led to serious depletion of groundwater resources as the demand made on the scarce resource — water — by increased cultivation of sugarcane is very high. The study also draws attention to another common problem encountered by development agencies: co-operation among co-operatives. In the present case the involvement of both MATSYAFED and SIFFS in the same villages does not seem to have been beneficial to the population which both profess to promote.
The case-study of two fishermen’s societies in south west Kerala by Balakrishnan, Singh and Das (1992) reaches an identical conclusion. Bhatt’s (1992) study of fishery co-operatives in Dakshin Kannada district of Karnataka examines how fisheries co-operatives had grown more rapidly in the highly developed port fish market centres characterised by capital intensive fishing, centralised landings, oligopsonistic market structures and a high degree of market concentration. Here too, while co-operatives helped fishermen to raise their resources, they were unable to lead to better and more sustainable ‘management’ of the fisheries themselves. The case-study of marine fisheries co-operatives in West Bengal by Rahim and Singh (1992) describes the three-tier co-operative structure prevalent there. The study points out that while primary co-operatives made marginal profits, the central society lost heavily; that the elected boards have been marginalised and the co-operative has been bureaucratised. Once again, while these co-operatives have secured for their members fishing rights, they have done precious little to manage the fisheries resources.
To sum up, all the three case-studies presented revealed that all the members were all interested in developing and exploiting the natural CPR (fisheries) and not so much in sustainable management of the resources involved.
Many studies have been conducted on marine fisheries in both developing and developed countries of the world. For example, Berkes (1986: 218-229) studied the local level management of the Tasucu Bay fishery located on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. He found that all the fishermen living in the region constituted a homogeneous group and were members of a co-operative. It served several purposes, namely, fighting off competing users, provision of financial assistance to its members, control of the type of fishing technology used in the bay, and marketing of the fishermen’s catch. The author judges the co-operative to be a successful one having no problems of over use or pollution. Similarly, in another study of a fishermen’s co-operative in Ebibara community in Japan, Brameld (1968) found that the co-operative had proprietary rights on nearby fishing grounds granted by the Japanese government that also regulated the types of gear to be used. The co-operative established most of the other regulations, provided services such as credit and cold storage, encouraged techniques, and lobbied for its members’ interests with other fishermen’s co-operatives and the government. It was also found that the enforcement of regulations was weak and that the fishermen regularly used illegal fishing methods, especially during the "off season" when catches are small.
A few cases of failures of fishing co-operatives have also been reported in the literature. For example, Sabella (1980) documents a case of failure of a fishing co-operative in Peru. The author argues that the traditions of independent ownership, the familial organisation of fishing and the intra-village solidarity obtaining in the region conflicted with co-operative’s organisation and ideology: concepts such as collective ownership of boats and equipment, and sharing of wealth by all members ran counter to their understanding of personal initiative and raised fears of free-riders.
To conclude this section, we may say that there are many issues in the co-operative management of fisheries that are not yet adequately researched. They include: a) conditions under which fishermen come together on their own initiative and organise themselves into co-operatives; b) conditions under which fishing co-operatives can attain economic viability and become self-sustaining without any external support; c) how co-operatives can acquire and maintain exclusive rights to fisheries falling in their jurisdiction; d) how to reconcile the conflicting interests and claims of members using traditional craft and gear, and those using mechanised craft and gear; e) how to ensure equitable access to fish stocks and equitable distribution of benefits from the catch; and f) how to ensure fair and remunerative prices to members and retain their loyalty to the co-operatives.