Fisheries development is a process which is aimed at improving the economic and social well being of producers and consumers, through the development of sustainable systems of exploitation and utilisation of fisheries resources. There are many issues involved which demand an interdisciplinary approach. Some of the typical problems encountered, and on which Megapesca works, include:

Post Harvest Losses of Dried Fish

Resource Management

Fisheries Trade and Quality Control

Fish Quality and Safety Legislation

Utilisation of Small Pelagic Fish

Post Harvest Losses of dried fish
Much of the population of West and Central Africa depends on dried fish for a major part of the protein in the diet. Even in some inland countries such as Mali, it is common for dried fish to be consumed every day. The dried fish trade depends on the Bonga shad, a small pelagic fish caught by small-scale coastal fishermen. This fishery uses ring netting from motorised canoes, landing on a daily basis. The fish is supplied to artisanal processors - frequently women - who smoke-dry the fish over wood fires. Drying fish in this way is unhealthy work, and depletes coastal forestry and mangrove resources. A lot of development effort has been put into improving the technology of smoke drying, in particular by extension of the cleaner and more efficient chorkor oven, which originated in Ghana.

Dried fish is an ideal product for distribution to the African interior - it is light and therefore cheap to distribute. Importantly, given the high ambient temperatures, it is a relatively stable product. It is however, subject to insect infestation by larvae of flies and beetles. It is also very delicate and can be broken easily - even when transported in big baskets. Losses through the distribution chain can be high, and a lot of development effort has focused on improving the methods of processing, distribution and handling to reduce these losses.

Market for dried-smoked fish, Sierra Leone 

Dried bonga shad provides inland W.African markets with a vital supply of protein

Wicker baskets for fish distribution, Sieerra Leone 

Dried fish is distibuted many hundreds of miles inland in large wicker baskets

Resource Management
The growth in global demand for fish is derived from population growth and increased income in developed economies. Given the finite size of fishery resources it is not surprising that they are under pressure to yield ever increasing quantities. Under particular pressure are high-demand species located close to major markets, and those species which exhibit slow growth rates - large crustacea (eg.lobsters), demersal white fish (eg.cod) and large migratory fish (eg.swordfish) are typical of the species under pressure. Generally under much less pressure are rapidly growing small pelagic fish, such as anchovy and sardine, which have traditionally been used for reduction to fishmeal.

Management of exploited fisheries is essential to maintain a balance between the ability of stock to reproduce itself, and the level of mortality from fishing. One of the problems faced by fisheries scientists is that it is often very difficult to determine how much fish can be taken without damaging the stock levels (a quantity known as the maximum sustainable yield). This is because the actual level may vary over time depending on environmental factors (eg.food availability, predation and climate). In addition, it also very difficult to get accurate information about stocks. Very often the first sign of a fishery under pressure is that the average size of fish starts to decline, as does the catch per unit effort (ie. the amount of fish caught for a given level of fishing activity). In other words the fish get smaller and harder to catch.

Even if fisheries scientists can produce reliable recommendations about the level of exploitation which should be maintained, this does not always translate into reality. There are different ways of controlling access to the fishery and the amount caught, and many of them often meet with resistance. Access is often restricted by licencing schemes and then quotas allocated to areas and ultimately divided between individual fishermen. Alternatively controls may be imposed on the type of fishing gear permitted, for example by having limits on the maximum vessel size, or on the minimum mesh size of fishing nets. Fishing effort may also be limited by restricting the number of days at sea eg. through close seasons (often timed to coincide with vulnerable stages of the life cycle such as spawning).

Even if the control measures are able to ensure the sustainability of the fishery, the next major difficulty is their enforcement. With fishing there is always an implied pressure to maximise the current catch quantity (rather than maximise value or save fish for tomorrow). Especially in private sector fisheries, the pressure to compete for a greater share of the resource provides and incentive for fishermen to find ways to get round the fisheries control mechanisms. Monitoring and surveillance operations are thefefore a necessary part of the fisheries management process.

Fisheries management is therefore a complex process which combines aspects of fisheries biology, fisheries economics, fishing gear technology, laws and their enforcement. All of this has to be balanced against the social needs of fishermen, who often have little alternative employment opportunities. This requires a sophisticated administrative and political framework which is often beyond the capabilities of even well-developed countries. However donor agencies must continue to support the introduction of sound fisheries management practices as a basis for sustainable development in less developed economies. 

Measuring carapace length of spiny lobsters a Shihr, Yemen 

Effective resource management requires detailed and regular monitoring of the biological characteristics of fish stocks. In this example fisheries scientists are measuring the carapace length of spiny lobsters in Yemen.

