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

Implementation of the SSF Guidelines across the Near East and North Africa


What is the history of the SSF Guidelines in the Near East and North Africa?

The Near East and North African region represents a unique convergence of complex ecological, economic and social features. For centuries, the region has offered coastal communities a bounty of aquatic resources, which has helped forge the identity of many of the small-scale fishing communities that constitute the area. Fishing is, in fact, one of the oldest vocations in the region, securing its people with an important source of food, income and livelihoods. Since the endorsement of the SSF Guidelines in 2014 (FAO, 2015), the role these communities play in the socio-economic make-up of the Near East and North Africa, has been increasingly integrated into the governance of the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of ​​Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

Omani fishing port in early 70s using low levels of technology (wooden and sailing vessels) to
supply fish for household consumption and local markets ©FAO

In the Near East, the Sultanate of Oman is a pioneer of small-scale fisheries governance. The country has a long history with small-scale fisheries and for a long time has had Sunnat-al-bahar (fishery councils, made up of experienced fishers and fishworkers) permitting a participatory and transparent method to stimulate dialogue between the different actors. More recently, in 2015, the Sultanate hosted the regional workshop, ‘Towards the Implementation of the SSF Guidelines in the Near East and North Africa’ (FAO, 2015) marking the region’s commitment to the implementation the SSF Guidelines.

In the North African context, the issue of small-scale fisheries was formally addressed in November 2013 when delegates congregated in Malta for the ‘First Regional Symposium on Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea’ under the auspices of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) (GFCM, 2013). At the time, the SSF Guidelines themselves were still being drafted. In spite of this, there was consensus from the delegates in Malta that the principles of the SSF Guidelines would be crucial for bringing about the change desired. For if there was one clear consensus it was that small-scale fisheries held an enormous, untapped potential for the Mediterranean.

What shape has small-scale fisheries policy taken?

In 2016, the GFCM adopted Resolution GFCM/40/2016/3 on sustainable small-scale fisheries in the GFCM area which formalised the region’s political will to support small-scale fisheries and to facilitate the implementation of the SSF Guidelines (GFCM, 2016). A year later, the Working Group on Small-Scale Fisheries met for the first time with a view to providing technical advice on small-scale and recreational fisheries, including the development of elements to be included within a regional management plan on small-scale fisheries (GFCM, 2017). And a year after that, a conference on sustainable small-scale fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea was held again in Malta, and this time to set a precedent by endorsing the ‘Regional Plan of Action for Small-scale Fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea’ (GFCM, 2018). Critically, and due to the holistic method of approach decided on in 2013, small-scale fishers and fishworkers have participated in all of these processes and continue to be central for the implementation of national policies and the SSF Guidelines.

For North Africa, things have moved quickly since 2013, and for Anna Carlson - Fishery Officer for socio-economic issues at the GFCM – it is a promising sign of things to come. However, the SSF Guidelines are voluntary, and though there is no doubt that they were primarily created by fishers and fishworkers, for fishers and fishworkers, the way in which they are realised is relative to the country and the culture. "Having a policy document dedicated entirely to small-scale fisheries is unprecedented, and many countries are still feeling their way around what is possible and the best way to go about it", explains Anna Carlson. Ultimately, it is up to the countries themselves to push the boat out, working holistically across society to find a model of small-scale fisheries management that works in the local context.

In the gulf region, for instance, Oman’s 9th and current Five-Year Development Plan (2016-2020) has its sights fixed on small-scale fisheries as a sector prime for economic expansion. Fuad bin Jaafar Al Sajwani, Former Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth (MoAF), notes that the sector "is considered one of the renewable resources capable of increasing the contribution to food security, creating more job opportunities for nationals as well as contributing to the Gross Domestic Production of the Sultanate". These objectives have been holistically formulated, drawing on many of the policy recommendations of the SSF Guidelines. Perhaps most significantly is the emphasis placed on the participation of various civil society groups and stakeholders from the public and private sectors in the decision-making process (World Bank, 2015).

What does the implementation of the SSF Guidelines look like on the ground?

At the national level across the Near East and North Africa, unity and transparency between the different tiers of governance have proven to be traits of the most successful management plans. Representation at every level, informing other stakeholders of others’ needs and requirements is fundamental for harmonious fisheries governance.

