If not JUST, then what? If not NOW, then when?

The “Blue Justice for Small-Scale Fisheries” initiative calls for a holistic vision for the ocean and a transdisciplinary process that considers the injustices faced by small-scale fisheries in the past, and the disadvantaged position that some of them are currently in, to ensure a just transition to the future.

The stakes have never been higher for small-scale fisheries: they face countless challenges such as poverty, food insecurity, access issues, gender inequity, resource depletion, habitat degradation and inequitable resource allocation. More recently, small-scale fisheries are being threatened by ‘blue economy’ and ‘blue growth’ initiatives – a situation that is further convoluted by climate change, in unprecedented and ever-growing ways.

However daunting, we must tackle these challenges heads on and we must do it now.

How do we go about it? By implementing socially just responses, built on a comprehensive understanding of the natural, social and political systems that small-scale fisheries are entrenched within. For that reason, TBTI has been bringing the notion of ‘Blue Justice’ in the forefront, as a way to call attention to fairness and equity for the most marginalized and vulnerable fishing people.

‘Blue Justice’ acknowledges the historical rights of small-scale fishing communities to marine and inland resources, and coastal space, as traditional users. As a movement, ‘Blue Justice’ seeks to investigate pressures on small-scale fisheries. At its core, it encompasses social justice and human rights principles whilst being intrinsically tied to principles of environmental and climate justice.

Small-Scale Fisheries Values are Global Values 

Whether through the terms used to describe them, or the values that are anchored within them, small-scale fisheries have shown their importance for supporting livelihoods globally. By highlighting the diverse values of small-scale fisheries, we can help guide the ocean development agenda in becoming equitable, inclusive, and most importantly, sustainable.

The research done by TBTI, including the publication of more than 300 case studies from 80 countries around the world, show that small-scale fisheries are ‘socially and culturally important.’ But what exactly does this mean? Small-scale fisheries are immensely important for their economic contributions to fishing and coastal communities, contributions that can be expressed as values representing wellbeing and material wealth and livelihood security. TBTI research also show that small-scale fisheries values are global values, in line with ecological goal (ecological conservation) and sustainable development agenda (responsible governing system), which increasingly take into account the societal factors that can contribute to building a more sustainable world (fair distribution of benefits, gender equality, community cohesion).

What are the Contributions of Small-Scale Fisheries?  

The majority of small-scale fisheries are governed through centralized mechanisms that limit local capacity for building strong organizations and inhibit their ability to promote environmental stewardship. Putting the power back in the hands of small-scale fishing people, which can happen through participatory governance and devolution of power, will enable them not only to continue to food security and poverty alleviation on their own terms, and in ways that align with their own values.

Small-scale fisheries, if appropriately supported and adequately invested, can aid in achieving real sustainable development. Small-scale fisheries can deliver what the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim at, by contributing to no poverty (SDG1), zero hunger (SDG2), good health and wellbeing (SDG3), gender equality (SDG5), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), reduced inequalities (SDG10), life below water (SDG14), and peace and justice (SDG16). Ultimately, the vision for “healthy, viable and strong small-scale fisheries” needs to be integrated in the new narrative for the global fisheries sustainability.

So what about Blue Justice?

As the Our Common Future (Brundtland Commission 1987) report stated over 30 years ago, “the relative neglect of economic and social justice within and amongst nations” hampers the ability to promote a common interest in sustainable development. Blue Justice for Small-Scale Fisheries therefore calls for the rights, values and contributions of small-scale fisheries to ensure that ocean development is not only sustainable, but also inclusive, equitable, and just.

Since small-scale fisheries face several types of justice, be they procedural, distributive, environmental, or social, it is essential that their rights and their aspirations be properly considered in the formation and execution of the Blue Economy/Blue Growth initiatives.

To see what kind of justice issues small-scale fishing people face, TBTI has started collecting stories from around the word. Several of these stories are being highlighted below and the rest will be compiled in an e-book, which will be published under the TBTI Global Book Series, to be released at the UN Ocean Conference in June 2020.

Blue Justice for Small-Scale Fisheries - case studies

Small-scale fisheries in Sisal, Mexico
Municipal Fishers in the Taklong National Marine Reserve, Philippines
Conflicts in small-scale fisheries in Saint Martin’s Island, Bangladesh
Kinme Boss Facing Double Trouble, Shizuoka, Japan