Development of alternative livelihoods has become a popular policy to uplift the socioeconomic status of small-scale fishers and to reduce fishing pressure on overexploited fisheries. Seaweed farming has been incorporated into many community-based coastal resources management projects and fisheries management initiatives as an alternative livelihood option for fishers in tropical developing countries.

Seaweed farming in Tanzania has been viewed as a potential economic opportunity for coastal communities and a way to reduce pressure on marine resources and coral reefs. Seaweed farming in Zanzibar has reportedly improved living standards in coastal villages. Females are the main laborers engaged in seaweed farming. Since females and children can be involved in seaweed farming, the impact on these individuals should also be considered in policies that promote alternative livelihood. Where males make up only a fraction of the labor pool in seaweed farming, there is less likelihood that permanent occupational shifts from fishing will occur.

Providing alternative livelihood to fishers that simultaneously improves their economic condition and reduces fishing pressure can be achieved in some instances. However, in cases where fishers do not fully exit the fishery and a shift from full to part time fishing is likely, a limited degree of effort reduction can result, at least temporarily. Whether seaweed cultivation leads to entry or exit from fishing depends to some extent on world market and prices for seaweed. However, non-economic factors often keep fishers in the occupation of fishing. The viewpoint of supplemental livelihood rather than alternative livelihood makes better sense as this strategy attempts to reduce household dependence on fishing but acknowledges that some fishers may still like to engage in fishing. However, with population growth and low employment, exit from fishing does not prevent entry as well, so even if some fishers leave to take up alternative employment, there will be new entrants. These new entrants will still be faced with the same dilemma of previous fishers, too many fishers and not enough fish, exacerbating the overfishing problem and driving down earnings per fisher. Without some form of limited entry, the fishery will tend to move to the economic equilibrium point of opportunity wages. As previously noted, there may be several reasons why the fishery moves below the open access equilibrium point as predicted by classic bioeconomic model of a fishery. In addition, while some fishers may do well, others will do poorly as some degree of income variability and non-equity will always exist. Only if regional employment and wages increase can overall wages of fishers increase. Alternative livelihoods to some extent can contribute in this regard but economic overfishing will still occur with an open access regime.

(Excerpt of “Seaweed Farming: An Alternative Livelihood for Small-Scale Fishers?” by Brian Crawford, June 2002)