The talk about small-scale fisheries. Or not.

“If you do not have healthy fishing communities, you will not have healthy fish consumers” – Naseegh Jaffer, General Secretary of World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP)

Benedetta Merlo is the Focal Point for Fisheries at the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), an alliance platform for civil society organisations. As we chat over lunch, I can hardly fit in a question as she presents fact after fact about why small-scale fisheries are important – and threatened.

I can’t disagree with her enthusiasm – I am fascinated about this topic after attending a Committee on World Food Security (CFS) side event on human rights, food security and small-scale fisheries.

Not all food comes from dry land.

When we think about food security, images of farmers and land often come to mind. However, fisheries are an extremely important part of our food system. But even at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), they are decidedly less talked about than land-based sectors.

So why should we care about fisheries?

I know – figures bore me too, but these are pretty astounding:

  • The fisheries supply chain employs 58 million people.
  • More than 800 million people depend on fisheries worldwide.
  • 90% of the 140 million people involved in fisheries at the global level are small-scale fisher folk, and supply over 60% fish destined to direct human consumption.

Small-scale fisheries are valuable but threatened. 

Small-scale fishing communities are repositories of great knowledge and value. As UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver mentioned in the side event, small-scale fisheries often achieve environmental sustainability more easily than industrial fishing.

Fishing communities are also a source of valuable traditional knowledge and practices. Around the world, traditional fishing methods are varied and should be preserved due to their social, cultural and economic value.

But there are threats to small-scale fisheries:

  •  Ocean grabbing is the process of selling sea quotas, concentrating them in the hands of the few who can afford to buy them. Though we talk about land grabbing, ocean grabbing is far less of hot topic.
  • Competitiveness in international markets: small-scale fisheries are often uncompetitive on the international market. Even if they do not want to be a part of large-scale markets, low prices and economies of scale can put fisher peoples’ livelihoods at risk.

Human rights in small scale fisheries need to be protected.

So how can we ensure fishing communities stay healthy? Several civil society organisations like the World Forum of Fish Harvesters (WFF), WFFP and International Collective in Support of Fishworkers have come together to represent small scale and indigenous fisheries in the international arena.

Thanks to these efforts, the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF) were approved in 2014. They are based on the principles of: human rights, respect for cultures, non-discrimination, gender equality, participation, transparency and sustainability.

The International Fund on Agricultural Development (IFAD) is also funding an IPC project to raise awareness of the SSC guidelines. “The struggle for these guidelines will only be worth it if they are applied by those who need them at the local level”, says Benedetta Merlo. Through workshops and information sharing, IPC partners build the capacity of small-scale fishery workers and their communities to demand human rights. IPC’s ambition is for SSF guidelines to be enshrined in state legislation, as may happen in Nicaragua.

So why are we still not talking about this?

“Maybe people are less fascinated by fisheries than agriculture,” Ms. Merlo suggests. But I hope this blog has convinced you to start talking about where our fish comes from – more often, and a bit more loudly.

As WFF Representative Edithrudith Lukanga’s said: “We are all responsible for ensuring human rights are realised in small-scale fisheries”. 

Blogpost by Isabella Coin, #CFS43 Social Reporter – isa.coin(at)                 

Photo: Stilts fishermen near Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, courtesy: Bernard Gagnon on Flickr

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

20/10/2016 20:39


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