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This paper is to explore the existence of that potential relationship between wellbeing and resilience in the context of the coastal fishing communities in Vietnam


Academic year: 2022

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1 Response to shocks and implications for resilience and wellbeing: lessons

learnt from asset-poor communities in coastal Vietnam Truong Van Tuyen*1, Christophe Béné2, and Truong Quang Dung3

*Author for correspondence.

1 Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry, Vietnam

2International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Colombia

3 Hue Colleges of Economics, Vietnam


The “world fisheries crisis” has drawn the attention of academics, researchers and policy makers alike and raise question about the sustainability of fisheries. In trying to understand the impact of the crisis on the lives and livelihoods of fishing communities, the concepts of resilience and wellbeing provide promising analytical frames to start with (Armitage et al.

2012). A relevant assumption found in the literature, however, is that wellbeing and resilience may be characterized by some trade-offs as if the ability of individuals or households to pass through shocks or to sustain long-term stressors may sometimes be achieved at the detriment of some aspects or dimensions of their wellbeing: "Can a person truly be both resilient and well, or do elements of the former inevitably dictate a reduction, or compromise, in the latter?". This paper is to explore the existence of that potential relationship between wellbeing and resilience in the context of the coastal fishing communities in Vietnam. The fishing households have been found to adopt a wide range of responses to a diverse range shocks/stressors faced to them. The common practice is that the households adopt a complex of responses to multiple and cumulative shocks. The response and recovery is not influenced by the household wealth, the trade-offs between the resilience and wellbeing as a whole are of not yet clear from this data. This implies the appropriate fisheries development policy in this context is the one that aims to strengthen adaptive capacity through diversification of fishing and of non-fishing livelihoods.

Key words: asset-poor fishing households, coastal fishing community, resilience, wellbeing


This research was funded under the UK ESRC-DFID Joint Scheme for Research on International Development (Poverty Alleviation) (project ES/J017825/1).


2 Introduction

The “world fisheries crisis” has drawn the attention of academics, researchers and policy makers alike and raise question about the sustainability of fisheries around the world. In particular there is a growing consensus that the overall fishing effort needs to be curbed significantly if the sustainability of the fisheries is to be restored (FAO2012). However, while interventions are needed to reduce the overall fishing effort and restore (or maintain) the sustainability of the fisheries, these need to be designed in such a way that does not exacerbate further the poverty or marginality of a group that has oftenbeen described as the

“poorest of the poor” (Bailey and Jentoft, 1990) andwhich has beenrecognized by IFAD as one of the major ‘functionally vulnerable groups’ (Jazairy et al., 1992).

In Vietnam the coastal marine ecosystemis in transition; in some specific locations the capture fisheries are at “near collapse” and the fishers are notparticularly optimistic about their future (Armitage et al. 2011). The global fishing community in Vietnam is large with approximately 8 million people who rely mainly on capture fishing for livelihoods, and an additional 12 million who get parts of their income or subsistence from fisheries. During the last ten years, the fisheries developed substantially including the number of workers, of fishing boats/vessels, and the landing catch. Yet, poverty of fishing households especially in the coastal beach communes with no harbour to park large boats is high. The number of income-poor people from the fishing communities is estimated to be about 5.1 million, accounting for 30% of the national poverty figure (World Bank 2010). The deteriorating condition of the resource is certainly contributing to this. Fishers however (in Vietnam but more generally in the world) do not face only resource decline. They are generally affect by a wide range of different shocks and stressors including sector-related events such as fishing ground competition, fishing gear or boats losses, high input price, weather extreme and inshore water contamination, but also wider (non-fishery related) shocks or stressors such as food or fuel price peaks, typhoon and tropical storms. .

In trying to understand the impact of these shocks and stressors on the lives and livelihoods of fishing communities, the concepts of resilience and wellbeing provide promising analytical frames to start with (Armitage et al. 2012). Resilience refers (broadly) to the ability of individuals, households, communities, institutions or higher-level systems to adequately deal with shocks and stressors, and in this conceptualization the abilities to resist, adapt and transformto change provide a useful framework to understand and analyze various strategies amongst households facing shocks and stressors (Béné et al. 2014). On the other hand, the concept of wellbeing, in its most recent and most articulated interpretation embraces a multi-dimensional approach which recognizes human wellbeing as an outcome but also as a process, in which three dimensions are taken into account: material; relational;

and subjective.

Resilience and wellbeing seem therefore both remarkably relevant to understand and analyse the potential impacts of the shock and stressors that affect fishing communities in Vietnam. A relevant assumption found in the literature, however, is that wellbeing and resilience may be characterized by some trade-offs as if the ability of individuals or households to pass through shocks or to sustain long-term stressors may sometimes be achieved at the detriment of some aspects or dimensions of their wellbeing: "Can a person truly be both resilient and well, or do elements of the former inevitably dictate a reduction, or compromise, in the latter?" (Coulthard 2012).


3 The objective of this paper is to explore the existence of that potential relationship between wellbeing and resilience in the context of Vietnamese fishing communities. Questions such as "is there a difference in level of wellbeing between households characterized by various levels of resilience?"; or "Does wellbeing influence people capacity to respond and recover from particular shocks?" have been central in structuring this research. Along with these questions we have also been interested in identifying and analysing more systematically the different types of strategies that households put in place to respond to specific shocks and/or stressors. To investigate these different issues, we relied on field-based evidence collected over a two-year period through a combination of household surveys and focus group discussions implemented in two communities of the province of Thua Thien Hue.

The rest of this paper is structured as follows: Next section introduces the concepts of resilience and wellbeing as we used them in this research. Both resilience and wellbeing have been widely discussed in the literature. It is therefore important to clarify which definitions and conceptualisations we used, recognizing that others exists and might have also be relevant The next section details the methodology that was used to generate the data, along with the two generic frameworks that were used to structure more rigorously our research. The middle and main parts of the paper presents the main results and key-findings, while the following section revisits these results and discusses some policy implications. The last section concludes.

