Fisheries Day

21 November 2020


Coastal and inland fisheries are vital to the livelihoods and food and nutrition of billions around the world. As we mark World Fisheries Day on November 21, we reflect on the often-unnoticed efforts of small-scale fisheries communities; the local fishers, processors, and traders who harvest aquatic foods from ponds, rivers, lakes, and oceans throughout the world.

Fisheries play a critical role in local and global aquatic food systems. From seaweeds and sea cucumbers to crustaceans and fish, the vast range of aquatic foods harvested from fisheries contributes to resilient, sustainable, and diverse diets and income streams from the associated trading and processing activities of the value chain.

Globally, the sector employs 120 million people. Of these, 97 percent live in developing countries, and 90 percent work in small-scale fisheries. However, the diverse, dispersed, and often informal nature of their work makes measuring these contributions difficult. We need to make sure the voices of fishers are heard and recognized.

Currently, fishing communities around the world are dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting the entire food system and the livelihoods it supports. Our COVID-19 research response continues to work alongside these actors to monitor and respond to market disruptions and shut-downs that severely impact incomes, food availability, and affordability.

We are using evidence to understand and create solutions to improve the productivity, resilience, and sustainability of small-scale fisheries with our partners. Our work is shaping high-level discussions around food systems transformation and development of the blue economy.

  • This week, we launched new guidelines to promote a novel generation of fish-friendly irrigation investments with our partners at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and FAO. During the virtual launch, multidisciplinary researchers and water managers discussed how to scale the integration of fish and irrigation to strengthen the resilience, productivity, and sustainability of inland fisheries-dependent communities in Asia and Africa. Check out the recording here.

  • Our contributions to the series of ‘Blue Papers' commissioned by the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy advocate for the vital inclusion of small-scale coastal fisheries. Explore this blog where our Research Chair for Equity and Justice in the Blue Economy, Eddie Alison, argues that only a fair ocean economy can strengthen people and planet.

  • Preliminary findings in the collaborative Illuminating Hidden Harvest study, characterizing small-scale fisheries worldwide, were used to inform the outlook and emerging issues section of the 2020 State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. We discussed the early findings as part of FAO virtual dialogues on the path to the 34th Committee on Fisheries.

  • Women make up 50 percent of all people employed in global fisheries, including onshore work. Yet, they grapple with poor working conditions and unfair pay. We are tackling the lack of sex-disaggregated data by ensuring these women's perspectives prioritize global studies.

Focusing on context-specific innovations in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, we continue to build capacity and shape governance to boost equitable economic growth, improve nutrition, and empower local fisheries communities.

  • In Southeast Asia, new research in collaboration with FAO, CGIAR, and other partners, works to understand and promote local integrated rice-fish production practices for more productive, nutritious, and sustainable food systems. Read about this agroecological perspective on food systems transformation in the authors’ blog. Explore this video on Community Fish Refuges (CFR) and learn how we are increasing productivity and maintaining the biodiversity of rice-field fisheries in Cambodia. 
  • Recent research in Myanmar highlights the importance of investing in data collection and analysis efforts to implement effective fisheries management strategies.

  • In the Pacific, our research details how the digital PeskAAS tool works to collect much-needed data to guide the management and conservation of coastal fisheries. With limited training and code adaptation, the tool can be used by fisheries stakeholders, managers, and scientists to access critical catch data. Watch this video where we explain our efforts to scale the integrated data pipeline in Penang, Malaysia.

  • Furthermore, research in Timor-Leste reveals the importance of gleaning—the collection of aquatic foods by hand—to women's livelihood and the food security of families. 

  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, we continue to raise the profile of inland fisheries contribution to nutritious and diverse diets, essential to fight malnutrition and boost the development of children in the first 1000 days of life.

With each World Fisheries Day, our research grows stronger in building the business and socio-economic case for small-scale fishers, providing valuable insights into fisheries production and value chains, fishing communities, climate resilience, gender, equity, and governance. Today, we invite you to read through the various resources we have shared and join us in advancing policies, investments, and partnerships that reinforce the socio-ecological resilience of fisheries systems and the well-being of local fisheries communities.

