Contribution of Fisheries and Aquaculture to Food Security and Poverty Reduction: Assessing the Current Evidence

Article (PDF Available)inWorld Development 79 · March 2016with 7,048 Reads
DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.11.007
Following a precise evaluation protocol that was applied to a pool of 202 articles published between 2003 and 2014, this paper evaluates the existing evidence of how and to what extent capture fisheries and aquaculture contribute to improving nutrition, food security, and economic growth in developing and emergent countries. In doing so we evaluate the quality and scientific rigor of that evidence, identify the key conclusions that emerge from the literature, and assess whether these conclusions are consistent across the sources. The results of the assessment show that while some specific topics are consistently and rigorously documented, thus substantiating some of the claims found in the literature, other areas of research still lack the level of disaggregated data or an appropriate methodology to reach consistency and robust conclusions. More specifically, the analysis reveals that while fish contributes undeniably to nutrition and food security, the links between fisheries/aquaculture and poverty alleviation are complex and still unclear. In particular national and household level studies on fisheries’ contributions to poverty alleviation lack good conceptual models and produce inconsistent results. For aquaculture, national and household studies tend to focus on export value chains and use diverse approaches. They suggest some degree of poverty alleviation and possibly other positive outcomes for adopters, but these outcomes also depend on the small-scale farming contexts and on whether adoption was emergent or due to development assistance interventions. Impacts of fish trade on food security and poverty alleviation are ambiguous and confounded by a focus on international trade and a lack of consistent methods. The influences of major drivers (decentralization, climate change, demographic transition) are still insufficiently documented and therefore poorly understood. Finally the evaluation reveals that evidence-based research and policy narratives are often disconnected, with some of the strongest and long-lasting policy narratives lacking any strong and rigorous evidence-based validation. Building on these different results, this paper identifies six key gaps facing policy-makers, development practitioners, and researchers.
Contribution of Fisheries and Aquaculture to Food Security
and Poverty Reduction: Assessing the Current Evidence
International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia
MRAG, London, UK
University of Washington, Seattle, USA
University of Stirling, UK
Wageningen University, Netherlands
Queen Mary University of London, UK
University of California, San Diego, USA
WorldFish, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden
Aspely, Australia
Summary. Following a precise evaluation protocol that was applied to a pool of 202 articles published between 2003 and 2014, this
paper evaluates the existing evidence of how and to what extent capture fisheries and aquaculture contribute to improving nutrition,
food security, and economic growth in developing and emergent countries. In doing so we evaluate the quality and scientific rigor of
that evidence, identify the key conclusions that emerge from the literature, and assess whether these conclusions are consistent across
the sources. The results of the assessment show that while some specific topics are consistently and rigorously documented, thus substan-
tiating some of the claims found in the literature, other areas of research still lack the level of disaggregated data or an appropriate
methodology to reach consistency and robust conclusions. More specifically, the analysis reveals that while fish contributes undeniably
to nutrition and food security, the links between fisheries/aquaculture and poverty alleviation are complex and still unclear. In particular
national and household level studies on fisheries’ contributions to poverty alleviation lack good conceptual models and produce incon-
sistent results. For aquaculture, national and household studies tend to focus on export value chains and use diverse approaches. They
suggest some degree of poverty alleviation and possibly other positive outcomes for adopters, but these outcomes also depend on the
small-scale farming contexts and on whether adoption was emergent or due to development assistance interventions. Impacts of fish
trade on food security and poverty alleviation are ambiguous and confounded by a focus on international trade and a lack of consistent
methods. The influences of major drivers (decentralization, climate change, demographic transition) are still insufficiently documented
and therefore poorly understood. Finally the evaluation reveals that evidence-based research and policy narratives are often discon-
nected, with some of the strongest and long-lasting policy narratives lacking any strong and rigorous evidence-based validation. Building
on these different results, this paper identifies six key gaps facing policy-makers, development practitioners, and researchers.
Ó2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Key words — poverty reduction, food security and nutrition, development, fisheries, aquaculture
Food security and poverty reduction have been central to
the world development agenda but the principal themes have
evolved with the growing population, and changes in the
world economy, technology, and state of the environment.
Recent food security discourse stresses the need for multiple
policy, economic and social actions addressing consumer
demand, access, supply and nutrition (Grafton et al., 2015).
Within the global food production and distribution system,
poverty reduction strategies have renewed the focus on the
role of smallholders in agriculture, and identified the impor-
tance of upstream and downstream linkages, as well as non-
farm activities (Hazell et al., 2007).
matters to all these food security and poverty reduc-
tion themes—nutrition, supply (and its sustainability),
demand, access, and the role of small-scale workers—but, in
the capture fisheries and aquaculture sectors, not all these
themes have been adequately addressed and assessed. A large
part of the past and recent fish research has focused on man-
agerial issues driven by ecological/conservation and efficiency/
economic considerations. Despite new narratives that high-
light the potential contributions of capture fisheries and aqua-
culture to food security and poverty reduction, little has been
done to evaluate rigorously the evidence base for the actual
contribution of the two sectors to food security and poverty
reduction (see however HLPE, 2014;Be
´et al., 2015).
*An earlier version of this research benefited from the comments of Ben
Cattermoul and Alan Tollervey (DFID Research and Evidence Division),
John Barrett, Tim Bostock, Cassandra de Young, Stephen Hall, Neil
MacPherson, Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, and Rashid Sumaila. The
conclusions remain however those of the authors only. Final revision
accepted: November 21, 2015.
World Development Vol. 79, pp. 177–196, 2016
0305-750X/Ó2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
With more focus on the nutritional value of food commodi-
ties, fish is acknowledged as a major nutrient-dense animal-
source food for a significant proportion of the nutritionally
vulnerable people, overshadowing that of most of terrestrial
animal foods. In 2010, the quantity of fish produced was twice
that of poultry and three times that of cattle (FAOSTAT and
FISHSTAT). In 2010, of the 30 countries where fish contribute
more than one-third of the total animal protein supply, 22 are
Low Income and Food Deficient countries (LIFDCs)
(Kawarazuka & Be
´, 2011). Furthermore, in addition to ani-
mal protein, fish contain unique long-chain poly-unsaturated
fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) and highly bioavailable essential
micronutrients—vitamins D and B, minerals (calcium, phos-
phorus, iodine, zinc, iron, and selenium). These compounds,
often not readily available elsewhere in diets, have beneficial
effects for adult health and child cognitive development
(HLPE, 2014).
In the world food regime, in addition to production, trade is
a major factor. Fish products, from capture fisheries and
aquaculture, presently account for about 10% of total agricul-
tural exports, and the value of the global fish trade exceeds the
value of international trade in all other animal source foods
combined (World Bank, 2011). Low- and medium-income
countries (LMICs) play a major role as they supply 50% of
all fish exports by value and more than 60% by quantity
(World Bank, 2011). In general, fish production contributes
0.5–2.5% of GDP globally but for countries such as Maurita-
nia and Vietnam, the contribution is 10% or more (Allison,
2011), and, in some Pacific small island states dependent on
fisheries, 25% of their GDP (Gillett, 2009b).
Despite the importance of fish to economic development
and food provision, public debate in relation to fish is domi-
nated by concerns over resources and environmental sustain-
ability (e.g., Worm et al., 2006; Pauly 2009). Capture
fisheries are commonly presented as in ‘‘crisisand with the
future potential of fisheries as a food source jeopardized. Sim-
ilarly, a strong historical dependence of aquaculture on marine
ingredients derived from capture fisheries as key feeds is pre-
sented as a challenge for the sector. Discussions on steering
fisheries beyond crisis sometimes invoke food security con-
cerns (e.g., Srinivasan, Cheung, Watson, & Sumaila, 2010)
but are more typically focused on finding ways to ensure that
fisheries are governed to maximize their monetary value (e.g.,
Cunningham, Neiland, Arbuckle, & Bostock, 2009) while con-
serving charismatic species and habitats, such as sharks and
coral reefs (Newton, Co
´, Pilling, Jennings, & Dulvy 2007).
Some recent works in developing countries have challenged
these views, however, highlighting the locally complex,
diverse, and dynamic nature of capture fisheries and aquacul-
ture, stressing their central role in providing food, income and
employment, as well as a range of social and cultural values
and benefits to the local populations (e.g., Neiland & Be
2004; Friend, Arthur, & Keskinen, 2009; Chuenpagdee 2011;
Weeratunge et al., 2014).
