Recognizing the Importance of Small-Scale Fisheries

by Katie Schleit.

June 10, 2014 was a momentous occasion for the millions of small-scale fishermen around the globe, including those here in Canada, who often feel marginalized and underrepresented by their governments.  Member countries of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (UN FAO) Committee on Fisheries adopted the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.  Earlier this month, FAO officially released the Guidelines in six languages.

The process to develop these guidelines has been celebrated as the most inclusive process undertaken by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The process took years, and aimed to involve small-scale fishermen stakeholders to properly identify their needs. Representatives from Canada’s industry, speaking on behalf of more than 10,000 owner-operator fishermen, as well as representatives for aboriginal fisheries, participated in the process. They played an essential role when Canada threatened to be the only country blocking these guidelines from becoming adopted.

A fisherman mends his nets, Cape Coast, Ghana.

A fisherman mends his nets, Cape Coast, Ghana. Photo: Brian Conklin/Wikimedia Commons

The Guidelines acknowledge that small-scale fisheries are central to marine conservation, poverty reduction, food security and sustainable coastal communities. In other words, in order to have sustainable fisheries and fishing communities, we need policies that ensure that coastal residents have access to fishing resources and that human rights are protected in the practice of fishing.  Coastal communities also should benefit financially from the fishing resources adjacent to their waters, and have access to fish as a food source. Representing 90% of the world’s wild-capture fisheries and around 50% of the fish caught worldwide, these small-scale fishermen are not just important, but simply too big to ignore – by governments, ENGOs, and the marketplace.  For the Ecology Action Centre, an organization that aims to protect the marine ecosystem and maintain sustainable fisheries which support vibrant coastal communities, the Guidelines have a lot to offer.

This global instrument builds on pre-existing international codes and commitments that outline the best practices in fisheries management globally. Sustainable practices such as the ecosystem approach to fisheries management and the precautionary approach are central tenants. Most small-scale fisheries are typically conducted with low-impact gear types that have less impact on the ecosystem. Further, these fisheries allow coastal communities access to fish as a food source and contribute to their financial welfare. Acquiring more data on these fisheries and more formally recognizing them through these guidelines will only increase our knowledge of the impacts and ensure their sustainability.

Fishing in the haor, Bangladesh

Fishing in the haor, Bangladesh. Photo: Balaram Mahalder/Wikimedia Commons

What’s next?

Getting agreement on adopting the Guidelines by 136 diverse nations throughout the world was the easy part, relatively speaking. Next it is up to nations to implement the Guidelines and make them functional within their unique contexts. Will governments and stakeholders walk the walk?

On the consumer level, it is a positive step forward that eco-labels and certifications, such as the Marine Stewardship Council and Fair Trade USA are beginning to work with small-scale fishermen. However, it’s imperative these programs consider the Guidelines and the human rights, food security and sustainability advice contained within them, to strengthen Guideline  implementation and the small-scale fishing sector as a whole.

Good news is that some countries have already started implementation. Costa Rica announced in 2014 that they would be integrating the Guidelines into their national development plan. The International Collective in Support of Fish Workers (ICSF) also organized a series of workshops on the Guidelines’ implementation in India, Myanmar and Thailand.

The catch

Herring weir fishermen in Grand Manan, New Brunswick

Canada’s Turn

In Canada, there are existing policies aimed at protecting the small-scale, inshore fleets. However, these have not always been implemented to the benefit of small-scale fishers.  The more than 10,000 such fishermen in Atlantic Canada still provide the backbone of our coastal communities.  However, too often, licenses are too expensive to buy or are getting in the hands of corporations or non-coastal residents. Further, the premium that these fisheries should get on the marketplace is rarely recognized. The government of Canada should anchor these policies under the advice contained within the Guidelines, given that they reflect what fishermen want to see and have the flexibility to be adapted to local circumstances.

Canada adopted the Guidelines on the international stage, now it’s time to make that commitment back home.

Katie Schleit is the Marine Campaign Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. An ocean lover, she has traveled to six continents as a marine educator, advocate, researcher and tourist (and she’s determined to get to Antarctica someday)!


One thought on “Recognizing the Importance of Small-Scale Fisheries

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday to the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines! | Small Scales

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