May 2015

Fishy Tales

Posted by / in B4Blessing News / 1 comment

A friend of mine returned recently from a trip to eastern Indonesia and when I asked him what the highlight was he replied “buying fresh fish cheaply!” In many parts of South East Asia small-scale fishers sell their catches directly on the beach. Without adequate cold storage what else can they do but accept the low price they are offered? This puts them at the mercy of fish traders and limits their potential for increasing profits through processing. In my research amongst poor fishing communities one of the surest pathways from poverty to prosperity has been for fishermen, and their families, to take the step of processing and selling their own catch. Getting the few hundred dollars needed to buy equipment to dry and salt the fish has doubled their daily income and enabled them to be less vulnerable to fluctuating prices. Having fishermen’s wives making simple snacks from what is grown and caught locally brings another string to their bow, a further source of diversity, so that when bad weather hits and going to sea is not an option they still have an income. Throughout South East Asia this occupational multiplicity is the key to resilient livelihoods. Harnessing existing entrepreneurship and creativity needs to be one of the foundations of livelihood improvement initiatives in poor coastal communities. This means tapping into regional and international markets not only with fresh fish but with higher value added products. But with these markets come the requirement of quality assurance and hygienic production, and many small-scale fishers are still a long way from this.

The challenges of poverty in fishing communities are many and varied. Low education, few realistic alternatives outside of the catching sector, being unable to access credit, declining catches, vulnerability to natural disasters, habitat degradation, large families and a lack of vision for a better future are just some of the hurdles that fishers have to overcome. In the face of these, personal hygiene and ensuring both the quality and cleanliness of the catch have not always been a top priority for fishermen and processors. Indeed, many fishing villages lack basic sanitation and there have been a number of initiatives to improve this. Sometimes I visit fishing villages where a well meaning individual or organization has built toilets for the whole community to use. Yet they remain unused because people are more comfortable carrying on using the ‘natural facilities’ they are use to! But as consumer awareness grows about the need for clean food production those fishermen and processors may find it difficult to source buyers unless they can demonstrate operational cleanliness. Actually this context is ripe for a win-win situation. If fish buyers were willing to pay ‘top dollar’ for quality assured fresh and hygienically processed fish there would be a big financial incentive for villages to improve cleanliness. This would improve profits; yet have the spin off of improving sanitation and reducing disease, which are essential for healthy families. Fishermen and small processing operations aren’t going to be able to get there on their own. They are going to need financial capital, the ‘know-how’ to grow their business in a clean way, access to markets that will improve their incomes and, crucially, the willingness to not just do what they have always done but to try new things.

The Author is a research fellow specializing in poverty and improving livelihoods amongst coastal communities in South East Asia.

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1 comment
  • Lim Tai Toon

    May 14, 2015, pm31 11:29 PM

    Thank you for sharing the observation. So what are the cold storage solutions out there for these fishermen?

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