In addition, strong narratives and discourses highlighting
the potential contribution of the fishery and aquaculture sec-
tors to poverty reduction and food security are widely pro-
moted—at least within the sector literature (see, e.g., Be
Macfadyen, & Allison, 2007; Heck, Be
´, & Reyes-Gaskin,
2007). Establishing whether these narratives can be supported
by evidence is important to both international policy and
science. For instance, it is widely stated that 90% of the house-
holds dependent on fish-related activities for their income live
in LMICs, and the vast majority of the people who depend
directly on fish as a major source of animal protein and
micro-nutrient live in LIFDCs. But, while generally accepted,
what is the strength of evidence to support such claims, and to
what level of specificity can we claim that fish-related activities
effectively play a role in economic development, food provi-
sion, and ultimately poverty alleviation and reducing malnu-
This paper evaluates the existing evidence of how and to
what extent capture fisheries and aquaculture contribute to
food security and poverty reduction. In doing so we evaluate
the quality and scientific rigor of that evidence, identify the
key conclusions that emerge from the literature, and assess
whether these conclusions are consistent across the sources.
This paper therefore differs fundamentally from a conven-
tional literature review in the sense that its aim is not simply
to conduct a review and synthesis of the existing literature,
but to actually assess the scientific quality and consistency of
that literature, and, where it exists, the reasons for inconsisten-
For this, a scoping review was completed, following a pre-
cise evaluation protocol that was applied to more than 200
articles grouped into eight development themes (called ‘‘clus-
ters) that relate to fish and its contribution to food security,
nutrition, human health, economic growth, and poverty allevi-
ation at both local and national levels. In addition the assess-
ment considered four cross-cutting development issues:
international trade, governance, scale, and gender, which are
also often considered to be critical factors in relation to issues
of food security and poverty alleviation. The scoping review
will reveal a heterogeneous ‘‘landscapein which certain clus-
ters are characterized by high scientific quality and/or rela-
tively consistent conclusions, while others show lower
methodological rigor, or display more inconsistent or more
inconclusive findings.
The paper is organized as follows. Section 2 presents the
details of the methodology of the scoping review. Section 3
summarizes the main findings of the review, organized around
the eight clusters and four cross-cutting issues. Section 4 draws
on these results to identify areas where more research is
required to ‘‘refineour understanding of the ways fisheries
and aquaculture effectively contribute to development and
food security and offers some concluding remarks.
The assessment is based on an in-depth evaluation of the
existing evidence related to capture fisheries and aquaculture
activities in LMICs and the ways the two sectors contribute
to economic growth, food security, and nutrition. The aim
was to compile and review existing literature; provide a rigor-
ous assessment of the scientific quality of the evidence pro-
vided in this literature; and ensure that the assessment was
completed in a rigorous, transparent, and consistent way.
For this a protocol drawing on methodologies found in the
domain of scoping review (e.g., Arksey & O’Malley, 2005;
Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2011)
was developed, build-
ing upon a three-step approach.
Step 1—Scanning and selection: Academic research docu-
ments, including journal articles, books and book chapters,
government and international institution studies, reports,
working papers, and other gray literature sources were
scanned, using two research engines: ScienceDirect and Goo-
gle Scholar. Five inclusion/exclusion criteria were applied: lan-
guage (only English documents were retained), year of
publication (only documents published in the last 12 years
(2003–2014) were considered; academic quality (documents
of non-scientific or non-academic nature—news-media
articles, blogs, etc. were excluded), geographic areas (the focus
was on LMICs), and topical relevance (directly related to cap-
ture fisheries and aquaculture in relation to either poverty
reduction, economic development, food security or a combina-
tion of these three). Based on these criteria 202 documents
were retained.
Step 2—Individual scoring: Each of these documents was
categorized based on the nature (primary/secondary—case
study-review) and scale of the data (small/large data bases).
The quality of the documents was then evaluated using a
three-criterion assessment system (rigor, validity and reliabil-
ity—see Table 1) developed from existing assessment frame-
works including ESRC (2003), Petticrew and Roberts, (2006)
and Gough (2007). Scores were allocated, based on these three
(details of the scoring system are provided in Appen-
dix 1).
Step 3—Thematic clustering: The 202 retained documents
were then clustered thematically (see below) and the quality
of evidence within each cluster evaluated by aggregating the
individual papers’ score, using three criteria:
1. Size of the body of evidence, using three categories: large
>10 documents; 10 < medium < 5; and small <5.
2. Technical quality of the body of evidence, based on the
criteria described in the top part of Table 2: ‘‘Highquality
characterizes clusters in which two thirds or more of the
documents demonstrate strong adherence to the three prin-
ciples of rigor, validity and reliability, as assessed by their
individual scores obtained through step 2. ‘‘Moderate
quality characterizes clusters in which between one third
and two thirds of the documents are of a high quality.
‘‘Lowquality was associated with clusters in which more
than two thirds of the studies in the cluster show significant
deficiencies in adherence to the three principles of rigor,
validity or reliability.
3. Consistency of the body of evidence was estimated based
on the descriptors provided in the bottom part of Table 2:a
‘‘consistentbody of evidence is one that points systemati-
cally to similar conclusions in relation to a particular ques-
tion. In contrast a ‘‘mixed/inconsistentbody of evidence
(irrespective of the quality of the research) points toward
diverging and sometimes opposed conclusions.
In addition to the 202 articles identified through step 1 of the
protocol, several seminal papers published before the 2003–
2014 window, but unanimously recognized as critical to vari-
ous aspects of our question (such as Nadel-Klein & Davis,
1988 on gender, or Baland & Platteau, 1996 on governance
in relation to natural resources), are also cited in this paper
but are not included in the scoring of the different clusters.
The literature was evaluated for eight thematic areas that
relate firstly to the contribution of fish to food security, nutri-
tion and health and then to capture fisheries and aquaculture
and their contribution to national and household economies.
The study also includes the four cross-cutting issues of interna-
tional trade, governance, scale, and gender, usually recognized
to directly impact access to and control over resources, and
therefore assumed to influence the nature and distribution of
benefits from capture fisheries and aquaculture. The eight clus-
ters and four cross-cutting issues are listed in Table 3.
rest of this section discusses the key messages that emerge
from each of these clusters, highlighting where consensus, as
well as inconsistencies and knowledge gaps have been identi-
(a) Fish, food security and nutrition
A growing literature which aims to document the contribu-
tion of fish to food security and nutrition is now available
(e.g., Kawarazuka & Be
´, 2011). This cluster of literature is
relatively large and homogenous, made up of articles pub-
lished essentially in nutrition and/or health journals (e.g.,
Journal of Nutrition,Public Health Nutrition). The large
majority of these studies were assessed as being of a high qual-
ity, demonstrating adherence to the principles of rigor, valid-
ity, and reliability and showed strong consistency (Table 3,
cluster 1.a).
The overall message that emerges from this literature is con-
sistent and supports the well-established evidence of the high
nutritional value of finfish (in particular small fish) in terms
Table 1. Criteria used to assess the quality of the research at the article level
Indicators Criteria Yes Partial No
Validity Are the findings substantiated by the data and has
consideration been given to limitations of the methods
that may have affected the results?
Are there issues in applying the method to some
research question(s), i.e., was the methodology
adequate for the research question?
Rigor Is the context or setting adequately described?
Is (are) the research question(s) clear?
Is the method used appropriate to answer the
research question(s)?
Is the method applied correctly?
Is there evidence that the data collection was
rigorously conducted to ensure confidence in the
Reliability Is the data analysis rigorously conducted to ensure
confidence in the findings?
Is the methodology adequately described to ensure
confidence in the findings?
Source: adapted from ESRC (2003) and Petticrew (2006).
of essential nutrients and micronutrients—fatty acids, vita-
mins D, A and B, minerals (calcium, phosphorus, iodine, zinc,
iron and selenium), and the potential effective contribution
that fish can offer to address multiple micronutrient deficien-
cies of people in developing countries (Roos, Chamnan,
Loeung, Jakobsen, and Thilsted, 2007; Karapanagiotidis,
Yakupitiyage, Little, Bell, and Mente, 2010; Kawarazuka &
´, 2011; Tacon & Metian, 2013). Some caveats are worth
adding, however. First, the majority of these studies have been
conducted in Asia (essentially Bangladesh and Cambodia) and
the analyses often lack reference to broader diets. Far less is
known about species consumed in other parts of the develop-
ing world, and especially in Africa (e.g., Kawarazuka, 2010a).
Second, while fish intake will increase animal protein intake
and perhaps also essential micronutrient and fat content of a
person’s diet, it does not necessarily mean that the nutritional
status of that person will systematically improve or can always
be measured (Kongsbak, Thilsted, & Wahed, 2008). Also, with
some exceptions (e.g., Karapanagiotidis et al., 2010; Belton &
Thilsted, 2014) little emphasis has been placed on understand-
ing the variability and importance of nutrients in fish pro-
duced in different contexts, i.e., capture compared to culture,
or farmed under different conditions.
