FAO and Duke University partner to promote research on small-scale fisheries


15/10/2020 - 

The world’s demand for fish is growing: over the last thirty years, there has been a 122% rise in fish consumption globally. In 2018, global capture fisheries recorded a catch of 96.4 million tonnes, the highest recorded total to date.  

Small-scale fisheries play an important part in meeting this demand. They are present in all parts of the world, and the vast majority of their catch is destined for local human consumption. The sector provides an important contribution to nutrition, food security, sustainable livelihoods and poverty alleviation, especially in developing countries. In recognition of the important role they play, the United Nations has declared 2022 the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. However, the issues constraining the sustainable development of small-scale fisheries remain poorly understood. 

On 30 September 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Duke University entered into partnership with the intention to assess and promote the role of small-scale fisheries in society and enhance their contribution to sustainable development. Building on a history of past collaborations in the area of research on small-scale fisheries, the formal partnership will now focus on creating a solid evidence base for countries to use in developing strategies and policies to support sustainable small-scale fisheries. 

Duke University is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the United States. It is home to the Nicholas School of the Environment, which includes a marine laboratory, as well as the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the World Food Policy Center at the Sanford School for Policy. Through these schools, the university supports research and education on sustainable seafood, including small-scale fisheries in the context of poverty reduction, food security and environmental stewardship.

In the context of the partnership, FAO and Duke will promote knowledge and applied research and support the implementation of instruments such as the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication. Joint work will also focus on a continuation of the 2012 study Illuminating Hidden Harvests: the global contribution of small- scale fisheries to sustainable development, and will explore opportunities to collaborate beyond small-scale fisheries, in areas such as seafood value chains and aquaculture performance indicators.

On October 9, the announcement of the partnership was marked by a virtual event hosted by FAO’s office in Washington, DC. Representatives of both FAO and Duke University welcomed the collaboration and spoke of the value of the partnership, which will contribute not only to building a solid evidence base that can support policy makers and legislators, but also to forming the next generation of food security professionals. 

Toddi Stillman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, welcomed the partnership as an opportunity to connect students and their research to real policy impacts. The focus on small-scale fisheries is especially relevant at the moment, she mentioned, as the sector is highly vulnerable to economic crises and the effects of climate change. As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges we currently face highlight the need to work in partnership. “Duke prides itself on interdisciplinarity and on addressing the big problems facing our society at large,” she said. The partnership would help FAO and Duke to generate knowledge that would “impact the way policy and decision-makers see small-scale fisheries, allowing us to move this issue higher up on the policy agenda of countries.” 

Manuel Barange, Director of FAO’s Fisheries Division, agreed that that partnership would allow both organizations to build on each other’s strengths. “Combined, we will create new methodologies and be able to push this agenda in a way which would be impossible for us individually,” he noted.  

Participants in the virtual event heard from students who had already benefited from collaborations between the two institutions, and how their research has contributed to building the strong science base at the center of FAO and Duke’s efforts to strengthen the science-policy nexus. Two researchers, Maria Mar de la Mancha Cisneros and Giulia Gorelli, also presented an overview of Illuminating Hidden Harvests: the contribution of small-scale fisheries to sustainable development, which is currently underway in partnership with WorldFish. The project builds on the 2012 study, looking at the social, environmental, economic and governance contributions of small-scale fisheries at global and local scales, and examining the key drivers of change in these sectors, including both threats and opportunities. 

“Science and a sound evidence base is ever more needed to guide policy,” Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration at FAO, reminded the audience in her closing remarks. “The students give us the opportunity to expand the partnership into the future.” 


A livestream of the full event can be seen here

Student testimonials can be seen here