Multiple factors affect socioeconomics and wellbeing of artisanal sea cucumber fishers

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Purcell, SW, Ngaluafe, P, Foale, SJ, Cocks, N, Cullis, BR & Lalavanua, W 2016, 'Multiple factors affect socioeconomics and wellbeing of artisanal sea cucumber fishers', PLos One, vol. 11, no. 12.

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Small-scale fisheries are important to livelihoods and subsistence seafood consumption of millions of fishers. Sea cucumbers are fished worldwide for export to Asia, yet few studies have assessed factors affecting socioeconomics and wellbeing among fishers. We interviewed 476 men and women sea cucumber fishers at multiple villages within multiple locations in Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga and New Caledonia using structured questionnaires. Low rates of subsistence consumption confirmed a primary role of sea cucumbers in income security. Prices of sea cucumbers sold by fishers varied greatly among countries, depending on the species. Gender variation in landing prices could be due to women catching smaller sea cucumbers or because some traders take advantage of them. Dissatisfaction with fishery income was common (44% of fishers), especially for i-Kiribati fishers, male fishers, and fishers experiencing difficulty selling their catch, but was uncorrelated with sale prices. Income dissatisfaction worsened with age. The number of livelihood activities averaged 2.2–2.5 across countries, and varied significantly among locations. Sea cucumbers were often a primary source of income to fishers, especially in Tonga. Other common livelihood activities were fishing other marine resources, copra production in Kiribati, agriculture in Fiji, and salaried jobs in New Caledonia. Fishing other coastal and coral reef resources was the most common fall-back livelihood option if fishers were forced to exit the fishery. Our data highlight large disparities in subsistence consumption, gender-related price equity, and livelihood diversity among parallel artisanal fisheries. Improvement of supply chains in dispersed small-scale fisheries appears as a critical need for enhancing income and wellbeing of fishers. Strong evidence for co-dependence among small-scale fisheries, through fall-back livelihood preferences of fishers, suggests that resource managers must mitigate concomitant effects on other fisheries when considering fishery closures. That is likely to depend on livelihood diversification programs to take pressure off co-dependent fisheries.