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

Part 1: Introduction


Underpinned by a human rights-based approach, these objectives are critical to empower small-scale fishing communities – with an emphasis on vulnerable and marginalized groups – to participate in decision-making processes, and to assume responsibilities for sustainable use of fishery resources.



  1. to enhance the contribution of small-scale fisheries to global food security and nutrition and to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food,
  2. to contribute to the equitable development of small-scale fishing communities and poverty eradication and to improve the socio-economic situation of fishers and fish workers within the context of sustainable fisheries management,
  3. to achieve the sustainable utilization, prudent and responsible management and conservation of fisheries resources consistent with the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (the Code) and related instruments,
  4. to promote the contribution of small-scale fisheries to an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for the planet and its people,
  5. to provide guidance that could be considered by States and stakeholders for the development and implementation of ecosystem friendly and participatory policies, strategies and legal frameworks for the enhancement of responsible and sustainable small-scale fisheries, and
  6. to enhance public awareness and promote the advancement of knowledge on the culture, role, contribution and potential of small-scale fisheries, considering ancestral and traditional knowledge, and their related constraints and opportunities.

Nature and scope

The SSF Guidelines are voluntary, but they are an internationally negotiated and endorsed instrument. They are global in scope, with a focus on the needs of developing countries. They are relevant to small-scale fisheries both in marine and inland waters. This includes men and women working in the full range of activities along the value chain, including pre- and post-harvest activities.

Guiding principles

The SSF Guidelines are built on thirteen guiding principles, based on international human rights standards, responsible fisheries standards and sustainable development.



  1. Human rights and dignity: recognizing the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable human rights of all individuals, all parties should recognize, respect, promote and protect the human rights principles and their applicability to communities dependent on small-scale fisheries, as stipulated by international human rights standards: universality and inalienability; indivisibility; interdependence and interrelatedness; non-discrimination and equality; participation and inclusion; accountability and the rule of law. States should respect and protect the rights of defenders of human rights in their work on small-scale fisheries. All non-state actors including business enterprises related to or affecting small-scale fisheries have a responsibility to respect human rights. States should regulate the scope of activities in relation to small-scale fisheries of non-state actors to ensure their compliance with international human rights standards.
  2. Respect of cultures: recognizing and respecting existing forms of organization, traditional and local knowledge and practices of small-scale fishing communities, including indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities encouraging women leadership and taking into account Art. 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
  3. Non-discrimination: promoting in the small-scale fisheries the elimination of all kinds of discrimination in policies and in practice.
  4. Gender equality and equity is fundamental to any development. Recognizing the vital role of women in small-scale fisheries, equal rights and opportunities should be promoted.
  5. Equity and equality: promoting justice and fair treatment – both legally and in practice – of all people and peoples, including equal rights to the enjoyment of all human rights. At the same time, differences between women and men should be acknowledged and specific measures taken to accelerate de facto equality, i.e. using preferential treatment where required to achieve equitable outcomes, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized groups.
  6. Consultation and participation: ensuring active, free, effective, meaningful and informed participation of small-scale fishing communities, including indigenous peoples, taking into account the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP) in the whole decision-making process related to fishery resources and areas where small-scale fisheries operate as well as adjacent land areas, and taking existing power imbalances between different parties into consideration. This should include feedback and support from those who could be affected by decisions prior to these being taken, and responding to their contributions.
  7. Rule of law: adopting a rules-based approach for small-scale fisheries through laws that are widely publicized in applicable languages, applicable to all, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and that are consistent with existing obligations under national and international law, and with due regard to voluntary commitments under applicable regional and international instruments.
  8. Transparency: clearly defining and widely publicizing policies, laws and procedures in applicable languages, and widely publicizing decisions in applicable languages and in formats accessible to all.
  9. Accountability: holding individuals, public agencies and non-state actors responsible for their actions and decisions according to the principles of the rule of law.
  10. Economic, social and environmental sustainability: applying the precautionary approach and risk management to guard against undesirable outcomes, including overexploitation of fishery resources and negative environmental, social and economic impacts.
  11. Holistic and integrated approaches: recognizing the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) as an important guiding principle, embracing the notions of comprehensiveness and sustainability of all parts of ecosystems as well as the livelihoods of small-scale fishing communities, and ensuring cross-sectoral coordination as small-scale fisheries are closely linked to and dependent on many other sectors.
  12. Social responsibility: promoting community solidarity and collective and corporate responsibility and the fostering of an environment that promotes collaboration among stakeholders should be encouraged.
  13. Feasibility and social and economic viability: ensuring that policies, strategies, plansand actions for improving small-scale fisheries governance and development are socially and economically sound and rational. They should be informed by existing conditions, implementable and adaptable to changing circumstances, and should support community resilience.

Relationship with other participants

The SSF Guidelines complement the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and its related instruments as well as other negotiated voluntary international instruments and national, regional, and international initiatives that address human rights, responsible fisheries and sustainable development.