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An NGO-backed scheme helps young fishers
An NGO-backed scheme helps young fishers


Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are non-profit organizations that are neither governmental nor intergovernmental. Generally established to bring together like-minded individuals committed to achieving particular objectives, NGOs vary considerably in the size of their constituencies, in their organizational structures and in their effectiveness. They range from organizations of small producers and rural people to development and environment NGOs, traditional trade unions and to professional, academic and industry associations. At a national level NGOs often have links to international NGOs either formally as member organizations or through informal networking. In practice, political parties and their international associations are not considered NGOs.

Globally, the role of NGOs in the governance of fisheries at local, national and international levels has greatly increased in the last two decades. The emergence of NGOs as policy-influencing and implementing actors distinct from governments and political parties has many reasons. These include the diversification of peoples' interests in the course of technological, economic and social changes whose demand for organized representation cannot be satisfied within the existing structures; the desire for just, equitable and sustainable development; disillusionment with the ability and capacity of governments and international agencies to implement effective development policies for poor and vulnerable sections of the population; and as a means of self-employment.

Governments, donor agencies and academics increasingly recognize that the involvement of NGOs is generally constructive and sometimes indispensable for achieving effective fisheries management. In co-management or community-based management schemes, NGOs frequently offer a detailed knowledge of local culture, practices and political structures to fisheries management and often have highly motivated staff.

FAO and NGOs

FAO's relationship with NGOs has evolved considerably during the last decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, the main emphasis of FAO's Fisheries Department was to assist fisheries administrations and research agencies in introducing advanced fish harvesting, processing, distribution and marketing technologies and practices, to assess fish stocks and to upgrade national capabilities in these areas through training. At that time, the few development NGOs interested in fisheries and fishing communities were often critical of FAO's focus on industrial or semi-industrial fisheries.

A tuna cannery project
A tuna cannery project

From the latter part of the 1970s, the FAO Fisheries Department's work was gradually re-oriented towards small-scale (artisanal) fisheries and fisheries management. The emphasis on small-scale fisheries reflected the increasing international concern with basic needs of poor people and the recognition that most of the world's fishers were from poor communities in developing countries.

Action taken

The 1984 World Fisheries Conference provided, inter alia, a mandate to FAO to strengthen its relationship with NGOs active in fisheries, particularly in view of the requirement to involve local-level producers' organizations in the planning and implementation of small-scale fisheries development and management programmes. Parallel to this, NGOs organized an International Conference of Fishworkers and their Supporters that marked a turning point in the role of NGOs - especially on international fisheries issues - and in their relationship with FAO which led to closer collaboration in areas of common interest.

Since the early 1990s, important environmental NGOs have taken a strong interest in the work of FAO, especially in relation to fisheries and coastal zone management issues addressed in the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED). NGOs actively participated in negotiations leading to the 1995 UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.


Currently, issues of critical interest to NGOs include: excess fleet capacities and harmful subsidies in world fisheries, impacts of fishing agreements and fish trade on the environment, food security and the socio-economic conditions of small-scale and indigenous fishers, and environmental and social effects of certain types of aquaculture (e.g. shrimp and salmon culture).

NGOs have become important agents for disseminating information produced by FAO. Similarly, staff and associates of NGOs are important carriers and producers of information, which assist the Fisheries Department staff in performing their monitoring and advisory functions effectively. Owing to their preferential access and interaction with producers' organizations, NGOs have increasingly become indispensable intermediaries of a two-way information flow between the FAO and fishworkers, and the public at large.

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