(b) Fish consumption and nutritional links to health
Closely linked to the research on the contribution of fish to
nutrition, the second cluster of articles looks more specifically
at the effect of fish consumption on human health, (e.g.,
Thilsted 2012), and fish consumption versus health risks
(ciguatera, mercury and other toxins) (e.g., Molgo
´, Laurent,
Pauillac, Chinain, & Yeeting, 2010; Hoekstra et al., 2013).
Here again the cluster is remarkably homogeneous in terms
of type of research undertaken. Most of the documents are
articles published in medical or food/health journals. The
quality of the body of evidence is relatively high (Table 3, clus-
ter 2), although it does not score as highly as the previous clus-
ter due to the difficulty of simultaneously evaluating the
opposing positive and negative effect of fish consumption.
On the one hand, there is a large and well-established body
of evidence that fish consumption does provide protective
effects on a wide range of health issues, including incidence
of stroke (He, Song, Daviglus, et al., 2004), high blood
pressure, coronary heart disease (e.g., Larsen, Eilertsen,
& Elvevoll, 2011) and, possibly, cancer (although the
mechanisms through which these different effects occur are
still poorly understood). On the other hand, the risks of
Table 3. Quality of the body of evidence for the cluster
Clusters / cross-cung issues Validity Rigour Reliability Quality(a) Size Consistency
Cluster 1: Fish and nutrion 24/24 = 1 58/60 = 0.96 24/24 = 1 High Large Consistent
Cluster 2: Fish consumpon and links to health 17/20 = 0.85 39/50 = 0.78 18/20 = 0.90 High Large Consistent
Cluster 3.a: Fisheries and related diseases 20/24 = 0.92 58/60 = 0.96 22/24 = 0.92 High Large Consistent
Cluster 3.b: Fisheries, health and safety risks 10/14 = 0.71 30/35 = 0.86 12/14 = 0.86 High Medium Consistent
Cluster 4: Fish consumpon and poverty 16/20 = 0.80 40/50 = 0.80 16/20 = 0.80 High Large Inconsistent
Cluster 5: Impact of interacons on food security 9/12 = 0.75 26/30 = 0.86 10/12 = 0.83 Moderate Small Inconsistent
Cluster 6: Drivers of change 45/70 = 0.64 130/175 = 0.74 44/70 = 0.63 Moderate Large Inconsistent
Cluster 7.a: Fisheries and naonal economies 17/38 = 0.45 63/95 = 0.66 18/38 = 0.47 Low Large Inconsistent
Cluster 7.b: Fishing and household economy 31/46 = 0.67 92/115 = 0.80 30/46 = 0.65 Moderate Large Consistent
Cluster 8.a: Aquaculture and naonal economies 19/28 = 0.68 46/70 = 0.66 16/28 = 0.57 Moderate Medium-large Inconsistent
Cluster 8.b: Aquaculture at the farm gate 25/42 = 0.59 63/105 = 0.60 26/42 = 0.62 Moderate Large Mixed
Cross-cung 1: Fish trade and food security 7/18 = 0.39 27/45 = 0.60 8/18 = 0.44 Low Large Inconsistent
Cross-cung 2: Fish trade and poverty alleviaon 26/46 = 0.56 80/115 = 0.70 20/46 = 0.44 Moderate Large Inconsistent
Cross-cung 3: Governance 32/48 = 0.67 103/120 = 0.86 34/48 = 0.74 Moderate to high Medium Inconsistent
Cross-cung 4: Fish and gender 11/22 = 0.5 28/55 = 0.5 7/22 = 0.3 Moderate Large Mixed
Quality high = the three scores under validity, rigor, and reliability >0.75; moderate = at least one score <0.75; low = at least two scores <0.50.
Table 2. Top: criteria for the quality of the body of evidence; bottom: consistency descriptors
Quality of the body of evidence Definition
High Two thirds or more of single studies are assessed as being of a high
quality, demonstrating adherence to the principles of rigor, validity and
Moderate Between one third and two thirds of the studies are high quality, as
assessed according to the principles of rigor, validity and reliability
Low More than two thirds of single studies are assessed as being of low
quality, showing significant deficiencies in adherence to the principles
of rigor, validity and reliability
Consistency Definition
Consistent A range of studies point to identical, or similar conclusions
Inconsistent Different studies point to a range of conclusions. In some cases, one
study will directly refute or contest the findings of another. In other
cases, different designs or methods applied in different contexts may
simply have produced results that contrast with those of another study
intoxication/poisoning are still persistent at least in some part
of the world (e.g., Pacific region) (Molgo
´et al., 2010) where
diseases such as ciguatera caused by the consumption of con-
taminated reef fish can have both acute and chronic effects.
However, when considered together, experts tend to agree
(e.g., FAO/WHO, 2011) that the positive effects of high fish
consumption largely outweigh the potential negative effects
associated with contamination risks (HLPE, 2014). A weak-
ness of this literature is the lack of focus on nutritionally vul-
nerable groups such as pregnant women and children for
whom micronutrient deficiencies and contaminant levels have
greater significance than for the general population.
(c) Health risks associated with capture fisheries and aquacul-
ture activities
The third cluster consists of articles documenting and assess-
ing the potential occupational health risks associated with the
fisheries and aquaculture sectors. These fall essentially into
two categories. The first relates to the prevalent risk of com-
municable disease among fisherfolk (men and/or women
involved in fishing or fish trading and processing), which
includes high incidence of HIV and AIDS (e.g., Allison &
Seeley, 2004) and, in inland fisheries, schistosomiasis (Parker
et al., 2012). The second group of articles focus on the physical
risks associated with fishing and fish-processing work (e.g.,
Nag & Nag, 2007; Windle, Neis, Bornstein, Binkley, and
Navarro, 2008). Because of the nature of the issues considered,
a substantial number of these articles have been published in
medical (or related) journals. The assessment shows that the
quality of the body of evidence is relatively high—see Table 3
cluster 3.a and 3.b, essentially due to the rigor that usually
characterizes this type of research.
There are a large number of consistent findings under the
cluster that stress the very high exposure and vulnerability
of fishing communities to a whole combination of (sometimes
reinforcing) risks. Fishing is certainly among the most danger-
ous occupations in the world in terms of number of accidents
involving loss of fingers or limbs, back injuries, permanent dis-
abilities, and loss at sea (Perez-Labajos, Blanco, Azofra,
Achutegui, and Eguı
´a, 2009; Zytoon, 2012). Evidence has been
established largely from statistics from developed countries
fisheries (Perez-Labajos, 2008), and it is recognized that the
situation in developing countries is likely to be even more
daunting. In addition, for various social, cultural, and possibly
economic reasons, fishing communities are also particularly
exposed to risks related to water-borne diseases such as schis-
tosomiasis and malaria, but also STDs and HIV/AIDS (e.g.,
´& Merten, 2008). Prevalence of these diseases is often
higher in fishing communities than in the general adult popu-
lation, and comparable or higher than for other known at-risk
occupational groups, such as long-distance truck drivers and
military personnel (Kissling et al., 2005)
(d) Fish consumption and poverty
The fourth cluster of articles explores the relation between
fish consumption and poverty: do poor people consume more
(or less) fish than better-off households, and if so which fish
(e.g., Garaway, 2005)? Does aquaculture improve availability
of fish and to whom (e.g., Murshed-e-Jahan, Ahmed, &
Belton, 2010)? The large cluster of articles and reports retained
for this part of the assessment is somewhat more heteroge-
neous than the clusters on nutrition and health discussed
above. It includes literature reviews (but no systematic ones)
and several individual analyses that often combine local
case-studies and global data. The quality of evidence (Table 3,
cluster 4) is slightly lower than in the clusters on nutrition but
still remains relatively high. The main findings that emerge
from the literature are however inconsistent and somewhat
On the one hand, the majority of the articles stress the
importance of fish as a critical source of animal protein for
the poor (Hortle, 2007; Aiga, Sadatoshi Matsuoka,
Kuroiwa, & Yamamoto, 2009; Kawarazuka & Be
´, 2010).
It is estimated for instance that capture fisheries and aquacul-
ture provide 3.0 billion people with almost 20% of their aver-
age per capita intake of animal protein, and a further
1.3 billion people with about 15% of their per capita intake
(FAO, 2014; HLPE, 2014). There is also strong evidence that
fish consumption is higher in small islands developing states
and LIFDCs from tropical Asian and sub-Saharan Africa
(FAO, 2012), suggesting that the adage ‘‘fish as a rich food
for the poorsomehow reflects reality.
