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Drury O'Neill, E., B. Crona, A. J. G. Ferrer, R. Pomeroy, and N. S. Jiddawi. 2018. Who benefits from seafood trade? A comparison of social and market structures in small-scale fisheries. Ecology and Society 23(3):12.

Who benefits from seafood trade? A comparison of social and market structures in small-scale fisheries

1Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, 2The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden, 3Division of Social Sciences, University of the Philippines Visayas, Miagao, Iloilo, Philippines, 4Connecticut Sea Grant, University of Connecticut, Groton, Connecticut, USA, 5Institute of Marine Science, University of Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Tanzania


We examine the benefits flowing from a coastal seascape through seafood trade to various social groups in two distinct small-scale fishery case studies. A knowledge gap currently exists in relation to how benefits from a fishery, and the associated trade, are ultimately distributed, specifically, how market structures and relations, and the combined dynamics of the local fishing society, can mediate these flows. Previous research into improved fisheries governance for food and livelihood security has failed to integrate the structure of the market place as well as the multidimensional nature of actor relations that influence extractive behavior. Using a value chain framework, we take a relational approach to study these gaps. Surveys were conducted in two fisheries (Zanzibar and the Philippines) as part of a comparative analysis including market-types, assistance networks, and income inequality. Chain structures, gender roles, and levels of contractualization within the two cases differed vastly, appearing to give rise to different types of income inequalities and barriers to participation. In the Philippines economic exchanges revolve more around provision of financial capital, although in both systems social standing and obligations play a role in determining market structures. In Zanzibar trading agents engaging customers in predetermined sale arrangements earn relatively more than their counterpart freelancers, however at the production level no income differences are seen between those with or without arrangements. Both cases stand to be further integrated into the international seafood market, which raises questions over how certain actors will benefit, based on their current participation and access. Results emphasize the need for more evidence in regards to benefits flows and how aspects such as gender and transaction forms impact them. This is necessary for governance decisions around fisheries, poverty alleviation, and increased global market integration.
Key words: case studies; gender roles; global markets; Iloilo; income inequality; value chain participation; Zanzibar


Small-scale fisheries (SSF) are frequently cited as necessary for sustainable poverty alleviation in coastal areas worldwide and a large body of literature exists discussing the connections between poverty, SSF seafood trade, food, and livelihood security (Béné 2003, Béné et al. 2004, 2010a,b, Islam 2011, Neiland and Béné 2013, Nayak et al. 2014). Although people benefit from their involvement in SSF markets, via access to protein, cash, and employment, development policies have often focused on economic growth and intensifying international seafood trade links (Béné et al. 2007). Although important, this focus does not appear to have markedly reduced poverty levels in many SSF (Béné et al. 2007). Case studies typically indicate that small-scale primary producers receive the lowest economic benefits relative to other value chain (VC) actors (Wamukota et al. 2014, Wamukota 2015, Bjørndal et al. 2015). In SSF exporting to international (often western) markets, there are particularly stark contrasts between benefits gained by local producers versus the corporate interests involved (Kurien 2005).

Recent research has highlighted the various attributes or contextual features that can impact benefit flows, such as gender, transaction forms, i.e., patron-client relationships, and buyer types, e.g., local or tourist (Ferrol-Schulte et al. 2014, Fröcklin 2014, Wamukota 2015). However, which groups (beyond fishers) benefit from SSF, and how such benefits are distributed, remains obscure. To address this, and to disentangle the market features and social mechanisms that impact SSF benefit flows and distribution, we ask: Who are the market chain actors and how do they benefit from SSF in two socio-politically distinct fisheries settings: Concepcion municipality in the Philippines (Iloilo Province) and Unguja Island of Zanzibar.

We pursue this analysis in four steps. First, to understand who is involved we employ a value chain (hereafter denoted VC) approach with a focus on gender and market interactions. A VC analysis is one way to examine market structures, i.e., identity, size, and numbers of traders/fishers and product-types they deal with, while also assessing the relationships among actors and subsequently understanding the market conduct, i.e., buying, selling, and pricing, this gives rise to. This type of analysis does not necessarily include cost or margin components but can be used for any number of governance objectives, which in this current study focused on relationships among actors in the market chain. Second, to assess benefit distribution, net income is first assessed across VC nodes (used here to define a step in the VC where a group of actors fulfill the same or a similar function within the chain, e.g., production, drying, retailing) and across gender. Next, levels of inequality within VC nodes/groups of nodes, gender, and across both countries are calculated. Finally, it is often argued that fishers’ relations with trading agents (used here to refer to different types of actors buying and selling) can have an impact on fishers’ conduct, decision making, and income, and thus, on the distribution of benefits stemming from seafood extraction and trade (Crona et al. 2010, Ferrol-Schulte et al. 2014, Drury O'Neill and Crona 2017). Yet, despite their seemingly critical role in linking ecological and market dynamics (Crona et al. 2010, Ferrol-Schulte et al. 2014, Bailey et al. 2016, Miñarro et al. 2016) trading agents are rarely accounted for by formal fisheries governance. These mostly informal sales arrangements, i.e., contracts and deals, between trading agents and VC actors can facilitate the channeling of benefits but can also hinder them. We therefore also examine contractual arrangements between VC actors as a means to understand the mechanisms behind the observed benefit flows and distribution in each case study.

