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Policies and practice for resilience

Woman weaving fishing net, Bangladesh

Why are improvements to small-scale fisheries needed?
A fishery is not just a place to catch fish; it is a system—an aquatic ecosystem, plus groups of people and institutional arrangements governing the capture, trade, processing, and consumption of fish.

All around the world, fisheries are being pushed to the brink of their productive capacity by over-harvesting. Pollution, environmental degradation, and rapid development have compounded the stress. Climate change will affect the world’s fisheries profoundly, although the implications are not yet well understood.

The productive capacity of small-scale fisheries in developing countries is hampered by a complex interplay of factors that include inadequate knowledge and skills among traditional fishers, a lack of markets and roads, inequitable fishing rights, inappropriate management, unsupportive or conflicting policies, and weak political representation.

Among the needed improvements, one strong priority is new management approaches that better address the complex issues affecting small-scale fisheries. Management in recent decades took too narrow a view, focusing heavily on biophysical aspects of productivity such as maximization of yields.

Today, small-scale fisheries must be managed with an eye to maximizing a broader range of socioeconomic benefits; if fisheries are valued for a variety of benefits, the tradeoffs involved in different management choices will be better understood.

One of our focal areas for research involves increasing resilience in small-scale fisheries.
Resilient fisheries are less vulnerable to the harmful effects of changing circumstances (be they economic, social or environmental) and can adapt to new situations more quickly.
Our research studies the policy and management changes necessary to improve resilience, and leads to outcomes such as reform to property rights, increased accountability for local governments, and strengthening of the judicial system.
Part of the answer is helping fishing communities to diversify their livelihood options so that they have a broader range of economic opportunities outside traditional fishing activities. This allows the community to respond to threats and opportunities by shifting to other courses of action.
For example:
  • In the rainforest of Cameroon, WorldFish and partner organizations have helped several river-based communities to supply high-value ornamental fish to the international aquarium trade.
  • In New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, similar methods are being developed to cultivate species for export markets including cleaner shrimp, spiny lobsters, angelfish and giant clams.
WorldFish has singled out four categories of research aimed at improving the resilience and productivity of small-scale fisheries in developing countries.
  1. Including small-scale fisheries in national and regional development policies
  2. Integrating assessment and advisory systems for small-scale fisheries management
  3. Improving management and governance of small-scale fisheries
  4. Building institutional capacity for adaptive learning among small-scale fishers

A WorldFish publication on small-scale fisheries is in preparation.

Key publications: