Defining Scale in Fisheries: Small versus Large-scale Fishing Operations in the Azores

In the North Atlantic, both large- and small-scale fishing operations of the Azorean fishing fleet compete for the same limited resources, fishing grounds, and markets via in the coexistence of both large- and small-scale fishing operations.  These two sectors are very different in the scale of operation, employment generation, and degree of capital intensity and investment.  However, there is much debate over what exactly is large- and small-scale because there is no universal definition for these types of operations nor are there boundaries where one sector ends and the other beings.  These two sectors were compared using policy-relevant data so as to better understand the socio-economic importance, as well as develop future policies based upon a more holistic and ecosystem approach to fisheries management.  This comparison of the Azorean fleets showed that the small-scale fisheries were more sustainable overall because of their using less energy, providing more jobs to the community, and supplying fresher food for human consumption with a higher landed value. 
Carvalho, N., Edwards-Jones, G., Isidro E. 2011. Defining scale in fisheries: Small versus large-scale fishing operations in the Azores. Fisheries Research 109, 360–369. 

          There is long-standing assumption that large-scale fisheries are more economical.  However, due to declining world catches and fleet over-capacity and overcapitalization it is clear that new policies and strategies are needed.  The small-scale fishery was largely ignored in economic calculuations as it was seen as being inefficient and retrogressive and likely to gradually disappear as large-scale fishing expanded.  However, small-scale fisheries have withstood and even flourished despite longstanding marginalization.  Many studies show that small-scale fisheries are, in fact, sustainable resources which ensure sound policies of employment, income distribution, energy consumption, and product quality.  Small-scale fisheries account for anything between one-half to three-quarters of global fish production and employ 50 of the 51 million fishermen.
          However, these types of fisheries are poorly documented and provide no insight into future policy largely because there is no uniform structure to the definition of “small-scale”.  Each individual fishery and community is unique and distinct from others and there are numerous ways to divide fishing fleets into separate sectors.  A study was conducted to define the commercial fishing fleet in Azores as small or large using the socially-constructed definition.  This included surveys to acquire socio-economic data for the year 2005, surveying vessel owners/skippers, crew members, and auction buyers, resulting in survey of at least 41% of the active fishing vessel population.  This compared policy-relevant socioeconomic and environmental parameters, such as revenue, employment, by-catch and discards, and fuel consumption. 
          The first aspect of this survey defined small- and large-scale fleets using three main steps: (1) define the fishery as gear type/vessel size combination, (2) list gear type/vessel size combinations with their corresponding catch capacity, and (3) develop a cumulative percentage distribution of landed weight.  The small- and large-scale is then determined by 50% cut-off of cumulative landed value.  When more than one type of gear was used the prevalent gear (responsible for more than 80% of the landings) were used. 
          The study was based on the active use of 666 vessels, 2,160 fishermen, and live bait captures reaching almost 180 tonnes.  The final cut-off point reached 51.6%, corresponding to 63.3% cumulative landed value.  The Azorean fleet is traditionally known as a small-scale and sustainable fishery which has replaced larger commercial fisheries.  However, it is multi-segmented, targeting multiple species with a wide range of gears and currently exploits 50–60 of the 500 fish species within the ecosystem.  More than 90% of the fleet comprises vessels less than 12 meters in length, 25% of which were non-motorized.  Thus, the small-scale fishing fleet is dominated by small, old, wooden vessels of low power that on average use 31kW and weight 3.2 tonnes. 
          The small-scale sector encompasses 90% of the fishing fleet and employs almost three times more fishermen than its counterpart.  It is also less fuel-intensive, consuming half as much fuel per tonne of fish landed, and achieves a higher landed value per tonne.  The crew, having smaller landings, also has more time to clean and prepare fish for favorable presentation, fetching higher prices.  The average wage of the crew is higher than the minimum wage of alternative employment, however, it is still €250 less for employees of large-scale fisheries.
          Thus, small-scale fisheries have the potential to be profitable activities in coastal communities.  Not only do they employ more individuals in the North Atlantic, they meet more policy goals, such as catching fish for direct human consumption and deriving a higher economic value from each tonne of fish landed.  These fisheries can also maintain marginalized markets, depending less upon foreign and expensive sources of oil. 
          But there is not as much information about the economics of small-scale fisheries as needed for a full analysis.  They should become a top priority in development and research.  At the moment they serve as legitimate sources of income, employment, and food security, and development strategies should be encouraged to create synergistic effects between large- and small-scale fisheries.

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