As is well documented in many fishing societies, transactions in the VC are not purely economic but involve reciprocities and connections based on residency, kinship, and custom (Platteau 1989, Butler and Oluoch-Kosura 2006, Adhuri et al. 2016, Miñarro et al. 2016, Drury O'Neill and Crona 2017). Consequently, we also examine the broader set of relations in which the fishers and trading agents are situated to get a more holistic understanding of to whom nontrade related benefits such as food, credit, and cash flow. This analysis includes both fishing and trading (traders, buyers, retailers, etc.) as well as nontrading (auxiliary) agents, such as auctioneers, boat repairers, etc.

Gender has often also been ignored, unrepresented, or underrepresented in the SSF literature. This has resulted in women’s market chain functions, and their contributions and dependencies, often remaining invisible (Kleiber et al. 2015). However, if SSF governance is to contribute to sustainable livelihoods and food security across a broad demographic, the roles of gender and market relations need to be considered as a means to unpack current benefit flows, thus a gender sensitive lens is applied in this analysis


The small-scale fisheries of Unguja and Concepcion


This study relies on primary data collected through structured interviews with fishers and trading agents in Unguja Island, Zanzibar, hereafter Unguja (September 2014–March 2015) and within the Iloilo Province, largely around the municipality of Concepcion in the Philippines, hereafter Concepcion (September–November 2015). These were retrospective interviews where actors were asked to recall their fishing and trading activities over the past year to discover typical fishing and trading activities within each fishing season for each location. Interviews took from 45 minutes to one hour and individuals were only interviewed once. The interview forms used to elicit data from 194 fishers and 163 trading agents in Unguja plus 280 fishers and 52 trading agents in Concepcion can be found in Appendix 1. The cases were chosen to approximate a “most similar” design often used in comparative political science. Although we cannot control for all possible system characteristics, Table 1 shows the system dimensions we aimed to control across cases. Although generalizability from two cases is limited, we believe that being explicit about these dimensions strengthens the credibility and the potential for generalizability of some of the findings in comparison with other tropical SSF. The design also allowed us to assess possible effects of the difference in market structures and market relations as a function of socio-political context (represented by country). To further facilitate the comparison, the same or comparable commodities were chosen in Unguja and Concepcion, namely small mixed reef species, octopus (Unguja) and squid (Concepcion), using the same field instruments and sampling strategies across both countries.

Respondents in both countries were selected based on their involvement in the VC and were interviewed at landing sites, markets, ports, and at their homes on an individual basis (see Fig. 1 for a map of where interviews took place). All participants were selected based on convenience, and local gatekeepers, such as market leaders or village captains, were needed to access respondents at multiple sites. These gatekeepers were briefed in detail on the necessary respondent before selection of available actors. Detailed information on the number of respondents in each country can be found in Appendix 2. Not all nodes within the chains could be captured for logistical reasons. In the Philippines, downstream markets spread throughout Panay Island and the greater Visayan region and exporting or processing companies were difficult to capture (because they were hard to contact via phone or email and sometimes unwilling to be interviewed). In Zanzibar, downstream nodes were better captured because of the much smaller geographical area.


The populations in and around both Concepcion and Unguja are heavily dependent upon the SSF for livelihoods and nutrition (Ferrer 2009, Colbert-Sangree 2012, Jeppesen and Richmond 2016). The SSF in Unguja Island are representative of the multispecies artisanal fisheries common along the nearby Swahili coastline, with little or no commercial fleets present. It is characterized by monsoon cycles and multigear inshore based fisheries landing largely reef-associated species (e.g., Siganids, Lethrinids, Octopus) in addition to various small (e.g., Engraulids) and large (Scomberids) pelagic species (Jiddawi and Öhman 2002, DoE 2009, Office of Chief Government Statistician 2013).

Concepcion boasts similar types of target-species. Landing sites are spread throughout 11 offshore island barangays (smallest administrative division) and various barangays and towns on the mainland island (Panay Island). The Visayan Sea, of which Concepcion is representative, is regarded as the most productive small-scale fishing ground in the Philippines, home to both small-scale and more large-scale fleets, although SSF account for two-thirds of commercial landings (Ferrer 2016). As a result, Concepcion supports extensive export both to national and international markets, sourced from both small-scale and industrial fisheries (Hernando and Flores 1981). For more details on the social and political contexts of the sites, basic demographics, the main species groups targeted, market details, and marine resource management challenges see Appendix 3.

