Informal Fishing Agreements Amongst Fisherwomen in Inhaca Island

May 5, 2023 kauthar.mohammad
May 5, 2023 Paul Emiljanowicz
April 17, 2023 kauthar.mohammad

This case documents the use of informal fishing agreements between fisherwomen in Inhaca Island, Mozambique. The initial success of these systems has deteriorated over time due to the rise of external actors (ex. corporations) that violate the property rights of fisherwomen.

Problems and Purpose

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) defines small-scale fisheries as being characterized by low capital investment and the level of technology used by fishers or their households [1]. Though small-scale fisheries have the capacity to benefit both fisherfolk and Mozambique, the existing policy prescriptions for small-scale fisheries governance see them as inherently unproductive, which dismisses their potential for Mozambique’s economic growth [2]. Women’s work in fisheries tends to occur within the household space, through activities such as preparing bait, fish processing, and gear maintenance, alongside other jobs as mothers [3]. Because this happens outside the marketplace it is not considered an economic activity; this often excludes women from fisheries management policy prescriptions and intervention, in addition to the general lack of data on women fisherfolk [3]. Adaoma Wosu (2019) cites Baker-Medard’s (2017) concept of “institutionalized inequitable access to marine resources along gender lines” to explain the lack of information on women’s fishing [3]. 

Despite the relevance of management in small-scale fisheries, the lack of data on fisherwomen poses difficulties when integrating them into management [3]. This may even perpetuate existing biases; Adaoma Wosu (2019) refers to Baker-Medard’s (2017) study on small-scale fisheries in Madagascar discovered that management projects unintentionally limited women’s access to marine resources [3]. This case thus documents the issues fisherwomen face regarding equitable access to supply in small-scale fisheries, within the context of Mozambique. 

Background History and Context

Between 1982 and 1990, fisheries development initiatives in Mozambique were implemented in order to provide more capture and processing technology [3]. This was accompanied by the promotion of fisheries legislation that included more market involvement while reducing government involvement through co-management systems [3]. The government thus created legislation to create community fisheries councils (CCP) in 1998, with the rationale that CCPs were beneficial as they circumvented the state’s resource limitations to implement rural fisheries management [3]. The new Fisheries Law of 2013 now allows CCPs to act as a representative body to voice concerns to the national government, done through the Provincial Fisheries Administration (ADNAPE) and district-level government [3]. Each CCP defines its group’s mandates, however, many tend to focus on similar issues, such as conflict resolution between local fishers or regulating migrant fishers [3]. Menezes et al. (2009) discovered that Mozambique CCPs worked better where local institutions are perceived as being fair and legitimate, but when trust is low between co-management committees and community members, state intervention is more beneficial [3]. 

Mozambique’s Master Plan for Fisheries was developed in 1994 in order to protect the country against “play[ing] a passive role in the exploitation of its natural resources” [4]. The policy sought to establish a national fish processing industry, but amidst liberal reforms, privatization, inadequate legislation within the policy, and donor withdrawal, the Master Plan was easily manipulated [4]. 

Institutions and access in SSFs

Adaoma Wosu (2019) cites Ribot and Peluso’s (2003) definition of access as the ability to benefit from resources [3]. The internal dynamics of different institutions will also influence how power and agency shape benefactors of different resources, thus, the structure of institutions may either enable or constrain particular groups [3].  

A key aspect of gaining natural resources is tenure rights. Tenure systems refer to how people and communities work to gain these resources through informal or formal arrangements, and can thus be built on written laws or unwritten customs [5]. Tenure in fisheries refers to how relationships between people in the context of using fisheries and related resources are negotiated [5]. These systems are beneficial when defining who has a legitimate right to a resource; the governance of tenure focuses on how these rights are administered [5]. Formal tenure rights are a concept still in development for fisheries; traditional systems based on customs within fishing communities tend to be more common [5]. Tenure rights do not necessarily require privatizing resources, but can include community-based arrangements or common property [5]. Thus, tenure rights can be allocated to individuals or groups [5]. 

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Methods and Tools Used

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

Pauline Wynter’s “Property, Women Fishers And Struggle for Women’s Rights in Mozambique” (1990) examines women fishers in Inhaca Island a rural coastal community that has a high population of refugees who came after fleeing the civil war; women in the area help generate income through fishing [6]. In the case of Inhaca crab fishers, 90% are the heads of their households and responsible for providing their families with an income. Women who fish with traps must obtain licences; although the state does not regulate setting these traps, women have developed their systems on where they are placed and how to respect one another’s placements [6]. 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Wynter’s study discovered that use rights are restricted for Inhacan women, as they fight to limit the number of fishers in an area to those in the village, a measure that determines based on the administrative unit of the village to the fishing zone [6]. Another restriction sought is limiting fishing for a specific species to particular periods of time, such as in the case of sea urchins that gather annually [6]. Those not native to the area or unwilling to stay for the year will thus be prevented from encroaching on Inhacan women’s fishing of an already scarce product [6]. The strength of these rules between Inhacan fisherwomen is due to the strength of the norm; the proximity of fellow fisherwomen increases the extent to which these rules are internalized in these groups [6]. 

Furthermore, fighting for rights often comes from a group basis, where women fight to defend their village’s right to exclusively use the coral reef in the area [6]. Women shellfishers are defined by Wynter (1990) to use four means in order to secure their economic foundation: “group ownership of a defined area, a rule for determining membership in the group, a mechanism for defining the boundaries of the area, and a time specification for when access is available” [6]. The means of group ownership, membership rules, and mechanisms to define boundaries are associated with residing in a particular area and collectively recognized administrative boundaries [6]. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The combination of the community’s decreasing ability to defend their rights and the erosion of norms against resource exploitation allows newcomers (corporations and refugee fisherfolk) to violate the property rights of Inhacan fisherwomen.

Wynter’s study supports the earlier argument that tenure rights do not necessarily need to be secured for an individual, but for a group. Additionally, it presents how property relations and norms can be formed through informal institutions. This study additionally demonstrates that, despite the strength of these property rights within groups of Inhacan fisherwomen, these informal institutions are not recognized past the village level [6]. Though Wynter notes that the lack of legal recognition may also apply to rural men, the responsibility women have for rural production incurs a higher cost to them [6]. 

Thus, the restricted use rights for coastal women demonstrate that existing conceptions of property rights in Mozambique benefit those in urban areas. By failing to incorporate the various ways property rights are developed for a secure economic base, the existing framework for property rights is insufficient in protecting the interests of coastal women [6]. Additionally, the presence of corporations that deplete the resource pool and are protected by the existing legal system of Mozambique further encroaches on the violated property rights of Inhacan fisherwomen [6]. 

See Also


[1] FAO (2020). Legislating for sustainable small-scale fisheries. A guide and considerations for implementing aspects of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security. Retrieved from 

[2] Benkenstein, A., 2013. Small-scale Fisheries in a Modernising Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in Mozambique, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). South Africa. Retrieved from

[3] Wosu, A. C. L. (2018). Social-ecological dynamics of fisherwomen’s behaviour in northern Mozambique. University of Edinburgh. Retrieved from

[4] Lars Buur. (2022). Mozambique Synthesis Analysis: Between Pockets of Efficiency and Elite Capture. Danish Institute for International Studies. Retrieved from

[5] FAO (2017). Towards gender-equitable small-scale fisheries governance and development - A handbook. Retrieved from

[6] Wynter, P. (1990). Property, women fishers, and struggles for women's rights in Mozambique. Sage, 7(1), 33. Retrieved from

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