Resilience and wellbeing of the fishing communities

Because it holds particular appeals to the idea of people being able to endure shocks and stressors and bounce back– resilience has emerged as a concept that could help academics and practitioners better understand the links between shocks, responses and development outcomes (Constas et al., 2014a). Marschke and Berkes (2006 p.2) for instance argue that

“Resilience offers a lens with which to explore stressors and shocks and to understand livelihood dynamics”. Many definitions have been proposed in the literature, which reflect the wide range of disciplines that have embraced the concept of resilience – see Manyena (2006) for an earlier review and Bahadur et al. (2010) for a more recent one. In the present case we are interested mainly in the socio-economic dimension of resilience, which relates principally to livelihood at the household and community level(even if we recognize that the resilience of other elements in the social-ecological system may not be appropriately reflected by this 'narrower' understanding of resilience).Adger et al. (2002, p. 358) defined social resilience as

“the ability of communities to absorb external changes and stresses while maintaining the sustainability of their livelihoods.”

Applying this notion of social resilience to the context of our study, the resilience of fishers then refers to the capability of fishing households to handle (individually and collectively) shocks/stressors and to bounce back through adequate livelihood responses. Following Béné et al. (2012; 2014),we distinguish three generic types of responses that people adopt in the face of a particular adverse event: (i) coping strategies, which correspond to responses by which individuals and/or households moderate or buffer the impacts of shocks on their livelihoods and basic needs; (ii) adaptive strategies, which correspond to the responses by which people learn, combine experience and knowledge, and adjust their livelihood strategies to changing external drivers and internal processes; and (iii) transformative strategies, that is, the responses by which individuals or households engage in a totally new livelihood strategy when ecological, economic, or social conditions make the


4 existing system untenable. Resilience is important to understand people response and ability to deal with changes and recover from shocks. One central tenet of this paper, however, is that resilience research explicitly needs engaging with wellbeing concept to better understand the choices of fishers have in determining their responses and recovery.

In earlier work on wellbeing the ESRC Research Group on Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) had developed a concept of “social wellbeing” which had been applied in the context of dynamic interactions between human beings and a range of ecological systems including fisheries (see e.g. Coulthard et al 2012). Social wellbeing has been defined as “a state of being with others (and the natural environment) that arises where human needs are met, where individuals and groups can act meaningfully to pursue their goals, and where they are satisfied with their way of life” (adopted fromMcGregor 2008 -see also Armitage et al. 2012). Deneulin and McGregor (2010), provide a full exposition of the concept of social wellbeing and Coulthard (2012) explain its significance for our understanding of the global fisheries crisis and policy responses to it. Social well-being is seen as arising from the interplay of three types of needs: basic human needs, social needs and psychological needs. All three are important if we are to both live well and live well together in societies. Reflecting the development and social psychology perspectives absorbed in this approach human wellbeing is analysed in terms of three dimensions: a material dimension, a relational dimension, and subjective dimension (McGregor 2007) The evolving literatures on social resilience and wellbeing indicate a growing common ground and this research has explicitly sought to explore the nature of the relationships between resilience and wellbeing in coastal communities. In particular the studies will explore the extent to which wellbeing variables provide an explanation for the resilience strategies of coastal fishing households, providing us with insights into their coping, adaptation and transformation in face of shocks and stressors. In a study of fishing communities in North Queensland Marshall and Marshall (2007) indicate that under changes of policy, the responses of members of the fisheries community depend on four elements:

awareness of risks related to the changes; ability to plan, learn, and reorganize; capacity to cope with change; and willingness in making change. These findings point to key social variables that can be associated specifically to the relational dimensions and subjective dimensions of social wellbeing, and do not particularly foreground the importance of material conditions (the levels of income and assets, property ownership etc.). Additionally, the interplay of social conception of well-being and resilience indicates interactions between the objective and subjective aspects of wellbeing (Coulthard 2012; Armitage et al. 2012). An example from work by Béné and Tewfik (2001) shows that the reason why some fishers still continue to fish certain species even when they do not derived any income profit from this activity, is that they wish or feel a need to maintain a reputation as “good fishers”. The subjective dimension is particularly important when considering the decisions that people make. Pollnac, Pomeroy and Harkes (2001)andPolinac and Poggie (2008) indicate that many fishers still practice the fishing not because of the financial rationale, but for others reasons related to job satisfaction. Overall, a social conception of wellbeing and its constituent provide a framework with which to understand people’s incentives and behaviour both in short and longer terms.


5 Research methodology

The field work was carried out in two coastal beach communes (Quang Cong and PhuDien) in Thua Thien Hue province (Fig.1). The focus of the research was on the traditional small- scale fishing households who engage in coastal and near shore fishing activities1. These are representatives of the extensive fishing communities located in the coastal beach areas without harbor suitable for big fishing boats. In these communities, the fishers use small boats and practice daily fishing trips in the sea. While the fishing communities (villages) in Quang Cong are relatively “isolated” and dominantly rely on capture fishery for their income those in PhuDien are more integrated in diverse fishing and non-fishing livelihoods.

<Fig. 1>

Two household surveys were administered: a resilience survey and a wellbeing survey, both with pre-tested structured questionnaire. The resilient survey was administered to a total of 123 fishing households (62 in Quang Cong and 61 in PhuDien). The households were selected randomly with facilitation by the commune officers and the village heads. The respondents were the fishing household heads; as a consequence most of interviewees were men. The information collected included the major individual (idiosyncratic) and collective (covariant) shocks and stressors faced by the households over the last 5 years, the types of response(s)put in placeby the households and the community, and a self-assessment of the extent to which the respondent considers that their household had recovered from these shocks/stressors.

The shocks/stressors were grouped into rapid shocks, middle-term stressors and long-term slow changes. The rapid shocks refer to sudden and unpredictable events such as gear lost, typhoon, cold wind prolonged, illness, catch reduced suddenly, accidents, lost assets and conflict with other fishers. The middle-term stressors refer to events which last for months or happened recurrently such as increase of fishing input and food price, conflict with big fishing boats, fish species disappearance and beach erosion. The long-term slow changes were the trends negatively affecting fishers’ lives and livelihoods such as continuous catch decline and slow increase in living standards.

