World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

Small fisheries

A Big Solution to a Small-Scale Fishing Challenge

  • Date: 01 February 2021
  • Author: Dr. Vishwanie Maharaj

Whether found off the coasts of Alaska, Madagascar or Indonesia, abundant fish populations are critical to the survival of countless communities and thousands of wildlife species. Fish provide critical nutrition and economic security for us on land, while also stitching together food webs below the ocean’s surface.

The connections we share with the marine world are complex yet incredibly resilient—but even nature has its limits. When there is imbalance in this relationship the disruption affects entire ecosystems and ultimately the global food supply. If a tuna stock, for example, experiences declines in the eastern Pacific Ocean, all parts of the ecosystem—including our communities—will be impacted. And it doesn’t matter the size of the boat, there will be fewer fish for the same amount of effort. Ultimately that means reduced access to food for millions and fewer fishers with work.

Sustaining the world’s fish stocks is a shared value that often brings WWF together with diverse industry members throughout the seafood supply chain and governments, and very often these relationships are front and center during international convenings. But as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Committee on Fisheries holds its annual meeting against the back drop of converging global crises, the livelihoods of small-scale fishers and fishing communities will be front and center, which is good news even for the biggest vessels in the largest fleets.

Globally, small-scale fishers land 35-50% of all wild-caught seafood, and while that is a significant amount of the annual catch, the percentage tells only part of the story. About half of the small-scale workforce is made up of women, and it’s a sizeable labor pool—nine out of 10 jobs in the fishing industry are in small-scale fisheries.

Small scale fisheries are diverse and supply both global and local markets. Different tools are used to incentivize a transition to sustainable practices, a common pathway to fisheries reform. However, a major challenge is connecting local fishing communities that have unique needs with easy access to the right tools and to develop local capacity to put those tools to work.

Online hub for sharing better practices

This week WWF joined a coalition of partners to launch the Small-scale Fisheries Resource and Collaboration Hub, or SSF Hub. We joined together with over 100 fishers, fish workers and their communities and allies representing 19 countries with the goal of empowering small-scale fishers to share knowledge and learn from one another. Today the Hub hosts case studies, management tools, and free online courses, all of which are designed to help the world implement the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.

“Having access to information and experiences from around the world contributes to the empowerment of small-scale fisheries actors, allowing them to better engage in or lead decision-making processes about their livelihoods,” said Vera Agostini, Deputy Director/Capture Fisheries of the Fisheries Division of FAO.

Empowering small-scale fishers requires meeting them where they are. That’s why the SSF Hub hosts conversations in 20 languages with innovative features that include instant translation. While there are access issues in many parts of the world, the website is optimized to allow users to access resources and discussions on phones, tablets, and computers.

Now we need to spread the word. If you’re a seafood buyer with local suppliers who work alongside small-scale fishers, let them know about this new Hub. Sustainably fishing our ocean is possible—but only if we work together to solve the challenges big and small.