FAO’s SDG Progress Report is a Call to Action for Small-Scale Fisheries

Shirin Wertime
Jul 24 · 3 min read
Credit: Jason Houston

Four years ago, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a blueprint for tackling the world’s most pressing challenges including climate change, environmental degradation, widespread poverty and hunger. As the window for action narrows in the face of global environmental change, achieving the SDGs and their associated targets represents humanity’s best chance for a sustainable and resilient future on what is an increasingly inhospitable planet.

With that in mind, the results of a recently published report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators should be cause for serious alarm.

The report finds that not only are we “not on track to meeting the overwhelming majority of SDG targets related to sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition,” but instead, we are regressing across almost all related indicators. For the world’s oceans, this means that one-third of fish are now estimated to be overfished, and the percentage of marine fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels is in decline.

These trends hold serious implications for the millions of people worldwide who rely on marine resources as a vital source of food, income and livelihoods. Overfishing is a primary threat to the health and productivity of the ocean and its essential ecosystem services, which make sustainable development possible. Without urgent action to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources (SDG 14), we risk jeopardizing progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Focusing on small-scale fisheries is key to balancing habitat conservation with human use, as the sector produces two-thirds of the catches destined for direct human consumption, and when empowered, small-scale fishers and their communities can serve as important stewards of their marine resources.

Fortunately, the phenomenon of overfishing is not irreversible, and through improved fisheries management and policy, fish populations and ecosystem health can rebound. That is why FAO, in its report, calls on all countries “to urgently implement transformational changes in fishery management and governance and take solid steps in controlling its fishing fleet capacity.

Rare (with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative) is heeding this call by actively supporting countries to transform their coastal fisheries management and governance through an emphasis on community-based management — that is, putting small-scale fishers and their communities at the center of the solution. This means establishing managed access areas that provide clear rights to specific communities to fish in certain areas and protected no-take marine reserves to replenish and sustain fish populations.

Working across all levels of government from village councils to provincial and national governments, Rare has helped secure the following policy commitments, among others, in support of sustainable coastal fisheries:

  • In Indonesia, the inclusion of rights-based small-scale fisheries management in the SE Sulawesi Mid-Term Development Plan and Marine and Fisheries Office Strategic Plan for 2018–2023, in the management plan for a large marine area that covers five provinces (called FMA 714), and the dedication of provincial (and hopefully soon, village) government funds for managed access areas and marine reserves.
  • In the Philippines, two municipalities in the Tañon Strait recently passed new managed access and reserve ordinances and five others are in the final stages of municipal council approval.
  • 12 coastal mayors in the Philippines, 17 in the Mesoamerican Reef region (Honduras & Guatemala) and 4 in Mozambique, recently joined Rare’s global Mayor’s Network, pledging to prioritize and advocate for participatory fisheries management, endorse no-take reserves and promote responsible fisher behavior.
Mayor Mary Jean Te of Libertad, Antique speaks at a summit of mayors from across the Philippines about fishers’ rights.

Rare’s successful engagement with fishing communities and their governments demonstrates bright spots in efforts to fulfill countries’ commitments to SDG 14. Nonetheless, the grim picture painted by FAO’s SDG progress report should be a call to action for much greater global investment in sustainable fisheries management and governance and the prioritization of small-scale fisheries within national and international SDG implementation efforts.

Read the full FAO report here.

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