For each shock/stressor, the respondents were asked to describe the specific strategies they adopted. The responses were then categorized into four groups: coping strategies, fishery- related (adaptive) strategies; social relation based (adaptive and transformative) strategies; and non-fishing (adaptive and transformative) strategies –see Table 1.

<Table 1>

The household resilience was evaluated through a self-assessment exercise where, for each shock/stressor identified by then respondents, the latter were asked to indicate their own recovery level, using a 6-point scale ranging from 1 ("My household did not recovered at all and

1 Vietnam government (2010) defined the near-shore fishing boats/vessels is the one equipped an engine capacity <90 HP, fishing in water areas of less than 30 meter depth from the shore; The offshore fishing vessels equipped a core engine > 90 HP


6 I don't think we will be able to recover ") to 6 (" We have fully recovered and we are better off now").

The second survey focused on wellbeing. It was administered to the same households that were initially included in the resilience survey2. The questionnaire was organized as a structured questionnaire on people’s perceptions about their quality of life which includes ten (10) domains selected around an adapted version of the OECD Better Life framework (Boarini et al. 2014) under two generic dimensions: ‘Material wellbeing’ and ‘Quality of life’

(Table 2). As parts of the interview,a series of questions was asked to help households self- assess their level of satisfaction in a coded 5-scale(from ‘very satisfied’ to ‘very dissatisfied’)in relation to their personal achievement vis-à-vis the domains considered.

<Table 2>

In addition, descriptive household statistics including the level of education, age, and gender of the head, size of the household, etc.), and socio-economic status (economic wealth, number and nature of income-generating activities, etc.). Wealth was proxy through the level of household assets, as questionnaire-based assessment of household income is notoriously unreliable and often provides an incomplete picture of wealth (Morris et al., 2000).

Before the household survey, focus group discussions (FGDs) were organized with the key community informants and representatives to discuss on important changes, events and wellbeing (subjective wellbeing) of the fishing communities. The FGDs provide participatory assessment for general understanding of the resilience and wellbeing and also community background and relevant information to specify the household questionnaire


The asset-poor fishing communities in coastal beach areas of Vietnam

The study focuses on poor-asset fishers as this type of fishing community represents the large majority of the households involved in fishing activities in Vietnam. These communities are characterized by low levels of fishing assets, livelihood base highly depending on fishing, short fishing trips and low access to off-shore fishing (Table 3). All households fish near shore and operate small artisanal boats (engine <50HP), multiple gears, and daily fishing trips. Most of households (90%) have the largest share of their income derived from capture fishing and have overall rather low levels of asset (approximately 200,000VND, equivalent to 10,000US$ by 2012).

<Table 3>

The value of fishing asset of fishers in Quang Cong and PhuDien is 41.4 million VND (1,970 USD) and 32.1 million VND (1,530 USD), respectively, which was assessed to be

2Only three households out of the initial 123 were not re-interviewed as they had moved away


7 remarkably small. The most common types of fishing include gill nets, trawlers and line fishing (multiple gears, species and seasons upon fish availability) and fishers apply experience and traditional knowledge passed down from one generation to the next. People in PhuDien seemed to have more non-fishing activities than Quang Cong. While fishing labour occupied only 5.6% of total labours in PhuDien, it used 20% in Quang Cong. In a group discussion, the fishers indicated that stable monthly income is most needed for one to have a good life in this community. The rate of monthly income of 5 million VND (250 USD) would be sufficient to cover material expenditure such as food, clothing, children education, and supply etc. However, it is very difficult to reach this level of income.

Shocks and stressors in the asset-poor fishing communities

The data indicates that in the two communities, multiple shocks and stressors affect small- scale fishers and their families. A typology of shocks shown in figure 3 includes common rapid shocks, middle-term stressors and long-term slow changes ranked from the most reported (top) to the least reported (bottom). In these communities rapid shocks include loss of gear, typhoon, prolonged cold wind, sudden illness, suddenly reduced catch, accidents, lost assets and violent conflicts with other fishers. The middle-term stressors include input price increases, food price increases, conflicts with big fishing boats, fish species disappearing, and beach erosion. The long-term slow changes include continuously reducing catch and technological change that increases competition.

The data shows that small-scale fishers were hit by a wide range of shocks and stressors across all of the categories but that middle-term stressors and long-term slow changes emerged as particularly significant for these communities. The four most frequently reported events were continuous reductions in fish catch, conflicts with big fishing boats, the disappearance of particular fish species and fuel price increases. Most of these shocks and stressors were perceived to interact with each other in their impact on the livelihoods of fishing households. For example reduced catch is partly associated to other shocks such as the steady decline of fishing resources, the temporary disappearance of some coastal fish species, breaking up of conflicts with big fishing boats and fuel price increase. Conflicts with big fishing boats directly resulted in reduction of fish catch because of the competition led to the spatial exclusion of small-scale fishers from fishing grounds where they used to operate and frequent damage to small-scale fishers' equipment (nets or boats). The increase in the price of fuel means that fishers must reduce the average trip's fishing distance and shorten the time they spend at sea.


There is not much difference found between the two communities studied in terms of the type of shocks and stressors that households reported they faced. The most common stressor reported by fishers in both communes is the continuous reduction of the fish catch (112 or 91% of total survey households). The reduction of catch has led to a more depressed family life and has worsened poverty in coastal communities. Amongst total householders facing the fish catch reduction 85.7% stated that this shock had badly affected their lives. Within this, 39% said that the negative effects were ‘considerable’ while the remaining (46.7%) reported the impacts as ‘quite bad’. In most cases, the key damage caused by catch reduction has been the reduction and disruption of household's regular income. Since fish prices have remained stable throughout, the decline of fish catch has caused a significant overall reduction in the income of fishers. This shock manifests itself


8 seasonally, causing fluctuations of income, and although at first this was a surprise the seasonal decline is now becoming (considered as) "normal" and expected.