Gareth Johnstone, Director General, WorldFish
Gareth Johnstone
Director General


Alex Tilley Use of ICTs and other digital technologies in aquatic food systems enables new and more efficient access to information, markets and services while reducing user risks and costs. These tools provide opportunities to seize the potential of fisheries to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of zero hunger and no poverty. Incorporating local contexts through co-design, building on existing networks and data management systems, while targeting well-being, transparency and trust objectives help to sustain gains

—Alex Tilley, Fisheries Scientist, WorldFish

Matthew McCartney Water control infrastructure has impacts on fish and their habitats. By integrating fisheries in planning and managing water infrastructure we can mitigate many negative impacts and develop new opportunities for fisheries.

Rice-fish production practices are part of ancient systems that equally consider the production of both fish and rice. Such systems provide excellent examples of integrated approaches that can increase overall water productivity, increase resilience and bring significant livelihood, health and ecological benefits.

—Matthew McCartney, Research Group Leader, Sustainable Water Infrastructure and Ecosystems, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

Christina Louwa Climate change, Covid 19 and the swelling of lakes, rivers and dams in Africa are continuing to threaten and affect the lives and livelihoods of small-scale fishers and fishing communities. There is need for urgent mitigation and compensation.

— Christina Louwa, World Forum of Fisher People

Sarah Freed Drawing from the experience of many researchers, this review revealed key features across a diverse array of integrated rice-fish production practices, as well as the solutions and lessons these practices can offer towards addressing today’s food system challenges.

By considering natural processes, equity, and sustainability alongside cultivation output, an agroecological perspective can highlight opportunities to reshape cultivation practices, and improve environmental integrity and local nutrition security.

— Sarah Freed, Post Doctoral Fellow, Small-scale Fisheries, WorldFish

Essam Yassin Mohammed Climate change is negatively affecting all dimensions of aquatic food systems, including food availability, access, and utilization. The impacts are primarily felt by vulnerable communities with limited adaptive capacities and particularly by small-scale fishers as well as fish producers and fish traders that are part of the value chain. WorldFish aims at a more holistic and systematic approach that ensures the capacities of fisheries communities are enhanced with suitable and accessible technological innovations.

—Essam Yassin Mohammed, Program Leader, Climate Change, WorldFish

Philippa Cohen The food, nutrition, income, and environmental stewardship values of small-scale fisheries are foundations of many of the Sustainable Development Goals. We need to work in ways that protect those foundations – including through transformational change to the climate, food systems, and economies. These transformations will only be equitable if fishers and fishworkers, and their aspirations, are genuinely valued.

— Philippa Cohen, Research Program Leader, Resilient Small-scale Fisheries, WorldFish


Diving into diverse human-ocean relationships bares the base of a fair blue economy

Read More

Gender included from the ‘get go’ in global small-scale fisheries study

Read More

Nourishing the world: The contribution of fish to sustainable food futures

Read More

‘Our lives depend on it’: Women’s gleaning vital for food and income in Timor-Leste

Read More

Rice-fish Systems – Back to the Future

Read More

Illuminating Hidden Harvests country case study author: Kafayat Fakoya

Read More

‘Sweet spot of connection’: Social movements, researchers, ENGOs eye opportunities and challenges around small-scale fisheries

Read More

Lived Experiences: Small-scale fishers and fishworkers share their stories

Read More


Geospatial Tools for integrated food production in Myanmar

This video provides an overview of the geospatial tools WorldFish researchers are using in fish-rice farming systems in Myanmar.

Scaling the integrated data pipeline for small-scale fisheries

Watch this video to learn more about the integrated data pipeline project's progress while scaling in Penang, Malaysia. Small-scale fisheries scientist Alex Tilley, explains the partnerships, challenges, and opportunities the project has faced over the past year, including how this innovation has been affected by the COVID-19 disruptions and what is coming in 2021.

Follow the fish - a short film

This film highlights the role of women in fishing, marketing and rural livelihoods, and contrasts it with the lack of influence in community and government level decision-making.


Virtual Events

Virtual Ocean Dialogues

1 - 5 June, 2020


Small is bountiful

8 June, 2020


Small is bountiful

4 June, 2020


Small is bountiful

3 June, 2020