Fisheries Trade and Quality Control
Over the past few decades, the volume of global fish production has grown substantially, increasing from about 20 million metric tonnes in 1950 to 112 million tonnes in 1995. The 1995 production was about 10% higher than 1994, but most of the increase was due to aquaculture production. About 35 million tonnes of fish is used for fishmeal, and the balance (77 million tonnes) goes for direct human consumption (see Figure 1).

Much of the higher value portion of fish production enters international trade. In 1993, the quantity entering trade was estimated was estimated at 23 million tonnes, worth US$40 000 million. 


Figure 1: Fish utilisation for human consumption and for fishmeal and oil in 1994.

Fish is one of the most highly perishable foods and unlike most raw materials, fishery products consist of a large number of species of widely differing appearances and characteristics. Market quality is a complex issue due, reflecting the sophistication and variety of products and of markets.

Furthermore, consumer taste is moving away from traditional long-keeping and intrinsically stable products to fresher, milder, more highly perishable ones, which require more care in preparation and storage. Consumers are also becoming more aware of possible hazards and malpractice arising from food, and are becoming more demanding in respect of quality.

In developed fishing nations there has been a move towards the exploitation of new fish stocks as traditional species become fully or over-exploited. New methods of recovering edible flesh are being introduced. Large food processing and retailing companies are either taking over small fish companies or entering the fish market for the first time. These companies bring ideas and pressures for the improvement of quality that are new to many traditional fish companies. There is also a growth in brand labelling of fish products, and a growing influence of multiple retailers, requiring standardised products and quality.

On the other hand, less developed countries (LDC) are building up capacity to exploit their fish resources, are striving to reduce waste caused by post-harvest spoilage and are increasingly entering export markets for fish products. Fish trade is an important source of export earnings for less developed countries.

In 1993, less developed countries as a group accounted for 48% of world trade in fishery products, up from 45% in 1992 and 43% in 1983. Fish has become one of the LDC world's principal food exports. No other food commodity is exported in such large quantities from South to North. Compared with other agricultural commodities, fish plays an outstanding role as a earner of foreign exchange; the net-exports of fishery products (shown in Figure 2) were US$11,150 million in 1993, much higher than coffee (US$5,000 million), banana and rubber (US$2,350 million and US$2 150 respectively) and tea (US$1,000 million).


Figure 2: Comparison of export values of principal agricultural commodities

Exports are to the markets of developed countries, with high traditional levels of fish consumption, and where the benefits of fish for a healthy diet are increasingly recognised. Demands for improved quality and safety, in the major markets of the EU, USA and Canada have resulted in the creation fish quality legislation for home based fish processing companies, importing companies and importing countries.

Fish Quality and Safety Legislation 
The EU introduced the Directive of the Council of the European Community of 22 July 1991 (91/493/EEC), which lays down the health conditions required for the production and placing on the market of fishery products. This is supplemented by the Decision of the Commission of 20 May 1994 concerning the rules for the implementation of the "Own-checks" system (which introduces the HACCP concept - Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points).

The ultimate purpose of these instruments is to harmonise the quality requirements for fish products within the Union, with a view to facilitating intra-community trade. As a result the Directive introduces major changes in the regulation of quality of fish products within the Union, but also applies the requirements to supplies from external sources.

The USA FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has developed fish quality control legislation, which also requires the implementation of HACCP systems to production systems for fishery products.

International trade in fishery products, including within Europe, has traditionally been regulated by means of a certification process which provides evidence that a given consignment complies with a defined standard. This approach, known as "end product inspection" relies on sampling of a specific batch of products, submitting samples to standardised organoleptic, chemical or microbiological tests, and comparison of the results against standard-criteria in order to determine the suitability of the batch for the market. This approach is now widely recognised as being, at best, ineffective, and at worst, misleading.

The approaches adopted by the EU and US FDA implicity recognise the limitations of this approach, and focuses clearly on control during each stage of handling and processing, from catching to final sale. It is this control which ultimately determines the quality of the product reaching the consumer.

For trade in the EU a nominated competent authority of each member (or supplying country) government will be responsible for ensuring inspection of the establishments against the requirements of the legislation. The inspection will reveal whether an individual establishment complies with the provisions of the legislation. If it does, it will be granted an approval number. Only products originating from those establishments with approval numbers will be allowed to enter intra-community trade. National requirements for health certificates (stating that a sample of the consignment has been found to comply with standards) will no longer apply.

In less developed countries governments and industry have difficulty meeting some of these requirements - an essential barrier to overcome if vital fish trade is to be maintained. In particular, in LDCs, the implementation of EU-standard inspection systems runs into problems with:

Megapesca consultants have helped inspection services and industry to overcome some of these problems in Seychelles, Madagascar, Yemen, Turkey, Latvia and Ecuador.

