African Small-­Scale Fisheries


1) TBTI Regional Synthesis Report – Executive Summary 

Market distribution of small-scale fisheries catch. Source: Data is based on ISSf (Chuenpagdee and Devillers 2015).

Small-scale fisheries in Africa are important for the food security of more than 200 million people, and for the employment of around 2.3 million fishers targeting fisheries in the various marine, brackish and freshwater environments. As one of the world’s richest regions in terms of biodiversity and species exploited for livelihood and subsistence purposes, Africa has a  long history of catching, trade and consumption of fish with fishing practices and know-how transferred from one generation to another.

Small-scale fisheries are distinctive across the region, ranging from high-tech vessels systems in developed nations within the Northern and Western regions of Africa, to more artisanal non-motorized vessels in the Eastern part of the continent. Despite their distinctive nature in operations, small-scale fisheries in Africa tend to share similar characteristics including low capital investments and the provision of fish for local consumption and trade. Women are an important component of small-scale fisheries in Africa, predominantly engaged in fisheries harvesting.

Small-scale fisheries are an important contributor to the countries’ fisheries production, accounting to around 44% of total landed catches and 48% of the total landed value, with Western Africa being the highest small-scale fisheries producer with regional catches exceeding the 1800,000 tonnes and generate over 2000 million USD. Regional and international trade of fisheries resources has expanded across the years, and the role of the global market has been crucial for the prospects of African economic development and the concomitant resilience of small-scale fisheries.

The viability of small-scale fisheries in Africa is questioned as fishing communities are facing ever-increasing pressures and enduring difficult situations. Situations are worrisome in the poorest countries where fishing communities experiencing declining stocks have become hemmed in a poverty trap, and by adopting higher fishing effort systems to survive, their efforts are cascading into socio-ecological implications. Problems seems to accrue with the presence of failing states and political instability, as well as malign international fisheries partnership agreements that hinder local development of fishing communities.

A strong feature in African small-scale fisheries is their ability to organize for co- or self-governance, examples of which include fishers’ unions, cooperatives and associations. This solid governance framework gives hopes to potential opportunities that engender economic viability, ecological integrity and community wellbeing within the region. This can include better management of resources such as transformative conservation approaches linked with local cultures and economies, facilitation of access to food and livelihoods especially in the most deprived countries, as well as providing assistance towards local development initiatives which maintain the resilience of local fishing communities. Already existing successful reforms in different fishing communities around Africa have given small-scale fisheries expectations, hopes and dreams of a better life.

To read the full TBTI Regional Synthesis Report, CLICK HERE. 

Interested in contributing to the synthesis report on the small-scale fisheries of Africa?

TBTI regional reports present a global picture of the small-scale fisheries characteristics, challenges, threats and opportunities. The report was developed by TBTI with inputs from academics and experts in Africa. With these reports, TBTI aims to put small-scale fisheries on the map and in the right perspective, such that small-scale fisheries sustainability can be improved through policies that maximize their contribution to the regional and national social and economic development. The regional synthesis reports provide an informed baseline for actions through policy changes that can transform the way small-scale fisheries are recognized, managed and governed.

To contribute, download the report and send your comment to by January 15, 2019. All comments will be taken into consideration during the revision of the draft and consolidation of the final report.

2) Africa – Summary from the 3WSFC regional roundtable 

Presented by: Paul Onyango

What are the major knowledge gaps in small-scale fisheries?

  • Communication barriers between policy makers, managers, science and fishers
  • Generation and updating of fisheries data (socio-economic): Gender disaggregated throughout the value chain
  • Knowledge (indigenous + scientific) should be context specific/international, regional trade
  • Research and funding should be according to collectively identified priorities at national, regional, and continental scales
  • Blue growth and ocean grabbing impacts on small-scale fisheries (Blue Justice)
  • Impact of industrial fishery on small-scale fisheries 
  • Inclusivity of small-scale fisheries in decision mechanisms
  • Fishers organizing themselves and funding (speak in one voice)
  • Create a forum for discussion (boxing ring; for policy makers, managers, fishers and CSOs): Think tank

What kind of change in science, community, markets and policy is required to improve viability of small-scale fishing communities, reduce their vulnerability and to promote small-scale fisheries sustainability?

  • The research on small-scale fisheries needs to capture socioeconomic contribution of small-scale fisheries 
  • Focus on the impact of climate change, market dynamics and gendered value or supply chain
  • Research needs to elevate story telling – to generate information
  • Use the regional and global networks (TBTI) to build political will

What actions are required from civil society organizations, research community and policy people in order to implement the SSF Guidelines?

  • Empower small-scale fisheries, particularly the youth and women
  • Promote cooperative research between researchers and fishers
  • Highlight gaps in policy in relation to the SSF Guidelines
  • Monitor impacts of policies on fishing communities
  • Raising awareness on the role of the SSF Guidelines
  • Translation of SSF Guidelines into different languages (simplified)
  • Facilitate voice of fishers

How to strengthen the policy science interface?

  • Collectively design programs to address similar questions at national, regional and international levels
  • Monitoring and evaluation of projects and need to consider exit strategies and sustainability
  • Transdisciplinarity (TD) incorporation to policy frameworks and strategies
  • The SSF Guidelines are a torch; but “we still need to find a way”
  • FAO needs to reform in terms of its engagements/approaches
  • Production of a book on “Hidden Profits”