Fishers’ spatial behavior affects their incomes, livelihoods and ecological sustainability and is affected by establishment of protected areas, and the impacts of changing climate and weather patterns. An understanding of fishers’ spatial behavior is essential for evaluating catch trends or estimating per-area yeilds. Location choice by fishers has largely been understood through foraging models and empirical studies in large scale, developed country fisheries. This paper uses participatory mapping, logbooks and remotely sensed weather (wind speed) data to explore the influence of weather and capital on the spatial behavior and success of coastal Kenyan small-scale fishers. We test generalized foraging models of fisher behavior. A reef crest separates available fishing grounds in the study area between two distinct areas of dissimilar fish catches. Over half of the fishing trips accessed grounds outside the reef, particularly in the calmer northeast monsoon season. Trips across the reef were more successful both in terms of catch and value per fisher and price per kg. Access across the reef was determined primarily by season but was also affected by métier and daily wind speeds. Amongst a sample of non-motorised trips, crossing the reef was the most important variable for predicting Value Per Unit Effort (VPUE). Other things equal, more productive grounds ought to attract more effort, but access to the fishing grounds beyond the reef is constrained by fishers’ access to capital, fluctuations in weather and the interaction between these variables. Fishers with low levels of capital are more affected by daily weather that limits access to the more profitable fishing grounds. Fishers with more capital are able to access more productive grounds more freely, but at the expense of extra compensation for the capital needed. Thus while gross returns to offshore trips exceed similar returns for nearshore trips, net returns are likely to be more equal. In our study a stark exception to the pattern of higher returns from more capitalised gear is the relatively high VPUE achieved by spear fishers, making the assumption of free movement of labour between gears not valid. The study also adds a temporal complexity to this picture by showing the likelihood of accessing grounds beyond the reef crest varies temporally by season.
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