The Development Law Service

FAO publishes landmark new Diagnostic Tool for sustainable small-scale fisheries


FAO has published a Policy and Legal Diagnostic Tool to help fisheries actors implement the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines).

The Tool was created by the Development Law Service of the FAO Legal Office in collaboration with the Equitable Livelihoods Team of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division and the Coastal Fisheries Initiative (CFI) programme. Prior to its launch, the Tool was tested in two workshops: one with representatives from Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal with the support of CFI, and another with representatives from Ghana, Namibia and South Africa with the support of the One Ocean Hub.

Any actor, including fishers, can use this tool to identify national policy and legal instruments that are relevant to small-scale fisheries, assess the alignment of fisheries policy and legislation with the SSF Guidelines, identify any gaps, and make recommendations for improvement.

An important way to implement the SSF Guidelines is to embed their recommendations in national policies and legal instruments, which should include provisions to secure the rights, including the human rights, of small-scale fishers, fishworkers and their communities.

To help establish adequate legal and policy protections and ensure that communities are involved in decision-making processes, the new Diagnostic Tool can be used in conjunction with a 2020 FAO document on legislating for sustainable small-scale fisheries.

In the words of Nathanael Hishamunda, Senior Fishery Officer at FAO, "This new Diagnostic Tool, which was developed through a participatory approach with the full involvement of small-scale fishing communities, is an important milestone in improving coastal fisheries governance, including policies and legislation, at the global level, and in providing coastal communities and the ecosystems they depend on with much-needed protection."

By and for fishers and fish workers

The SSF Guidelines were developed by and for fishers and fish workers, and are the first ever international instrument dedicated to small-scale fisheries.

More than 4 000 voices in over 120 countries contributed to the development of the SSF Guidelines, which were endorsed by the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 2014, confirming a strong commitment from governments as well as civil society to bring about positive change in small-scale fisheries.

An evolutionary and forward-looking instrument

What makes the SSF Guidelines stand out as a unique instrument is that they look at fisheries in a holistic way, considering both people and fish as part of a single ecosystem in which a balance must be struck in the interests of sustainability.

"The SSF Guidelines broadly reflect contemporary social and environmental matters that would not have been considered had this instrument been created some decades ago. As such, it represents an evolutionary and forward-looking instrument in international fisheries law that is informed by a human rights-based approach (HRBA) and an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF)," wrote Julia Nakamura, who consults with the Development Law Service of FAO.

This makes the SSF Guidelines a critical instrument to recognise, protect and empower small-scale fishing communities, including vulnerable and marginalized groups, to participate in decision-making processes and assume responsibilities for the sustainable use of fisheries.

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