European Small-­Scale Fisheries


1) TBTI Regional Synthesis Report-Executive Summary 

Small-scale fisheries subsidies (USD) distribution across European countries. The subsidies are split into three types: beneficial, capacity-enhancing and ambiguous. Data is based on the global fisheries subsidies study Schuhbauer et al. 2017.

Although representing only 8 percent of the global small-scale fisheries catch, small-scale fisheries in Europe are of vital importance, particularly in terms of social and cultural heritage. For centuries, not only has fishing been a main source of food and income but it also represents a way of life for people living along the coastline. Traditional knowledge, fishing practices, and rituals are inseparable elements of small-scale fisheries. A long history of catching, trade and consumption of fish has molded a rich heritage that oftentimes transcends national borders and connects distant communities.

Small-scale fisheries outnumber their large-scale counterparts in terms of fleet size and the number of people employed in the sector, making significant socioeconomic contributions to many coastal areas. Small-scale fisheries in Europe are traditionally comprised of family-based enterprises, and although men perform many of the fishing activities, women also play an important role. In addition to supporting their seagoing family members, women make contributions through processing, trading, and bookkeeping. More attention is required on women’s contribution to fishing households in order for them to attain legal and social security status.

Catches from small-scale fisheries generally fetch higher prices than those from large-scale fisheries, suggesting their superior product quality. Their good market prices can also be attributed to the recent changes in citizen lifestyles and preferences of supporting local, sustainable and fair food production. New market opportunities have emerged, also through the growth in tourism, which help promote the sustainability of small-scale fisheries and the viability of local communities depending on them.

The viability of small-scale fisheries in Europe maybe threatened, however, as fishing communities are facing ever-increasing pressures. This can be witnessed in the shrinking of the small-scale fisheries fleet size and the weakening of the inter-generational continuity of fishing communities. Although positive changes are envisaged through the new Common Fisheries Policy, there remains a lot to be done both at the national and local levels to support fishing communities, such as providing them with secure fishing rights, better access to markets, and an equitable share of the subsidies, which currently favor the large-scale counterpart.

A strong feature in European small-scale fisheries is their ability to organize, as seen in the number of fishers’ unions, cooperatives and associations. Nonetheless, the involvement of small-scale fishers in the official decision-making platforms to influence the political trajectories remains low. Some improvement is being made, however, with the establishment of the “Low Impact Fishers of Europe” (LIFE), created as a common front to influence policies that lead to improving the overall sustainability of the sector.

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

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

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 Europe. 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) Europe – Summary from the regional roundtables

Presented by: Jose Pascual 

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

  • Gaps are evolving, new challenges define new knowledge gaps. Besides that, the diversity of situation in Europe is huge, as small-scale fisheries are defined differently in European countries, and their situation is not the same. A number of gaps was defined for Europe:
    • Need to improve our knowledge of interactions at sea between different users and uses of space, taking into account all the issues related to spatial grabbing. Mapping the use of space looks to be necessary also for small-scale fisheries
    • Markets role of small-scale fisheries and potential strategies to improve the marketing of small-scale fisheries, analyzing innovation as a challenge
    • Inland fisheries, in some countries like Finland and Russia need to be better researched and recognized
    • Social sciences and transdisciplinary research in many European countries (much less researchers in comparison to natural sciences)
    • Gender issues
    • Interactions/power balances between small-scale fisheries and recreational fisheries and some other sectors, like aquaculture, sometimes induced by EU
    • Key resources for small-scale fisheries are unknown in their biology and baselines, need to use Local Ecological Knowledge better

What are the major challenges facing small scale-fisheries?

  • Access: even though the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and European Maritime Fisheries and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) have some considerations for small-scale fisheries such as suggesting preferential access to resources, that is not the case in most, if not all European countries. In most cases medium or large scale fleets have been strongly favoured by subsidies and policy. Also, aquaculture and tourism are squeezing the space of small-scale fisheries. Europe is a testing site in the world for neoliberal policies. In Denmark after the introduction of ITQs in five years half of the fishing ports were dead and this model is being exported to the South.
  • Market: traditional roles in the markets of small-scale fisheries are compromised because of the new market conditions and structures and the world markets pressures. Need for innovation in the differentiation of local seafood, a better knowledge of local products and the development of new alliances with local actors.
  • Governance: The voice of small-scale fisheries is barely heard at national and international levels. The Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) has had some impacts but its future is highly determined by success in further funding for its continuity. Strong fisher organizations is a key factor to be heard and taken into account in the decision making processes.
  • Subsidies: squeezed by large-scale fisheries and aquaculture because these fleets or activities have had subsidies and legal advantages!
  • Small-scale fisheries are considered as a cultural heritage, not as an economic activity that a lot of people is depending on. This is perhaps because the number of small-scale fisheries is decreasing and they are being increasingly marginalized. They may soon disappear in the north. And they are considered in a specific way of understanding heritage, as understood as a tourism related issue.
  • Lack of attractiveness for young generations: low self-esteem of the fishers, related to access costs, and related to the difficulties to become a fisher. Need to facilitate the training of the young generation onboard small-scale fisheries vessels, which is nowadays very difficult because of different legislation.

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 SSF sustainability?

  • A wide range of changes in needed: a relevant issue is to improve the fishers self-esteem and social recognition of the activity, including the possibility to train the young generations from their childhood. No restrictions for kids for fishing in recreational vessels, as it is currently impossible to fish onboard small-scale fisheries vessels.
  • Scientists may have a role in the social issues and support small-scale fisheries 
  • Increase the knowledge about small-scale fisheries in general
  • Need to influence at the highest level
  • Tap into opportunities to steer from the widely-accepted perception of dwindling and decaying fishing communities, to project the need of maintaining vibrant communities that keep the cultural heritage alive.

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

  • Guidelines are relevant to the global North also! They are not only related to food security, and public investment can go to implement the SSF Guidelines in southern countries but not to EU countries. That is a huge contradiction.

How to strengthen the policy science interface?

  • Improve collaboration and partnership of researchers with small-scale fisheries organizations and communities and vice versa
  • Increase the analysis/research of social issues related to small-scale fisheries 
  • Find windows of opportunity to bring change, e.g. through large conferences tackling ocean affairs not just fisheries, such as Our Oceans.