Estimating fishers’ net income in small-scale fisheries: minimum wage or average wage?

Small-scale fisheries (SSFs) are complex social-ecological systems that are affected not only by biological responses to oceanographic changes but also by socio-economic conditions and market demand expressed from local to global scales. Ex-vessel prices are generally elastic and volatile from year to year or even from season to season, depending on many factors. This variability makes it difficult to keep fishers’ incomes and livelihoods stable over time. Here, we use a multispecies small-scale fishery from the Ria de Arousa (NW Spain) as an example to illustrate the complexity and economic contributions of SSFs and to analyse the performance of SSFs in terms of net income per fisher. Our results show that the mean total landed value from SSFs is approximately 35 million US$·year−1, which represents almost 25% of the total annual value of Spanish SSF landings and almost 4% of the value of European Union SSF landings. Our study reveals that from 2008 to 2014, the total landed value of the fishing fleet operating in the area has decreased by 11.8 million US$·year−1, a decrease of 18.8% within the seven-year study period. The study also indicates that floating shellfisheries are by far the type of fishing gear that generates the largest total landings and landed value in the Ria de Arousa, generating a mean revenue of 19.66 million US$·year−1. The total economic weight of floating shellfisheries together with the high distribution of licenses provides license holders with year-round economic stability. The combination of the number of fishing gear selected and the number of species that generate their revenues plays an important role in shaping fishers’ ability to obtain an income from SSFs. Nevertheless, high dependence on and specialisation in shellfisheries could reduce fishers’ social-ecological resilience and hamper their ability to cope with uncertain natural dynamics in changing ecosystems. We find that the net income per fisher varies between 4,000 and 42,000 US$·year−1, with a mean net income per fisher of 21,800 US$·year−1. Taking into account the Spanish minimum wage, almost 40% of fishers in the study area earn at least the minimum wage, 8% earn almost double the minimum wage, and 1.4% make three times the minimum wage. From a global perspective, we found that only three out of the 33 countries analysed present fishers’ net incomes that are above or almost equal to the national average wage and far above each country’s minimum wage.