Fisheries Decline, Local Livelihoods And Conflicted Governance: An Indonesian Case


Carol Warren


Associate Professor

Faculty of Arts & Humanities

Murdoch University

Carol Warren is an Anthropologist and member of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. Her research interests include customary and environmental law, community based resource management, conservation and rural development policy.


Key Takeaways

    How To Apply Insights

    • Enforcement of current fisheries regulations must be a governance priority at all scales. Currently net sizes, fleet numbers, by-catch restrictions already in Indonesian legislation are not being monitorred or enforced. Good governance in fisheries must include an end to trawling and use of other damaging technologies in both commercial and small-scale fisheries.
    • Formal linkage across scales of international trade with environmental standards is urgent. Sustainability certification can no longer be a voluntary practice reliant on consumer premium payments. National governments as well as companies trading internationally need to demonstrate compliance with international production and conservation standards.
    • National government social protection policies need to compensate for environmental impacts on livelihoods from natural resource management restrictions, if a virtuous cycle of sustainable development instead of intensification of production leading to environmental deterioration and decline is to be established.
    • Climate change is interacting with resource degradation to intensify impacts on resource dependent communities and on food security generally. Research aimed at balancing social-ecological dynamics needs to integrate qualitative and quantitative research toward effective participatory co-management across scales to redress conflicted governance failures.

    Why This Research Matters

    This study investigates the social and environmental impacts of the rise and decline of the fishing industry in an Indonesian coastal community as a case study of the conflicted role of governance in marine resource management. It analyses the relationship between two distinct but intersecting fisheries: the traditional small-scale artisanal fishery targeting diverse near shore species for the local market, and the large-scale commercial purse seine fleet that exploits the once rich Bali Strait sardine fishery. The collapse of the sardine fishery has had a marked impact on the livelihoods of fishers in both the artisanal and commercial sectors.


    Findings & Research Conclusions

     A significant issue for the future of fisheries dependent communities is the need to raise the priority of equity and sustainability in resource governance. The failure of regulatory regimes to enforce restrictions  that would control overfishing in this classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ is found to be a key factor in the unravelling of the local economy, and presents an instructive case for analysing the wider implications of a fundamental conflict in the political economy of the global system between unevenly matched market-driven resource use and sustainable development practices. Climate change is interacting with resource degradation to intensify impacts on resource dependent communities and food security more generally.The importance of this study for policy makers and development practitioners is in connecting qualitative data on village level livelihood issues with commercial fishery production data to highlight the role of monitoring and enfocement and the imperative of good governance across scales for this critically important component of global food security.


    Research's methodology

    The research aimed to correlate quantitative data on the decline of commercial sardine catches in the Bali Strait with the decline in livelihood indicators reported in the mixed quantitative-qualitative studies of a sample of villagers from a community engaged in both large scale and artisanal fishing. In this case study quantitative data from the commercial sardine fleet landing site from 2003 to 2015 showing the rise and collapse of the commercial sardine fishery is linked to qualitative information from long-term fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and sample surveys in 2010 and 2016 investigating local impacts of fisheries resource decline on community livelihood security.

    An example of efforts toward grass-roots approaches to sustainable fisheries is the work of the Non-Government Organisation, Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMA) which aims at fostering model local level customary management regimes and establishing Learning Centres for expanding and adapting best practice to other local communities. See: At national and international level, FAO offers policy briefs and other tools and resources for best practice fisheries management. See A 2021 UNDP-Global Environment Fund initiative for a regional project in the Caribbean aims to produce a holistic sustainable approach to regional collaboration between international organizations that will help advance the region’s transition towards sustainable fisheries and other ocean-based livelihoods through “the protection and restoration of key marine habitats, and ocean-based climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions.” See:


    No systematic quantitative data is available on small-scale fisheries because of the diverse local contexts in which they operate. Similarly, qualitative data is rare for studying sustainable livelihoods in large-scale fisheries. Furthermore, there is little research to show how one sector impacts on the other over time.The research applied a case study approach which examined on-the-ground dynamics that demonstrated how conflicted governance plays out, with short -term development prioritised over resource conservation leading to overfishing and livelihood decline in both artisanal and commercial sectors. The case study demonstrates that enforcement of fisheries regulations is pre-requisite to sustainable livelihoods and food security in both the small-scale and commercial fisheries sectors. Conclusions were restricted to the Bali Strait location of the field surveys and fish landing site data, but indicative of the importance of monitoring and enforcement for long term sustainability outcomes.

    conflicted governanceIn the context of this research, ‘conflicted governance’ refers to the competing priorities of restrictive fisheries regulation for sustainability on the one hand, and productivity increasing economic development policy on the other.
    sustainable developmentAn approach to development policies which demands highly regulated and research driven resource management as a first priority over increasing the scale of resource exploitation.
    Social protection policyPolicies aimed at social protection (health, education and income protection) must be integrated with environmental protection in line with sustainable development principles.

    Reference this research

    Warren, C. and Steenbergen, D. 2021 ‘Fisheries decline, local livelihoods, and conflicted governance: An Indonesian case’, Ocean and Coastal Management, vol. 202, Article 105498, pp1-13

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