February 14, 2017

Story: Small Scale Fisheries

In late October, Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) Early Career Science Fellow, Elena Finkbeiner, was invited to attend a United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) workshop in Rome exploring human rights-based approaches to fisheries governance.  The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries, published by the FAO in the spring of 2015 after a long, inclusive participatory process of creating and vetting the document, represent an unprecedented opportunity to improve governance of small-scale fisheries by integrating environmental sustainability with human rights goals.    

The purpose of the October workshop was to discuss ideas for on-the-ground implementation and monitoring of the Guidelines in countries around the world to ensure the transition towards adoption is effective, meaningful, and respectful of the human rights principles that the Guidelines are predicated upon. The workshop was attended by folks working in and alongside small-scale fisheries from around the world.

“It was an honor to be present at such an important meeting, to learn from folks from incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences, and to all come together around our belief that human wellbeing, particularly of marginalized and vulnerable populations, should be at the forefront of conservation agendas.”

While in Rome, Finkbeiner presented a forthcoming paper she is co-authoring with former COS Early Career Fellow, Jack Kittinger and others, entitled "Committing to socially responsible seafood."  In the paper, the authors describe the importance of developing a definition of socially responsible and ethically sourced seafood, which will inform a range of efforts across the broad community of practice.

 “This paper represents a tremendous effort involving 38 co-authors from the academic, non-profit, government, philanthropic and private sectors. We seek to generate dialogue around the importance of human rights, equal opportunity to benefit, and food and livelihood security within the seafood production sector,” Finkbeiner said. 

As part of her work for COS, Finkbeiner and a global partnership of scholars, practitioners, and funders are co-developing a decision support tool, aimed to provide practical guidance for integrating human rights and fisheries sustainability goals, policies, and practices on the ground. The decision support tool will be informed by a global literature review and online survey of small-scale fisheries practice and policies.

The time for moving forward on addressing social issues in fisheries couldn’t be more appropriate. Recent news articles on slavery in the seafood industry shocked the world and have created a sense of urgency around incorporating human rights and social responsibility considerations in seafood production that encourage responsibility on behalf of consumers, governments, funders, and NGOs.  Significant action is occurring including the publication and adoption of FAO Guidelines, the recently released rules on IUU fishing by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the decision support tool for funders and practitioners led by COS, as well as Kittinger’s paper on defining socially responsible seafood.  

“There is tremendous momentum moving forward to incorporate human rights considerations in fisheries planning, programs, policies, and practice,” Finkbeiner says. “I’m really excited COS is involved in this effort.  It’s going to be important.”