An unconventional approach to estimating crew remuneration in fisheries / by Francisco Blaha

As a former fisherman, and from a human perspective I feel (and wrote) that the real “race to bottom” in fishing, has been at crewing level. I don't believe that a young guy that starts fishing today could make enough money to pay for a place to live and his university studies like I was lucky to do. Hence I'm always interested in research on crew earnings and the different strategies to pay them, and this recent paper by D. PinelloaJ. Gee (FAO) and K. Polymerosa in Marine Policy has been a good read. I hope the authors don't mind that I only quote the abstract and the conclusions, for the rest: read the original!

 Took this picture while fishing in Coastal trawlers in the Gulf of Bengal in 2008. Marge shares for many days fishing... Really a hard life for those guys

Took this picture while fishing in Coastal trawlers in the Gulf of Bengal in 2008. Marge shares for many days fishing... Really a hard life for those guys

Abtract
Fishing is a labour-intensive activity and consequently labour is one of its primary costs. Labour costs refer to remuneration, which is almost universally paid by means of some kind of crew-share system. At the same time, remuneration is the most challenging socio-economic information to collect, owing to a combination of complexity, sensitivity and the frequency of informal transactions.

Data on remuneration, when paid by means of crew-share systems, does not adequately capture the real value of income derived from fishing because it is collected as a singular monetary value. Furthermore, the remuneration of fishers’ labour, as recorded in vessel or company financial statements were generally found to be underestimated.

The main aim of this paper is to provide insight into the remuneration of fisheries labour so as to improve accuracy when estimating remuneration; the focus is on both the formula used for the calculation of remuneration and the data required, and an unconventional method that replicates the fishers’ methods is proposed.

This method allows for the sensitivity around discussions about remuneration, and the informal nature of these transactions, to be circumvented. The result is improved data quality. When remuneration is estimated in this way it naturally becomes an indicator for economic performance and livelihoods derived from fishing.

 Fig. 1. Distribution of reported use of crew-share system in fisheries around the world with countries identified in the literature shown in dark grey.  Back in Argentina we had a minal salary (thanks to the union) plus catch shares

Fig. 1. Distribution of reported use of crew-share system in fisheries around the world with countries identified in the literature shown in dark grey. Back in Argentina we had a minal salary (thanks to the union) plus catch shares

Conclusions 
In most fisheries worldwide, remuneration is made through a form of crew-share system rather than as a fixed wage. The crew-share system is prevalent in fisheries because it allows for risk and rent sharing, enhances productivity by providing incentives − particularly when the owner cannot monitor the fishers − and is also a traditional system that reflects the straightforward nature of effort inputs and catch outputs.

The prevalence of the crew-share system is also a reflection of the on-the-deck conditions of fisheries; fisheries activity and its accounting are relatively simple, even though activity levels and outputs are highly variable. When a crew-share system is in place, it is proposed that remuneration be calculated indirectly using the same formula applied by the fishers themselves. A comparison of ledger values versus formula values was made in four Italian fisheries and a clear underreporting of remuneration in the ledgers was recorded. Using the formula to calculate remuneration values also allows for the occurrence of the owner working on board the vessel to be accommodated in the data, and for the complexity, sensitivity and frequency of informal transactions to be considered. This results in the derivation of more accurate data on remuneration.

Enhanced quality of data on crew remuneration is important for the assessment of a fishery for two reasons: it provides a tangible measure of the financial contribution that fishing provides to the livelihoods of the fishers; and, when crew-share systems are in place, crew remuneration is a straightforward indicator of the overall economic performance of the activity − crew-share payments are not separate from the gross profit of the fishing activity, but rather they are correlated to it so that better economic performance results in better remuneration for the crew. In this context, crew remuneration should not be considered as a classic input, but rather as an output of the activity.

The methodology outlined above enables improved collection of remuneration data and contributes to better data quality for socio-economic assessments. The indirect calculation of remuneration allows for a shift in focus to the collection of the other elements and, in particular, revenue data and this provides the opportunity to also focus on improving the quality of that data.

Finally, good quality data on remuneration and associated indicators is critical for improved management, decision-making and policy-making.