Those familiar with small-scale fisheries have undoubtedly come across accusations that blame the sector for many of the problems in fisheries. Because they are seen as inefficient, too many and too messy to manage, they are often associated with problems like overfishing, bycatch, pollution, unsustainable development, and economic burden. While some of these may be true, small-scale fisheries make major contributions in many aspects of society, and through them, many of the problems can be addressed. Getting rid of small-scale fisheries will just make the matters worse.

New narratives about small-scale fisheries are needed - ones that clearly illustrate the values and importance of small-scale fisheries and consider them as key solutions for issues such as sustainability and sustainable development, climate change, economic prosperity, food security, gender equity, cultural identity, rebuilding fisheries, community wellbeing, and Blue Justice, among others. We also need initiatives that seek solutions for the numerous issues affecting small-scale fisheries and promote ways of sharing and scaling-up the success stories. 

From 2022 World Fisheries Day onwards, we are collecting contributions that depict ways in which small-scale fisheries provide solutions for small- and large-scale environmental and socioeconomic issues. We are also interested in successful case studies and stories that demonstrate how small-scale fisheries have overcome, or are in the process of overcoming, specific issues and challenges. 

The contributions can be sent in a format of a story, reflection piece, short article, video, art piece etc. The material should be sent to

Sharing your stories

Fishing Into The Future: A San Diego Story

In this video San Diego Fisherman, Peter Halmay, talks about the Fish to Families Program (a program to help San Diego fishermen, the hospitality industry, and local families in need during the global pandemic 2020-2021) and the future of small-scale commercial fishing in San Diego, California.

The San Diego Fishermen's Working  Group (SDFWG) is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization with a Board of Directors comprised of all the major fishery gear types of the greater San Diego region. The SDFWG represents the interests of commercial fishermen in local, state, and federal processes. The term "fishermen" is used inclusive of both our fishing men and women.

The Mission of the San Diego Fishermen's Working Group is to squarely place in the public's mind the importance of commercial fishing to the food security, and to the economic, social, and cultural fabric, of the greater San Diego region.

Contributor: Pete Halmay

After working as a Consulting engineer for seven years after graduation, I decided to take a couple of years off to pursue my diving hobby and work as a full-time abalone diver. That was in 1970 and I never went back. Over the years, I noted that what was holding fishermen back was the lack of organization, and have spent the past 30 years of my life in developing social capital in the sea urchin fishery. I was the founding director of SUHAC, the statewide sea urchin dive Association, which led to the formation of the California Sea Urchin Commission, a quasi government body under the California Department of Food and Ag. I was elected a director of CSUC and appointed Vice chairman. However, I noted a lack of involvement, or proper foundation at the Port level, and formed a fishing co-operative, the San Diego Watermen’s Association (SDWA). This effort expanded to include all San Diego fishermen and led to the development of a San Diego Community Based Association, San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group(SDFWG), the San Diego Seafood Harvesters LLC, and the Fishermen’s Marketing Association of San Diego. In 2014, became one of the owners of Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, the only fishermen’s market im San Diego. During this entire time, I have remained a full-time sea urchin diver working about 110-220 days a year underwater. Maybe I will retire in about 30 years, but the prospect of my wife being the boss instead of my being the Captain with complete authority does not sit well with me.

Solutions for Social Justice from Canadian Small-Scale Fisheries

Solutions for social justice from Canadian small-scale fisheries

The February 20, 2023, is the World Day of Social Justice. This year’s theme is Overcoming Barriers and Unleashing Opportunities for Social Justice, which draws attention to the need for justice-driven solutions to some of world’s most pressing challenges. Inspired by the theme, we are sharing and discussing two chapters from an emerging e-book, Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada, intended to bring visibility, recognition, and enhancement for Canadian small-scale fisheries. The two chapters featured this month help celebrate World Day of Social Justice by focusing on contributions from Canadian small-scale fisheries to overcome justice issues in Canadian ocean governance.

Awareness is growing in Canada about the importance of small-scale fisheries. Small-scale fisheries matter to the livelihoods and the wellbeing of communities in Canada. In many places, small-scale fisheries provide a safety net for communities that border aquatic ecosystems, especially in uncertain times. However, with small-scale fisheries becoming increasingly vulnerable, this safety net is at risk. Small-scale fisheries can be marginalized in the sustainable development agenda and squeezed out in increasingly crowded aquatic systems. At risk is also the loss of many alternatives and strategies small-scale fisheries can offer to help navigate a changing climate and other drivers of a rapidly changing aquatic environment. Perspectives and stories of persistence, resistance, adaptation, and transformation reveal prospects to ensure sustainable and just activities in aquatic systems, while securing livelihoods and wellbeing for local communities. Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada is about identifying these opportunities, and focusing on mobilizing small-scale fisheries solutions in the spaces and networks through which important goals like social justice are advanced. The e-book is also exploring the global research movement, Small-Scale Fisheries as Solutions, within  the Canadian context.

