The World Bank’s Jobs and Economic Transformation (JET) agenda supports creating more and better jobs in lower and middle-income countries, including recognizing positive labor externalities. Fisheries fall into this category because they can help maintain jobs and incomes by absorbing some excess unskilled labor and providing a safety net for vulnerable households. As part of a recent Learning Engagement, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) and the Jobs Group of the World Bank collaborated to review existing evidence as a means of identifying ways to maximize potential job benefits in capture fisheries projects, The findings from the collaboration were captured in a Learning Engagement Note, written by John Virdin, and are summarized below.

The JET fisheries agenda focuses on small-scale fishery value chains, where approximately 90 percent of the world’s fisheries jobs are found. World Bank fisheries sector projects can be categorized as:

  • Small-scale fisheries (including inland fisheries).
  • Mixed fisheries, where industrial and small-scale operators compete for resources and/or operate in overlapping ocean space; and
  • Large-scale and industrial fisheries, typically farther off tropical coasts, mostly targeting tuna.

Most of fishery resources are fully or overexploited (though there is an important difference between these two categories), and any interventions to create more and better jobs should be accompanied or preceded by strengthened fisheries management to prevent or reduce overexploitation. For small-scale fisheries, types of interventions aiming to affect jobs outcomes typically follow a sequence:

  • Empowerment of vulnerable and marginalized fishers and fishworkers who participate in the fishery as the first priority, in terms of the types of formal rights that fishers and fishworkers have (and a prerequisite to fishers engaging in collective action or institutional frameworks to manage the fisheries and help solve the commons problem).
  • Strengthened fisheries management to solve the commons problem and increase the resource rent generated (and potentially captured and reinvested for poverty reduction), aiming to maintain access to the resources for vulnerable fishers and fishworkers (particularly occasional and part-time workers). This can include provisions, for example, that maintain access for subsistence or low-impact fishing.
  • Market expansion and value chain enhancement, noting that this traditional channel will only sustainably accelerate labor productivity within the fisheries sector if the commons problem is solved through strengthened fisheries management (otherwise higher unit prices and profits lead to increased fishing effort and mortality, and subsequently lower resource productivity).

A number of recent World Bank projects provide useful examples of applying JET principles to the fisheries sector by:

  • Limiting or reducing industrial fishing effort in mixed fisheries;
  • Sequencing investment to enhance value chains and expand markets after fisheries management improvements; and/or
  • Addressing broader vulnerability of small-scale fishers and fish-workers before, as part of strengthening fisheries management, including supporting alternative livelihoods to fishing.

For example, the Bangladesh Sustainable Coastal and Marine Fisheries Project combines fisheries management with support for alternative livelihoods, explicitly linking drivers of fishing behavior to rural poverty. It carefully sequences fisheries management interventions with those aiming to enhance the value chain. Similarly, the Kenya Marine Fisheries and Socio-Economic Development Project aims “to improve management of priority fisheries and mariculture and increase access to complementary livelihood activities in coastal communities”. 

Policy implications

Taking into account fisheries’ vulnerabilities, a key question for design of potential interventions along the above sequence is: to what extent do the fisheries function as a labor buffer and safety net, compared to their potential to sustainably generate rent?

Figure 1. Increasing labor productivity VS maintaining fisheries as a safety net

Sometimes reducing industrial fishing effort is required. For those “mixed” fisheries and fishing grounds in the tropics, where both small-scale and industrial fishers compete for fish resources, labor productivity can be advanced by reducing industrial fishing effort and mortality while securing access for small-scale operators. Where the industrial operations do not contribute to domestic value chains—for example, landing and processing locally—the jobs benefits may be minimal unless public revenues received for access are reinvested into job creation.

Look to reinvest fisheries rents charged to industrial operators to strengthen the local sub-sector. Tropical fisheries solely harvested by industrial operators—often foreign-registered—may be less relevant to JET objectives if the post-harvest sub-sector is not currently competitive in the beneficiary country. Interventions may instead focus on measures to help optimize rents coastal state governments collect over time and their reinvestment to support job creation in other sectors. Alternatively, rents could be exchanged for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the post-harvest sub-sector; for example, to enhance competitiveness of the sub-sector by reducing access fees for fleets owned by companies investing in processing facilities.

Look to the World Bank’s wider experience on social protection to assist fisheries projects. One of the hardest questions for the design of fisheries projects from a JET perspective is how to support alternative livelihoods for fishers and fish-workers. The World Bank’s wide experience on social protection outside of the fisheries sector could be a valuable resource to support current fisheries’ project implementation and future design.

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