– by Thomas Augustinus, Wolf Hartmann and Majbritt Augustinus
Children fish, and they do it frequently and effectively. Evidence suggests that children contribute up to 50 percent of the effort in some local fisheries. However, children are largely forgotten when governments address different stakeholders in inland fisheries management.
Photo: Kaviphone Phouthavongs
In the autumn of 2009, research was carried out for a book that looks at child play in six countries on three continents. While working on the Southeast Asian section, devoted to child play in Lao PDR, it quickly became apparent that children who live along the Nam Song River spend most of their spare time ‘playing’ along the river for two to three hours a day. In fact, most play involves fishing related activities such as fishing with home-made spearguns or scooping with nets for small fish, shrimps and aquatic insects. At the end of the day, the children bring home the catch, usually between 200 and 500 grams of fish which are mostly small and consumed by the entire family at dinner.
The behaviour of the children living along the Nam Song River in central Lao PDR is not unique. Studies from other parts of the Lower Mekong Basin suggest that children contribute signifi cantly to fisheries. A survey among 179 households in Luang Prabang Province in northern Lao PDR showed that about 48 percent of those actively involved in fi shing were children under 15 years old (Sjorslev 2000). A similar study from Cambodia showed that between 4 and 25 percent of all fi shers in one part of Battambang Province were children (Hortle et al. 2008).
In recent years, fisheries managers have paid more attention to the role that different actors play in Mekong fisheries. This distinction between different actors has typically focused on gender, specific roles in fisheries or traditional associations
with fisheries. When children are mentioned, it is usually to note that fish is an important part of their diet. The fact that children are resource users, together with millions of adult men and women who fish every day, is largely ignored by fisheries managers.
For many children, fishing may be viewed simply as play. But the rest of the family also benefits as nutrient-dense foods are brought back home. Moreover, children learn independence and selfreliance and, as they experiment with various types of fi shing gear, they build their motor skills and knowledge and also become familiar with the behaviour of river fi sh in general. Ultimately, this ‘play’ may build valuable competence for their adult lives as bread-winning fi shers or in other occupations. Given the numbers involved and their effectiveness as fi shers and hunters, children could have large impacts on resources. Recent observations in northeast Thailand suggest that there has been an increase in bird populations.
A plausible explanation is simply that with increasing economic development, children have stopped hunting birds and instead spend their spare time playing video games. This is an example of the huge cumulative impact that thousands of ‘childhunters’ can have on a resource.
Children living along the Nam Song River will most likely not have access to video games for years to come. Instead, they will continue to harvest fish and other aquatic animals. Often this is done with tools that target juvenile fish, making their activities potentially destructive to the resource. However, their ‘play’ along the river is of great value to their families by providing food and additional benefits for themselves in building important life skills.
Given the large impact that children have on manylocal fi sheries, there is an obvious need to involve them as stakeholders in fi sheries management. The question then is how is this done most appropriately?
Hortle KG, Troeung R & Lieng S (2008) Yield of the wild fishery of rice fields in Battambang Province, near the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. MRC Technical Paper 18: 1-62.
Sjorslev JG (2000) Fisheries Survey, Luang Prabang Province, Lao PDR. NAFRI and MRC Fisheries Programme AMFC Component, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
* Thomas Augustinus is a natural resources management consultant with Dokumentar Gruppen in Denmark, Wolf Hartmann is a consultant with the MRC Fisheries Programme and Majbritt Augustinus is a journalist and author of a book onchildren and play.
Artikel bragt i “Catch and Culture”, Maj 2011