Over 40 stakeholders came together in late 2019, kick-starting new conversations on ways to ensure thriving small-scale fisheries.
How can groups working with small-scale fisheries and those representing fisher people better coordinate their efforts to support development outcomes and inclusive water, ocean and landscape governance?
This was the focus of discussions at the Towards resilient and equitable small-scale fisheries meeting held on 3–5 September 2019, which brought together more than 40 participants from small-scale fisheries (SSF) social movements and Indigenous Peoples, research, intergovernmental and environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs).
“There’s no one panacea to enable and strengthen small-scale fisheries—because they’re so complex and dynamic,” said Philippa Cohen of WorldFish at the start of the event.
“But there’s an opportunity to find the sweet spot of connection between us all, wanting to secure small-scale fisheries.”
The meeting, hosted at the WorldFish offices in Penang, Malaysia, was supported with funding from the Oak Foundation.
It brought together fisher people and others active in the small-scale fisheries sector—many of whom often have different priorities and approaches that are sometimes at odds with each other.
“All we [ social movements and Indigenous Peoples ] want is respect. When others come into our space, we want respect. And when we contradict and have conflict, we all still respect each other as human beings,” said Nadine Nembhard, General Secretary, World Forum of Fisher Peoples.
“The main thing we have in common is that we all want better fisheries and want to improve livelihoods,” said one fisher representative to the group. “Let’s respect our differences because there are many.”
A common goal, the participants agreed, was a commitment to implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Alleviation (SSF Guidelines).
Emphasizing the centrality of the SSF Guidelines to his organization's work and vision, Alasdair Harris, Executive Director of Blue Ventures, remarked, "I would encourage all my colleagues to sleep with the SSF Guidelines under their pillow."
To support further uptake of the SSF Guidelines by governments and civil society, the participants at the meeting discussed getting involved in the SSF Global Strategic Framework (SSF-GSF). The SSF-GSF is an informal partnership mechanism recommended by the FAO Committee on Fisheries in 2016 to support implementation of the SSF Guidelines.
“The SSF-GSF is one structure that will bring us together so we can see equitable and sustainable fisheries,” said Editrudith Lukanga, Co-President of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF).
Specifically, the social movement and Indigenous Peoples representatives—several of whom are members of the SSF-GSF Advisory Group—invited the ENGO representatives to work with them to explore the GSF-SSF, particularly the Knowledge Sharing Platform.
It was a proposal well received.
“Together, this community has an incredible wealth of knowledge that is going to be critically important to the success of small-scale fisheries and the nutrition, food security and human wellbeing they provide,” said Alexis Rife, Senior Manager for Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program.
“We’re eager to share our experiences, discuss approaches and limitations, and tie it to the needs of the social movements and fishing communities,” she said.
Emerging new frontiers
A pressing challenge, the participants acknowledged, is that organizations and governments face a broad landscape of commitments that touch on small-scale fisheries. These include international and national targets for biological diversity, food security, human rights and Indigenous Peoples.
“Many governments, for example, are concerned with the Sustainable Development Goals on reducing poverty and hunger,” highlighted Gerald Singh, a professor at Memorial University and researcher with the Nereus Program.
“While ocean sustainability can contribute to achieving these goals, pursuing these goals without considering ocean sustainability may mean losses for ocean health or values. There’s a key asymmetry that needs to be explored.”
In the opening address, WorldFish Director General Gareth Johnstone spoke of “recognizing the true value of small-scale fisheries.”
“We have a great opportunity and moral obligation to raise the profile of small-scale fisheries that provide nutrition to a billion people on a daily basis. We are particularly interested in research that can serve and support this sector and its benefits,” he said.
The participants discussed how research and big data could help everyone to better advocate for the sector.
Scientist Fiona Simmance of WorldFish presented on the Illuminating Hidden Harvests initiative, a global study into the contributions, drivers and impacts of small-scale fisheries led by FAO, Duke University and WorldFish.
There was an interest from some participants to access, and replicate, the methodology being used by IHH contributors to collect secondary data from over 50 countries across the world.
It was acknowledged that the IHH findings, due out in late 2020, could help some stakeholders with advocacy and communication efforts—another opportunity area identified by participants. A clear challenge ahead was to make sure these data were empowering small-scale fishers themselves.
The voices and needs of fishers, participants agreed, need to be at the heart of all research and communication efforts. Participants expressed some concern that communication efforts led by powerful groups may well be effective, but unless they were driven by small-scale fishers’ voices, they would risk being illegitimate or even undermining.
“Fishers are people that are simply trying to feed their families. We need to put a human face to small-scale fisheries and recognize the people,” commented one attendee.
Participants also acknowledged that more effort must be put into getting fishers a seat at decision-making tables—at local, national, regional and global levels—and supporting them to speak up and have their voices heard.
Small, important steps
The group agreed to continue the conversations started at the event and involve other key organizations not in attendance. These include, for example, those focused on tackling food and nutrition, poverty, health and human rights problems within small-scale fisheries.
“We’re happy that this discussion is happening and it’s something we want to keep alive,” said Margaret Nakato Lubyayi, Executive Director, WFF.
“It’s exciting [for the ENGOs] to have clarity from the social movements and Indigenous Peoples and to see the potential convergence between ENGOs. This is an extraordinary outcome from these couple of days,” added Hoyt Peckham, Chief Innovation Officer, Ocean Outcomes.
“These [commitments] sound like small steps but they’re really important to move forward,” concluded Philippa Cohen.