The importance of the nutritional contribution of fish is,
however, often overstated in regard to its protein contribu-
tion—as in most cases the share of protein intake derived from
plants (e.g., beans, peas, nuts) far exceeds animal protein in
general, and fish-protein in particular (Kawarazuka & Be
2010)—often leading to overlooking fish micro-nutrient and
essential fatty acid contributions.
At the household level, there is strong evidence that both
fishing households and fish-farmers consume a higher propor-
tion of fish than other households (e.g., Gomna & Rana, 2007;
Dey et al., 2005), but there is no evidence that the higher con-
sumption results in higher nutritional status. In fact, the only
study that rigorously demonstrates higher nutritional status in
fish-farming households also suggests that this does not result
from direct fish consumption of farmed fish but from the addi-
tional cash generated by the selling of fish, which allows
households to purchase other types of nutrient-rich food
(Aiga et al., 2009).
(e) Capture fisheries and aquaculture and the impact of their
interactions on food security
Another cluster relates to the question of the potential (pos-
itive and negative) interactions and synergies between capture
fisheries and aquaculture and the outcomes of these interac-
tions in relation to food security. The overall quality of the
body of evidence is moderate to high (Table 3, cluster 5)—
but the findings are mixed.
At the global level, the literature emphasizes the increasingly
critical importance of aquaculture to fill the gap between fish
demand and supply (e.g., Merino et al., 2012). By supplying
an increasing amount of fish on the world market, the aqua-
culture sector has not simply increased the availability of fish,
it has also prevented prices from rising as they would have if
only wild fisheries were to meet the general increase in demand
(World Bank, 2013; Troell et al., 2014), with the potential
exception of forage fish, such as many small pelagic species,
that serve as aquaculture and livestock feed. In addition to this
direct effect on supply–demand, aquaculture also has an
impact through competition and lower price, substituting wild
caught fish.
At the same time, however, the growing impor-
tance of aquaculture is not without issues. Earlier criticisms
regarding ecological (e.g., Naylor et al., 2000) and social
(van Mulekom et al., 2006) sustainability have continued
(e.g., Martinez-Porchas & Martinez-Cordova, 2012) despite
considerable progress. Wild fish (especially small pelagic fish
rich in fatty acids) used as fish meal/oil production to feed
farmed fish is still identified as wholly problematic (e.g.,
Merino et al., 2010;Merino et al., 2012) and alternative inter-
pretations ignored (e.g., Wijkstrom, 2009). Although competi-
tion between fish for direct human consumption and fish for
animal feeding may exist (HLPE, 2014) its impacts on overall
human nutrition remain contested, sparking a more nuanced
debate (e.g., Cao et al., 2015).
At the local/household level, case studies in Bangladesh
highlight that farmed fish are usually grown larger and con-
sumed filleted, and may therefore be of lower nutritional con-
tribution than wild small indigenous fish which are generally
consumed whole. There is also no clear evidence that an
increased supply of farmed-fish (or conversely availability of
wild fish) has a direct effect on micronutrient status of the pro-
ducing households and/or consumers (Kawarazuka & Be
(f) Major drivers of change
Can fisheries and aquaculture play any role in sustaining
food security in the future, with rising demands and increasing
challenges affecting supply? Numerous and heterogeneous
articles attempt to address the link between fisheries or aqua-
culture and food security within the wider context of global
drivers including population growth, fisheries governance
reform, and climate change (e.g., Allison, Perry, Badjeck,
et al., 2009;Rice & Garcia, 2011;Merino et al., 2012;Troell
et al., 2014). While some articles are general literature reviews
of varying nature and quality, others propose some form of
scenario/projection analyses. The quality of the body of evi-
dence for some of these analyses is high, but the overall scor-
ing is relatively low, reflecting the poor level of rigor, validity,
or reliability of some of other analyses (Table 3, cluster 6).
Due to the heterogeneity of the analyses assessed under this
cluster, no clear message emerges. As a result, most of the
attempts to estimate the effect of these global drivers remain
highly hypothetical and rely on questionable assumptions
and/or methods.
(i) Population transition
Fish is more expensive than staple grains, pulses, or vegeta-
bles, and it is contended that economic access, and thus con-
sumption, improves with consumers’ increasing wealth and
income. Consumption of animal source foods, including fish,
also increases with urbanization, which improves geographic
access by offering bigger, better served markets than rural
areas. Urban culture also changes food consumption patterns
through influencing patterns of leisure and work, provision of
fast food, and advertizing.
A medium-sized body of evidence addresses the relationship
between population growth and fish supplies. Over the past
50 years per capita fish supplies have increased by more than
60%, reaching 18.9 kg per person per year in 2010
(Beveridge et al., 2013). The expansion that occurred during
the 1960s–1980s was largely due to increased capture fisheries
landings, while that that took place since the 1990s is primarily
attributable to aquaculture (FAO, 2014). The quality of sup-
porting evidence, which largely uses FAO fish production data
and UN population estimates, is high, the greatest discrepancy
among papers being whether fish alone or fish and shellfish
consumption were considered.
The quality of the small body of evidence that considered
the impacts of consumer wealth and income on level of fish
consumption is moderate: only about half produce evidence
that is considered valid, rigorous, and reliable. Similarly the
number of papers retained for consideration of the impacts
of urbanization on fish consumption is very small and the
overall quality of evidence moderate. As a consequence the
conclusions about the nature of this relationship are inconsis-
tent among the different studies.
(ii) Climate change
Climate change is now widely recognized to affect a range of
environmental variables, including ocean currents, rainfall,
temperatures, river flows, storm severity and frequency, harm-
ful algal blooms, and ocean acidification (Feely, Doney, &
Cooley, 2009; Fleming et al., 2006). These in turn impact on
production ecology, fishing, and aquaculture operations and
dependent communities, as well as on food security and the
wider economy (Cochrane, De Young, Soto, and Bahri,
2009;Merino et al., 2012). A medium-sized body of evidence
discusses the impacts of climate change on production ecol-
ogy, capture fisheries, and aquaculture operations. Approxi-
mately equal numbers of papers were judged to be of high
or moderate quality, based on rigor, validity, and reliability.
The great majority of papers, however, were concerned with
fisheries exclusively. Another group of papers was retained
for their consideration of the impact of climate-induced
changes on fisheries and/or aquaculture livelihoods, food secu-
rity, and economies (e.g., Cinner et al., 2012; Perry, Ommer,
et al., 2011; Allison et al., 2009). However, the quality of evi-
dence was somewhat weak, with just under 40% of papers
demonstrating clear evidence for present and future impacts.
The majority concluded that it is possible to meet future fish
demand, despite climate change, provided fish resources are
managed sustainably and reliance on fishmeal and fish oil by
the aquaculture sector continues to decline.
(iii) Value chains and the global economy
There is a growing literature on value chains, extending the
analysis beyond the technical assessment of efficiencies, and
aimed at examining industry structures, the function of players
and wealth distribution. Such analyses draw attention to the
roles of different actors, including fishers and farmers, the
state, NGOs, and certification schemes. These articles examine
aquaculture and capture fisheries value chains in Southeast
Asia and Africa (e.g., Thyresson, Crona, Nystrom, de la
Torre-Castro, & Jiddawi, 2013;Loc, Bush, & Sinh, 2009;
Ponte, 2008). All the articles considered for this assessment
are based on primary data and the quality of the evidence is
relatively high.
A number of messages emerge. First in terms of food waste
and losses: fish is susceptible to high post-harvest losses, espe-
cially in small-scale fisheries. Consistent evidence demon-
strates that these losses occur throughout the value chain
and can be both quantitative and/or qualitative (i.e., economic
and nutritional) (e.g., Kumolu-Johnson & Ndimele, 2011;
Akande & Diei-Ouadi, 2010). Quantitative losses are more
serious, and include fish discarded at sea and lost from the
value chain through spoilage caused by insect infestation
(often around 20%), poor handling, and contamination
(Kelleher, 2005). Overall the literature suggests that discarding
is lower in artisanal fisheries, in which locally developed post-
harvest methods typically utilize a wide range of species,
including low-quality fish (Akande & Diei-Ouadi, 2010).
Power asymmetries in the value chain are important, and
the evidence suggests that, relative to other actors, small-
scale producers often receive the least benefit (e.g.,
Ardjosoediro & Neven, 2008). The studies provide evidence
of vertical integration, especially in export-oriented trade for
both capture fisheries and aquaculture as a means to secure
supplies. Of increasing importance is the setting and
enforcement of capture fisheries and aquaculture standards.
Certification has been seen as a way of addressing power
asymmetries within value chains, but the evidence suggests
that the introduction of certification schemes plays out within
a particular political and economic setting and is not necessar-
ily leading to the inclusion of the smaller-scale operators
(Thyresson et al., 2013;Tran, Bailey, Wilson, and Phillips,
2013;Ponte, 2008).
