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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The economic viability of small-scale fisheries Schuhbauer, Anna Christina


Small-scale fisheries (SSF) provide food and jobs for millions of people worldwide and therefore contribute to the wellbeing of many coastal communities. However, there is concern that the benefits they generate may dwindle to nothing because they are currently threatened by overfishing, climate change, industrialization and global market shifts. SSF are politically and economically marginalized as well as understudied. I argue that understanding the economic viability of SSF will help address these challenges. Currently, the definition of economic viability is incoherent and often equated with financial viability, where profitability is the sole goal. However, SSF are complex dynamic systems whose goal is not always only profit but also social wellbeing and the maintenance of livelihoods play essential roles. Therefore, I define economic viability as the achievement of non-negative net benefits to society over time. Here I determine the difference between financial and economic viability as the distortion created by the provision of fisheries subsidies. Therefore, I carried out a first global bottom-up assessment that splits subsidy amounts into those received by small- and large-scale fisheries. My analysis suggests that only 16% of global subsidies reach SSF despite their global importance. This disproportionate division of subsidies impairs the economic viability of already vulnerable SSF. Next I compute what I denote as basic economic viability of SSF using Mexican fisheries as an example. Results suggest that decreasing fishing effort, reducing capacity-enhancing subsidies and improving monitoring and management can lead to increased economic viability of SSF. To understand the underlying dynamics of economic viability, I extended the economic viability approach and included assessments of economic impacts, employment and food security aspects into the study. Taking these attributes into account, results indicate that SSF are more important to society and have a more positive prognosis for economic viability than their large-scale counterparts. These findings are relevant, not only for Mexican SSF but for SSF worldwide. The results help bridge the current knowledge gap in SSF research essential to policy making and management that would not only improve economic viability but also the sustainability of the fish stocks upon which they rely.

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