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New study highlights the importance of small-scale fisheries

Importance of small-scale fisheries

October 6, 2013

Globally, small-scale fisheries provide livelihoods for over half a billion people; 97% of the world fishers, most of whom are active in the small-scale sector, live in coastal developing nations, including ACP countries. However, as highlighted in this study, these fisheries are often overlooked by decision-makers, which leads to an undervaluation of the fisheries role and potential. It is of paramount importance that ACP countries follow the current FAO process of adopting guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries. In future, the translation of these guidelines into national and regional policies should help ACP countries to create conditions for maximising the contribution that small-scale fisheries can make to the national economy and food security.

A new study on Malagasy fishers highlights the global importance of small-scale fisheries by providing a comprehensive assessment of their economic value to some of the Indian Oceans most impoverished communities. The study found that, in Madagascan coastal areas, small-scale fisheries employ 87% of the adult population, who contribute the main source of proteins for many households. Catches by the 8,000 small-scale fishers from this area have a total economic value of US$6.9 million. But the majority of transactions are unrecorded and go unnoticed, leading to gross underestimations of small-scale fisheries contribution to national gross domestic product (GDP) and local livelihoods.

The study suggests that the small-scale fisheries sector in Madagascar is at least one and a half times as valuable as access fees paid by EU tuna vessels, and a sixth as valuable as the entire domestic commercial shrimp industry, both of which receive much policy attention. One of the authors highlights that: the persistent undervaluation of small-scale fisheries is a key factor in the lack of recognition by policy-makers.

The study indicates that management initiatives such as community-led marine areas could support the sustainability of subsistence fisheries and strengthen food security. However, it also notes that these must be backed up by regional, national and international policies that safeguard the rights of small-scale fishers over export-orientated commercial or foreign access fishers.

This comes at a time when the FAO is finalising its draft international voluntary guidelines on securing sustainable small-scale fisheries. A first session of the technical consultation held last May will be followed by a second session in February 2014, before the final draft guidelines are presented for adoption to the next FAO Committee on Fisheries in 2014.