(g) Capture fisheries and poverty
Recent estimates suggest that the potential direct value of
the outputs from capture fisheries is about US $80–85 billion
annually (World Bank & FAO, 2009) and, when processing
and ancillary activities are considered, a total contribution
to global economic output of between US $225 and $240 bil-
lion per year is suggested (Dyck & Sumaila, 2010). Whether
this wealth can be generated sustainably, and whether/how it
contributes to poverty alleviation, are critical concerns. There
are two important strands in the literature that address this
issue. The first considers how fisheries contribute to economic
development at the national level (World Bank & FAO, 2009;
Cunningham et al., 2009). The second major strand focuses on
the importance of fishing at the household and local level (e.g.,
´, 2006).
(i) Capture fisheries and national economies
The contribution of capture fisheries to national economies
is generally examined through four different pathways (e.g.,
Allison, 2011): (1) generation of revenues to national accounts
from access payments, exports, taxation and license fees; (2)
economic rents, and more generally net economic benefits that
can include consumer welfare and allow for shadow pricing;
(3) wages and income received by those employed in the sec-
tor; and (4), effect of multipliers and economic linkages within
the regional/national economy. The cluster is quite homoge-
neous in terms of the type of research undertaken, dominated
by bio-economic modeling and the use of national and global
data sets. Most of the documents are articles published in fish-
eries and economics journals. The quality of the body of evi-
dence is relatively low, essentially due to the difficulty of
providing evidence of how positive contributions at the
national level can be linked to pro-poor outcomes at the local
and household level (Table 3, cluster 7.a).
The evidence generated from studies using global and
national data sets is usually employed to highlight the oppor-
tunities for governments to maximize wealth in the fisheries
sector. Fisheries can in theory be a means to generate rents
that can be extracted and used to address poverty (e.g.,
World Bank & FAO, 2009). While a consistent message is
often advocated, the evidence is weak due to problems inher-
ent to national and global data sets. Although opportunities
for poverty reduction through utilization of rents, job and
income opportunities are often discussed in the literature,
these elements are rarely rigorously substantiated, and power
dynamics in the creation and distribution of rent are often
downplayed (e.g., Campling & Havice, 2014). Evidence for
the actual practice of rent extraction and its reinvestment in
the fisheries sector or in poverty alleviation interventions
and resultant impacts is currently lacking.
In addition to the financial value of fisheries production, a
number of authors have considered the employment contribu-
tion of fisheries to national economies (e.g., Teh & Sumaila,
2013). Within the context of developing countries, evidence
suggests that in conditions of chronic unemployment or when
there are limited alternatives to fishing, the level of employ-
ment in the fishery that maximizes the national revenue in
the rest of the economy and that contributes most to the bal-
ance of trade is larger than the employment that maximizes
resource rent (e.g., Wilson & Boncoeur, 2008). The evidence
is that fisheries, in particular more labor-intensive ones, can
also provide important additional seasonal employment, sup-
port agricultural livelihoods, and may also provide a ‘‘labor
bufferfunction as people can move in and out of fishing
activity depending upon other opportunities (e.g., Jul
Larsen, Kolding, Overa, Nielsen, and van Zwieten, 2003;
´, Hersoug, & Allison, 2010). While the evidence is still
weak, it suggests that fisheries can potentially provide employ-
ment opportunities for the poor, in particular in conditions in
which capital and investment are lacking and in post-conflict
and post-disaster conditions (Be
´, Hersoug, & Allison, 2010).
Within the literature on fisheries and national economic
development, the importance of multipliers and the role of
fisheries as a driver of development has been argued but with
little in the way of quantitative evidence of fisheries growth
potential. Instead, much of the focus remains on high value
products for export and increasing economic efficiency (e.g.,
Birthal & Joshi, 2009). The literature remains unclear how
changes to increase efficiency and increase rents, including cer-
tification schemes, actually benefit the poor. As with the wider
literature on economic growth and poverty, it is not the aggre-
gate wealth that matters as much as the distribution of this
wealth. As with all of this section, the lack of evidence suggests
that it may be misleading to rely only on global figures to infer
conclusions about impacts on poverty at the local level.
(ii) Fishing and household economy
What sorts of benefits are derived from fish and fishing, and
are poor fishing people better-off than those who don’t fish?
How are these benefits realized? What is the evidence that
these benefits can be enhanced? A large body of peer-
reviewed work, as well as an extensive gray literature, is
associated with this theme. It includes literature reviews and
individual country analyses (some of which combine local
case-studies and global data), and appears to be relatively
homogeneous. The quality of the body of evidence can be
considered moderately high (Table 3, cluster 7.b).
The assessment shows that a lack of precise information
remains about the role of fisheries at the individual and house-
hold levels and the means by which poverty relates to fisheries.
What has been established is that fishers are not always among
the ‘‘the poorest of the poor(Be
´, 2003) and poverty can be
both a consequence as well as a cause of resource degradation
´& Friend, 2011; Allison, Horemans, & Be
´, 2006). Peo-
ple tend to be poor for reasons that extend beyond the fisheries
sector, and tackling poverty among fishers will require more
than sectoral interventions (Heck et al., 2007;Allison et al.,
2013). At the same time, the retained literature (and wider gray
literature) highlights the important roles that fisheries can play
within household economies and the contributions that they
can make to local livelihoods. The range of benefits that inland
and marine capture can provide includes material benefits
(through food—produced or purchased, income, and employ-
ment) and the support of wider household livelihood strate-
gies, for example, through seasonal contributions and safety
nets (Garaway, 2005; Be
´et al., 2007; Jentoft & Eide, 2011;
´, Steel, Kambala, and Gordon, 2009). But benefits extend
beyond these material/financial dimensions. Fisheries also
have a role in supporting relationships and well-being within
communities, often through reciprocal arrangements, access
to fisheries, and collective action (e.g., Weeratunge et al.,
2014). Even larger, although less tangible, benefits arise from
the nature of the activity and from the sense of personal or
collective identities and job satisfaction that can be derived
from engaging in fishing activities (Pollnac, Pomeroy, &
Harkes, 2001). The literature highlights, however, the extent
to which these fisheries’ contributions embedded within local
cultural and social contexts are often downplayed in the wider
debates on the role of fish and fisheries (Thorpe, Reid, van
Anrooy, and Brugere, 2005).
The literature also demonstrates that, contrary to what is
often assumed, fisheries are often locally regulated (e.g.,
Baland & Platteau, 1996). The evidence goes some way to
demonstrating that while fisheries are often referred to as
‘‘open access, there are in fact often some institutional struc-
tures that regulate fishing activity at the local level that can
serve to ensure that fisheries benefit poorer as well as wealthier
households (e.g., Neiland, Madakan, & Be
´, 2005; Tubtim &
Hirsch, 2005). Altering the nature of these institutions, or of
command over access to fisheries resources, can have signifi-
cant effects on the resource-poor, poorer people in general,
and indeed the wider community. Less evidence is available,
however, to demonstrate whether development initiatives in
relation to local-level resource management have been able
to increase the pro-poor nature of these arrangements. A gen-
eral weakness with this literature is that there are, as yet, no
general models to explain the empirical evidence of these inter-
ventions, so the nature of these sets of evidence remains a ser-
ies of individual local examples.
(h) Aquaculture for poverty alleviation
Aquaculture accounts for an increasing proportion of global
fish supply, and is widely considered to have an important role
in meeting increased future demand for fish (e.g., Beveridge
et al., 2013; Troell et al., 2014). The diversity of aquaculture
systems is one of the challenges to conclusive statements about
how the sector impacts poverty, but what is recognized is that,
as with capture fisheries, aquaculture generally contributes to
poverty reduction directly and indirectly by providing food,
income, and employment for both producers and other value
chain actor households.
(i) Aquaculture and national economies
There is a medium to large body of literature discussing how
export-orientated aquaculture benefits national economies and
hence—in theory—contributes to poverty reduction through
its contribution to export revenues and national economic
growth. However the evidence is not necessarily strong
(Table 3, cluster 8.a) due to problems inherent in the data sets
used, including the relatively small fraction of GDP and
export revenues from aquaculture in larger and more diverse
economies; the aggregation of different types of aquaculture
(with different sets of beneficiaries), and, as for capture fish-
eries, critical assumptions about how the benefits of trade
are distributed.
