Nikki den Boon tackles socio-economic issues in Indonesia’s bait fishery

This research proposal aims to map the socio-economic conditions of the pole-and-line’s associated bait fishery in the North-Sulawesi province. It is unknown what these artisanal fisheries are faced with under the increased Western demand for pole-and-line tuna products. These impacts can either benefit or negatively affect these communities. The sustainable livelihoods framework will be used as a tool to assess the socio-economic conditions.

The Western demand for pole-and-line tuna is expected to increase considerably, while the Indonesian pole-and-line fisheries have been in decline. The feasibility of securing enough raw material for pole-and-line tuna products is thus hampered by limited pole-and-line activity. The availability of bait appears to be the main resource factor that limits pole-and-line expansion (Gillet, 2011b; Seaman, 2014), given that the target species, skipjack, remains relatively healthy. Recent research is now focused on finding alternative bait supplies, e.g. through milkfish culture, to increase the pole-and-line productivity. However, while there is quite a lot information on the pole-and-line’s advantages of creating social and ecological benefits, there has been limited research on the effect that bait fishery practices have on the communities that supply the baitfish. A possible effect that gets mentioned occasionally, is that there might be competition between baitfish and food provision for local communities (Gillet, 2014; ISSF, 2009); Gillet even notes in his survey that baitfish consumption has increased in the last few decades. If it is the case that increasing pole-and-line activity results in competition for food availability, the increased Western demand may negatively affect baiting communities. Worst case scenarios may entail starvation, malnutrition and/or deprivation of the poorer people in the baiting communities due to increased baitfish prices or by simply having inadequate amounts of fish. Thereby, satisfying the market demand will likely lead to inequitable distribution of benefits, resulting in skewed relations within the communities as some people might be benefitting more than others. Globally, this may mean that while the Western world secures their demand for “sustainable” canned tuna, local communities are suffering the consequences.

In contrast, the growing Western demand could also have a beneficial effect on baiting communities. Increased pole-and-line activities might lead to more employment opportunities in fishing communities, thus positively influencing livelihoods and increasing welfare. This way, the growing demand would contribute to ensuring better lives for local communities through jobs, whilst at the same the Western demands are met. Nevertheless, since it is unknown how the increased demand of pole-and-line products will affect the baiting communities, any actions on increasing pole-and-line productivity should be taken with careful consideration. Promotion of pole-and-line practices, or replacement of wild caught baitfish with cultured baitfish could pose serious implications for these communities. And as these bait supplying communities are positioned at the beginning of the pole-and-line value chain, by providing input material for the pole-and-line fishery, such implications would undermine the positive values that pole-and-line branch aims to represent; ultimately resulting in serious consequences throughout the whole pole-and-line value chain and market. Gaining a better understanding of the effects of bait fishing on the socio-economic conditions of bait supplying communities is therefore crucially important. By assessing the social and economic conditions surrounding bait fisheries, and gaining a better understanding on how communities deal with their fishery, an attempt can be made to identify the effects and key issues these communities are faced with under increasing market demands.

With generous funding from the International Pole and Line Foundation