Market structure

All survey data was entered into Microsoft Excel and subsequently imported into Microsoft Access for easier handling, storage, and querying. Trading agents were characterized into different types of VC nodes. Fishers, i.e., producers, were considered as one node, but differentiated into fishing styles based on a range of factors, including gear types, vessel-use, vessel sizes, propulsion, species groups, secondary vessel use, gender and location type. To do this we adopted a simplified version of the approach elaborated by Boonstra and Hentati-Sundberg (2016). In Concepcion, the different types of trading nodes are well-established among the fishing and trading population and respondents were able to explain this to the interviewers. These nodes include brokers (who take commission on sales prices), buyers or collectors (based at home and can often dry), wholesalers, dryers (often women and mainly in the barangays), and retailers (have stalls in markets). In Unguja, however, trading nodes are much less distinguishable and were identified based on gender, target species (although species specific information is not reported here), buying and sales locations, processing activities, but also heavily informed by prior knowledge of the system (Thyresson et al. 2011, 2013, Fröcklin 2014, see Drury O'Neill and Crona 2017 for more details on node classification).

Analysis of income and relative inequality

Income analysis was conducted in two parts. All data was sourced from fishers’ and trading agents’ individual estimations because no logbooks were available. A detailed guide to all income calculations can be found in Appendix 4. The following description is a simplification of these calculations where running costs (R), average kilograms landed or traded per day (Q) and prices per day per kilo (Sp: Sale price, Pp: Purchase price) are already standardized or made comparable. In the case of fishers instead of direct sales prices (Sp) the amount of money the fisher received at the end of a trip was used and converted to per kilo; therefore avoiding the need to take into account the sharing system between crew, vessel owners, and/or captains. Quantities and prices were averaged to get annual values for individual fishers according to biannual seasons in each location based on either trade or monsoon winds. All income data was converted to International US Dollars from Tanzanian Shilling or Philippines Peso using the appropriate purchasing power parity PPP conversion factors (C; factfish 2016). PPP refers to the number of units of a country’s currency required to buy the same amount of goods and services in the domestic market as U.S. dollar would buy in the United States (factfish 2016). This conversion thus allows us to compare income data across the two countries. Fisher Net Income (If) in International US Dollars per person per day was then calculated as:

If= [(Sp*Q/P)-R]/C

Trading agents net income (It) calculations additionally included purchase prices (Pp):

It= {[(Sp-Pp)*Q/P]-R}/C

These incomes should be viewed as the value per person per day that actor is active, it represents a cumulative of all relevant species they work with in relation to the VCs of interest. The resulting income data was then examined through scatter- and boxplots and all outliers individually checked using original interview manuscripts to ensure their validity. Responses that were identified as incorrect or highly implausible were not used. Data normality was analyzed in R (Ripley 2001, version 1.0.153) with Shapiro Wilks tests, histograms, and Q-Q plots prior to further statistical analysis. Then tests for statistically significant dependencies were done between income and the variables gender and location type. For the latter, rural was defined as villages and landing sites relatively far away from central ports or markets (not walk-able and at least 30 minutes by the local transport Dala dala in Unguja), or on the island barangays off the coast of the main Panay Island, as is the case for Concepcion. Urban was defined as the central market and port environments of the cases under investigation. Incomes were tested with a nonparametric Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon-test because of non-normal data.

Degree of income inequality was also examined within fishers and trading agents using Lorenz curves (graphic measure) and the corresponding Gini coefficients (Gastwirth 1972, Kakwani 1977) to assess economic benefit distributions or flows within the different fisheries. According to the FAO a Gini of 0.35 and over is high (Dillon and Hardaker 1980). To understand what factors may be driving the patterns of inequality observed (for example the hotel traders accessing high hotel prices) the differences in income between actors were then examined based on gender (because of the documented division in Zanzibar) and primary market channel targeted (tourism-, consumer-based). Furthermore, the VC mapping revealed that actor types could clearly be differentiated according to primarily urban or rural operations. This variable was therefore included in the quantitative analysis to examine if location matters in explaining within and between group income inequalities.

Market conduct and assistance

Both fishers’ and trading agents’ predetermined sales arrangements (an agreement, contract, or exchange, formal or informal, between two or more actors that is potentially favorable to one or more of the parties) were examined as a means to further understand and compare market conduct across the different market structures and socio-political contexts in which they operate. In the Philippines the “suki” system is a very prominent feature of most SSF. The suki system is an informal institution by which fishers market to one particular trading agent in return for favors, most commonly cash loans, or fuel. Fishers ultimately become “tied” to these trading agents, unless they repay their debt. The suki system is one form of the well-described patron-client relationship existing in many SSF (Pomeroy 1992, Pomeroy and Trinidad 1995, Carnaje 2007, Ferolin and Dunaway 2013). Though similar relationship types exist in Zanzibar, they are not as institutionalized as the suki system in the Philippines and also have received less attention. The different nature of these two systems makes for an interesting comparison of how exactly they channel benefits and the characteristics of such flows and this is discussed below. To capture additional benefit flows (beyond economic benefits of VC participation) in the fisheries system, assistance was traced between nodes as well as within them, and between market actors and auxiliary fishery actors, e.g., transporters, auctioneers, boat repairers. Assistance was identified here as material, such as fishing gear, vessels, money, fish, food, and/or services such as processing help, transport help, assistance at sea, vessel aid etc.


