The extent to which communities or households depend upon fisheries as a key part of their livelihood strategies will be a significant driver of impact within any fisheries management system. Livelihood dependency on fisheries can take many forms and is often a complex mixture of these.
Coastal ecosystems and their associated fisheries resources provide a wide array of ecosystem services (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005), and poor coastal people have quite specific and diverse patterns of dependency on these services (Campbell and Townsley, 2013). Whittingham et al. (2003) describe the forms that dependency can take. Some people, households and communities are highly dependent on fisheries resources for all or most of their needs. These needs may take the form of food, income, employment, a resource for reciprocal relations and to demonstrate power, cultural values, protection from the sea (e.g. coral reefs for coastal protection), building materials (e.g. reefs and mangroves), and areas for recreation and social engagement. Some people may depend upon the marine resources at times when land-based activities are less productive. Other people may depend upon the fishery at certain vital times of the seasonal calendar and, while they only spend a small proportion of their time involved in fisheries, this may be key to their survival. Yet other people may use fisheries as a safety net to fall back on when times are very hard. This is most prevalent where government social protection programs are not very strong (Bennett, 2005b). Cinner et al. (2010) have shown that poorer households have a greater reliance on fishing for primary subsistence or for income.
More indirect forms of dependency also occur when people depend upon fish for processing and trade and this can be a very significant part of household income. In many communities, the income generated through fish sales and wages in the fishery provides a diverse array of local industries that survive because of the fishery (IMM et al., 2005). The management system adopted for fisheries and marine ecosystems must be very aware of the dependency of different stakeholders and how management arrangements will affect each group.