Small-scale fishers in developing countries are responsible for more than half the catch, 90–95 percent of which is eaten locally. Along with traders, producers and processors, small-scale fisheries supports tens of millions of people worldwide. And yet, when it comes to global and regional discussions around the blue economy, the voices of those fishers, who provide a billion people a day with nutrition, are seldom heard.
WorldFish believes that we have a moral obligation to raise the profile of small-scale fisheries.
Quite apart from being small individually, these fisheries are diverse and take place in remote locations, making them easy to ignore them. But there is also a dearth of data about small-scale fisheries.
WorldFish is tackling both problems. Illuminating Hidden Harvests (IHH) is a project with FAO and Duke University to gather and synthesize critical information on the diverse and misreported livelihood and economic contributions of capture fisheries globally. IHH has commissioned comparable studies from over 50 countries around the world, who between them represent 69 percent of the marine catch and 81 percent of the catch from inland waters. IHH reports will provide evidence that policymakers currently lack.
Better data are absolutely essential. Millions of metric tons of seafood caught by small-scale fisheries, perhaps 65 percent of their total, go unrecorded. That gives a false impression of both the importance of small-scale fisheries and of the threats they face.
At the 6th World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi in March, Gareth Johnstone, WorldFish Director General, bemoaned the absence of scientific knowledge and information about small-scale fisheries in the Summit’s deliberations. As an example, he pointed to WorldFish’s
pioneering work in Timor-Leste, using mobile and digital technologies to track fishing vessels and the behavior of fishers. “Our research is helping to uncover the extent to which small-scale fisheries are contributing to the blue economy,” said Johnstone. At events throughout the year, WorldFish representatives have made the case for small-scale fisheries.
In December, WorldFish and the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems co-sponsored the FAO’s Global Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability. Philippa Cohen, Program Leader, Resilient Small-scale Fisheries, told delegates in her keynote presentation how small-scale fisheries provide entry points for achieving multiple SDGs.
- In July, in London, England, an event at the International Institute for Environment and Development heard about IHH and about fiscal tools to support fishers and the environment.
- In December, WorldFish and the CGIAR Research Program on Fish co-sponsored the FAO’s Global Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability. Dr. Philippa Cohen, WorldFish Program Leader on Resilient Small-Scale Fisheries, told delegates in her keynote presentation how small-scale fisheries provide entry points for achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals.
The challenge facing the blue economy is to ensure equitable benefits. We need to protect marine and aquatic resources, and ensure that all users can prosper from those resources. Decision-makers need to know about small-scale fisheries and how important they are. That is the key step to ensuring that these crucial players are given their due in all considerations of the global blue economy.
Global collective action in support of small-scale fishers
As well as advocating for small-scale fisheries in global discussions of the blue economy, WorldFish also seeks to help small-scale fishers represent themselves.
Aside from taking part in smaller meetings, in September at WorldFish headquarters we brought together more than 40 participants from small-scale fisheries, social movements, indigenous people’s groups, research, intergovernmental and environmental non-governmental organizations to build an initiative in support of the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries. The goal is to coordinate collective action in support of the Voluntary Guidelines which, as the FAO reports, are "about people, not just about fish."