Examining market structures and relationships

To answer the question, who is benefiting from involvement in the fisheries, research started by mapping and comparing the market structures in both sites. In Unguja the mixed reef and octopus chains amalgamated into one as the species flowed along the same pathways through the system, demanded by both the local and tourism markets. Mixed reef species and squid also flowed along similar pathways from landing in Concepcion, though dried products were much more common in the local market. There were distinct differences in market structures between the two fishery systems. From a first glance at Figure 2 (also see Figs. A5.1 and A5.2 in Appendix 5 for more detailed maps of the VCs in Concepcion and Unguja) a greater diversity of actor types emerges from the mixed reef and squid fisheries centered around Concepcion, Iloilo. Here, in contrast to Unguja, the VC incorporates brokers (those who facilitate buying and selling by taking a percentage of the selling price), large-scale wholesalers, dryers, buyers (buying and selling, no commission taken, based in their homes), large retailers or supermarkets (at the provincial level), processing companies, and additionally exporters (typically more squid and small pelagic species than the mixed reef species moving to large-scale export from the province; Fig. A5.1).

A large frequency of the initial sales were channeled through a small number of brokers (~10–15) in the central fish port in Concepcion and even fewer buyers at the local barangays (~1–5; 41 and 29% of respondents’ sales, respectively). A contrary picture was observed in Unguja with numerous traders at all landing sites and markets (often hundreds in central sites like Malindi). The Unguja octopus and mixed reef fisheries tended to be much more local-market orientated with no major export channels out of Zanzibar identified, as opposed to export to China and Japan from Concepcion fisheries. The global tourism industry, however, is very prominent in Zanzibar; hotels, tourist restaurants, and the various connected traders are evident in the VC even at the landing sites. However only 28% of fishing and trading respondents interviewed were actually selling to either hotels, hotel traders, suppliers, or tourist restaurants, indicating quite a separation between the local and tourism markets.

Although gender is an important factor structuring the participation of women in various economic activities in Zanzibar (Fröcklin 2014, de la Torre-Castro et al. 2017, Drury O'Neill and Crona 2017), in Concepcion gender roles within the VC were more similar. From Figure 2a it is apparent that men and women participated in the same nodes. Fishing usually takes place in wife-husband, or family, crews on the vessels, unlike Unguja where women fish separately from the men and only along the shoreline by foot. During trading, women and men in Concepcion work in the same nodes, either together as husband-wife partnerships or alongside one another, selling and buying largely through the same channels. Quite distinct from this structure is the Unguja case where women largely do not work in partnerships, especially with their husbands (only 2% of respondents had a partner who was typically also a woman), and cater to local consumers only. In rural areas, women sell mainly from their houses, with weaker connections to the very central markets in Stone Town and especially with the tourist industry. However in the south of Unguja the fisherwomen interviewed were able to connect their octopus sales to nearby tourist establishments. There were no import channels identified in Concepcion for the mixed reef and squid chains because products tend to move out of Concepcion. However, in Unguja it is evident that reef fish, as well as octopus, are also being imported to supply the tourist industry and the central fish market in Stone Town from Pemba and Mafia.

Understanding benefit distribution through net income

Examination of income inequality among actors across the two systems showed a slightly higher Gini coefficient for Concepcion than in Unguja (0.78 vs 0.68) indicating that at the level of the entire market system income inequality in Concepcion was higher (Fig. 3a). When broken down into fishers and trading agents in each country, there was little difference in the fishers’ income inequality across both countries (Fig. 3b). The production node in fact had a relatively low Gini indicating that there were no major differences within incomes among the different types of fishers, for both systems.

Trading agents in Concepcion and Unguja exhibited higher inequalities among respondents relative to fishers, particularly in Concepcion (Gini = 0.73). This suggests that the driving force behind the higher inequality of the overall aggregate fishery in the Concepcion sites was primarily the larger difference in income among trading agents. Direct comparisons of trading agent and fisher incomes show that fishers in both countries, on average, earn significantly less per day than those trading (Table 2), however with a skewed distribution and various outliers (Fig. 4a).

Similarly, striking differences in the level of income inequality were found when comparing rural and urban trading agents in Concepcion, with urban agents much more unequal than rural counterparts. This difference between rural and urban operators was not noted in Unguja (Figs. 3c and 4e). However, in Unguja, female (low Gini) and male trading agents (Fig. 3d) exhibited differences in their respective levels of node inequality, with women being more equal in terms of their net income while male trading agents experienced larger inequality.

In Concepcion, where fisherwomen appeared to be able to take part equally in the VC, their average income was nonetheless significantly lower than that of their male counterparts (see Table 2 and Fig. 4c). In Unguja, where women were fairly segregated in the VC and played a very specific role in terms of the value addition they performed (e.g., frying fish and selling to local consumers), there was a similarly significant difference in their average earnings compared to male traders, though men’s income spanned a wider range (See Table 2 and Fig. 4b). Figure 4b also shows that incomes for male trading agents in Concepcion had a large positive skew, much more so than their female counterparts.

Comparing the income distributions of actors who sell to hotels and/or to hotel traders/suppliers with those who are unlinked to tourism (in Unguja only; Fig, 4d) shows that trading agents who sell to tourism reported statistically significant higher daily average incomes than their nontourist linked counterparts, i.e., those servicing the more local market channels (Table 2), with a large positive spread. Possible drivers of this spread include the traders who supply larger quantities, between 50 and 150 kg per day, of high-value mixed reef species direct to hotel actors. For fishers there was no difference in incomes linked to tourism.

Examining Unguja fishers’ and traders’ net incomes, with or without sales arrangements, shows that for the latter making such arrangements constitutes a significantly higher income than their counterparts without any (Figure 4f, Table 2). This was an unexpected result because trading agents with arrangements were generally assumed to have lower flexibility in their sales choices, lower bargaining power, and less access to price increases or new markets (Eaton et al. 2007). These traders stated they made arrangements to sell largely as a result of customers seeking and placing orders for seafood with them, either from random meetings or sometimes through previous family and friend connections. For fishers there was no difference in earnings for those with predetermined sales arrangements or not (Fig. 4f). In Concepcion nearly all the actors sell through the suki system and similar comparison is therefore not relevant.

Finally data was unpacked at the individual-actor level to better understand economic benefit distribution on the ground. In Unguja the fishers with above average daily net income values were those catching mixed reef and octopus species with more traditional gear (hand lines, traps, and spears) using small canoe/outrigger vessels (nonmotorized) or foot fishing. In Concepcion fishers targeting multiple species groups (squid, mixed reef, and small pelagics) with most common traps or bottom set gill nets from large (> 7 m) mechanized vessels were those with higher than average income values. In Unguja, male and female trading agents who buy in the rural landing sites, use freezers or cool boxes, and transport their products into the central fish market tended to have above average incomes. In Concepcion buyers, regardless of genders and across both rural and urban settings, were most frequently in the above average income group. Additionally wholesalers linked to export outside of Concepcion reported higher than average daily incomes.

Investigating predetermined sales arrangements

Because patron-client type relationships tended to be frequently observed in SSF, examining the nature of these predetermined arrangements, and their prevalence, is important for understanding how, if at all, they affect the benefits that actors capture as a result of their market place participation. Regardless of the degree of formalization surrounding such market-actor relations, they have the potential to both affect net income, as well as be a source of additional benefits.

The large majority (see Fig. 5) of Concepcion fishers’ reported sales taking place through predetermined arrangements (over 90% of respondents), the majority of their contracts being with the brokers (41% of fishing respondents) and buyers (29%). In Unguja, however, the reported market conduct by fishers was distinctly different, buying and selling is much less predetermined, more often through on-the-spot transactions, and/or through auctions, the latter of which do not exist in the Concepcion. When Zanzibar fishers do make arrangements, it was commonly with downstream local traders, the tourist industry, or local consumers.

When fisher participants were asked about the flexibility of these arrangements, if they could stop them or not, half of Concepcion fishers felt they could not, mainly as a result of the loans they have with the trading agent in question (34.6% of those who felt they could not stop). Additionally, almost 20% of these fishers agreed that a “sense or debt of gratitude” toward the trading agent meant they could not stop, i.e., the fisher owes them because they provided them with help. Remaining responses brought up factors such as distance (i.e., the physical closeness of the available trading agents, particularly relevant for fishers based on the offshore islands), “suki support” (the financial and material support fishers can receive from a linked or predetermined trading agent), the fact the trading actor was their relative and the prices offered were relatively good. In Unguja, a similar theme appeared with regard to the social status or obligation of the fisher if they were to end an arrangement (42% of fishers could not end the arrangement). The majority were concerned that terminating a relationship would create misunderstandings with their customers (generally traders). However, they did not report being tied to specific traders through economic debt like in Concepcion, but instead cited the fact they might not get any more help from the customer, and as such would suffer a profit loss or a loss in their overall business.

Moving downstream, trading agents marketed almost exclusively through suki arrangements in Concepcion (~97%), largely to brokers and buyers further downstream rather than to consumers locally. These sales arrangements appeared equally frequent across male and female trading agents in Concepcion (100% of men and 93% of women). The opposite is true in Unguja where less than half of the traders sell to a predetermined actor, and for those who do, consumers are the repeated customer-type (46% of their arrangements). In terms of gender, Unguja male traders more frequently had arrangements than their female counterparts (54% of men versus only 15% of women).

When asked about their ability to stop arrangements, trading agents in Concepcion responded that they could not because they lacked other outlets to sell their fish to or that they already had a base of regular customers. The frequency of being tied in arrangements (approximately half of respondents) was similar among trading and fishing respondents in Concepcion (only a 1.4% difference). In Unguja 25% more traders than fishers, 67% in total, reported inability to stop their arrangements, citing the same reasons as the fishers (social obligation and concerns about misunderstandings).

Beyond sales: benefit flows through assistance

Assistance in this study entails the frequent exchange of material or service provision between actors in different VC nodes and is used to capture the informal noneconomic benefit exchanges that take place among market actors. These types of exchanges provide benefits above and beyond the net income derived from the trade.

When compared to Unguja, respondents in Concepcion took part in these informal assistance exchanges with a less diverse array of market actors and in a less mutual way (Fig. 6). Trading agents in Concepcion frequently provided support (as defined here) but did not receive it back (Fig. 6a). Additionally, they responded that they only provide or receive help to or from fishers or trading agents within the market, i.e., no auxiliary actors were identified, with the help largely flowing from the trading agents to the fishers.

This latter type of informal exchange was much more common between actors in Unguja (Fig. 6b). In mapping assistance flows, various secondary or auxiliary actors also appeared, for example, what respondents called Papasi, also known as Msaidizi (Narriman Jiddawi 2017, personal communication). These are younger male helpers around landing sites and markets who carry and/or assist fishers and trading agents in processing. Other actors such as the Dalali (auctioneer), the Fishing Committees, the net/vessel fixers, and the boat owners were also involved in the reciprocities.

Within-node assistance was quite frequently cited across both cases. In Concepcion, fishers predominately helped each other by securing vessels on the shore at low tide, getting tows at sea, borrowing gear, and providing bait. Fishers also stated that they must repay this assistance by offering it themselves to their colleagues. In Unguja fishers exchanged money, fish for home consumption, gear, and assistance at sea (towing, offering fuel, helping fix gear/engine) with each other without requiring payback. Both Concepcion and Unguja trading respondents frequently provided each other with financial assistance. In Unguja, however, there are additional exchanges of fish for home, products to sell, and help with selling.

A closer look at the help between fishers and trading agents in Concepcion showed exchanges were based more around finance and all respondents were obliged to pay back through their sales or via cash repayments or both (100%; see Table A6.1 in Appendix 6 for a breakdown of the type of help going between fishers and trading agents in both countries). Around 40% of trading agents who provided fishers with frequent support required delivery of their catch directly as a means of payback. This latter form of payback is linked to the suki system, whereby trading agents have fishers tied to them through the provision of loans, vessels, and/or gear, and fishers become their suki as they, in return, continuously sell to them.

In Unguja more fishers provided help than they received, often with no payback mechanisms in place. In fact, 67% of trading agents who received help from fishers did not pay back. Fishers, on the other hand, were required to pay back more often than trading agents, as 30% said they must repay the loans with cash when they have it.

Assistance networks between market actors across the two countries were thus starkly different. Concepcion exhibited a more limited web of support, both in terms of actors involved and reciprocity, with a more financial focus, whereas the Unguja fisheries assistance network was wider reaching, diverse in support-types, and less hierarchical or dependent on VC position.


Summarizing the findings, the Unguja market place is characterized by a large number of trading agents and on-the-spot transaction types, local consumers play an important role in market dynamics, and are frequently involved in contracts through predetermined arrangements. In contrast, the Concepcion system is more highly contractualized (cf. Riisgaard et al. 2008), where fishers and trading agents are predominately tied to each other via these arrangements, and products are directed toward wholesale and retail. In addition, there is a higher concentration of trading agents within the market. Economic exchanges revolve more around provision of financial capital, although in both systems social standing and obligations play a role in determining market structures. Below we discuss what these general features of each system mean for the participation of various actors in the seafood trade and how these observed structures affect benefit flows and distribution.

Seafood market structure and participation

Market structures are quite different across the two case regions, in terms of the actors included, the roles they play in the VC, and their relative numbers as well as end markets. A key finding that emerges from this analysis is the different ways in which gender affects structure and functioning of the Unguja and Concepcion market places, while recognizing intersectionality, i.e., that other factors like ethnicity, poverty, or geography may also be important, potentially more so than gender (Kabeer 2003, Bryson 2016). The roles of men and women are deeply entrenched in local gender identities linked to the broader socio-cultural context (FAO 2017), thus it is no surprise to see how men and women participate differently in the two different settings. However the reverse is also possible, where VC governance influences the gender relations, e.g., marketing companies adopting gender-based strategies in their campaigns to sell high value goods (Barrientos 2001).

In both study locations women have typically been viewed as secondary or minor participants in SSF VCs, quite frequently by external actors like officials and researchers (Siason 2000, Fröcklin 2014, Kleiber 2014, Pastor 2016, Pavo 2016, Williams 2016, de la Torre-Castro et al. 2017). This is at odds with the fact that in various parts of the Philippines women have been previously documented as large-scale financers, active fishers at sea, traders, processors, and gear fixers (Siason 2000, Suntornratana 2003, Kleiber 2014, Pastor 2016, Pavo 2016). This study, like Pavo (2016), presents a different picture of women’s experience in fishery VCs, in which they do not necessarily fill conceived VC “spaces,” i.e., as conceived by planners, designers, or scientists. Conceived space is referred to here as the socially constructed and conceptualized space in which social or political practices play out (Lefebvre and Nicholson-Smith 1991). Nevertheless, at the production level, women who do partake in fishing end up with relatively less economic benefits. Validation of results by the studied communities in November 2017 confirmed this as unsurprising for Concepcion fisherwomen. As explained to the authors, rather than what they feel are lived cultural constraints or social norms, they spend less time out fishing because of the harder physical labor demanded by this activity and necessary domestic duties, thus they can end up with less daily income. Data on hours spent fishing per day from structured interviews supports this argument.

