Workshop to share experiences of support to small-scale fisheries

Sitting at the front of a beautiful ballroom in downtown Durham, N.C., fishermen and fisherwomen from around the world faced us, preparing to share their experiences and knowledge about small-scale fisheries.

As a part of my research position with the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, I assisted with a two-day workshop on Feb. 7 and 8 that explored global support efforts to small-scale fisheries. The meeting, which gathered practitioners, philanthropists, fishers and scientists from across the globe, sparked engaging conversation and brought forth best practices for supporting small-scale fisheries.

The workshop examined FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries, the first internationally-agreed-upon tool to address small-scale fisheries, released in 2015.

The panel of fishers, comprised of leaders from Mexico, Tanzania, Alaska, India and the Caribbean, started off the second day of the workshop with a discussion. While their backgrounds were varied and their experiences unique to the local challenges of their home countries, the fishers’ messages shared lines of commonality. They stressed the importance of improving governance of small-scale fisheries, supported using a human-rights-based approach to fishery management, and noted the value of using fishers’ knowledge in policy and management decisions.

“What I’ve always admired [about fishers] is their ability to see patterns, and realize when patterns change,” said Linda Behnken, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and longtime commercial fisher. “I see fishermen at the forefront of what’s happening in the ocean now, in relation to climate change.”

Behnken’s contributions to sustainable fishing received prestigious recognition from the Obama administration in 2016, the White House naming her a “Champion of Change.”

Over the two days of the workshop, I learned an immense amount about small-scale fisheries governance and support, sitting in on group discussions that explored fishery value chains, sustainable resource management, capacity building, gender equity and social development.

In regards to the governance of small-scale fisheries, Sebastian Matthew of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers stressed the importance of defining agency and empowering leaders in fishing communities.

“Community members must be more aware of their rights and what their duties are,” Matthew said. “Can we strengthen their hands, so that they can play the role that the international community is expecting them to?”

When considering the international guidelines established by FAO, I was curious to hear the thoughts of the practitioners, researchers and philanthropy representatives in the room. Can international guidelines for small-scale fisheries, or any other global matter, really be applied at a local level? Can internationally-agreed-upon strategies be used within a local context and still be successful?

The FAO small-scale fishery guidelines are fairly new, but the individuals at the workshop who will play a role in guideline implementation are committed to their success. Continued workshops such as this one – a diverse gathering of fishers, practitioners, support agencies and scientists collaborating to address pertinent small-scale fishery challenges – will be a valuable tool.

In Behnken’s words, “There’s an amazing amount of humility you learn from working on the ocean.” The livelihoods of millions will depend on innovative and ongoing strategies for small-scale fisheries moving forward, and it will be through the combined effort of passionate people, many of whom were present at this year’s workshop, that positive change can be made.

Many thanks to Xavier Basurto, John Virdin and others who organized this workshop. A summary of workshop discussions and findings will be available in the future for those interested.