The role of small-scale fisheries in Africa has been traditionally under-recorded and unrecognized in most parts of the region, though both inland and coastal fishery resources are substantial and have had a long history of use and impact, with long established patterns of fishing, seasonal migration of fishers and extensive market and distribution routes. With the advent of more industrial fisheries through local initiatives or foreign fisheries, a major part of development interest had collected around their value, export potential and their benefits to national economies. However, through initiatives supported by the FAO/DFID Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme, the World Bank Profish Programme, and others, the employment, food supply and economic impact of small scale fisheries have been reappraised, with confirmation that they contribute very strongly to most national economies, to rural and urban food supply, employment, trade and export potential.
In some locations, small-scale fisheries have a particularly critical role, with high levels of community dependence and considerable vulnerability through resource competition and conflict, lack of market power, health issues – particularly including HIV/AIDS, and problems with accessing wider livelihood services. There are considerable challenges, not only in establishing and maintaining rights of resource access, and ensuring that these can be sustained, but in securing the broader means of reducing vulnerability and gaining access to public services, often in conditions where national economies and political processes are heavily pressured by lack of resources and competing development demands.