Global study on small-scale fisheries to provide vital knowledge, recognizes UN food report

The Illuminating Hidden Harvests study will provide critical knowledge and information on small-scale fisheries globally, informing the way forward for sustainable development of the sector. 

This vital contribution was acknowledged in the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food report released on 25 January 2019.

The study, due out in late 2020, will make headway toward identifying ‘the specific needs of small-scale inland and capture fisheries’, which are often overlooked in policy. The diverse and dispersed nature of small-scale fisheries makes it hard to quantify their contributions, which in turn reinforces their hidden (unreported) and marginalized position in policy at national, regional and global scales. 

Illuminating Hidden Harvests (IHH) is a collaborative study between Duke University, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and WorldFish through FISH. The study will assess the diverse contributions and drivers of change of small-scale fisheries globally, encompassing harvest and postharvest activities.

Fishing with a lift net, Bangladesh, . Photo by Balaram Mahalder, 2010.

Policies and programs that build resilience

Through a greater understanding of small-scale fisheries, the UN report says IHH will ‘promote policies and programs that enable them to build resilience in the face of dual challenges from globalization and climate change’. This is critical to ensuring that small-scale fisheries—which employ 90 percent of fishers worldwide, most of them in developing countries—are developed in a productive, sustainable and equitable way.

The IHH study is recognized in paragraph 75 of the UN report, which looks at how fish workers contribute to the food and nutrition security of others and the barriers they face in accessing food themselves. This follows on from recognition of IHH in The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 report, the biannual flagship publication of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

"Such mentions highlight the demand for the information that the study aims to produce, as small-scale fisheries are increasingly recognized as an activity where poverty, food security and fisheries policies strongly intersect. This is both a challenge and an enormous opportunity for policymakers," said Dr. Xavier Basurto, Associate Professor, Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and a member of the IHH core team.

Fish traders in Mali. Photo by Edward H. Allison, 2004

Filling critical knowledge gaps

The study is expected to be ‘the most extensive compilation to date of the available information on the diverse contributions of small-scale fisheries to communities and countries around the world’, says the UN report. This will help to fill critical knowledge gaps on small-scale fisheries, particularly around their economic, environmental, social and governance contributions.

Coastal fish stocks are being depleted due to industrial fishing, marine pollution and climate change, the UN report highlights. These pressures often have negative impacts, such as forcing ‘small-scale fishing communities further from shore, often without adequate equipment’.

The study will help to highlight such drivers of change for national marine and inland small-scale fisheries and, in turn, provide policy-relevant understandings. Critically, this will support implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries and efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.