Delivering a New Vision for Fisheries in the 21st Century

Larissa Hotra
Dec 11, 2019 · 6 min read
Dr. Courtney Cox, Rare’s Director of Applied Marine Science (third from left), presented on “Small-Scale Fisheries Information, Data, and Knowledge” during the International Fisheries Symposium. Photo: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

“Some people say fisheries management is about managing the people, but here we argue it’s managing with the people, and by the people.” — Ratana Chuenpagdee, Panel 4 Chair: Securing sustainable fisheries livelihoods

With a simple but powerful statement, Dr. Chuenpagdee, a Researcher from Canada’s Memorial University, Panel Chair, and Project Director of the Too Big To Ignore: Global Partnership for Small-scale Fisheries Research, captured a core tenet of the discussions and debates related to small-scale fisheries at the first-ever International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability: Strengthening the Science-Policy Nexus. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) organized the event, held November 18–21, 2019, in the lead up to next year’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI) meeting.

The Symposium’s objective was “to bring together the best expertise and knowledge and to use this opportunity to address key technical questions, identify potential solutions and help us deliver a new vision for fisheries in the twenty-first century.” As a panelist, event co-sponsor, and technology presenter during the Fisheries Innovation Forum, Rare’s participation centered on elevating small-scale fisheries’ role in delivering this new vision. Among the approximately 1,000 participants in attendance, Rare’s seven-person delegation consisted of Rare staff, a District Administrator and Fish Forever partner from Mozambique, and delegate from Fish Forever’s implementing partner, Centre for Marine Studies, in Honduras.

Five Major Themes Related to SSF that Emerged from the Symposium

While the Symposium tackled challenges and opportunities related to marine and inland fisheries globally, a focus on small-scale fisheries was evident throughout most sessions, particularly during Session 4, Securing Sustainable Livelihoods. Listening to how small-scale fisheries were represented in the discussions, we put together a sample of critical messages that resonated with us.

1. Gender equity, social inclusion, and diversity are key to better outcomes.

These themes reverberated throughout the Symposium. Women represent one in two fisheries value chain actors. Fair, just, and sustainable fisheries cannot exist without prioritizing women’s inclusion in management and decision-making, recognizing their valuable contributions, and ensuring that they have the capacity to embrace opportunities and reap their fair share of benefits. And, importantly, that both sexes are made responsible for gender equality. In concluding remarks, Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summarized a poignant need: “We can’t reach SDG 1 without women and small-scale fisheries.”

2. Effective fisheries management must include community participation, local/traditional knowledge sharing, and data for decision-making.

These messages also echoed throughout. As Fish Forever can attest, when fishing communities participate in management and self-mobilize, they take greater ownership and stewardship of their resources and may also be more compliant with decisions reached by a representative management group. Well-designed participation — which is inclusive and representative, transparent, equitable, and accountable — addresses barriers to participation and creates the opportunity to meet community needs and priorities through sustainable natural resource management. And related to data for decision-making: There is now global and scientific recognition that intensive management and proper assessments (despite deficiencies in data collection) lead to good outcomes. Fish Forever’s emphasis on participatory data collection can thus enhance our ability to monitor and report on sustainability.

“We have a unique opportunity to support effective fisheries management and sustainable livelihoods by connecting small-scale fishing communities to technologies that improve access and transparency of fisheries production and value data consistently over time.“ — Dr. Courtney Cox, Rare Director of Applied Marine Science

3. The global community needs to better integrate small-scale fisheries (SSF) into broader sustainable development and biodiversity agendas.

“Supporting small-scale fishers and fisheries makes ecological, economic, nutritional, social, cultural and moral sense,” declared keynote presenter Professor John Kurien of Azim Premji University in India. We can no longer think about SSF in isolation — instead, we must acknowledge that the sector’s contributions are cross-sectoral and that through integrated management of resources and livelihoods, we can achieve many broader sustainable development and biodiversity objectives. To this end, SSF need to be placed in the context of relevant existing and emerging global policy commitments and frameworks, including the post-2020 biodiversity framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Unni Kløvstad of Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a similar conclusion: “Sustainable and integrated ocean management are key to achieving SDGs, and sustainable small-scale fisheries play an integral part in this.”

4. We need to change public and government perceptions of small-scale fisheries by changing the narrative.

“Small-scale fisheries (SSF) are part of the problem.” “Coastal fisheries are mismanaged.” “We don’t have enough data about SSF.” These dominant refrains hurt efforts to recognize SSF’s vital importance for sustainable global fisheries and broader development goals, prioritize them as the solution to coastal overfishing and other fisheries-related challenges, and mainstream their contributions to food security, etc. through policy and governance. Fishers as central to the solution for creating sustainable coastal fisheries has always been core to Fish Forever’s approach and beliefs. Fish Forever is building the evidence that inclusive community-based management benefits both fishing communities and the ecosystems on which they depend — and that designing the right messages and targeting the right people for behavior change, in a way that inspires pride, is critical.

5. In the face of climate change, we need more adaptive and precautionary fisheries management.

Given the present and looming impacts of climate change, we must change how we manage fisheries. The High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy Blue Paper #2, released in December, points out that climate change will disproportionately affect those closest to and most dependent on the resources. “Climate change will have wide-ranging and severe impacts on the ocean and ocean-based economy, particularly in developing countries along the equator.” Building adaptive and precautionary management that responds to uncertainty and changing conditions is key to addressing this reality. E.g., developing effective spatial management mechanisms, such as Fish Forever’s efforts in designing networks of marine reserves that account for shifts in species distribution and enhance coordination among neighboring communities, will be a critical way to adapt to fast-changing conditions.

Dr. Courtney Cox explaining the “OurFish” digital app to Symposium participants at Rare’s booth in the Fisheries Innovation Forum. Rare was one of only a handful of organizations that showcased an interactive display at the Forum held alongside the Symposium.

Looking Forward

By tackling these themes, the global community can make well-managed small-scale fisheries a central solution in a new approach to and vision for fisheries in the 21st century. The Symposium’s main output will be a technical document that synthesizes each session’s main messages and topics of debate and is presented to the 34th session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) meeting in July 2020.

The Year 2020 will be a significant year for global and national policy work as the international community focuses on addressing issues related to biodiversity, climate, oceans, and fisheries. In the last quarter of 2019, Rare has participated in Our Ocean in Norway, the Fisheries Symposium in Rome, and the UNFCCC COP in Madrid — and we will continue to be involved with these processes, continuously raising the voices of local coastal communities and small-scale fishers and elevating their contribution to all these themes.

“Fishing is the base of survival for most of my District’s population. I leave here with many ideas for local solutions based on local realities that can address my District’s many challenges.”

-Dulce Cuna, District Administrator, Mozambique’s Inhassoro Province, and Rare implementing partner

Missed the Symposium? Watch FAO’s short overview.

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

Larissa Hotra

Written by

Telling stories to remind us that we’re all connected.

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade