Both traditional 'top-down' MSY-based fisheries management, and the newer co-management approaches do not adequately address the issue of stock fluctuations and fishers' responses to these. Usually, management aims to smooth out these fluctuations, which may be achievable for some fisheries. However, where fluctuations are driven more by environmental variations than by the impact of fishing effort, existing management may not be appropriate for achieving income or food security for subsistence and small-scale artisanal fishers reliant on these stocks.
Most previous research on fluctuating stocks has been targeted at understanding the mechanisms causing fluctuations (eg, environmental factors and fish recruitment processes). There has been a lack of studies of the responses of fishers to stock fluctuations, and how management may support their livelihoods.
The project used a three-tiered approach in order to identify appropriate management regimes for fluctuating fisheries. The first component was an analysis of fish catch and stock biomass time series from 51 fish stocks, in order to determine patterns and extent of variability, with a view to characterising the different types of fluctuating stocks.
The second component was a detailed livelihoods study of three fishing communities in each of Malawi and Indonesia. Household surveys, supplemented by focus-group interviews were used to determine the relationship between assets and livelihood outcomes, and fishers' responses to fluctuating pelagic fisheries.
The third component was the development of bioeconomic models, parameterised with data from the livelihoods analysis, in order to assess the effects of different management strategies on fluctuating resources.
The project demonstrated that conventional MSY-based fisheries management is unlikely to obtain optimum sustainable yield from fluctuating fisheries.
From the analysis of time series data, it was found that the fisheries being studied fluctuated extensively, and cannot be treated as equilibrial. Patterns of fluctuations are not closely related to biological features, refuting the belief that small, fast-growing fish support more variable fisheries. A simple typology of fisheries was therefore considered inappropriate.
The livelihoods studies showed that the small-scale fishers dependent on fluctuating resources in Malawi and Indonesia exhibit a mixture of adaptive strategies, including mobility and diversification.
The bioeconomic analysis indicated that precautionary management of highly variable stocks may not be appropriate, as this did not decrease the likelihood of stock collapse, but did decrease long-term yields, which would clearly have a large impact on fishing communities.
Together, the findings suggest that community-based management should support fishers' existing adaptive strategies, rather than be based on idealised community or territory-based management.
In addition to the research outputs above, the project also successfully developed and tested a 'livelihoods research methodology' (see Annex 3 of FTR in Publications). It built both capacity of the project partners, and wider awareness of the utility of using a livelihoods approach for fisheries policy-making.