Beside the catch reduction, the disappearance of particular coastal fish species was also widely reported3. The survey provides sufficient information to calculate that the income loss due to fish species disappearing has been remarkably high, at an estimated average of VND 10.3 million per household per year. However, it seems that species disappearance is neither predictable, nor necessarily irreversible, as some species have returned years after vanishing –sometimes to a level comparable to that prior to the disappearance. These changes increase overall the level of uncertainty in the fishery.

The conflicts with big fishing boats is reported by majority of fishers (103 out of 123 respondents) as being the main reason for the reduction of their catch and the cause for the sudden disappearance of fish species. In the early of 2000s, many big fishing boats (off- shore fishing boats) from other communities and provinces came and started fishing in the near shore fishing ground. The small fishers have had to face, day by day, much stronger rivals and understandably have often lost. As a result, their fish catch was reduced. In many cases the fishing nets of small fishers were damaged or cut when the larger boats ran through them; and when fights happened with big boat sailors some local fishers got wounded. The fishers of these communes face this type of competition from big boats every 6 months or so, although it is difficult to predict when the big boats will appear. Most fishers reported that this shock causes stress and has had a bad impact on both their lives and livelihoods.

The increasing prices of fuel and food are not severe shocks but they may make it more difficult for fishers to recover from other shocks. Despite facing the same increases of fuel prices, fishers in Quang Cong reported being more seriously affected by this stressor than fishers in PhuDien (45 respondents compared to 28 respondents in PhuDien). Similarly, there were 15 fishers in Quang Cong who reported that their family had been adversely affected by increases in food prices compared to only six in PhuDien. In Quang Cong the increasing prices for fuel and food and typhoons were reported to have greater adverse effects on fishers, which can partly be explained by the fact that the fishers in Quang Cong are more physically “isolated” and more dependent on the coastal fishery.

Responses to shocks/stressors

Table 4 shows that fishing households in these two communes adopt a wide range of responses to a diverse range of shocks and stressors. The fishers in the study communities reported a total of 11types of responses to12 types of shocks and stressors. The data indicates that fishers are faced with multiple and accumulative shocks and their responses are not specific to a particular shock, instead, they adopt multi-purpose strategies to handle the impacts of several shocks and stressors at the same time. In the rest of this section the responses to shocks/stressors were grouped into 4 categories as parts of resilience “Coping strategies”, “Fishing-adaptive response”, “Social-relation based response”, and “Non-fishing adaptive- transformative response”.

< Table 4>

3Several species have disappeared at an alarming rate since 2008. This has included the tiny prawn (A. Indicus), anchovy (Engraulide), beltfish (Trichiuruslepturus) and bombay duck



9 Coping with shocks and stressors

The strategies for coping with shocks include reducing general family spending, borrowing money, reducing food consumption and selling assets. These four coping strategies were reported most frequently by all households as a main way to manage the impact of shocks.

These four responses also were the only ones that had over 200 households reported and each of these responses was mentioned as a means of coping with all 12 types of shock and stressor reported in the case of Vietnam.

It was reported by fishers that these responses were adopted because they are quick and easy ways to compensate for disruptions in income and family life that arise from shocks or stressors. The FGDs that were used to build our understanding of wellbeing in these communities indicate that a high value was placed on material aspects of living well in these communities. It is understandable therefore that those households would want to try to restore their income as quickly as possible and as such these coping strategies represented an appropriate choice action where other strategies would require much longer time-scales for recovery.

In the communities studied, reducing the general level of spending was found to be the most common response. By reducing expenses, fishers were able to maintain their fishing and other income generating activities. However, despite cutting down on expenses, many households still faced financial difficulties and thus, also adopted another popular option - borrowing money. The aim of this response was similar to reducing expenses as to recover the loss of income caused by shocks (e.g. reduced catch or lost asset) and/or to invest in fishing activities in an effort to recover. However, fishers only tended to adopt this strategy when they could not save enough money from cutting their household expenses. Fishers normally borrowed from their relatives, neighbours, friends and banks. Their reported preference was to borrow from individual lenders (with a priority of relatives) rather than from organizations because there were no complicated procedures, no collateral was required and interest rates were usually low or non-existent. There is a big difference between Quang Cong and PhuDien in terms of access to loans. PhuDien fishers reported that they found it easier to get loans, possibly because they are more integrated in diverse non-fishing livelihoods and have higher value assets to mortgage in case of borrowing from banks.

The reduction of food consumption was a distinctly reported aspect of cutting family expenses but is worth specific consideration because it was only adopted where households were unable to save enough by cutting down on other household expenses. This was because it was understood that this would have some effect on the health of family members and especially children. Initially, the quality of daily meals would be degraded before the number of daily meals would be cut down in extremely difficult situations.

Selling assets was reported as the last choice of fishers in their efforts to recover from shock and very few households reported adopting this strategy. Normally, the highest value assets owned by fishers in Quang Cong and PhuDien were their fishing assets such as their boats and engine and also basic household assets such as house or motorbike. Selling these assets would be seen to profoundly affect their lives and reduce the viability of their livelihood, and would also greatly lower their ability to recover from future shocks.


10 Fishing-adaptive responses

Changes in fishing practices were reported by many respondents. Among a total of 149 households reported with “change or fishing diversification”, 91 households indicated that they had “increased fishing effort” in response to different shocks/stressors. These were ranked fourth and sixth respectively in the list of reported responses. The changes of fishing practices were seen as quite effectively compensating for the loss of income, since fishing diversification (ex. additional gear adopted) led to an increase in the numbers of species caught. The fishers adopted more gear types and tried to catch more species upon seasonal availability of fish rather than totally change of fishing strategy (ex. stop catching a species to catch new ones). Until present, the fishers in the study communities are capable to capture up to 12 different species. This capture diversification effectively compensated for the income damage caused by shocks. Together with fishing diversification, fishers also increase quantity of gears and adjustment of fishing patterns such as fishing time and trips.

These strategies are feasible because they are relatively low cost of investment such as buying more nets but no change with fishing boats. In contrast increasing fishing effort was seen as quite risky as this meant staying at sea longer; consuming more fuel and being more at risk of losing fishing gear. Besides, under the situation of increased fuel price, this response was even much harder. It is understandable therefore that more fishers reported adopting the first of these two responses.

