Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries
in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication

In their own words: the role of research and academia in the implementation of the SSF Guidelines


Professor Ratana Chuenpagdee – at Memorial University of Newfoundland – and Professor Svein Jentoft – at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science – as principle researchers in the Too Big To Ignore (TBTI) network, provide their opinions on the role research and academia play in implementing the SSF Guidelines

In your view, what is the role of academia and research in the implementation of the SSF Guidelines, taking into account Paragraphs 11.1 and 11.9 of the SSF Guidelines?

Information, research and communication

11.1 States should establish systems of collecting fisheries data, including bioecological, social, cultural and economic data relevant for decision-making on sustainable management of small-scale fisheries with a view to ensuring sustainability of ecosystems, including fish stocks, in a transparent manner. Efforts should be made to also produce gender-disaggregated data in official statistics, as well as data allowing for an improved understanding and visibility of the importance of small-scale fisheries and its different components, including socioeconomic aspects.

11.9 States and other parties should, to the extent possible, ensure that funds are available for small-scale fisheries research, and collaborative and participatory data collection, analyses and research should be encouraged. States and other parties should endeavour to integrate this research knowledge into their decision-making processes. Research organizations and institutions should support capacity development to allow small-scale fishing communities to participate in research and in the utilization of research findings. Research priorities should be agreed upon through a consultative process focusing on the role of small-scale fisheries in sustainable resource utilization, food security and nutrition, poverty eradication, and equitable development, including also DRM and CCA considerations.

Paragraph 11.1 speaks to systems of data collection. It is, of course, very important to have data, and the emphasis on gender-disaggregated data is well noted. The weaker side of data, however, is not economics, but capturing social aspects, institutions and governance. Academia and research can provide guidance about what data, especially those that are difficult to measure, should be collected and how, what to do with qualitative data, and how to make use of them in decision-making and the management of small-scale fisheries.

It might also be good to discuss Indigenous knowledge and other informal ‘ways of knowing’ in the effort to enhance data and understanding about small-scale fisheries. This is related to paragraph 11.9 as well, in that academics and researchers can contribute to building required capacity for governmental and non-governmental and community actors to participate in ‘transdisciplinary’ (TD) research, starting from co-identification of the problems to co-creation of the solutions. The co-production process in research and data collection is important capacity to build for long-term sustainability, and in order to lessen the dependency on external funding.

Finally, researchers should be active participants in the implementation of the SSF Guidelines, along with other stakeholders. This active research will enable them to witness and document on the ground practice and provide evaluation and lessons to the process. Funding support will be required to facilitate this in situ, deep-dive social science and TD research.

How do you think research in support of the SSF Guidelines implementation should be communicated to be accessible to decision makers and small-scale fisheries actors?

We believe that all parties involved in the implementation of the SSF Guidelines should invest time and effort to learn as much as possible about small-scale fisheries. They could become active learners of small-scale fisheries and help discover them, rather than receiving the information through one-way communication and simplified message. Researchers need to continue to make a case for why decision makers and other actors should care about small-scale fisheries, and in some cases, a ‘storytelling’ approach can be more effective than infographics. Opportunities to sit, listen and interact should be created. A good place to start is for researchers to understand better the process of policy and decision-making, which may vary from place to place. This will include asking questions such as what underlies policies and decisions, what aspects and whose perspectives are being taken into considerations, and how priorities are determined.

How is research you are leading or involved in supporting the implementation of the SSF Guidelines?

Since we published the TBTI book ‘The Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines: Global Implementation’ in 2017, TBTI has continued to support and promote the implementation of the SSF Guidelines through the transdisciplinary capacity building program that we have developed. The program has been customized to make it possible for policy makers and government representatives to participate. We now have a transdisciplinary Online Learning Platform with rich materials including a small handbook that can be easily customized according to the audience.

We also continue to do research to further analyse governance systems and enhance our understanding about fisheries institutions around the world. For instance, we developed a rapid appraisal template to examine the extent to which the existing legal and policy frameworks in a country are conducive to the implementation of the SSF Guidelines.

Another example is related to Blue Justice for Small-Scale Fisheries, which is TBTI’s commitment to the UN Ocean Conference to help secure rights and access of small-scale fisheries to resources and markets, as well as to prevent their further marginalization in the decision-making process. We are compiling stories about this in an e-book, but we are also working on an edited volume for Springer publications. Finally, we are incorporating new data on blue justice and the governance framework in TBTI’s Information System on Small-Scale Fisheries (ISSF) as well as continue to update the SSF Guidelines layer there.