Studies on the scale of domestic trade and its effect on
income and/or employment multipliers are also generally lack-
ing. Thus, how much and in what way aquaculture contributes
to national economic development remains unclear. National-
level data in countries such as Nigeria and Vietnam confirm
that commercial aquaculture systems can generate consider-
able domestic and export revenue, respectively, and account
for a significant share of national GDP. However, the lack
of tangible evidence to substantiate the effects of derived tax
revenues and foreign exchange earnings on the welfare of
lower income households raises the question of whether the
sector makes an effective contribution to poverty alleviation,
especially in the light of a lack of inter-country comparisons
acknowledging the variability of production systems in their
different local/regional contexts. As a result, the quality of this
body of evidence is relatively low.
Two forms of aquaculture development are identified: ‘‘im-
manentsystems, whereby aquaculture emerges in response to
demand, and ‘‘interventionistsystems, in which external
agencies support the promotion of predominantly small-scale
subsistence aquaculture systems (Brummett, Gockowski,
Pouomogne, and Muir, 2011;Belton & Little, 2011). The evi-
dence presented suggests that these two forms do not necessar-
ily have the same effective contributions to economic growth
and poverty alleviation. Only a few critical studies have chal-
lenged the established view that donor support to small-scale
subsistence aquaculture alleviates poverty, specifically in
Sub-Saharan Africa (Muir, 1999), or even in countries such
as Bangladesh, where small-holder aquaculture is widely prac-
ticed (Belton, Haque, & Little, 2012).
(ii) Contribution of aquaculture at the farm gate
There is a large body of work, including an extensive gray
literature, associated with the contribution of aquaculture to
household economies. The retention rate of articles with valid
and robust empirical evidence bases was relatively low, how-
ever, compared to the overall number initially reviewed, as
the vast majority lack disaggregated data on household
wealth, income status, and standardised controls. Also, a large
number of these studies were often of (too) small sample size
and of (too) small time duration to ensure validity of findings.
As a consequence the overall standard of the papers was
classed as moderate (Table 3, cluster 8.b).
Commercial aquaculture has developed rapidly in a number
of developing countries. Some systems, such as shrimp and
Pangasius (i.e., catfish) industries across Asia, have had trans-
formational impacts on households and communities support-
ing a wholesale escape from poverty rather than incremental
declines (Little et al., 2012). This result suggests that the trend
within aquaculture toward increasingly intensive production
systems does not necessarily threaten efforts to reduce poverty.
Commercial fish culture systems have been shown to limit
price increases of fish, leading to their increased consumption
by both extremely and moderately poor consumers (Toufique
& Belton, 2014). However, evidence also shows that intensifi-
cation may come at the cost of increased risks of, for example,
diseases, species introduction and environmental degradation,
similar to intensification of any agricultural food production
system (e.g., Subasinghe, Arthur, Bartley, et al., 2010). Evi-
dence also shows that commercial aquaculture development
and intensification can lead to increased elite capture of
resources that negatively affect access and entitlements of the
poor (Toufique & Gregory, 2008). Thus, considering the rela-
tionship between the nature and scale of production and other
key characteristics of aquaculture value chains becomes criti-
cal to understanding governance structures, including power
and benefit sharing mechanisms, and thus eventually to under-
standing their impacts on poverty alleviation and sustainable
economic development (Krause, Brugere, Diedrich, et al.,in
On the other side of the spectrum, much of the evidence pro-
duced by those promoting small-holder extensive aquaculture
systems concerns the opportunities and technical requirements
for expansion of aquaculture and to increasing production
(e.g., De Silva, 2003). Only a few case studies evoke the possi-
bility that income and employment created by aquaculture can
benefit low-income households participating in specific, often
rural, aquaculture activities in both Asia and Africa (e.g.,
Dey, Paraguas, Kambewa, & Pemsl, 2010;Haque, Little,
Barman, and Wahab, 2010;Jahan et al., 2010;Irz, Stevenson,
Tanoy, Villarante, and Morissens, 2007). This literature shows
that the benefits to household livelihoods through aquaculture
development can occur in a number of ways and be both sea-
sonal and indirect. Income, employment generation, and
increased fish consumption have been observed for both pro-
ducers, others in the value chain, and the general population
through purchase or gifting. However, the overall evidence
from the literature indicates that it is usually better-off farmers
who have the capability to adopt new practices and technolo-
gies and thus obtain the benefits (Belton et al., 2011). The rea-
sons for this include education, income, and access to credit
and information, but also more structural issues, such as own-
ership or rental of land and water resources. Overall, it also
appears that peri-urban fish-farmers are more likely to gener-
ate higher incomes, net returns, and longer term financial via-
bility than similar producers in more remote rural areas. This
illustrates the importance of access to urban markets for both
the sale of fish as well as access to key inputs such as feed and
fingerlings (Karim et al., 2011;Brummett et al., 2011; Saguin,
2014). However, the lack of rigorous analyses and differences
in what constitutes ‘‘urbanmakes it difficult to say if these
findings are generic (Kassam, 2014).
A second, growing body of literature on small-scale aqua-
culture provides evidence that points to it as having a complex
role in household and community livelihood strategies. Maxi-
mizing fish production is downplayed, and a greater emphasis
is placed on the fish ponds that can play a variety of potential
roles in enabling communities and households to respond to
changing conditions, including spreading/minimizing risk,
providing income, and supplying cultured fish for consump-
tion (e.g., Bush & Kosy, 2007). This is reminiscent of the com-
plex multiple roles that livestock play in household and
community livelihood strategies (Randolph et al., 2007).
(i) International fish trade
Two main threads of literature need to be considered under
fish trade: one looking at the contribution to and impact on
food security and the second (closely linked but distinct) on
the contribution of fish trade to poverty alleviation and eco-
nomic growth.
(i) Fish trade and food security
A series of peer-reviewed articles (representing just the visi-
ble part of a much larger pool of (gray) literature) discusses
the contribution that international fish trade can make to food
security in developing countries. Among the articles and
reports that were reviewed, the vast majority rely on existing
data (with a mix of local case studies and global data sets),
suggesting that a lot of the debate on this issue is based on ‘‘re-
cyclingdata. None of these articles offers a methodology and
a combination of data that allows apprehending the issue com-
prehensively and rigorously. As a consequence, the quality of
evidence is low to moderate as shown in Table 3 cross-cutting
1. In particular, the validity and reliability scores are relatively
low due to problems in the methods applied to answer these
The conclusions drawn from the studies are also relatively
inconsistent, reflecting essentially the lack of tangible evidence
and the subsequent unsettled debate that characterizes current
discussions on this issue. On the one hand, some of the anal-
yses contend that international fish trade contributes to
improve food security of developing countries through fish
export revenues (e.g., Schmidt, 2003), on the other, others
claim that international fish trade threatens food security at
the local level (e.g., Kaczynski & Fluharty, 2002). None of
the studies, however, manage to demonstrate correlation
between fish export revenues and import of food or improve-
ment in food security at national or local levels. A more recent
series of papers refute this polarized vision and stress the need
to capture both the local- and national-level dimensions of the
issue (e.g., Be
´, Lawton, & Allison, 2010). An ongoing chal-
lenge here is the reliability of national and intra-regional trade
data in most of the developing world and the ubiquitous non-
differentiation of tropical fish species in international trade
classification (except for those species of commercial signifi-
cance to the global North).
(ii) Fish trade and poverty alleviation
A closely related group of papers report on the contribution
of export-oriented fish trade to national and local economic
growth (e.g., Schmidt, 2003; Bostock, Greenhalgh, & Kleih,
2004). The quality of these papers was judged as moderate
(see Table 3, cross-cutting 2) because of the high diversity in
the scale of secondary and primary data that are used, making
comparison difficult, and leading to some inconsistencies in
the conclusions.
Thematically, the papers generally assume that exploiting
rising demand in export markets is an unproblematic means
of wealth generation (e.g., Bostock & Walmsley, 2009). The
literature supporting this analysis is largely uncritical, relying
largely on global data sets of foreign exchange earnings and/
or revenues derived from fish trade rather than evidence of
the effects of these revenues on the national economy of the
countries or the livelihoods of their populations (Kaczynski
& Fluharty, 2002;Geheb et al., 2008). National-level studies
focused on access arrangements to developing country
resources by foreign fishing interests demonstrate a significant
income for national governments, but, again, there is no evi-
dence that this income is redistributed and that it has a specific
impact on poverty (Mwika, 2006; Ponte, Raakjær, &
Campling, 2007; Arthur, Mees, & Halls, 2010). Studies at
the local level do highlight, however, that the social relations
of fish trade, such as quasi-credit patron-client relations, are
an important factor affecting the nature and distribution of
benefits from capture fisheries and aquaculture alike (Thorpe
& Bennett, 2004; Bush & Oosterveer, 2007; Ruddle, 2011;
Kusumawati, Bush, & Visser, 2013). These papers draw on
local examples to argue that the wealth generated through
trade is not necessarily invested back into the fisheries sector
or to the regions from where the fish resources are being grown
or extracted (e.g., Be
´, Hersoug, & Allison, 2010; Be
Lawton, & Allison, 2010), and that increased trade leads to
declines in production that simultaneously reduce the quantity
and quality of fish while increasing their local market price
(e.g., Kaczynski & Fluharty, 2002; Alder & Sumaila, 2004).
