Justifying non-compliance: the morality of illegalities in small scale fisheries of Lake Victoria, East Africa

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Colleges, School and Institutes


The literature on compliance in small scale fisheries provides evidence of the normative foundations of fishers’ behaviour. However, the mechanisms through which normative reasoning translates into non-compliance remains unclear due to the tendency to conceive non-compliant behaviour simply as an outcome of ‘moral deficit’. This paper identifies such mechanisms by focusing on moral reasons which undermine the legitimacy of fisheries regulations. Taking the case of Lake Victoria, East Africa, the paper explores how non-compliance can be founded on diverse and competing concepts of fairness by creating a typology of the modes of justification used by respondents who engage in illegal fishing. The paper establishes four areas of justification: the principle of superfluousness, the principle of autonomy, the principle of futility, and the principle of necessity. Investigating the evidence for each, the analysis finds that the majority of fisherfolk believe that regulations are necessary and support government action in fisheries management. However, fishers expressed futility in fishing legally, given the extent of illegal fishing, and justified their non-compliant behaviour through reference to the cost of legal fishing compared to illegal and the need for better catches and income associated with illegal fishing.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-110
JournalMarine Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • illegal fishing, modes of justification, Non-compliance, small scale fisheries, Lake Victoria