Dr. Anthony Charles - Director at the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada – lends his perspective on research into the SSF Guidelines

The SSF Guidelines say a great deal about the importance of research and knowledge, and equally, the process of doing research and compiling knowledge. Here are five points that seem to me especially crucial, from Chapter 11 of the SSF Guidelines:

  • Paragraph 11.4: “All parties should recognize small-scale fishing communities as holders, providers and receivers of knowledge.”
  • Paragraph 11.4: “It is particularly important to understand the need for access to appropriate information by small-scale fishing communities and their organizations in order to help them cope with existing problems and empower them to improve their livelihoods.”
  • Paragraph 11.9: “Research organizations and institutions should support capacity development to allow small-scale fishing communities to participate in research and in the utilization of research findings. Research priorities should be agreed upon through a consultative process…”
  • Paragraph 11.9: “…collaborative and participatory data collection, analyses and research should be encouraged.”
  • Paragraph 11.1: “Efforts should be made to also produce gender-disaggregated data in official statistics, as well as data allowing for an improved understanding and visibility of the importance of small-scale fisheries and its different components, including socioeconomic aspects”.

Implementing the SSF Guidelines means, in part, implementing these research directions. But how can that be effectively accomplished?

When I began in fisheries research, 40 years ago, I initially worked in a fairly conventional way, writing articles in purely research-oriented publications. These had a positive reaction among my ‘peers’, but little impact on society. So, I moved, 30 years ago, to what is now called ‘transdisciplinary’ research: working across the conventional academic disciplines, rather than in a ‘silo’, and most importantly, doing research together with partners outside the academic world. To put it another way, I am no longer ‘the researcher’ but rather, part of a research team that includes a combination of fishers, organizations, fishing communities and policymakers.

I like that approach, but research can come in many forms. For academic researchers engaging with the fishery sector, a big lesson is that sometimes it is not your expertise that is needed. Some years ago, I was working with a small-scale fisheries association in my home area of Nova Scotia, Canada. I spoke with leaders of the association about the kinds of research I could carry out with them, on topics I know about, like fishery economics and fishery management. I then asked what their knowledge needs were; it turned out the most urgent information they needed was not what I could offer – it was, instead, information on biological aspects of the fish, so they could adjust their fishing times to protect the stocks. The assistance I could best provide was to use my academic connections to link them with a suitable biologist. (By the way, as readers may have noticed, another important lesson for researchers in my position is to ask the fishing association about its priorities first!)

Another important realization is that research can be ‘aimed’ at many different levels. Consider, for example, the difference between research in fishing communities and policy research about fishing communities. For the past decade, the Community Conservation Research Network (CCRN) has been connecting researchers, Indigenous organizations, NGOs and others who all share an enthusiasm for working in a participatory way with local communities. Indeed, much of our work in CCRN has been research that is very local-level, providing specific knowledge needed by communities. But CCRNalso produces “policy research” designed to influence how governments and other policymakers treat local communities. Both kinds of research are important – research has a variety of audiences, and purposes. I’ve had my research applied directly by fishing communities, or, for some policy-oriented studies, used in developing the SSF Guidelines.

Whatever the ‘style’ of research (academic, community-focused, policy-oriented) and whatever the subject, a key issue is whether it is communicated in a way accessible to those who should be seeing that work. The academic world still focuses on publishing ‘papers’ in research journals, but those of us seeking a broader impact look at other ways to communicate. That could include newspaper articles; media contacts; press releases; email lists; community meetings; and government connections. I never thought I would be involved in film-making, but I’m now a convert. Of course, research in support of the SSF Guidelines implementation clearly needs to reach those in small-scale fisheries, as well as a range of policymakers Hence, finding and employing a variety of communication approaches is desirable and should be encouraged at every opportunity.

I’m very enthusiastic about my current work supporting the implementation of the SSF Guidelines. A research team I am leading at Saint Mary’s University is working with FAO and a number of global fisher organizations to compile a wide range of experiences in environmental conservation and stewardship by small-scale fisheries organizations and communities. For me, this brings together my passion for small-scale fishing communities, for people-centred conservation, and for positive policy change – since the dual goals of the project are to build the stewardship capacity of SSF, and to highlight how small-scale fishing communities need policy support to continue providing solutions to environmental challenges. The project, “Implementing the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines: Recognizing and Enhancing Environmental Stewardship by Small-Scale Fishing Communities” (or “SSF Stewardship project”) began in mid-2020 and runs to the end of 2021. The SSF Stewardship project involves a participatory process, facilitating the involvement of a wide range of fisher organizations and communities, and supporting organizations. In the spirit of broad communication, the result will be a public website and a guidebook, highlighting small-scale fishing conservation and stewardship practices.