Social-relation based responses

Responses to shocks and stressors that are built on social relationships were the third most common strategies adopted by fishers in these communities. A total of 105 households (among 123 survey households) reported receiving support from others to cope with shocks and 73 households reported that they established new collaborations with other fishers as a means of responding to the shocks.

These relational responses imply the use of social capital or relationships with other individuals and organizations in handling the shocks. This strategy is a particularly important option for small-scale fishers who have limited financial resources or wealth with which to recover from shocks/stressors. In the communities studied the fishers also sought to establish new relationships beyond their community.

Possible sources of support for coping with shocks and stressors were reported as being

‘government’ and ‘close relationships’ such as relatives, friends and other fishers in the community. The most memorable help from government to the fishers in these communities was the financial assistance related to the increase of input price in 2008. The fishers received a grant of VND 20 million (approx. USD 1000) per boat, as a government subsidy for fuel. Other forms of government support were reported to be appreciated by fishers, such as early warnings of extreme weather events and the introduction of preferential policies to support the poor coastal beach communities. The supports included low-interest loans and school tuition fees for students from poor households. The former policy has enabled fishers to take loans to maintain or even expand their fishing activity and/or diversify into other livelihoods, while the latter has helped them to control their family expenses. Support from relatives was reported mainly to be financial, often in the form of remittances from relatives working elsewhere, but it also can include help in daily life such as taking care of children so that fishers have more time to work at sea.


11 The new forms of collaboration that have been adopted in an effort to handle shocks include information exchange; mutual protection of equipment when in conflict with big fishing boats;

and, most importantly and innovatively, sharing fishing boats. The reduction in the fish catch has increased the need to identify richer fishing grounds, however, the search for an individual can be long and costly, so fishers have often decided to cooperate and share information about where fish are to be found. This collaboration is only possible among the fishers who already have very close relationships and when it is reciprocated.

New collaborations have been developed to deal with the conflicts with big fishing boats in order to protect gears and other fishing assets. For example by warning each other about the appearance and operation big fishing boats in the area small-scale fishers are sometimes able to avoid fishing asset losses caused by the boats. Sharing fishing boats rather than going fishing separately was also reported as a new form of collaboration to reduce the costs of increasing fuel price and also provide mutual protections against big boats.

Non-fishing adaptive and transformative responses

Transformative responses that involved adjustments or changes in the non-fishing aspects of peoples’ lives and livelihoods were the least commonly reported. In total 123 survey households only 87 reported adopting diversification measures outside fishing, 39 reported migrations away from the community for work elsewhere and 23 reported complete exit to fishery as a response.

Fishing is the traditional livelihood in these coastal communities and it is a source of both pride and identity. The fisher’s pride in their livelihood along with limited skills in non-fishing jobs prevents them from exiting the fishery and as a result a very low number of households reported non-fishing responses to shocks and stressors.

Group discussions with fishers also indicated the extent to which the activity of fishing was bound up with their sense of wellbeing. It was a source of pride of people and they explained that they had learned to fish from their ancestors and had been applying these skills since they were children. This represents a very significant barrier to choosing transformative, non- fishing responses to crises in the fishery. In addition the reality is that livelihoods alternatives are not easily available for local people and this is especially so for older fishers. The few fishers who had stopped going to sea are those who have other reliable source of income or who had health problems. A small number of younger fishers had left the coastal fishery in order to migrate to find other jobs.

The main non-fishing adaptive-transformative responses are forms of livelihood diversification involving land-based work such as fish processing, farming or wage labour. In the communities studied, the people diversified livelihoods in different ways. Men often chose jobs that require a lot of physical strength, such as construction work and wage labouring, and which were on a temporary basis (for example, during times when fishing is not operated due to prolonged cold winds). Other forms of alternative livelihoods, less physical, include motorbike-taxi driving, aquaculture and livestock farming. These practices may also represent the start of 'transformation' out of fishing for the household. Women were previously housewives and assistants for their husbands in fishing works in study communities. However, to cover the loss of income due to shocks/stressors they engaged in additional jobs such as fish processing (making fish sauce, or dried fishes), handicrafts


12 (making traditional hats) and in service businesses (opening small grocery shops, cooking for weddings).

Normally, men were more selective than women in looking for new jobs because of two reasons. First, they spend more time and physical energy on fishing so that they have little time for other additional works; and second, they had engaged in fishing job for very long and have very limited skills of non-fishing jobs. Meanwhile, women had time and were familiar with non-fishing jobs. As a result, the common diversification strategies of fisher’s households was that husbands kept fishing while wives did assistant job, rather than exit fishing as a whole.

Household resilience: Recovery from shocks

In order to gain some measure of resilience outcomes the study used households' self- reported levels of recovery from shocks. According to respondents, recovery is characterised by a restoration of fish catch and/or income to a level close to that before the shock, and that the family life is back to 'normal'. The participants in the study were mostly concerned with the recovery of their material conditions of life that had been damaged by the shock. The data (Fig.4) show that a quite large number of households considered themselves to have not recovered from different shocks. In a total of 430 households reported regarding their status of recovery from different shocks/stressors, 173 (40%) indicated that they had "fully recovered". Of those, 88 were said to have taken a long time and had been associated with major difficulties, while 84 were reported to have been easier. Only one fisher reported that for a particular event his situation had improved after the shocks. Of the remaining 257 (in total 430 reported cases), the majority (156) fall in the category "not yet recovered and expected to be difficult" while only a small number (22) were categorized as "not yet recover but hope very soon". Most pessimistic, 76 cases the households had reported that they believed they would never recover from the shock/stressor.