In Oman, explained Hasna Alharthy, Assistant FAO Representative for Oman, "many of the principles and recommendations found in the SSF Guidelines have long been custom to the culture". The men, women and children that make up the small-scale fishing communities of Oman receive State-funded healthcare and education. Through the Sunnat-al-bahar councils, small-scale fishers and fishworkers are well represented and collaborate along with other stakeholders from the sector, including MoAF, in the development and implementation of policies. Beyond the immediate challenges to small-scale fisheries, the Sultanate is engaged in regional fisheries management and has made increased efforts to establish better monitoring and control of the input and output factors that affect the marine ecosystems. As the country moves towards Vision 2040, it is well aware that these qualities will serve it well in significantly increasing the fisheries sector’s (95% of which is small-scale fishing) contribution to GDP, increasing production by 596 thousand metric tonnes and creating 8 600 new jobs in the sector.

Click to enlarge
Tunisian small-scale fisher drawing net in. There are around 12 000 small-scale fishing
vessels in Tunisia. © FAO

In Tunisia, the port of Zarzis is being upgraded through a coordinated effort from different stakeholders including government officials, researchers, fisher and fishworker associations. The upgrades are aimed at promoting an integrated management system for the development of responsible fishing and increasing the value of products coming from Tunisian fisheries. Specifically, these plans revolve around improving prospects for young people and women looking to develop their prospects in the production side of the value chain. In order to ensure the engagement of this target audience, the FAO project has included raising awareness and training in establishing Small and Medium Enterprises. In this regard, one hundred and sixty male and female fishermen received support on: the distribution of material and equipment; protection against maritime accidents; administrative, technical and financial management; the installation of nets and appropriate fishing equipment; product evaluation, the causes and effects of overfishing around and the regeneration of waste. Port security has also been enhanced with a view to better monitor port entry and exit standards. And lastly, a quality and traceability system for fishery products has been installed in order to sustainably exploit the marine environment on which the sector depends (UN, 2018).

These examples showcase two of many fascinating developments and achievements illustrating the operationalisation of the implementation of the SSF Guidelines in the region. It is important to recognise the importance of regional cooperation in achieving the implementation of the SSF Guidelines. Yassine Skandrini, a long-time supporter of the Maghreb Platform for Small Scale Fishing and small-scale fisheries advisor to the Tunisian Government, highlighted the importance of fraternity and camaraderie between nations and peoples as vitality that brings policy frameworks to life.

A Structured Landing Point in Morocco. Purpose built fishing villages with integrated landing, processing
and marketing facilities. Another example of a project reflective of the SSF Guidelines. ©COMHAFAT

What does the future hold for the implementation of the SSF Guidelines in the Near East and North Africa?

While Covid-19 has had a strong impact on the SSF sector in the region, the consequences of this crisis also present a silver lining. The experience has forced small-scale fishing communities to seek alternative marketing options and adjust their management structures. Many small-scale fishing organisations have sought to explore shorter value chains and implement plans that dually reduce supply in order to match lower demand, whilst also ensuring that fishers and fishworkers typically dependent on fish trade are supported. These actions are driving a dialogue that aims to examine the true potential small-scale fishery organisations can play in providing their members greater market power. Many cooperatives and fisher and fishworkers organisations have also seized upon the opportunity to develop e-markets and digital platforms through which fish can be traded.

Informal discussions around the manageability of supplying international value chains are also beginning, the question being: if we can remain united in the face of a crisis like Covid-19, what is to say our solidarity will not fair us well on the high seas of international fish trade? The crux, or challenge, eyed by the participants of these early discussions is the need for appropriate policy framework. Here, again, the SSF Guidelines can lay the groundwork for the necessary policy. In fact, a key stipulation of Chapter 7 of SSF Guidelines explicates that small-scale fishers and fishworkers must not be marginalised or deprived of the benefits of international trade.

However, tighter, fairer policy is not the only challenge that remains to small-scale fisheries in the Near East and North Africa. Despite a strong desire to build-back-better, civil unrest remains in Yemen. FAO-Yemen Fisheries Officer Abdulsalam Al Kawri made it clear that, "as Yemen starts to rebuild itself, it is crucial to remain aware of good practices and in the loop on SSF Guidelines developments". Other countries in the region face a draining of youth, as young people seek to find work in other sectors. Further still, there is a pressing need to upgrade the infrastructure around small-scale fisheries. There is often the will, but lack of resources makes it difficult to fully realise the potential benefits intrinsic to the recommendations of the SSF Guidelines. Here, we recall the view of Yassine Skandrini, that cooperation between the different actors will be instrumental in bringing about the change desired and crucial to application of the SSF Guidelines.