Winston James Cowie - Marine Policy-Regulations and Planning at the United Arab Emeritus Environment Agency – informs of the importance of treasuring fishers’ knowledge in the wake of the IUCN’s publication on applying fishers’ knowledge to policy development

On World Fisheries Day, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) launched the IUCN Guidelines for the Gathering of Fishers’ Knowledge for Policy Development and Applied Use. The launch was organized in collaboration with the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, and the International Planning Committee Working Group on Fisheries. The document provides guidance on achieving international targets in respect of traditional fishers’ knowledge and sustainable fisheries policy development, including the SSF Guidelines. FAO staff peer reviewed a draft of the document and attended the launch.

The new IUCN guidelines recognise the importance of both indigenous, local marine-coastal community knowledge and experienced fishers’ knowledge for the development of fisheries policy. They are designed to provide guidance on how to utilise this rich cultural knowledge in resource management, across a range of contexts, in pursuit of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. The management of fisheries is defined across marine and freshwater systems as well as commercial, recreational, subsistence and small-scale fisheries.

They were developed by a team led by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi and included contributions from 50 experts and case studies from 16 countries. The development of the guidelines followed a robust participatory process and consulted with stakeholders from subject matter experts to governments, small-scale fisher organisations, indigenous fisher organisations, civil society organisations, research and academia, and the private sector.

The IUCN guidelines directly support implementing the SSF Guidelines, in particular in relation to paragraphs 11.4 and 11.6 containing key principles including respect of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources. The SSF Guidelines establish that best practise fisheries management involves the participation of communities in fisheries management planning, with recognition given to the ability of indigenous peoples to restore, conserve, protect and co-manage local aquatic and coastal ecosystems. They also recognize the importance of women in small-scale fisheries as well as the importance of governance frameworks.
SSF Guidelines

Paragraph 11.4: All parties should recognize small-scale fishing communities as holders, providers and receivers of knowledge. It is particularly important to understand the need for access to appropriate information by small-scale fishing communities and their organizations in order to help them cope with existing problems and empower them to improve their livelihoods. These information requirements depend on current issues facing communities and concern the biological, legal, economic, social and cultural aspects of fisheries and livelihoods

Paragraph 11.6: All parties should ensure that the knowledge, culture, traditions and practices of small-scale fishing communities, including indigenous peoples, are recognized and, as appropriate, supported, and that they inform responsible local governance and sustainable development processes. The specific knowledge of women fishers and fish workers must be recognized and supported. States should investigate and document traditional fisheries knowledge and technologies in order to assess their application to sustainable fisheries conservation, management and development

Her Excellency Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD and IUCN Councillor for West Asia, stated at the launch: “Fisheries provide food security, livelihoods and income to millions of people, however in some cases, their management still presents a challenge to managers and other stakeholders due to problems in gathering suitable information and incorporating this accumulated knowledge in fisheries policy. With these new IUCN Guidelines for the Gathering of Fishers’ Knowledge for Policy Development and Applied Use, we will be able to resolve this challenge and move forward to better manage fisheries and develop policies based on the experiential knowledge of the fishers, who have generations of information that is extremely beneficial.”

She stated: “Fishers have often been excluded from processes of data collection, analysis, interpretation and management. Currently, there is now increasing recognition of the value of incorporating traditional fishing knowledge in freshwater, riverine, lacustrine, and coastal and marine fisheries management. This is becoming evident in international conventions and published literature. As such, we know that the main purpose of these guidelines is to make it easier for users to recognise and include fishers’ knowledge as an important data stream in resource management.”

“Fishers’ knowledge also includes women’s knowledge. Women participate heavily in the pre- and post fishing activities of small-scale fishing and they gather important information concerning the management of resources and ecosystems. They are also adept and well informed when it comes to the harvesting of fish and are definitely a repository of knowledge and technologies.”

Case studies are provided from Costa Rica emphasizing the importance of women as holders of fishers’ knowledge.

A the launch, lead author of the guidelines, EAD’s Marine Policy Manager Winston Cowie, added: “The guidelines were developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts led by the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Group, with support from EAD in the United Arab Emirates, and specialists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission, IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, IUCN Snapper, Seabream and Grunt Specialist Group, and World Forum of Fisher Peoples. It is a real international effort, and we are pleased to showcase the UAE’s traditional knowledge survey in these guidelines, as an example of how to incorporate this important basket of knowledge in fisheries policy development. We thank all of the experts from all over the world who gave their time, energy and knowledge in the development of these guidelines.”

The guidelines are complimentary to international instruments and guidelines including the Convention of Biological Diversity, Aichi Targets, the United Nations (UN) Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries, the SSF Guidelines, as well as the IUCN and United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Guidelines that highlight the importance of traditional knowledge.

To download the IUCN guidelines please visit https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/49130.