Patron-client relationships shape value chains in an Indonesian island-based fisheries system

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Fishing is vital to millions of people in Southeast Asia. Overfishing along with climate-induced stressors have presented significant challenges to managers. Solutions for fisheries management in the region, however, tend to narrowly focus on production and catch restrictions despite the importance of local economies and relationships. For example, the role of networks known as patron-client systems are understood by scholars and local populations as important drivers of fisheries exploitation in Indonesia, but policy is rarely directed at them. Here, we perform value chain analysis to better understand the socioeconomic factors that mediate fish catch, distribution, and governance outcomes in an Indonesian fishing community. The community's social context spurred the following research questions: i) In what ways does the regional fish trading system influence fisheries value chains; and ii) How does the current structure of trade align with fisheries and fishing actors on the island? Survey-based fieldwork collected data on species composition, revenue, and buyer/seller relationships from the point of catch to sale. These results showed that patrons earn disproportionate trading benefits compared to fishing clients, including higher revenues, bargaining power, and flexibility from their central position as lenders. Findings also revealed a strong connection between pelagic-based fishing crews and the wider market system, which mediates the trade of fish off-island. Given the links between trading hierarchies and fish flows in our study, we argue that efforts to enhance fisheries governance would be most effective if introduced through off-island auctioneers since they have significant power in controlling fish catch and distribution.

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Marine Policy