Re: Implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries

Ratana Chuenpagdee Memorial University, Canada

Implementation of the FAO Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines: The Step Zero

Submitted to the e-consultation by:

Ratana Chuenpagdee, Project Director Too Big to Ignore

Memorial University, Canada

There have been many guidelines before this one; thus there is no need to treat it any different than others. The difference, however, lies in the hope and expectation of millions of small-scale fishing people and their families, small-scale fishing communities and those whose livelihoods and way of life are closely linked with sustainable small-scale fisheries (SSF), of what the guidelines, and the proper implementation, will bring. The key issue is therefore about responsibility. Once States agree that small-scale fisheries have important contribution to make and cannot be ignored, then it is within their mandate to evaluate current fisheries policies and align them with the guidelines. The big picture needs to be recognized, that given their number and actual and potential contributions to the society, any effort to support sustainable small-scale fisheries would likely have positive consequences to the overall national economy and the wellbeing of the nation.

The challenge is about what to implement, given the voluntary nature of the guidelines, and how to implement them in the most sensible way. Both the States and the community need to realize that progress is likely incremental in this case. Rectifying something that has been missing for a long time (e.g., appropriate policies, institutions and research to support SSF) is going to take time and the outcomes may be slow to happen. But there must be quite a few low-hanging fruits for the implementing group to choose from. Another advantage is the fact that the culture of stakeholder participation and multi-sector partnership has been fostered and embraced in many places around the world. New ways of thinking about how to manage the fisheries have emerged and the concept of governance has been employed in fisheries context. The condition is right for the implementation of the guidelines provided that the States are willing to do it, and are willing to look into making necessary policy changes in order to facilitate the implementation.

In the first instance, the implementation of the guidelines should be considered a participatory and interactive process, the way the guidelines have been developed. A multi-stakeholder body, with appropriate representation, including people knowledgeable about small-scale fisheries, should be established as a responsible entity to implement the guidelines. Similar to the Code of Conduct, some interpretation and contextualization of the guidelines may be required. Participatory process in this case implies also that those not directly responsible for the implementation should always be informed, consulted, and invited to contribute. The diversity, complexity and dynamic nature of SSF call for as much help at the local level as possible. Community members and groups interested in supporting SSF can also be drawn upon to help with the implementation. The same applies to research groups and academic institutions. An interactive process calls for the implementation to take advantage of any functioning existing local governing bodies, formal and informal, to the extent possible.  The stage has to be set, at the onset, that the implementation of the SSF guidelines is an opportunity to address issues of common interests, which, once addressed, can result into the betterment of the society at large. Attempts must be made to alleviate concerns that the guidelines may threaten the wellbeing of other economic sectors, including industrial fisheries. Any possible incompatibility between the existing rules and regulations and the new ones set in accord with the guidelines needs to be recognized and addressed upfront. All involved parties need to realize that it may still be possible to create space for SSF to become viable and sustainable. It does not always mean taking away access from one sector and giving it to SSF. Creative solutions and opportunities for synergies need to be explored, first and foremost. This is the case even though the reality is starkly different, e.g., SSF have long been politically and economically marginalized. Support the organization of SSF people locally, nationally and regionally, is among the first steps.

In effect, the implementation needs to begin from the ‘step zero’, meaning that all involved parties need to understand where the guidelines were coming from, what they intend to do, and that they had gone through a legitimate process before implementation. As to the post-implementation, while it is necessary that the implementation should lead eventually to achieving the long-term goals set out in the guidelines, the effectiveness of the guidelines should be measured, in the first instance, using the short-term goals set out by the States through the implementation committee. This allows for some contextualization, as well as innovation, to occur. Self-monitoring system may be more useful and practical than enforcement, for instance. Depoliticizing the implementation may be the best way forward. Opportunities to share lessons and exchange ideas among those involved directly and indirectly with the guidelines implementation should be created, through a regular process. SSF people need to know that it is not the States that will be held accountable for the implementation. They also need to take active role in it. Coordination of efforts at all levels, and with existing and new alliances and partnerships, will be required.