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The subject of these Guidelines, “Increasing the contribution of small-scale fisheries to poverty alleviation and food security”, acknowledges that poverty and food insecurity are widespread among small-scale fishers, and that a change in the way in which fisheries are managed is necessary in order to improve the lives of small-scale fishers and fishworkers.

Poverty is a complex phenomenon involving failure to meet a range of basic human needs and the denial of options that have consequences for opportunities to live long, healthy and creative lives. Poverty in fishery-dependent communities, therefore, is not solely related to the abundance of the catch, market opportunities or the state of the resource. It is also critically dependent on how the benefits from the use of fishery and other resources are used and whether a range of basic services (e.g. in health and education) are provided.

Poverty is both partly an outcome of inadequate fisheries management (resulting in depleted fish stocks, overcapacity, etc.) and a constraint in improving fisheries management. It is a constraint because, in the context of generally poor communities, it is impossible to exclude people living on the edge of survival from fishing without creating alternative sources of food and livelihoods. Exhortations about reducing pressure on fisheries resources are futile as hungry people will choose, quite reasonably, to survive in the short-run rather than to preserve or rebuild a resource that they might not otherwise survive to benefit from. Increasing the contribution of fisheries to poverty alleviation and food security thus is an integral part of the larger challenge of development.

If management of small-scale fisheries is neglected in conditions where the demand for fisheries resources is greater than the productive capacity of the resources, then inevitably there will be a depletion of stocks and a consequent reduction in benefits accruing from fishing. Effective management of fisheries aims to move fisheries towards use of aquatic resources that will eventually approximate an economically optimal position which is inextricably tied to the biological health of the resources in question. In this way, benefits accruing from use of the fisheries resources are maximized for society as a whole. But it is equally important to ensure that there is an equitable distribution of the benefits that do accrue, resulting in an increase in the contribution made by small-scale fisheries to poverty alleviation and food security.

Thus optimizing benefits from the resource through effective fisheries management and ensuring an equitable distribution of those benefits are both important issues. However, these Guidelines focus principally on the distributional aspects because fisheries management has been extensively discussed in earlier FAO Fisheries Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries and FAO Fisheries Technical Papers.

In the years since the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was developed, there has been a growing realization of the importance of addressing socio-economic issues, especially those relating to the small-scale subsector. About 90 percent of fishers worldwide are small-scale fishers, some 50 percent of fish used for direct human consumption is harvested by the subsector, and it provides livelihoods to millions of people in poor fishing communities. Recognizing the relationship between poverty and the sustainable use of resources, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of the WSSD stated that “eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development”.1 These Guidelines seek to reflect this new emphasis and to expand on the guidance offered by the Code.

1 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (para. 7), found at:

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