Given in the article that the shocks and stressors are not distinct from each other, that they are cumulative and their frequency provides little time for fishers to recovery, it is convenient for them to say they “never recovered”. The fact of 40% of the households that they had recovered suggests to some extent a high degree of resilience. Stories from FGDs and how fishers changed their fishing practices reveal that the main factor that appears to support the resilience of these households is their adaptive capacity in fishing which is on a small-scale and relatively low investment. This allows fishers to adopt a range of adaptive responses to maintain or compensate the fish catch in the face of different shocks

Effect of household wealth on response and recovery

We then investigated whether wealth (proxy by household asset value) do influence the type of responses and the level of recovery of the households. For this we computed the number of households that reported each type of response, and compared two groups differentiated by the value of their assets: “the bottom 40%” (poorer) and “the top 40%” (better-off) of the


13 community. The bottom 40% had assets whose total value was up to VND 180 million (approx. USD 9,000) (average value: VND 116 million i.e. approx. USD 5,300, per household), while the top 40% had assets of a value of VND 220,500 (approx. VND 11,025) upwards (average value: VND 335 million, approx. USD 16,750, per household). The data shows that the 40% poorest adopted a bit more coping strategies (300 compared to 260 household reported) while the 40% better-off more regularly chose changing fishing strategies (118 compared to 81) and livelihood diversification (34 compared to 31). The difference between two groups was not significant.

As far as recovery is concerned, the data suggest that household wealth does not seem to have any major influence on the level of recovery. The number of households which reported to have fully recovered (recovery level from 4 to 6) in the top 40% and bottom 40% were respectively 70 and 77 (Figure 4). The t-Test on the average recovery level between the groups is not significant with the p-value at 0.207. As a result, the ability to recover from shock of households was not affected by the household wealth. One possible explanation for this observation is that while the poorer households have to face a relatively high loss from shocks, the better-off need to deal with a larger absolute income loss. Therefore despite the higher asset value, it was not easier for top 40% to recover more easily than the bottom 40%.

Resilience and wellbeing linkage

As showed in Fig. 4, the findings show different levels of recovery (indicating household resilience) from shocks among the study households. It is interesting to understand whether and how the household recovery link with its wellbeing. A particular question is: “is there a difference in level of wellbeing satisfaction amongst households that are characterized by different levels of recovery”.

Fig.5 shows the levels of satisfaction as self-assessed by the respondents for each of the 8 domains of wellbeing. The data indicates that except for “Income & Asset” and for

“Livelihoods”, the average scores given to wellbeing categories are quite high and above the neutral level (>2). The highest satisfaction score was given to household remittance and relational wellbeing. This result can be explained by the fact that many households in the study communities (60-70%) received financial supports from relatives living abroad and that the majority of fishers believed that they were having a happy and safe family. Meanwhile, lowest satisfaction points were given to the income and livelihoods. This result is likely to reflect the combination of two factors: (a) the impacts of the shocks and stressors and their damage on fishers' livelihood and income. (b) the fact that asset-poor communities are often concerned with their material wellbeing and not necessarily satisfied with their levels of incomes and livelihoods.


Fig.5 also suggests that the satisfaction levels associated to the wellbeing domains are not significantly different between the household groups of recovery: the fully recovered and not yet recovered households (see Fig.4). The two groups display high general satisfaction for


14 social and human capital (average point 3.3 and 2.4). This is in line with the above findings as fishers were most satisfied with relatives, family and friends. Additionally, they also consider that they have enough knowledge, experience, skills and strength to sustain a good life. Meanwhile, the domain of economic development received a lower general satisfaction score (average point 2.1) possibly because their income and housing were affected by shocks. Finally, natural resource was given the lowest general satisfaction level (average point 1.2) suggesting a high impact of the fish crisis on the fishing communities, and reflecting the reduction in fish catch reported by the large number of households.


Some of the key findings presented in the previous section are now discussed. We focus in particular on the following points: the common patterns of responses to shocks, the relevance of the concept of resilience, and the link between wellbeing and household resilience.

As people in Vietnam often engage in fisheries for life, the shocks/stressors related to fishing activities received naturally a lot of attentions from the respondents. This also means that these shocks/stressors are likely to have severe and important impacts on the life of these families. Not too surprisingly, “catch reduction” and another fishing related shock “conflicts with big fishing boats” were the most frequently reported shocks. Focus group discussions indicated that reduction of fish catch was perceived to be due to both overexploitation (increase in number of fishers) and use of destructive fishing gears (such as small-mesh fishing nets). In recent years, many offshore fishers switched to near shore fishing, leading to increasing fishing intensity in the coastal and near shore areas. This switch might have been triggered by the decline of offshore fish stocks and/or the increase in fuel price. At the same time the increased use of destructive gears further contributed to the decline of the fish stocks. The survey revealed that the off-shore fishers use the small-mesh size nets (7x7 cm or even 5x5 cm) to catch “small fish” in near shore fishing grounds. The fishers in FGDs suggested that, the increase of destructive gears was partly caused by more intensified competition among fishers: If they wanted to catch more, fishers are tempted to use more effective gears (e.g. tiny-mesh nets). The conflict with big fishing boats reported by majority of fishers (103 out of 123 respondents) relates to the above mentioned competition for fishing grounds in near shore zone. In the early of 2000s, many big fishing boats such as off- shore fishing boats from other communities and provinces came to the near shore fishing ground. As a consequence the small fishers faced increasingly stronger rivals. With smaller boats and less effective fishing gears, the small fishers could not maintain advantages against the big boats. Not only their catch reduced, but there were also many cases in which fishing nets of small fishers were cut or destroyed when big boats ran through. In some cases, fights broke out between local fishers and big boat sailors and some fishers got wounded.

The type of responses adopted by the households seems to relate to their needs to make up for the loss of cash/assets induced by the impact of shocks or stressors. While fishers appear to adopt a wide range of strategies in dealing with adverse events, most of the strategies fall under coping and adaptation, with very little reported effort to engage in



‘transformative’ response, indicating that, fishers generally try to ‘get by’ rather than ‘get out’

when they are hit by a shock or stressor. It is not clear however as to what influences their choice of a particular strategy. In the communities included in this research coping strategies were perhaps the most appropriate choices as the relational-based, and non-fishing transformative responses would require more time and other resource for the household to recover. Coping strategies, e.g. reducing expense family, borrowing money and reducing food consumption, help fishers immediately in gaining access to some money to handle the shock. The practice is logically, as first they want to try to handle the income disruption themselves before asking for external helps which may lead them into debts.

The change in fishing strategy to respond to shock or stressors also needs closer attention.