Utilisation of Small Pelagic Fish
Small pelagic fish represent an important resource in many regions of the world. Examples of small pelagic fish species are sardine, anchovy, sprats, herring and mackerel. Small pelagic fish are shoaling species, and they migrate over long distances. They are consequently caught in large numbers when they are present (see Figure 3 for some of the principal species). These species achieve relatively low prices.


FIGURE 3- Global catches of three important small pelagic fish species (Anchoveta, Chilean jack mackerel and Herring); (FAO source)

In general, the fisheries for these species are characterised by strongly seasonal variation in quantity of landings. An example is shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4: Seasonality of Black Sea Anchovy landings in Turkey.

The quality of supply also varies. Small pelagic fish store their energy reserves as oil in the flesh (compared to white fleshed fish which store their fat in the liver and visceral cavity). The oil content of the flesh varies depending on sexual maturity, building up to a maximum (which can be over 20%) just before spawning, and a declining to a minimum immediately after (as illustrated in Figure 5).


Figure 5: Seasonal fat content of Cornish Mackerel

These fish are also highly perishable. The high oil content of the flesh makes it susceptible to oxidative rancidity - a source of off flavours. It also makes the flesh soft and susceptible to physical damage. The small size of the fish and the high level of metabolic activity (the fish are always on the move compared to their white-fleshed cousins) means that they spoil much faster. At certain times of the year, when they are feeding heavily, small pelagic fish are also highly susceptible to 'belly burst ' - when the digestive enzymes from the gut start to digest the flesh of the belly walls. Above all, the high catch rates mean that fish to be used for human consumption must be landed, chilled and processed in large quantities, and it must be handled rapidly. 

Present utilisation of small pelagic fish depends on the area and type of fishery. Artisanal fisheries in many parts of the world use drying (either sun-drying or smoke/drying over wood fires). Capital intensive methods of preservation are also used - freezing (in bulk in plate freezers) or canning technology). These processes may even be carried out onboard massive processing vessels. Sometimes small pelagic fish are distributed in fresh form (for example the Black Sea anchovy in Turkey). However, one feature of many fisheries for small pelagic fish is a seasonal resource availability in excess of levels which can be processed or distributed for human consumption. This excess resource is often used for fishmeal and fish oil production. Typically, up to 80% of the catches from a small pelagic fishery may be used for fishmeal production.

Fishmeal is made by removing the bulk of the moisture and oil from fish material (either whole fish or offal after filleting). The conversion ratio is roughly 4:1 ie. 20-25% yield depending on whether whole fish or offal is used. Industrial fishmeal is made by cooking, separating the oil, pressing the cake, drying and grinding the fish in machinery designed for the purpose. Fishmeal may also be made on an artisanal scale by sun drying then grinding. Fishmeal is composed of 60 to 70 % protein content and is used mainly as an animal feed. The main users are farmers raising beef cattle, pigs, turkeys and chickens (both for the table and egg layers). Typically formulated diets may contain up to 15% of fish meal; higher levels impart a fish flavour to the final product. Fishmeal may be substituted with other protein sources, but care is needed to maintain the correct amino acid balance The other main use of fishmeal is for the rapidly expanding business of fish farming (salmon, trout, shrimp etc), which is potentially an even bigger user of the worlds fishmeal production than traditional farming. Fish feeds may contain up to 60% fish meal. 

Fish oils are produced whenever fatty fish are processed into meal. They can be used in making edible oil and fats for human consumption (e.g. margarine production in Europe). However, fish oils are not permitted for human consumption in USA, but are widely used in the paint and varnish industry. 

With many of the World's fishery resources under pressure, and rising demand for fish for human consumption, there is a great technological and marketing challenge - to find ways of making better use of the resources of small pelagic fish. Use of fish meal for animal feeds is an inefficient way to use a prime protein, which would be much efficiently utilised if directly consumed (as well as being healthier for consumers too).

One possible way of doing this is through employing modern processing technology. Much research was carried out in the 1980s in the USA, in the use of menhaden for surimi. The project failed because it was not possible to de-fat the flesh to achieve a shelf-stable product, without affecting the taste and texture of the flesh.

However, improvements in distribution infrastructure (for example better roads and availability of ice) make a difference in many parts of the world, so that fish can distributed quickly to interior markets. Improved local distribution networks also make a difference (using hand-carts or small mobile units to take the fish to the consumer). Fisheries development projects are often aimed at developing the necessary infrastructure to enable wider and more efficient distribution of small pelagic fish.