Globally, small-scale fisheries and fisheries-related activities (processing, trading, net-repairing, etc.) make an important contribution to the nutrition, food security, sustainable livelihoods and poverty alleviation of many countries, especially developing countries. Small-scale fisheries usually require only small capital investment, use low technology gear and vessels (often non-motorised) and catch fish for subsistence or local markets (see definition below). The work is often part-time or seasonal and is a key component in the livelihoods of millions of people. Small-scale fisheries are found in coastal marine areas, brackish water lagoons, and along freshwater lakes, rivers and reservoirs. In the Mekong Delta region, for example, more than 15 million people are estimated to depend on fisheries activities on a daily basis, either for incomes, employment or food supply. Although some may be relatively well off, the majority of these people live in rural (often remote) areas, with poor standards of living, unable to influence their operating constraints.
Despite this significant contribution to food security, the position of small-scale fisheries and how they fit into the multiple activities of the rural economy remains poorly understood. Unlike large-scale industrial fisheries, they have a low visibility and receive little attention from policy-makers. They are often open access enterprises that contribute little to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and command little political attention or support through research, subsidies etc. However, because of the poverty associated with some small-scale fisheries, they have tended to receive project support from international development donors but have not received systematic research support to improve understanding of their functioning, governance and human and resource benefits.
To ensure fulfillment of national and international goals for human development and environmental sustainability it is necessary to treat fisheries more comprehensively, and to redress the situation of small-scale fisheries globally. These issues have been highlighted (see Box 1) by the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR). This document identifies some of the major issues affecting small-scale fisheries and provides a research agenda for addressing these issues (taking guidance from the background papers and outcome of a meeting of the ACFR Working Party for Small-scale Fisheries). Consideration is also given to the means by which the gap between research and action can be bridged.
Box 1: A focus on small-scale fisheries
Fourth Session of the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR), in December 2002:
The FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), at its Twenty-fifth Session, 24-28 February 2003:
Director-General of the FAO convened the Working Party on Small-scale Fisheries of ACFR from 18 to 21 November 2003:
Small-scale fisheries take on a great number of forms and modes of operation in the countries and cultures in which they are found. They include the catching of fish, post-harvest treatment and marketing of the catches, as well as ancillary trades. For these reasons, it would be futile to formulate a universally applicable definition for a sector as dynamic and diverse as small-scale fisheries. Instead, it is preferable to describe the sub-sector on the basis of the range of characteristics that are likely to be found in any particular small-scale fishery:
Small-scale fisheries can be broadly characterized as a dynamic and evolving sub-sector of fisheries employing labour-intensive harvesting, processing and distribution technologies to exploit marine and inland water fishery resources. The activities of this sub-sector, conducted full-time or part-time, or just seasonally, are often targeted on supplying fish and fishery products to local and domestic markets, and for subsistence consumption. Export-oriented production, however, has increased in many small-scale fisheries during the last one to two decades because of greater market integration and globalization. While typically men are engaged in fishing and women in fish processing and marketing, women are also known to engage in near shore harvesting activities and men are known to engage in fish marketing and distribution. Other ancillary activities such as net-making, boat-building, engine repair and maintenance, etc. can provide additional fishery-related employment and income opportunities in marine and inland fishing communities.
Small-scale fisheries operate at widely differing organizational levels ranging from self-employed single operators through informal micro-enterprises to formal sector businesses. This sub-sector, therefore, is not homogenous within and across countries and regions and attention to this fact is warranted when formulating strategies and policies for enhancing its contribution to food security and poverty alleviation.
 FAO (2004) Advisory
Committee on Fisheries Research. Report of the second session of the working
party on small-scale fisheries. Bangkok, Thailand, 10-21 November
 This characterization of small-scale fisheries is that endorsed by the ACFR Working Party, and is a slight modification of the characterization that was used by the FAO Committee on Fisheries at its Twenty-fifth Session. Such a characterization is not inclusive.