Domestic trade is significantly less well explored, as is export
trade between developing countries. Yet, the contribution of
domestic and regional fish trade is thought to be important
´et al., 2010). Despite little evidence of the size of income
and/or employment multipliers from capture fisheries and
aquaculture, qualitative analysis points to a greater multiplier
effect providing important opportunities for local and national
market-driven development (Be
´, 2006). With the rise of the
middle class in developing economies, fish consumption prac-
tices are likely to shift with changing income, taste and values
(Belton & Bush, 2013), and more sophisticated capacity for
upgrading fish production. However, without a clearer picture
of how many people in different economic classes are
employed in production, processing and ancillary activities
(e.g., Allison et al., 2011), the impact of market growth and
innovations, such as the introduction of mobile phones
(Jensen, 2007) and certification schemes (e.g., Vandergeest,
2007; Hatanaka, 2010), will remain unclear. The challenge
remains to generate a more systematic analysis to demonstrate
the link between trade and pro-poor outcomes.
(j) Governance of capture fisheries and aquaculture
Articles within this cluster explore how societies organize to
provide and recognize access and entitlement to capture fish-
eries and aquaculture resources and to the net benefits from
them. Questions are focused around the role states and other
actors play and the efficacy of different institutional arrange-
ments. The literature is large and extensive with many papers
identifying governance as critical in creating the right condi-
tions for capture fisheries and aquaculture to contribute to
poverty alleviation. The quality of the body of evidence is
moderate to high (Table 3, cross-cutting 3).
The literature shows that access to and distribution of the
benefits from capture fisheries and aquaculture are typically
mediated through a range of institutions
, both public and
private, which emerge from the continuous interactions
between individuals and groups within a given social and cul-
tural context. The combination of these actors, deliberating,
designing and implementing rules, and contracts across levels
makes up the governance system (see Bavinck et al., 2005;
Kooiman & Bavinck, 2005; Be
´& Neiland, 2006).
Decentralized governance approaches, including co-
management and community-based management, dominate
the capture fisheries literature, with a variety of social and
environmental objectives, institutional designs, and levels of
community, state, and private sector participation (Wilson,
Nielsen, & Degnbol, 2003; Evans, Cherrett, & Pemsl, 2011).
The general conclusion is that no one size fits all. Performance
is variable, with the number of reported successes outweighed
by cases demonstrating ineffective state support, weak cooper-
ation and free-riding (Be
´& Neiland, 2004; Tubtim &
Hirsch, 2005; Be
´et al., 2009; Evans et al., 2011). The role
of the state remains prominent, despite co-management and
community-based management emerging initially as a
response to critiques of state-led resource management.
Greater private sector involvement is also evident, especially
in the formation of marine protected areas and the develop-
ment of ‘‘rights-based approachesto capture fisheries (e.g.,
Allison et al., 2013).
Aquaculture governance has focused predominantly on the
technical upgrading of production to foster improved or ‘‘bet-
termanagement standards designed to improve efficiency and
reduce negative environmental and social impacts (Anh, Bush,
Mol, and Kroeze, 2011; Krause et al., in press). The literature
describes successful technical implementation of different stan-
dards, but also includes critical reflections on the weak inclu-
sion of small-holder producers, enclosure and the limitations
of governing ‘‘off-farmcommon resources sustainably and
ethically (Vandergeest, 2007; Belton et al., 2011;Bush et al.,
2013;Hatanaka, 2010).
How these institutional arrangements in both capture fish-
eries and aquaculture support poverty alleviation is divided
along two main lines of argumentation within which a key dif-
ference is the way in which the issue of agency is considered.
The first interpretation of individuals as economically rational
actors leads to a focus on the design of improved property
regimes, institutions, and standards as a means to increase effi-
ciency and aggregate wealth. This approach identifies the
observed outcomes as the result of poor policy and practice,
highlighting a need to introduce new arrangements that focus
on technical inputs—property rights in the case of capture
fisheries and improved production standards in the case of
aquaculture. The approach also notes that a focus on
improved property rights reifies a particular interpretation of
overfishing and overcapacity as commons problems (e.g.,
Sutinen, 2008). In both aquaculture and capture fisheries evi-
dence for reform is presented primarily in terms of benefits to
rights holders, environmental outcomes, and efficiency (e.g.,
Mansfield, 2004). However, the evidence of the effectiveness
of these measures in terms of addressing poverty remains weak
´et al., 2009).
A second body of work considers agency as a more complex
issue and focuses on the individuals’ capabilities and the struc-
tural dimensions of knowledge and power that shape gover-
nance institutions. This part of the literature presents
evidence suggesting that institutional reform alone does not
address the wider social, economic, and political context in
which decisions over capture fisheries and aquaculture produc-
tion are taken (Crosoer, van Sittert, & Ponte, 2006;Allison
et al., 2013). Instead, links between fisheries and poverty are
presented in the context of wider processes of reform, determi-
nants of access and control over resources, and of the durabil-
ity of local institutions faced with rent-seeking behavior (Be
2003;Thorpe et al., 2009;Be
´et al., 2010). Emphasis is
instead given to issues of labor and self-determination and
understanding how individuals, including the poor, are con-
strained by wider social, economic, and political relations.
Although individual cases limit the ability to generalize find-
ings, the literature highlights the structural dimensions of
power and control that extend beyond the technical aspects
of fish production and that can be strong determinants of pov-
erty (Be
´& Friend, 2011).
(k) Fish and gender
Gender is a relational concept that considers the roles,
responsibilities, and relationships between men and women
and their changing dynamics in social, economic, cultural,
and institutional contexts (Williams, 2008). Within the papers
retained in this cluster, a large proportion included literature
reviews, the rest entailing primary data-based research, or a
combination of both. When assessed against the principles
of rigor, validity, and reliability, the quality of the body of evi-
dence for these analyses turned out to be moderate, essentially
due to the presence of good analyses mixed with lower quality
studies (Table 3, cross-cutting 4).
The assessment reveals a lack of disaggregated data and
analyses that could enable comprehensive gender analysis.
Instead most of the studies focus on women in capture fish-
eries: their roles, their lack of access to the natural resource,
lack of credit, and lack of participation in governance and
management (e.g., Tindall & Holvoet, 2008). A number of
narratives relating to the issue of gender in capture fisheries
emerge from this literature, essentially centered on gendered
division of fisheries and household labor, household income,
and household security as well as HIV/Aids (Williams &
Choo, 2002; Ntombi Ngwenya, Keta Mosepele, & Magole,
2012). Evidence to support these narratives is weak or too
location-specific, however, to be generalized. While some of
these papers highlight differences between men and women
beyond simple divisions of labor (e.g., Weeratunge &
Snyder, 2010), there is little research as to why these differ-
ences occur and what the underlying gender issues are. In
hindsight, relevant literature in the social sciences may have
been overlooked as the word ‘‘womenwas not used in
searches, but additionally, several studies with stronger gender
conceptual basis were conducted before the period of the pre-
sent evidence review, e.g., Nadel-Klein & Davis, 1988). In fact,
the evidence is strongest with regard to the role of women in
economic and/or socio-cultural spheres, rather than on the
gender dynamics (i.e., the cultural roots of these gender divi-
sions). Nevertheless, all these papers demonstrate convincingly
that women’s roles and their contribution in capture fisheries
either go unrecorded or are undervalued, and remain largely
invisible in national statistics (Bennett, 2005).
The aim of this paper was to evaluate the evidence in the
published literature on the contribution of fisheries and aqua-
culture to food (and nutritional) security and poverty reduc-
tion, with an emphasis on developing countries. The
objective was to evaluate the quality and scientific rigor of that
evidence, identify the key conclusions that emerge from the lit-
erature, and assess the consistency of these conclusions across
the sources.
The review revealed a heterogeneous landscape in which
particular clusters of research were judged as being of good
scientific quality, demonstrating a high degree of rigor, valid-
ity and reliability. This is particularly the case for papers
related to aspects of nutrition and health (top part of Table 3).
In contrast, some other clusters are characterized by relatively
lower levels of rigor, validity, and reliability. These include
analyses related to the contribution of capture fisheries or
aquaculture sectors to food security or economic development
at global or macro-levels. One potential explanation for this
may be the lack of a consensus on underlying concepts or of
one single, universal indicator relevant to measure the contri-
bution of a particular sector.
