Fishing for fortunes? A socio-economic assessment of Tonga's artisanal fisheries

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Societies in the South Pacific are undergoing transition from reciprocity exchange and direct sustenance systems into cash based economies. The Kingdom of Tonga was selected to represent this socio-economic change. In this context, the economic viability of Tonga's subsistence and small-scale artisanal fisheries and marketing of reef and lagoon fish is assessed. Case studies were selected to represent three major geographical regions (Ha'apai, Vava'u, Tongatapu) and four major fisher groups (simple to very specialised and multi-geared fishing systems combined with cost of motorised boat transport, operational cost and fish market price). Marketing systems included operations of agents, middleman and shop owners. Economic assessment was performed by employing net present value (NPV) to explain the logic and to valorise fisheries and marketing systems against net revenues from employment and traditional agricultural production schemes. This paper also illustrates the limitations of conventional economic analysis. While NPV proved to be a useful instrument to compare fisheries and alternative sources of income, it failed to assess social and traditional values that determine the rather non-economical and non-rational subsistence and small-scale fisheries systems in the Tongan and South Pacific context. The conflict between applying mainly non-valorisation of societal and traditional values rather than underlying normal market behaviour rendered most fishing operations economically not viable or less attractive than agricultural production schemes and salaries from low skilled labour. Under these conditions, most Tongan fisheries do not reach the following suite of parameters required to make an operation economically attractive: minimum catch volume of 90-100 kg/week, a catch per unit effort of ≥5.8 kg/h, lowest possible operational cost and easy access to market selling prices of ≥5 TOP/kg fish. It was found that productivity increases from spear fishing to handline and multi-geared fisheries. Among small-scale fish marketing strategies, selling fish as a complementary activity to normal shop operations seems to be more lucrative than using agents and middlemen. Discussions focus on explaining the rationale of Tongan fishers by extending arguments beyond the economic and rationale framework. Major economic parameters such as labour and time are not accounted for in the traditional social environment. It is further argued that social considerations are impediments to economic rationale as they do not aim at catch maximisation, risk minimisation and innovation principles but the need to satisfy subsistence, social obligations and networking for societal resilience and insurance. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.




Kronen, M. (2004). Fishing for fortunes? A socio-economic assessment of Tonga’s artisanal fisheries. Fisheries Research, 70(1), 121–134.

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