The fishing-adaptive response was found to be quite effective and practical to compensate for the loss of income and assets. However, this was reported to be adopted mainly in strategies associated to temporary changes and/or diversification of target species rather than to an increase of fishing effort which was seen as more risky: staying longer on the sea would induce higher fuel consumption and higher risk of losing fishing gears. Moreover, it is not always possible for fishers to increase their fishing time as they already spend a lot of time (or full time possible) at sea.

The most common fishing-adaptive strategy was related to investment in additional fishing gear. Household survey revealed that, one way of doing this is to build up a large portfolio of gear, which facilitates the targeting of different fish species upon their seasonal availabilities under different sea and weather conditions. Most of the fishers possess a combination of different types of gill nets with different mesh sizes, hooks and lines, while some even keep banned gear such as bottom drag nets, and triple nets.

The small fishing practice with daily fishing trip allows fishers to diversify their fishing strategies to respond to shock e.g. they invest to adopt a new type of gear and adjust the fishing time and trip (e.g. between date and night time). Adoption of these new types of gear (a new fishing strategy) requires relatively low investment as fishers use the same boat. This allows them supplementing their existing gear sets to catch different fish species even during specific, short part of the season. Fishers rarely give up totally using their “old gears” and instead complement with new gears to adapt with seasonality and change in fishery resources. In sum, fishing diversification is an effective strategy to adapt with shocks especially those relates to fishing

Increasing fishing effort was also mentioned but not necessarily as a main strategy (reported in 91 occasions only). In a context of already heavily-exploited resources, increasing fishing effort can be viewed as a type of ‘resource mining’ leading to degradation of the resources.

When shocks render people vulnerable (to poverty) however, there is a tendency for fishers to rely more heavily on the resources, which is made feasible by the open access nature of marine resources. This dilemma has important policy implications for those authorities intervening in resolving issues related to the global fisheries crisis (Allison et al. 2006, 2012).

The non-fishing adaptive-transformative responses were undertaken by little less than half of the fisher respondents. They take this type of response as a second choice. As above mentioned, fisheries livelihood is a traditional job in these communities, which brought pride to fishers. Fishers learned to fish from their ancestors since they were children, and are therefore not willing to quit this activity. Moreover, livelihood alternatives are not often available especially for the older fishers. The ones who ended up quitting fishing are mainly those who had other sources of income in addition to fishing such as remittances, and/or


16 who had health problems and for whom fishing was becoming difficult. Only a very few young fishers gave up fishing to find other jobs outside the sector. For the others, pride and limited skills in non-fishing jobs prevented them from exiting the fishery.

In the two study communities, people diversified their livelihoods in different ways. Men often chose jobs requiring some physical strength, either on temporary bases (e.g. during off-time fishing due to cold wine prolong) such as construction workers and wage labours, or on regular bases such as motorbike-taxi drivers, aquaculture and/or husbandry farmers.

Meanwhile, women normally do lesser physical heavy but more time consuming jobs such as fish processing (making fish sauces, or dried fishes), handicrafts (making traditional hats) or providing rural services (small grocery shops, cooking for weddings). Usually, men are more selective than women in looking for new jobs, for two reasons. First, they spent substantial amount of time at sea and have therefore little time for other works; second, they usually have limited skills on non-fishing jobs. Meanwhile, women have more time and are more familiar with non-fishing jobs. As a result, rather than exiting totally the fishing sector, the common practice for fisher’s household is that husbands kept fishing while wives seek other (complementary) jobs outside the sector.

The various strategies adapted by fishers to deal with shocks also have implications on wellbeing. Shocks generally cause a loss of wellbeing (loss of income, assets, etc.).

Wellbeing data revealed that in the two communities surveyed people gave more attention to material wellbeing above relational wellbeing. In this regard, strategies adopted by fishers responding to shocks are in line with their interest and therefore affect differentially various dimensions of their wellbeing. The livelihoods (e.g. different type of incomes) and livelihood associated elements (e.g. productive skills, physical health, government support, and natural resource capital) were given low satisfaction. Meanwhile, the relational wellbeing (such as household and community relationships) was given lower importance but high satisfaction. In these communities, fishing can be perceived as “just a livelihood” particularly by the younger generation while the older fishers have a stronger sense of fishing as “a way of life”. Though the rate of recovery implies certain level of resilience and improvement achieved in the study communities, there is not significant difference in level of satisfaction in wellbeing between households that are characterized by different capacity to recover

In the context of changing environment, the fisheries policy is not directed to adaptations along any specific path, but to increase the adaptive capacity of people. This is expected to reduce the costs/impacts of shocks/stressors (e.g. by reducing the occurrence and impact of the conflicts among the fishing boats) and to improve fisheries livelihoods (e.g. by taking account of poverty and the roles of government and other forms of social livelihood capitals).

Given the poverty reduction priority, the fisheries interventions in the asset-poor fishing communities should encompass: (1) improved near shore fishing governance; (2) increased access to off-shore fishing for the near-shore fishers as parts of fishing diversification; and (3) improved non-fishing livelihood development. Primary expected outcome of the first component is an improved coastal fisheries protection and reduced conflicts between the fishing groups. The second component is to reduce fishing pressure in near shore areas by supporting off-shore fishing for the small scale fishers. This may increase resource exploitation but temporarily need to maintain fisheries livelihoods as parts of poverty reduction. The third component supports diversification and transformation to create options of fishing exit in dealing with shocks and stressors. This involves fishing social capital development such as strengthening capacity of the non-fishing or alternative livelihood service providers/ supporters such as community organizations and appropriate agencies,


17 given that the government is augured not having neither adequate capacity nor necessity operating more livelihood functions.

Conclusions and policy implication

Resilience has been increasingly recognized as a potentially useful concept to help practitioners, academics and policy-makers better understand the links between shocks, response and longer-term development outcomes (Constas et al. 2014a; Béné et al. 2014).

This study highlights relevance of resilience analyses in a fisheries crisis context where the poor fishers rely heavily on coastal and near-shore fishing for livelihoods. The analysis is useful for better understanding the shocks, the responses to shocks, the recovery from shocks and the links between recovery capacity and resilience. This helps define possible impacts from resilient interventions and from prioritised wellbeing development.