Gender appears to be a strong organizational category within seafood VCs on the Swahili Coastline (see Brugere and Bodil 2014, Fröcklin 2014, Matsue et al. 2014, Lentisco and Lee 2015, Wamukota 2015, Wosu 2017), often defining women’s activities, for example, their interactions with the tourist industry (La Cour Madsen 2003, Demovic 2016). However, deviations from the often dominant narrative presented by gender-related fishery studies, i.e., women as secondary, marginal, and often weaker players (Tindall and Holvoet 2008, Westerman and Benbow 2013, Brugere and Bodil 2014, Fröcklin 2014) can be seen in Unguja. In the south of the island five fisherwomen have linked directly to the global market whilst those traders in the sample that have above average incomes included females not trading in a conceived space (not where they are perceived to be), i.e., freezing/icing products from rural areas and transporting them for sale in the central market. These counter narratives are important because they highlight the potential of female actors to adopt more traditionally male economic niches in changing market environments, suggested by McClanahan and Abunge (2017) as a possible requirement for sustainable fisheries.

There is evidence in both country cases that women are gaining ground, e.g., in positions and numbers, in the SSF market environment, however, the question remains if these examples are simply cracks in the dominant narrative or future trends in VC participation for women. In East Africa there are indications that men have begun to encroach into hitherto distinctly female arenas. Porter et al. (2008) found that women who harvest or trade shellfish, sea cucumbers, seaweed, octopus, or jellyfish often get displaced by men when these products become global commodities. Nevertheless the stories of women’s participation in fisheries that are increasingly connected to global seafood trade are multifaceted and shaped not just by their gender but also by factors such as household assets, size and composition, education and skills (Tindall and Holvoet 2008). Gender must be placed in the broader social processes at play around the fisheries, rather than being singled out, if researchers are to better understand women’s long-term VC positions (Wosu 2017).

Informal institutional arrangements and benefit flows

Although a significant amount is known about the nature of patron-client relations, we attempted to ask how the presence or not of such arrangements affects benefit distribution. Interestingly it appears they do not play any major role for income distribution within the production node in Zanzibar. Fishers tied to a trader do not appear to be any worse off, in terms of daily income, then their counterparts who sell more ad hoc. This contradicts findings from numerous SSF studies of buyer-client fisher relationships, where buyers have been observed influencing fishers to accept lower prices as a result of unequal bargaining power and/or indebtedness (Platteau and Abraham 1987, Johnson 2010, Nurdin and Grydehøj 2014).

The opposite is true among trading agents. Those who engage in predetermined sales arrangements with their clients receive relatively higher economic benefits. This could be due to the commonality of these arrangements with the tourist industry, which demands high value and volumes of products. A majority of these arrangements are also with the local market and, relative to products sold outside arrangements, local prearranged customers demand higher volumes. Handling larger quantities of fresh or iced fish requires some type of coordination if traders are to sell unspoiled products efficiently. In Unguja vertical contractualization (see Riisgaard et al. 2010) has, in some way, played a role in enabling trading actors to deal with larger quantities, potentially resulting in higher incomes.

Although quantitative analysis shows that fishers receive no clear economic benefit from making predetermined sale arrangements, also seen by Miñarro et al. (2016), they are able to access a range of other benefits through them. These benefits appear to be exchanged in distinct ways between trading agents and fishers in the two cases. In Unguja, providing help to fishers, or vice versa, does not necessarily imply a counter obligation; much of the exchanges can be regarded as gifts according to respondents suggesting that our surveys identified a generalized type of reciprocity (Thomas and Worrall 2000). In Concepcion the assistance between fishers and trading agents is largely loans, tightly linked to the suki system, with a more complete reckoning of counter obligation. The generalized reciprocity observed in Unguja can be more effective as an insurance mechanism to the individual or households in the short term because one can access food or cash off a wide range of actors in the fishery. However, Thomas and Worrall (2000) argue that by adding a clear repayment aspect to loans, arrangements that could breakdown because of lack of benefit compensation to the giver can be made more stable, and thus more beneficial, in the long term. On the other hand, data shows that prearranged transactions often create inflexible structures, observed through the inability of respondents to end these arrangements. Similar reasons for not being able to discontinue sales arrangements emerged throughout both case studies where feelings of social obligations mixed with economic imperatives appear to underlie arrangements. Indeed, within these interlinked systems of personal transactions the possible discovery of dishonesty, unwillingness, or avoidance by an agent in one transaction is made too costly for him or her in terms of the spillover effects threatening other transactions and the general loss of goodwill within these relatively small rural villages or towns (Platteau and Abraham 1987, Adhuri et al. 2016).

Ultimately, this study adds more evidence to the growing body of work that shows the complex web of social and economic relations in which SSF market actors are embedded. Aspects of the reciprocal arrangements discussed above may be important as social insurance mechanisms for individuals, while at the same time creating inflexible structures that may perpetuate unsustainable resource extraction (Crona et al. 2010, Ferrol-Schulte et al. 2014, Nurdin and Grydehøj 2014, Kininmonth et al. 2016, Miñarro et al. 2016, ). However, the main argument is that across different socio-political settings, the relations do appear to play a critical role in structuring the market place and conduct, yet they are generally never explicitly considered in fisheries related policy or governance.

