Subsistence Artisanal Barter and Trade Fisheries Definitions and Management Issues

In 2008, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council requested HDRP to develop a white paper on small-scale fisheries in the Western Pacific, to provide background information on commonly-used definitions and terms when nations want to support these particular fisheries. This background paper was drafted in April, 2008 and presented to Council staff in May, to the Council and at the Fishermen's Forum in June, and to the Science and Statistical Committee in March, 2009. The paper was subsequently used as a basis for an article on subsistence fisheries that was published in Pacific Science in 2013.

The first sections of the paper review the many definitional issues associated with small-scale, artisanal, subsistence, and barter and trade fisheries and their management, with examples from across the globe. Then, the highly-developed federal and state system for management of subsistence in Alaska is described. The final sections focus on the Pacific and existing Council activities, with a brief conclusions section listing the main points and lessons learned. Following is a list of the paper's main points:

  • There is a great interest in countries across the globe in identifying subsistence and artisanal fisheries and developing policies to support their viability and sustainability.
  • Policies have taken a number of forms to reach a variety of objectives, including poverty alleviation, food security, community/social development, improvement of sustainable fisheries management, and preservation of fishing cultures and lifestyles.
  • A great deal of effort has been expended in developing definitions of artisanal, small scale, and subsistence fisheries. These definitions take a variety of characteristics and conditions into account, including fishing gear, target species, vessel characteristics such as length and gross tonnage, population demographics and conditions such as level of poverty, motivations for fishing, makeup of fishing crew, amount and disposition of catch (including scope of market), level of dependency on fishing and marine resources, customary and traditional uses, level of development and ruralness of the fishing community and surrounding area, and a variety of social and cultural attachments to fishing activity and associated benefits.
  • There is consensus that definitions of artisanal, subsistence, and similar classifications of fisheries must take into account the local and regional context, so it is not desirable to develop definitions that are applied universally.
  • There is consensus that definitions of subsistence or artisanal fisheries should not be developed outside the context of the desired policy goals.
  • Policy development has often focused first on the desired beneficiaries and the problems that would be solved, and then on how to define and manage the fisheries accordingly, rather than developing a priori definitions of fisheries or fishermen.
  • Barter and trade have been treated as important characteristics of subsistence and artisanal fisheries that are defined and regulated, rather than as distinct types of fisheries. Federal law defines barter as a commercial activity, in contrast with the State of Hawai'i.
  • Customary exchange, a critical mechanism for maintaining social and ties and culture, is a non-market activity that differs from barter, trade or sale even though cash can be involved.
  • Management of subsistence and other small-scale fisheries in Alaska is highly developed and provides a number of models and definitions which could be applied elsewhere.
  • NMFS and the Council already have numerous references to subsistence and small-scale fisheries in their management plans, and policies in place to provide support of various types for these fisheries.
  • Identification and ongoing management of small-scale fisheries can require extensive data collection processes, especially when management is intensive and/or the delineation of sub-categories of fisheries is needed.


Allen S
2013. Carving a niche or cutting a broad swath: subsistence fishing in the western Pacific. Pacific Science 67(3): 477-488. DOI: 10.2984/67.3.12.