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Perceptions matter: how fishermen's perceptions affect trends of sustainability in Indian fisheries

Karnad, Divya, Gangal, Mayuresh, Karanth, Krithi K.
Oryx 2014 v.48 no.2 pp. 218-227
bycatch, fish, fishermen, issues and policy, livelihood, marine fisheries, models, sustainable fisheries, India
Indian marine fisheries have expanded four-fold in the last 50 years in the form of open-access commons. Although studies predict that fish stocks are on the decline there is little evidence that these declines are being countered by changes in either fishing regulations or fishing practices. Fishermen rarely comply with regulations, instead operationalizing and directing the fishery on their own. In these circumstances understanding how fishermen perceive and use resources has significant management and policy implications. Our study examined fishermen's perceptions about the state of fish stocks and documents current fishing practice and management strategies in India. We surveyed 342 fishermen in two states, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. We found that 86% of fishermen perceived a decline in catch and 69% perceived a decline in bycatch. Fishermen adapt to these declines by increasing fishing area and time spent, changing their gear, and overlapping in fishing zones. The convoluted interactions between ineffective community and state regulations guiding their actions has prevented fishermen from developing successful models of sustainable fisheries management. We identified non-compliance with regulations and government incentives as an important livelihood opportunity. Non-compliance drives change in fishing practice by giving fishermen the flexibility to respond to perceived fish catch dynamics by modifying their practices. We recommend strengthening local fishing communities by enabling them to enforce fishing regulations locally and by scaling back of existing government incentives, to protect the sustainability of these fisheries.