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Small-scale fishers and communities

Large numbers of people are involved in small-scale fisheries and their supply chain and service functions - their importance cannot be overemphasized. This is often associated with high levels of dependence which touch on important issues of nutrition, food security, health, livelihoods and poverty alleviation – particularly in developing countries.

Small-scale fishing communities can be found everywhere around the world – from mountain lakes to island coasts. While no definitive statistics exist, it is thought that the sector employs fifty of the world’s 51 million fishers – mostly  from developing countries – producing nearly half of world fish productionand supplying most of the fish consumed in the developing world. Despite these big numbers, most small-scale fishers and the communities in which they exist far from the radar of national, regional and global decision-making.

Small-scale fisheries provide employment for millions of fishers directly engaged in fishing activities, including rural aquaculture, and for millions more working in fisheries-related activities such as fish processing and marketing, boat building and net making. Including family members, hundreds of millions of rural people in developing countries depend on fisheries for their livelihood. In addition, in many least developed countries of Africa and Asia, fish accounts for more than 50 percent of the total animal protein intake.

In almost all these countries small-scale fisheries provide over three-quarters of the domestic fish supply. In southeast Asia, possibly a billion people rely predominantly on fish for animal protein. A fundamental problem of most small-fishing families around the developing world is their comparatively low standard of living and, frequent poverty despite decades of remarkable overall fisheries development and national economic growth.

Policy focussed on the people

Policy and development themes of small-scale fisheries must be just as focused on people and communities as on the classical issues of fisheries resources and management. It is clear that without resources or with severely depleted stocks, no fishery activity can hope to be sustained. However, the processes of poverty, the need for livelihoods and the implications for how, why, where and when people fish are equally crucial in defining the needs and priorities in small-scale fisheries policy and implementation.

Policy must focus on the complexities of the people and communities involved in small-scale fisheries in order to unlock and address the essential issues:

  • Nutrition and food security: Improve food security (through less export and less industrial fishing)

  • Vulnerability and poverty: Use participatory and co-management approaches; ensure the poor are heard

  • Gender: Foster special support for women and marginalized people in development

  • Migration: Encourage improved entitlements and governance

  • Health & Education: Improve health and support for livelihoods, particularly in dealing with HIV/AIDS; Develop focussed education strategies

  • Microfinance: Providing access to affordable credit

  • Livelihoods: Creating alternative employment opportunities

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