It Is Not Enough Just to Teach a Man, or Woman, to Fish



What does the future hold for coastal communities reliant on a strong marine ecosystem for income and nutrition? Will living standards rise, as the benefits from a growing demand for sustainably harvested fish strengthen the well-being of fishers and their families? Or will these populations become increasingly vulnerable and marginalized due to unsustainable practices that lead us to deplete vital resources and degrade the marine environment on which fish-dependent communities rely? FSG’s recent report on Securing the Livelihoods and Nutritional Needs of Fish-Dependent Communities, developed in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, investigated these questions and how the world might respond differently.

The scale and urgency of the issue is immense and growing. Fisheries and aquaculture represent one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing food production systems in terms of both value and consumption. The industry generates $500 billion in wealth annually and fish consumption per capita has grown at a rate of 12 percent per year between 2005 and 2010 (compared with 8 percent per year for meat). Moreover, nearly a billion people worldwide depend on the oceans to meet their nutritional needs and sustain their livelihoods. Several groups are particularly vulnerable to changes in marine ecosystems: (1) the one-third of fishers living below the poverty line; (2) residents of low-income, food-deficit countries for whom fish protein comprises a significant proportion of their overall protein and micronutrient consumption; and (3) women who comprise 47 percent of the workforce, but earn significantly lower income than male counterparts and have less power over the management of fisheries. The resulting loss of economic opportunities for women can have long-lasting effects on families and communities as women reinvest as much as 90 percent of their income to provide food, education, and healthcare for their children and families, compared with only 30 percent reinvested by men.

There is growing evidence that more integrated, systems-based approaches, linking conservation, economic development, and food security can help address risks facing these vulnerable populations. Through supporting integrated, human rights- and equity-based efforts, policies, and practices, there is potential to achieve both positive environmental outcomes and improve the lives of the poor in these fish-dependent communities. Several opportunities for many types of stakeholders were highlighted in the research:

  • Inform Marine Conservation Efforts with Rights and Equity Considerations: Foster more multi-stakeholder, multi-level interventions that integrate human rights and equity concerns with conservation objectives, such as restoring fish stocks and the marine ecosystem. Efforts such as the CARE-WWF partnership, CGIAR’s AAS initiative, and the Global Partnership for Oceans indicate that major players are beginning to recognize the importance of an integrated approach to marine conservation

  • Expand Successful Marine Management Regimes: Adapt promising approaches to new geographies, ensuring that community needs are addressed when new methods are introduced to manage marine resources. These approaches, including co-management and TURFs, have demonstrated potential to conserve marine resources while simultaneously improving livelihoods and food security. See the Rockefeller grantee WorldFish’s final report for additional information on fisheries management transformation

  • Support Market-Based Approaches: Explore opportunities to connect small-scale fishers in developing countries with markets in developed countries seeking high-value fish. Foundations, conservation and development NGOs, and advocacy organizations can help support initiatives to increase consumer demand for sustainable fish, and encourage companies to follow the lead of corporations such as Walmart and Darden Restaurants in committing to sustainable practices in their seafood supply chains

  • Engage Women in Decision-Making: Advocate for the active engagement of women in fisheries management, and ensure that interventions do not inadvertently exacerbate existing gender inequalities. Evidence suggests that interventions focused on women can have positive social and economic results. For instance, a joint program undertaken by the governments of Ghana and the Netherlands demonstrated the potential to improve economic opportunities and position for women fishers by (1) providing more efficient, higher-quality smoking ovens to women processing fish for sale in villages along Ghana's coast; (2) building advocacy networks to encourage women to engage in fisheries management processes; and (3) establishing microcredit networks to support women as entrepreneurs in the community

  • Experiment with Innovative Financing Mechanisms: Test and implement emerging financing mechanisms such as (1) funds to support the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that source fish sustainably; (2) public-private partnership funds to support private partners to deliver services in exchange for long-term contracts with government authorities; and (3) funds to support sustainability interventions targeting the recovery of a specific species. A collaboration of three Rockefeller Foundation grantees, including EKO Asset Management Partners, developed a set of strategies intended to utilize private capital to drive sustainable fishing practices in developing country fisheries

  • Encourage Smarter Growth in Aquaculture: Provide support for the expansion of sustainable, pro-poor aquaculture to new geographies and fish species. Specific opportunities to support this expansion include: (1) supporting the transfer of knowledge from effective programs to new geographies; (2) providing technical assistance to managers of fish farms around controlling diseases that threaten wild fish; (3) building management capacity among small fish farms to meet certification and quality requirements for export; and (4) improving access to capital, through groups such as Verdes Ventures  

  • Support a More Holistic View of the Problem within the Philanthropic Community: Encourage more philanthropic funders to enter the field, embrace a rights- and equity-focused approach, diversify funding across the value chain, and shift funding toward lower-income countries. Currently, foundations contribute approximately $300 million annually to marine conservation and eight private foundations provide 63 percent of this funding, as reported by the California Environmental Associates’ Charting a Course to Sustainable Fisheries Report

The world has reached a critical inflection point in our approach to fisheries management and marine ecosystem conservation. Our actions in the near-term will determine the fate of fragile wild fisheries and the benefits they provide to vulnerable populations around the world. The innovations above present new opportunities to address marine conservation through a rights and equity-based frame to ensure the sustainability of fragile marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of the vulnerable populations that depend on them.

Read Securing the Livelihoods and Nutritional Needs of Fish-Dependent Communities to learn more.

The following Rockefeller Foundation grantees provided the research that informed these perspectives: University of East Angia, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, Oceana, Rare, EKO Asset Management Partners, and WorldFish.


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