The role of gender in the reduction of fishing effort in the coastal Philippines

James F. Eder

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


A principal aim of coastal resource management (CRM) projects and related conservationist interventions is to reduce pressure on fish stocks by curtailing destructive fishing practices and establishing marine protected areas to allow fish stocks to recover. In the Philippines, the record of such projects has been mixed. One recent study of the nation's more than 400 marine protected areas concluded that only about 20-25 percent have successfully achieved their objectives (Pollnac et al. 2001, p. 694). One important reason for project failure has been the lack of alternative income-generating activities for fishermen whose fishing incomes suffer due to CRM project measures and who are consequently reluctant to cooperate with project implementers and their goals. Repeatedly, CRM project managers and outside observers have concluded that CRM efforts require proportionately greater attention to livelihood issues than they have received in the past. Reflecting on the CRM project he studied in Saint Lucia, Yves Renard (2005, p. 175) observed that "dominant approaches in coastal resource management, in the Caribbean as in many other parts of the developing world, are concerned primarily with resource conservation, resource use control and conflict management. One of the lessons of this project is that local institutional arrangements need to give far greater attention to economic aspects, with a focus on poverty reduction and equity issues." In the Philippines, the ambitious, US Agency for International Development- funded Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP), which had one of its six learning sites at the same locale in which I conducted my own research, reached a similar conclusion. According to its completion report, among the major lessons learned from the project's experience was that CRM programs needed to directly address poverty issues: "The argument that CRM will in the long term provide greater economic benefits to resource users than current unsustainable practices is lame against the backdrop of hand-to- mouth poverty. Marginal fishermen who are asked to stop destructive fishing must be assured of livelihood assistance that will allow them to 'survive' low yields and income for as long as it takes fishery stocks and habitats to recover their productivity" (CRMP 2004, p. 111). Indeed, one of the most effective measures to relieve pressure on fish stocks and better manage coastal resources may be to devote more effort and resources to developing new income sources and alternative livelihoods for coastal residents (White et al. 2005). Many CRM projects do feature an "alternative livelihood" component, but this component is often of a limited or showcase nature. At least in the Philippines, the particular economic activities proposed are wage work and intended primarily for women. The reasoning is understandable. Women in Philippine fishing communities badly need income-earning opportunities, and whatever CRM projects may offer women in this regard is intended to offset the income lost to men due to depletion of fish stocks or conservation-inspired restrictions on fishing activities. In practice, however, at least in my own observations, the additional household income afforded by alternative livelihood programs does not significantly reduce male fishing effort. This chapter considers what form alternative livelihood programs for fishermen might more successfully take by examining the key role of women in getting new household enterprises started, in particular, enterprises that have the potential to mobilize and redirect the labor of male household members away from the fishery and into more sustainable economic activities. In brief, I argue that to better relieve fishing pressure in the Philippine coastal zone, CRM projects, microfinance programs, and other efforts to promote "alternative livelihoods" for fishermen should nurture such household enterprises rather than promote supplementary employment in the form of wage work to fishermen or to other individual members of those households. Such efforts can Prof.tably build on the characteristic intrahousehold dynamics of Philippine fishing households, in particular, the frequent occupational multiplicity of those households and the key role of women in setting household economic agendas. In seeking insights from the new household livelihoods that women in some fishing households have developed on their own, I emphasize the importance of viewing fishing and possible alternative livelihoods for fishermen in the wider context of Philippine coastal economies and ecosystems, where fishing is often found side by side with farming, fishermen and farmers regularly interact, and many individuals pursue both activities. At the same time and without intending to diminish the considerable role of women in the local fishing economy, my concern in this chapter is not with that role but, instead and more broadly, with the role of gender in a wider coastal economy. The ethnographic setting for the chapter is San Vicente, a municipality of ten fishing and farming communities inhabited by about 20,000 people of mostly migrant origin. San Vicente is on the northwestern coast of Palawan Island, a major twentieth-century settler destination in the Philippines and still an important land frontier (see figure 9.1). Over the last thirty to forty years, San Vicente has suffered serious depletion of its fish stocks and other coastal resources due to settlement by migrant fishermen from the Visayan Islands and elsewhere in the Philippines. Palawan still has some of the richest fishing grounds in the country, but migrants from longer and more densely inhabited regions of the nation have set in motion the same local cycles of coastal resource degradation that played out in earlier generations in their places of origin. Numerous government and NGO projects and programs are currently attempting to deal with the livelihood and resource management problems that have ensued.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGender and Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationLessons from Asia and Latin America
PublisherUniversity of Arizona Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780816599479
ISBN (Print)9780816530014
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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