Partially connected, but independent from the question of
quality and rigor in the research, the assessment revealed that
certain clusters are also characterized by relatively consistent
conclusions whereas others display more inconsistent or more
inconclusive findings. For example, a cluster displaying consis-
tent findings is that assessing the contribution of capture fish-
ing activities to household economy. Although the quality of
that cluster is only moderate, the papers all converge toward
the same conclusion, namely that fishing is usually a critical
element in the economy of the households engaged in the sec-
tor, even when this is only on a seasonal or part-time basis. In
contrast, some clusters display relatively rigorous analyses, yet
fail to provide consistent or conclusive findings. The question
of whether decentralized forms of governance arrangements
lead to pro-poor outcomes is a good example. Presently, the
outcomes are too locale-specific to allow any strong general-
Building on these different results, this paper identified six
key gaps facing policy-makers, development practitioners,
and researchers. Policy-makers and development practition-
ers seek consistency of results to advise their actions,
whereas researchers can help resolve inconsistencies and
reduce uncertainties. Comparing the results of the evidence
review with implementation actions, two important conclu-
sions emerge.
The first (and perhaps more important) gap revealed by the
review is that key components of capture fisheries and aqua-
culture currently are not accounted for in national statistics,
and/or the available figures are inaccurate. In particular, in
developing countries, few rigorous socio-economic analyses
have been conducted on the impact of various commercial
fishing and aquaculture activities on low-income households.
The second gap that requires attention relates to gender
relations and health and safety within the fisheries sector. This
social and equity issue likely has major food security and pov-
erty implications, and partly relates to the first gap wherein
women and many in small-scale operations are under-
represented in statistics.
Of more general concern, the third gap is that poverty is not
clearly conceptualized, articulated, or measured in fisheries
and aquaculture studies. Addressing fisheries (management)
issues in a developing country context, for instance, is not
the same as addressing poverty per se in fishing communities,
and fisheries research would greatly benefit from drawing on
the wider knowledge on the nature of poverty that is discussed
in the broader development literature.
A consequence of this gap, and a major weakness identified
by this review is the lack of concrete evidence of how fish pro-
duction, trade, and consumption translate into developmental
benefits and their distribution, and ultimately reduce poverty.
Despite a clear recognition in the literature that poverty reduc-
tion is not attributable to aggregate fish production alone,
these metrics remain (surprisingly) dominant, including in
the rhetoric of many international institutions. This scoping
review suggests that a greater emphasis and more evidence
are required on the distributional aspects of benefits, recogniz-
ing differentiated access and entitlement to fish resources
across a range of scales. Evidence of such distributional
aspects at regional and national scales remains scant. In con-
trast, a wealth of evidence of the benefits from capture fisheries
and aquaculture exists at the local level.
Thus, the first conclusion of this review is that local-
specific case studies could be given more credence at the
international level. Arguably these studies are better able to
capture the complex and multi-dimensional nature of the
pathway through which fisheries and aquaculture effectively
contribute to poverty alleviation, economic growth, and food
and nutrition security, and the distributional aspect of these
contributions. Fine grained studies such as these would need
to be designed to enable comparisons across cases and to
build cross-scale analyses of the contribution of fisheries
and aquaculture to poverty alleviation, food security, and
improved nutritional quality, spanning both national and
household levels. The challenge however is to remain true
to the socio-ecological nuances found in particular places
(case study analysis), while simultaneously drawing upon
comparative lessons from other places, and setting them all
within the context of global drivers (and their differentiated
effects). In short, there is a need to develop methods that
capture complex relational interplay, and not resort to sim-
plistic cause and effect
Acknowledging the extremely rapid growth of aquaculture,
the fourth gap identified relates to the causal relationships—ei-
ther positive or negative—between aquaculture development
and food security, economic growth, and impacts on poor
people. In aquaculture many questions remain concerning
who benefits, and at what costs to whom. Such research
should be feasible as the sector is concentrated around a lim-
ited number of fish species and products compared to capture
The fifth gap is in the well-studied area of nutrition where
problems persist in demonstrating the impact of fish availabil-
ity on micronutrient status or other functional outcomes (e.g.,
cognition, infections, growth, and development). More studies
are needed on how fish contribute to the diets of the poor, as
part of their food strategies.
The sixth gap relates to the urgent need for more studies in
capture fisheries to explore the local-level impacts of global
drivers on food security (e.g., urbanization, climate change).
For example, the lack of reliable data on small-scale fisheries
complicates the uncertainty induced by climate change on
the dynamics of local fish stocks. As a result, most of the
attempts to estimate the effect of these global drivers are still
highly hypothetical and rely on questionable assumptions
and/or methods.
Finally, the second conclusion from the review arises from
observations on the influence and uptake of the information
in the literature and in policy. The review shows a tendency
for domains of research with the most consistent and rigorous
science (e.g., nutrition and health) to be least effective in influ-
encing policy agendas in the development community. Inter-
national food security experts and decision-makers seem
unaware of the potential that fish can play in the fight against
malnutrition (HLPE, 2014;Be
´, Barange, Subasinghe, et al.,
2015). The problem is particularly pronounced in the current
debate on how to make food systems more nutrition sensitive,
i.e., how to change and improve food systems in order to
advance nutrition (Allison, Delaporte, & Hellebrandt de
Silva, 2013, p 45).
In contrast, areas of research such as those documenting the
link between fisheries/aquaculture and national economies, or
fish and international trade and food security appear to be
among those that are systematically advocated by national
or international institutions and development agencies, to
‘‘promotefisheries/aquaculture in relation to develop-
ment—even if the quality of the science characterizing these
clusters appear to be lower, the results less consistent, or the
evidence more difficult to establish. As such policy narratives
and discourses preferably used by these institutions were not
necessarily based on, or reflect, the quality of the existing evi-
dence but rather other criteria such as the scale at which these
processes are documented. Clearly global estimates carry more
weight than local ones when it comes to influencing policy.
This disconnect between evidence/science and policy narra-
tives may not be specific to fisheries and aquaculture, but
was noticeable through this evidence-based review.
1. ‘‘Fishin this article includes finfish, crustaceans, molluscs, miscella-
neous aquatic animals, but excludes aquatic plants and algae.
2. The reason for adopting a scoping review approach is that this
specific types of review allows presenting and synthesizing the
evidence published in the literature (as in a conventional literature
review) but in a way that allows evaluating the quality of this
evidence based on a transparent and replicable protocol. Adopting a
scoping review protocol therefore also fulfills the objective of a
systematic review, in the sense that the criteria for eligibility to
include/exclude documents are pre-determined and transparent and
the evaluation of the quality of the articles reviewed is not based on
the expert’s subjective opinion (as in a conventional analytical
literature review), but based on a set of standardized, quantifiable,
and replicable scores. The work presented here cannot be considered
as a systematic review sensu stricto however, because the scope of the
question considered (contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to
poverty alleviation, economic growth and food security and health) is
too wide and broad to allow for the focused assessment that is
generally expected from a systematic review. Instead it falls into the
category of scoping review.
3. The quality scores refer specifically to the empirical research evidence
that addresses the relationship between poverty or food-security issues and
fisheries or aquaculture. It is not, therefore, a judgment on the value or
quality of the paper in a wider academic sense. We recognize that papers
of low value in demonstrating empirical relationships among key variables
may provide value in other ways, such as in developing new analytical
frameworks and methodologies, revealing emerging policy issues, building
theory or raising new research questions.
4. The articles included in each of these eight clusters and four cross-
cutting issues are listed in Appendix 2. While most of the 202 articles are
used in one cluster and/or one cross-cutting issue only, several of the
articles are referred to in more than one cluster and/or cross-cutting issue.
Full details of publications are in the reference list.
5. Few such health risks have been identified in aquaculture, in part
because the risks either do not exist, are smaller or are different, but also
because there has been little research.
6. The result of such effects on the price of wild fish has already been
documented for several species such as salmon and shrimp (Be
´, Cadren,
& Lantz, 2000; Knapp, Roheim, & Anderson, 2007) (a potential exception
is again with forage fish, whose derived demand has increased due to
aquaculture, leading to either relative price increases or stabilization of
relative prices).
7. We refer here to ‘‘institutionsas the rules (both formal and informal)
and organizations that are used to structure and influence patterns of
interaction and behaviors within society.
8. Value chain analysis offers one such approach, providing an oppor-
tunity to move beyond aggregate trade statistics to explore relations
among economic actors, and influence of market dynamics, public and
private regulation and commercial strategy on global production and
consumption practices.
9. With the exception of the second question under the validity criterion
‘‘Are there problems in applying the method to some research question
(s)?for which a ‘‘Noanswer would score 1.
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