Understanding the fishers to change the fishery: who is involved in bottom trawl fisheries in Asia, and why?

Roshni Mangar is assessing the human aspect of the bottom trawling industry and delving into the motivations of its workers.

Non-selective fishing gear, such as bottom trawls, is one of the most destructive fishing methods used globally, responsible for 60% (437 million tons) of wasted fish in industrial fisheries.1 Bottom trawling causes ecological damage, effectively clear-cutting our oceans. The situation is now so dire that in many countries, the bottom trawl industry is now in the phase of biomass trawling, also termed “annihilation trawling”, when the ultimate target of the fishery is all life.2 3

Roshni’s work focuses on Asia, specifically India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The Asia-Pacific is the largest fish producer globally, primarily because of the contributions from trawling. Depending on the country in Asia, trawling can account for 25% to 52% of the catch.4 5 While trawling may provide a good bounty, its detrimental ecological effects will affect the food security of many nations in the future, if not already.

While the obvious solution seems to be to ban bottom trawling, policymakers are often hesitant because they are confronted with conflicting social, environmental, and economic objectives.6 To address these objectives, policymakers have implemented a variety of regulations, most of which have had minimal effect. This project suggests an innovative way to approach these conflicting objectives by understanding the history, identity, affinity, and motivations of the workers in the trawling industry. This information will allow us to provide a more comprehensive array of solutions when addressing bottom trawling.

Project Details

An innovative approach to reducing the bottom trawling capacity is to understand the motivations, history and affinity of the crew/workers/captain to the industry. If we can understand the reasons behind individuals joining the industry, we can address the excess fishing effort issue by focusing resources on the motivations, such as relieving people of ancestral debt or aiding with occupational hazards. This strategy would allow policymakers to focus resources on the “known” or “typical” motivations and address the labour force before they enter the bottom trawling industry.  Further, it would bring trawl fisheries in line with other occupations, where workers displaced by a policy change need help but are not treated as a sacred reserved group.

Past project: Why did fishers start, stay and stop bottom trawling in India?

This study analysed the human dependency on bottom trawling as a necessary precursor to constraining its impact. Bottom trawling involves dragging a weighted net along the seabed, catching and/or damaging most organisms in its path. A highly destructive fishing method, bottom trawling, compromises artisanal and small-scale fisheries, diminishes food security, and is associated with human rights violations and conflicts. This study focused on India, where, by 1979, 79% of total landings by trawls that targeted shrimp were already unintended catches. When considering limits on bottom trawling, conflicting economic, social, and environmental imperatives often challenge decision-makers.

A systematic literature review was used to understand fishers’ motivations to Start, Stay in, and Stop bottom trawling. This revealed that the fishery and fishers chose to begin bottom trawling and remain in the industry primarily because of offers of subsidies, potentially better income, and likely profits. Bottom trawling persisted despite declining resources because of (i) industries’ capacity to exert power, which allowed them to extend a sunset business, and (ii) poor enforcement of regulations that should have constrained trawling. This research underlined the entrenched nature of the trawl industry, where fishers were trapped because of accumulated debt to people higher in the trade. Fishers stopped trawling when constrained by regulations, resource depletion, and low financial returns. Fishers’ motivations to participate in bottom trawling varied according to their role in the trawl industry, with owners often reaping more benefits from trawling than the crew. The results will be valuable in determining how best to constrain bottom trawling effectively.

Current Project: Why did fishers start, stay and stop bottom trawling in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia?

In this study, we are shifting the focus to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
We are currently wrapping up the project.

Further reading

  1. Cashion, T., Al-Abdulrazzak, D., Belhabib, D., Derrick, B., Divovich, E., Moutopoulos, D. K., … Pauly, D. (2018). Reconstructing global marine fishing gear use: Catches and landed values by gear type and sector. Fisheries Research, 206(January), 57–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2018.04.010
  2. Project Seahorse, 2017. Target our Take
  3. Gupta, T., Manuel, M., Manoharakrishnan, M., Namboothri, N., & Shanker, K. (2019). Conservation and livelihood implications of trawler bycatch: Towards improved management. The Journal of Governance, (January), 55–63
  4. Funge-Smith, S., Briggs, M., & Miao, W. (2012). Regional overview of fisheries and aquaculture in Asia and the Pacific 2012.
  5. Leadbitter, D. (2019). Driving change in Southeast Asian trawl fisheries, fishmeal supply and aquafeed. (March 2019), 1–12. Retrieved from http://www.iffo.net/system/files/IFFO-GAA study infographic.pdf
  6. McConnaughey, R. A., Hiddink, J. G., Jennings, S., Pitcher, C. R., Kaiser, M. J., Suuronen, P., … Hilborn, R. (2019). Choosing best practices for managing impacts of trawl fishing on seabed habitats and biota. Fish and Fisheries, 21(2), 319–337. https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12431

[Updated 10 May 2024]