Politics of vulnerability: Impacts of COVID-19 and Cyclone Harold on Indo-Fijians engaged in small-scale fisheries
The global COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of our health, social, and economic systems. While responding to the health crisis, governments are scrambling to understand and address the knock-on economic effects from market disruptions, and respond to other major disturbances (e.g. natural disasters). We conducted 61 key informant interviews with Indo-Fijian small-scale fisheries (SSF) actors (i.e. fishers, boat owners (that may or may not fish), crew members, and traders) in May 2020, two months after Fiji got its first case of COVID-19 and a month after Cyclone Harold hit the country. We examined how these SSF groups whose access to resources depends on their ability to navigate existing social relations of power, have lived through, experienced, and responded to the two stresses. We found the main impact of COVID-19 on SSF actors was the reduction in sales of fish (73.8 % of respondents) likely a result of reduction in local consumption and/or the loss of tourism markets. Loss of purchasing power meant almost a fifth of Indo-Fijian SSF actors interviewed (comprising 44.4 % of crew members, 16.4 % fishers, 11.5 % boat owners, 8.3 % traders) were unable to obtain sufficient food to meet their families’ daily needs. Many of these SSF actors do not have access to social security or similar safety nets leaving them vulnerable to the current crisis as well as to other shocks and changes. Furthermore, social inequities and power relations surrounding access to fisheries resources and government aid contributed to their vulnerability to economic stresses from COVID-19 and a severe cyclone. An understanding of early impacts of COVID-19 on SSF through an intersectional lens can assist decision-makers to quickly mobilise assistance to help people who are most vulnerable, and avoid widening inequities among social groups.