Photo: ©FAO/Pietro Cenini

A fishing market town on the coast of Ghana.

23 August 2017, Rome – Two-thirds of the caught fish that humans eat are taken by small-scale fishers, many using canoes carved from logs or stationary beach seine nets such as the rampani that dot India’s eastern coast.

Far from being relics of a bygone age, small-scale fisheries technologies and practices are usually well adapted to the ecological and social circumstances within which they operate. Yet small-scale fisheries often struggle to compete due to regulatory frameworks that tend to ignore them or that are tailored to the concerns of large commercial fleets, according to a new book published by FAO.

The Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines: Global Implementation offers more than 30 case studies ranging from Greenland to Zanzibar and addressing diverse issues including gender and sustainable resource use.

It serves as an initial report on progress in implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, endorsed in 2014 with the aim of bolstering the livelihoods of the 100 million+ people who work in the sector and increase their contribution to global food security and nutrition.

“Now it’s time for policymakers to take concrete action – ranging from legislation, technical capacity development and especially engagement with the fishing communities themselves – to make sure the guidelines are implemented,” says Nicole Franz, FAO’s lead officer on sustainable small-scale fishery issues.

Policy coherence – pursued through inter-ministerial collaboration on trade, environment, tourism as well as social and economic development issues – must be the keystone for protecting the rights and livelihoods of the often poor and marginalized people engaged in the world’s small-scale fisheries, she says.

“It’s going to be a long and windy path, but there are many entry points, so yes, we can do it,” Franz adds.

Ways of life and viable skills

One key issue for small-scale fisheries is tenure rights, which, the guidelines stress must be designed from a broad human rights perspective that takes into account the local complexities of small-scale fisheries.

For example, in the Solomon Islands, tenure rules are based on customary principles, restricting the right to fish only to locals and strictly defining how they do it and even  requiring that catches not be sold but used only for household consumption, barter or ceremonial purposes. These customs can put non-indigenous fishers at a disadvantage.

Environmental protection

An emerging challenge is how to ensure continued access by small-scale fisherfolk to marine protected areas, where in some cases all fishing is prohibited. The trade-offs between conserving marine resources on the one hand and protecting the livelihoods and food security of vulnerable communities on the other need to be carefully considered.

Costa Rica, a leader in creating biodiversity protection zones, is with FAO’s help implementing the SSF Guidelines using a novel approach that actively engages small-scale fishers – many of whom are fairly recent and poor migrants from the countryside – as partners in dialogue in a bid to allow them to use more marine resources in a sustainable way.


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