The number of households adapting each type of response was different, but coping (response) to shocks is found the most common practice adopted by fishers in face of shocks to compensate the assets and income lost from shocks without much change/impact on the household wellbeing

The social-relation based response to shock also common but the material wellbeing dimension was central priority. The fishing adaptive response was second common and prioritized practice. The fishing and non-fishing diversification was found is found the higher feasible option than other choice such as completed change/switch and quite helpful to increase households' resilience and wellbeing. Fishing diversification such as investment in multiple gears helps strengthen adaptability. Non-fishing livelihood diversification was adopted in dealing with shocks and stressors. This is not necessarily the way for fishers to exit from fishing but rather to help improve their family lives in crisis period and thereby to support the (current) fishers to “get by” with fishing.

The household wealth (proxy by asset value) was not found to be influencing the type of responses and recovery from shocks. Moreover, the difference in satisfaction level to wellbeing between the resilient groups (recovered and not-yet recovered) was also found to be non-significant. Those findings suggest that one can be resilient and well at the same time in the study context. This implies that resilience or wellbeing interventions could be taken without much challenge of significantly unexpected impact on each other. This particularly provides a case in addressing the assumption found in the literature that wellbeing and resilience may be characterized by some trade-offs as if the ability of individuals or households to pass through shocks or to sustain long-term stressors may sometimes be achieved at the detriment of some aspects or dimensions of their wellbeing:

"Can a person truly be both resilient and well, or do elements of the former inevitably dictate a reduction, or compromise, in the latter?" (Coulthard. 2012)

The implication from a policy perspective in context of asset-poor fishing communities in Vietnam is that the fisheries intervention is for achieving at the same time (1) improved near shore fishing governance; (2) increased access to off-shore fishing for the near-shore fishers by fishing diversification; and (3) improved non-fishing and other alternative livelihood development.



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20 Fig. 1 Map of Vietnam and the study fishing communities

Fig.2 The analytical framework used for this resilience analysis (Béné forthcoming).

trends stressors


household characteristics

and wellbeing





state t+1 ability to


state t

(e.g. food security restored or deteriorated further )


community and wider context Quang Cong

Phu Dien


21 Table 1.Categorisation of the types of responses reported by respondents

Type of responses Sub-categories

Coping Strategies  Reduce food consumption of the family

 Reduce family general expenses

 Borrow money from friends, relative, banks, etc.

 Sell family assets Fishing adaptive


 Change fishing strategies (change fishing gear, targeted species, fishing ground, fishing calendar, etc.)

 Increase fishing effort (number of fishing trips a day, number of days at sea,)

Social-relation based response

 Develop new collaboration within the community

 Seek for support from friends and peers Non-fishing strategy

(adaptive-transformative response)

 Migrate (temporary, permanently)

 Diversification (develop/invest in non-fishery activities)

 Exit the fishery, start a new job/livelihood

Table 2. Quality of life dimensions and components as used in the analysis

Dimensions Domains

Material wellbeing  Income and assets (including fishing assets)

 Job and livelihood security

 Housing and related infrastructure (toilet, electricity) Quality of Life  Education and skills

 Health status and access to facilities

 Social connections

 Social connections in time of crisis

 Empowerment and motivation

 Empowerment in time of crisis

 Meaning and spirituality Derived from Boarini et al. (2014)

Table 3: Community setting and fishing households in the coastal beach areas Indicator Quang Cong commune PhuDien commune

# fishing villages (total villages) 4 (9) 3 (7)

# fishing households (% total hh) 248 (15.6%) 134 (5.3%)

# Fishers (% total labors) 400 (20%) 270 (6.5%)

# motorized fishing boats 130 (18-24HP) 128 (40-50HP)

# Non-motorized fishing boats 16 160

Largest income from fishing (% hh) 90.3 88.5

Posses/own fishing boats (%hh) 87.1 88.5

Age of fisher/household head 48.7 51.4

Household size (person/hh) 4.4 3.9

# fishers/hh 1.4 1.1

Total asset value/hh (Million VND) 225 (11,200US$) 220 (11,000US$) Value of fishing asset (% total assets) 18.4 14.6 Source: Field work 2014


22 Fig.3: Shocks and stressors inventory (# Households reported)

Table 4. Type of responses adopted by fishing households in the face of shock/stressor Category/ resilient dimension Specific Response # Households


Coping strategy  Reduce level of expense 285

 Borrow money 230

 Reduce food consumption 209

 Selling assets 15

Sub-total 739

Fishing adaptive response  Change fishing strategy 149

 Increase fishing effort 91

Sub-total 230

Social-relation based response (adaptive- transformative)

 Get support 105

 Develop new collaboration 73

Sub-total 178

Non-fishing strategy (adaptive-transformative response)

 Livelihood diversification 87

 Migrate 39

 Exit fishery 23

Sub-total 149

Source: Field work 2014

0 10 20 30 40 50 60

Conflict with other fishers New tecnology competed Conflict with other communities Accident Lost assets Erosion Catch reduced suddently Illness Typhoon Cold wind prolonged Food price increase Gears lost Input price increase Fish species dissapeared Conflicts with big fishing boats Catch reduced continuously

Phu Dien Quang Cong


23 Figure 4: Household recovery from shocks

Fig. 5 Average point of satisfaction given to wellbeing by recovery groups 0

50 100 150 200 250 300

Not recovered yet Recovered

# of household reported

Have fully recovered and I am better off now

Have fully recovered -and it was not too difficult Have fully recovered -but it was long and painful Not yet but hope very soon

Not yet fully recovered and it will be difficult / long

Not at all and I don't think I will be able to recover

0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5

Natural capital Economic Human capital Social capital Livelihoods Income & Assets Health & facilities Education & skills Empowerment & motivations Housing & Related Infra.

Social Connections Personal & HH Vulnerability

Average point of satisfaction given to wellbing domains (on the left) by resilient outcome groups

Not recovered yet Recovered

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