Developing small-scale fisheries

Interview with Malcolm Dickson, expert for Module 4 of the SFP Programme

SFP info: Could you start by explaining in general terms your contribution to the SFP Programme’s activities on small-scale fisheries environment?

Malcolm Dickson: The SFP Programme aims to support ACP countries in finding more opportunities to export fish products to the EU. In the case of small-scale fisheries, often the health and safety control is not high enough to meet EU standards, and in many cases the fish quality itself can be poor because of degradation before reaching the processing factories. So, we are trying to improve food safety (for human consumption), and the quality of the fish catch, by improving basic measures such as hygiene on canoes, avoiding fuel contamination, boxing of fish on ice, etc. For example, I’ve just been on mission in Ghana for 3 weeks, where 60-70% of all fish sold are from small-scale fisheries and most are sold nationally and regionally. In principle, the training required to improve hygiene and quality is simple, but the only way to deliver it efficiently in practice is to use community-level and national fishing organisations. In Ghana such organisations already exist, whether communitybased fisheries management committees or fishing cooperatives, larger organisations such as the Ghana Inshore Fisheries Association, or at the national government level, the Ghana Fisheries Commission. By contrast, in Liberia, where I am going next, these organisations hardly exist, so the focus of the mission will be to help set them up.

SFP info: Do such interventions or training/organisational skills development missions meet with much resistance or are fishermen keen to learn ways of Improvement?

Malcolm Dickson: There is not so much resistance as a lack of incentives. People need to be able to see that there is a problem with the way they are doing things currently. For example, even when delivering better quality fish the fishermen don’t see any difference in price. Exporting to Europe means becoming part of a complex processing/value chain, while a high domestic demand for fish of any quality means that all the fish get sold whether they are high quality or not. But, in the medium to long term, if such fishing communities could export their products there would be a big difference in the economic benefits. Furthermore, any improvement in the quality of fish sold, even domestically, is a good thing in terms of development.

SFP info: What kind of organisation is needed for this and how should they be set up?

Malcolm Dickson: The challenge is similar to the setting up of any group. They need to be set up in the right way, with democracy, accountability and leadership as the key concepts. Sometimes fishery and community organisations have already been set up but are not functioning well because they are ignoring some basic principles. For example, if a community group does not set up a bank account it will have no savings and be dependent on short-term project funding. In Ghana, some are working well, but there is room for improvement in most cases. For example, it was apparent that some communitybased fisheries management committees need to operate with more accountability to their members and have better representation at regional and national levels. The skills development we are promoting needs to point out such problems, and propose solutions and possibilities. In the workshops recently organised in Ghana, we encouraged participants to compare their organisations and allow them to draw their own conclusions about what should be done. But political concerns and conflicting interests mean there is no quick and easy fix. Even where organisations do function well, like the Ghana Inshore Fisheries Association, shortage of money is a recurrent problem. Organisations like this cannot run on nothing, but many are trying at the moment. How to finance activities is therefore a key issue, so the training included business planning skills so they could look at raising finance for commercial projects such as small fish processing organisations that would be able to export.

SFP info: What is the situation of Ghanaian exports at the moment?

Malcolm Dickson: In Ghana, the main export is Tuna but this is dominated by big privately-owned processing plants with little opportunity for small-scale suppliers. Some of the larger fishing canoes are part of joint-ventures with foreign businesses, however. The path to export to the EU market is difficult, and in some cases unrealistic. Ghana imports large quantities of fish and fish products and many Ghanaian fishermen report dwindling stocks being a problem. However, there is more commercial interest in exporting line-caught fish and particular species (e.g. snapper), as well as smoked fish. In general, there is more interest where there is a potential to get a premium on price.

SFP info: How should the work continue - what happens next?

Malcolm Dickson: Small-scale fisheries need more and continued support to improve what they’re doing now and to keep developing their skills. In Ghana, public bodies, such as the Fisheries Commission and umbrella organisations such as national fisheries associations, have a role to play in sustaining community groups; providing more training and facilitation skills, thus helping to build better relationships between fishermen and their organisations. The aim should be to help fisheries organisations to help themselves. I will be in Liberia next week. They have more basic needs so we will be using the manual already prepared by the SFP Programme: ‘Improved Planning and Management of Artisanal Fisheries Organisations’ (ART025GEN). Of course, we adapt training to the needs of local organisations, engaging people by using interactive workshop exercises. We talk about other organisations and allow people to find their own solutions to the challenges they are facing. In such cases we can show that quite simple measures can help the sustainability of community organisations: groups with bank accounts and savings tend to hold together better. It also helps if groups are confronting specific common problems: organisations first set up to fight against illegal fishing have tended to hold together better. We look forward to being able to transfer some of these lessons learned from experience to new organisations in the future.