Income disparity and distribution

Remarkably few studies exist in which to situate our findings. Little published work exists assessing income equality and the distributional aspects of fisheries profits within SSF. One Kenyan example (Wamukota et al. 2014) witnessed a relatively high Gini in the Kenyan octopus fishery and attributed this to the small number of agents controlling the procurement and marketing of octopus on behalf of local processing plants, who often provide fishers with gear and employment directly on their behalf. The slightly higher inequality observed at the aggregate level in Concepcion is probably due to a large proportion of sales moving through a small number of established brokers (in fish ports) and buyers (in island barangays), i.e., market concentration, who employ the suki system to engage fishers (a relationship type frequently less pervasive in Unguja), thus impacting income equality through prices and indebtedness (Pomeroy and Trinidad 1995, Carnaje 2007, Ferolin and Dunaway 2013). The urban Gini coefficient confirms the high inequality among trading agents’ incomes and potential oligopolistic market conditions in urban mainland. This concentration in Concepcion is not unique within the Philippines, and has been previously seen in fishery VCs in Manila and Leyte (Torres et al. 1987, Pomeroy 1990). Although the Concepcion VC structure supports, through participation, a much more equal gender balance, income disparity aggregately is higher than that of the highly unequal trading system (in terms of gender participation) in Unguja.

When data is disaggregated to fishers and trading agents, the similarly low Gini coefficients among fishers in both cases indicate that although market structures and institutional arrangements differ in both contexts this does not appear to affect within-node benefit equities. Furthermore, the fact that fishers in both countries report significantly lower incomes than the trading agents reiterates the general findings in SSF case studies over the past decade (Bjørndal et al. 2015).

The integration of SSF economies into global seafood markets is increasing rapidly yet it is still unclear how actors on the ground benefit monetarily, or by other means (see Béné et al. 2010b for the debate linked to poverty alleviation). Global markets manifest themselves in different ways in Unguja and Concepcion. The commercialization of the Filipino fisheries since the early 2000s has likely fueled the movement of most seafood products away from Concepcion’s landing sites to inland, national, and international markets on upgraded bridges, roads, and infrastructure. Whereas on the other side of the world, tourism markets that increasingly contribute to national GDP are directing products from local trade to hotels and restaurants (Gössling 2001, La Cour Madsen 2003, Thyresson et al. 2013).

Tourism is viewed, from a neoliberalist point of view, as a positive thing because if well-managed it can support local development while transferring capital from the developed to the developing world (Gössling 2001, 2003). However the changes that tourism development creates are complex and consequences are often not visible in the short term (Gössling 2001, 2003). In terms of local VC actors, a few traders (28% of the sample) in Unguja benefit financially on a short time scale because they earn higher daily net incomes than traders not connected to this lucrative market. Whether always understood by local respondents or not, global market integration, either through consumer exports and/or tourism development, is on the agenda in both the Philippines and Zanzibar. Global seafood interests in the form of Asian-funded (Japan and South Korea) fish port complexes are due to be built in both study sites commencing 2018 (The East African 2012, SunStar Iloilo 2017). There are plans for Concepcion port to double in size creating more space for fishers, brokers, and fish trading. These types of global incentives, which in these cases are linked to major seafood importers (Japan and South Korea are among the top 10 countries worldwide, are hard for local less-powerful operators to withstand. Incentives can stimulate more actors (large and small) to enter the VC of already badly managed, declining fisheries (DoE Department of the Environment 2009, Ferrer 2016).

The year 2018 marks major development in the fishery VCs of Unguja and Concepcion as the market and port expansions get underway. Neoclassical economic theory suggests global market integration is a viable strategy to reduce poverty. However, it is difficult to understand how exactly fishers and trading agents in the current cases can access the growth in wealth projected to emerge from this integration. How will local Zanzibari women traders access the economic benefits from tourism if unable to afford fish species demanded by the hotels? How will Filipino fishers be able to keep investing in modern fishing gear to increase extraction for growing demands without further reliance on their buyers for finance, and without further pressuring already stretched natural resources? Local fisheries management in both cases needs to extend management up the VC to understand how international market initiatives impact the local trading system and in particular marine ecosystem exploitation. These types of results call attention to the need for the fisheries-poverty-trade debate to incorporate more case-orientated examples of benefit distribution on the ground.


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Above all, the authors would like to express a genuine and sincere thank you to the communities of Unguja Island Zanzibar and Concepcion, Iloilo. Without their willingness and patience with us there would be no research. Big, big thanks to Joey Pedrajas, Ramadhan Rashid Hassan, Matilda Thyresson, Jinky Hopanda, Mkanga the teacher, Mohammed S. Jiddawi, Dave, Ricky, and the Junbees Team (including the late Chloe). We acknowledge the Zanzibar Institute of Marine Sciences (University of Dar es Salaam) and the University of the Philippines Visayas. This work was made possible through the generous contribution of SIDA (The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) through Grant number 1425704, by MISTRA funding to the Stockholm Resilience Center, and funding to the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere program by the Erling-Persson Foundation.


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Address of Correspondent:
Elizabeth Drury O'Neill
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2b, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
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