RAP Publication 2004/21
FIPL/C10009 (En)

A research agenda for small-scale fisheries

D. Staples, B. Satia
and P.R. Gardiner


Bangkok, 2004
Table of Contents

The designation and presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers and boundaries.

All rights reserved. Reproduction and dissemination of material in this information product for educational or other non-commercial purposes are authorized without any prior written permission from the copyright holders provided the source is fully acknowledged. Reproduction of material in this information product for sale or other commercial purposes is prohibited without written permission of the copyright holders. Applications for such permission should be addressed to the Senior Fishery Officer, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Maliwan Mansion, 39 Phra Athit Road, Bangkok 10200, Thailand. (

© FAO 2004

For copies please write to:

Derek J. Staples
Senior Fishery Officer
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Maliwan Mansion, 39 Phra Athit Road
Bangkok 10200
Tel: (+66) 2 697 4000
Fax: (+66) 2 697 4445

FAO/RAP/FIPL, 2004. A research agenda for small-scale fisheries. FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. RAP PUBLICATION No. 2004/21 and FIPL/C 10009 (En) 42 pp.


Small-scale fisheries make an important contribution to nutrition, food security, sustainable livelihoods and poverty alleviation, especially in developing countries. Despite this significant contribution, the issues constraining the sustainable development of small-scale fisheries remain poorly understood. FAO has recently developed a vision for small-scale fisheries where: their contribution to sustainable development is fully realized. It is a vision where small-scale fishers and fish workers are not marginalizes and their contribution to national economies and food security is recognized, valued and enhanced. It also recognises that these people should be empowered to participate in decision-making with dignity and respect through integrated management of the social, economic and ecological systems underpinning small-scale fisheries. To achieve this vision, a range of issues will need to be addressed, supported by timely and accurate information on which to base decisions and action. These issues are grouped around five major themes:

  • policy, legislation, governance and institutional arrangements;
  • contribution, role and importance of small-scale fisheries;
  • management approaches to small-scale fisheries;
  • post-harvest issues and trade; and
  • Information systems.

This publication provides analyses of the above issues and develops a research agenda to address identified information gaps. These include research on fisheries policies and legislation and their relevance to small-scale fisheries, linkages between small-scale fisheries and large-scale fisheries, linkages with other sectors, structure and institutional arrangements in small-scale fisheries, trade-offs between policy objectives, how to measure the contribution of small-scale fisheries, how to tailor fisheries management to the small-scale sub-sector, improving post-harvest and trade for small-scale fisheries products, and developing information systems that organize the information in a form that is useful and relevant to the different stakeholders. A much greater emphasis is placed on socioeconomic research to augment the more biotechnical approach adopted in the past.

The final section provides a discussion on strategies and mechanisms to bridge the gap between research and action, a step vital to the implementation of policies and management actions to address the issues in small-scale fisheries.



1. Introduction - background to the research agenda

What are small-scale fisheries?

2. The vision for small-scale fisheries

3. Issues and constraints in achieving the vision

3.1 Policy, legislation, governance and institutional arrangements

3.1.1 How effective are global development policies for small-scale fisheries?
3.1.2 Competing policy goals - are they recognized, and how are they resolved?
3.1.3 How can institutions, structures and processes be changed?

3.2 Contribution, role and importance of small-scale fisheries

3.2.1 Can the profile of small-scale fisheries be raised in national policies and international development initiatives?
3.2.2 Improving measurement and understanding of the causes of poverty in relation to small-scale fisheries

3.3 Management approaches to small-scale fisheries

3.3.1 How do we tailor fisheries management to small-scale fisheries?
3.3.2 How are the International Plans of Action on capacity and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing best implemented in small-scale fisheries?

3.4 Post-harvest issues and trade

3.4.1 Are there means of improving post-harvest processes and trade to increase livelihoods and equitable distribution of benefits from small-scale fisheries?
3.4.2 What technological advances might augment the efficiency of small-scale fisheries and their management?
3.4.3 What will be the impacts of globalization and increased fish trade on small-scale fisheries?

3.5 Information systems for small-scale fisheries

3.5.1 Scoping the contribution of small-scale fisheries to poverty reduction and food security
3.5.2 What are the requirements for designing responsive fisheries information systems?
3.5.3 Helping to define the information requirements in support of co-management
3.5.4 Developing practical communication strategies

4. Research priorities to achieve the vision

4.1 Research on policy, legislation, governance and institutional arrangements
4.2 Research to elucidate the contribution, relevance and importance of small-scale fisheries to national economy and livelihoods
4.3 Research on the management approaches to small-scale fisheries
4.4 Research on post-harvest issues and trade
4.5 Research and required action to develop information systems for small-scale fisheries

5. Bridging the gap between research and action


Appendix A. An evaluation of the types and levels of fisheries management and the associated research relevant to small-scale fisheries
Appendix B. Pertinent information on tools and techniques that could be used in assessing vulnerability and poverty in small-scale fisheries communities