Background and Rationale

Strategic Importance of Small-Scale Fisheries

Artisanal and small-scale fisheries contribute significantly to the achievement of sustainable development goals. It is widely recognised that such fisheries play an important role in resource conservation, food and livelihood security, poverty alleviation, wealth creation and foreign exchange earnings. There are, however, a number of significant constraints that prevent small-scale fisheries from realising their full potential.

These potentialities and constraints were given particular consideration at the 25th Session of FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI 25), February 24-28 2003. They formed part of a special agenda item on “Strategies for Increasing the Contribution of Small-Scale Fisheries to Food Security and Poverty Alleviation”. They were discussed in a background paper submitted to the meeting, which noted that:

“…probably the most important are the constraints in the form of governance and policy issues over access to and control over aquatic environments and resources and markets, and the distribution of benefits accruing from those resources… In marine small-scale fisheries, access, control and distribution issues are more often linked with competition from industrial and foreign interests.” It further noted that: “Conflict between small-scale and industrial fishing activity may stem from, or be reinforced by, governance and policy issues. And that “Such conflict shows the importance of improving policies, institutions and processes and orienting them towards the reduction of the vulnerability of those in small-scale fisheries and defending their rights”

Importance of Protecting Access Rights for Artisanal Fisheries

In the COFI background paper to COFI, referred to above, several suggestions for action were proposed. These included:

better management (of small-scale fisheries) through the allocation of secure fishing rights backed by appropriate legislation to small-scale fishers in coastal and inland zones and their effective protection from industrial fishing activity or activities that degrade aquatic resources and habitats;

One of the major challenges facing marine fisheries is improved and responsible management of fish stocks. The implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct could play an important in this regard, particularly as concerns improving policies, institutions and processes, and making them more pertinent to and supportive of small-scale fisheries. Article 6.18 of the FAO Code of Conduct makes explicit the importance of protecting the access rights for small-scale fisheries. It advocates that States “should appropriately protect the rights of fishers and fishworkers, particularly those engaged in subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fisheries, to a secure and just livelihood, as well as to preferential access, where appropriate, to traditional fishing grounds and resources in the waters under their national jurisdiction”

Protecting Access Rights and Artisanal Fishing Zones in Latin America

Artisanal fishing rights have been recognised in many Latin American countries. These are often enshrined in laws that establish special zones within the near-shore waters reserved exclusively for artisanal fishing activities. These artisanal fishing zones encompass waters up to a certain distance from the coast, or up to a certain depth, and are reserved for the artisanal sector. In most cases the original objectives for establishing such zones were for conservation purposes (hence the use of the terms “reserves” and “areas de reserva”). But their additional role in meeting social, economic, demographic and other policy objectives has subsequently been recognised and valued. These zones may also serve to reduce inter-gear (passive/active) and inter-sectoral (small/large-scale) conflicts.

Artisanal fishing zones, or “areas de reserva”, have often been established (and extended) as a result of the demands of artisanal fisher organisations as a result of conflicts and unequal and increasing competition from large-scale fishing activities. Many artisanal fishworker organisations now claim these fishing reserves as a fundamental and inalienable right. However, maintaining the integrity of these zones is often the source of considerable conflict between small-scale and industrialised fisheries, frequently requiring the intervention of state institutions. Thus in both Chile and Peru the breaching of the coastal areas reserved for artisanal fishing by industrial fishing activities has been up held by national laws, leading to social disruption and law and order problems.

Protected access to fishing areas may also take other forms. In Chile management areas in near-shore waters have been set up, allowing access to sedentary resources to well-defined community groups. Similar arrangements have been established in Peru and several other Latin American countries (including Argentina and Ecuador), where fishing concessions have been granted to artisanal fishing groups. A slightly different concept of marine extractive reserves is presently being consolidated and applied in Brazil.

In several instances, artisanal fishworker organisations have also established their own regulations. For example, in the case of Chile, there is a self imposed prohibition on the use of trawl nets by artisanal fishing vessels within the 5 mile zone. Likewise there are self imposed regulations on the size of gill nets, and a variety of additional seasonal (closures/biological rest periods) and gear restrictions. Such measures are very much in line with Article 6.6. of the FAO Code of Conduct, which advocates that: “Where proper selective and environmentally safe fishing gear and practices exist, they should be recognised and accorded a priority in establishing conservation and management measures for fisheries”.

Threats to Protected Access and Sustainability in Small-Scale Fisheries

In several Latin American countries, notably those in the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina and Peru), the allocation of tradable individual user rights (Individual Transferable Quotas or ITQs) is being strongly advocated as the means to improve management in over-capitalised and economically inefficient industrial fisheries. However, the extension of ITQs to small-scale and artisanal fisheries has been questioned, and its application to this sector is the cause of some controversy. Many organisations argue that ITQs are not an appropriate management tool for community-based small-scale fisheries under any circumstances, as they inevitably lead to the concentration of ownership, the disenfranchisement of fishing communities, and lead to an erosion of working conditions and other benefits flows to fishworkers (such as household food security).

Small-scale fisheries may require alternative management and resource allocation systems that explicitly recognise the collective access rights of specific communities or user groups (craft-gear groups). In this regard the promotion of community-based management through the development of local institutions and traditional practices may be the most viable option for achieving sustainability in artisanal and small-scale fisheries.

International agreements for free trade and investment in the fisheries sector pose a further threat to the protection of access rights of local small-scale fisheries. More generally overcapacity and resource scarcity problems have resulted in increasing pressures from the large-scale fishing sector to fish in the near shore waters. Unfortunately these interests (for foreign trade and investment and for large-scale fisheries) often carry more political weight than small-scale fisheries. The potential role of the FAO Code of Conduct in addressing these unequal conflicts of interest needs to be explored.

Importance of Protecting Land Settlement Rights

Issues related to access rights to land-based resources and settlement rights are equally important, but are often not given sufficient attention. Fishing livelihoods depend on both seagoing and land based activities. In addition to living space requirements, the plethora of pre- and post-capture activities, on which the sea going activities depend, require access to water, electricity, fuel and other resources, and access to transport and communications infrastructure. The important linkages of sustaining livelihoods in artisanal and small-scale fisheries, the protected and priority access to fishing areas, and protected land settlement rights along the coastal strip therefore need to be explored and made explicit.

Examples of such linkages include the legal recognition of the “caleta” as a fishing settlement, and the development of artisanal fishing ports run by local fishworker organisations. However, the land settlement rights of fishing communities in areas adjacent to the coast are often not recognised. Insecure settlement on land makes their livelihoods highly precarious and vulnerable, particularly when faced with increasing competition for space and resources in the coastal zone.