The first chapter, Well-being of Small-Scale Fishers in British Columbia, is led Natalie Ban (University of Victoria). The chapter focuses on small-scale, independent and commercial fishers in British Columbia, and explores their perceived well-being in the context of changing fisheries access. The authors share results from a survey that included quantitative questions and indicators about fishers’ life satisfaction, satisfaction with fisheries, and various aspects of well-being. The findings show that fishers feel that fisheries are mismanaged, that they are not respected, their voices not heard, and that there is no future in fishing for future generations. The authors discuss the need to improve inclusion in governance, and strengthen opportunities for future generations of fishers. Ban et al. write:

“For there to be a future for small-scale independent fishers in Canada’s Pacific will require action by DFO and the Government of Canada to create policies and programs that maintain and improve the viability of fisheries and the well-being of small-scale fishers. Our results show that most independent harvesters experienced a good life but see few future opportunities to fuel the small-scale fishing legacy for the next generation.”

The authors offer a range of solutions and strategies, including policies and programs that maintain and improve the viability of fisheries and the well-being of small-scale fishers. Read more about these solutions here.

The second chapter is called Charting an Inclusive Future: A Discussion about Gender Equitable Small-Scale Fisheries Management in Canada, and is led by Kirsten Bradford (Simon Fraser University). The chapter combines the authors’ personal experiences with published literature and trusted media sources, revealing that there is still a limited understanding of gender and small-scale fisheries in Canada. The chapter showcases that women face several barriers to equitable participation and representation in small-scale fisheries management, and highlights how certain groups of women, such as Indigenous women, face even greater barriers. To address these barriers, Bradford et al. argue that:

"Policies and programs within Canadian environmental management are beginning to consider gender,...yet sound implementation grounded in intersectional approaches is still lacking….[M]uch more could be done at the policy level to consistently implement GBA+ and realize the gender equity and equality commitments that Canada acclaims to through its endorsement of the SSF Guidelines, the Sustainable Development Goals, and other frameworks that support sustainable and just fisheries in Canada and beyond.”

The chapter provides alternatives next steps, including working across institutions to dismantle systems of oppression, gender bias, and harmful social norms, as well as centering the voices and perspectives of Indigenous women and other underrepresented groups. Read about the other solutions here.

Collaborative solutions for small-scale fisheries

This April, we are releasing three new chapters from Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada, focusing on the collaborative approaches to stewardship and conservation that small-scale fisheries can offer to Canadian fisheries and oceans sustainability.

We are headed first to some foundations, with the chapter by Anthony Charles, Understanding Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada. Charles highlights opportunities to learn more about how to advance “the widespread desire to move forward on participatory, multidisciplinary and inclusive knowledge-building.” He points to the need for insights on co-management with small-scale fisheries as well as knowledge building on the solutions small-scale fisheries have to offer to collaborative environmental stewardship and fisheries conservation. The e-Book contributes to these areas, in particular with stories and perspectives about small-scale fisheries collaborative solutions.

The second chapter, The Creation of the Foxe Basin Kivalliq North Sapujiyiit/Guardians of the Sea Society is written by Sarah Newell. In it, we learn about the efforts to develop the Foxe Basin Kivalliq North Sapujiyiit. Sapujiyiit is the Inuktitut word for Guardians of the Sea. Newell tells the story of how the Society was created as a solution for Indigenous small-scale fisheries dealing with multiple activities in adjacent waters, including shipping and navigating efforts to develop Marine Protected Areas. Members from three communities within or adjacent to a proposed MPA banded together to form the Society to conduct research, and make sure the research was reflected in reports for the negotiation of an MPA agreement that reflected community knowledge, values, and rights. This is a story of collective action to ensure small-scale fisheries persist in the context of marine conservation. Newell writes,

“In this way we are working to remove barriers to equity and justice in the way that small-scale fisheries in Arctic Canada are governed and how policy is created. By building and supporting Inuit research capacity, we are ensuring that Inuit Traditional Knowledge is valued and used to inform small-scale fisheries policies moving forward.”

In the third chapter, Jamie Snook shares lessons about commercial fisheries co-management in Canada derived from the negotiation of Comprehensive Land Claim Agreements, with a focus on co-management of Indigenous small-scale fisheries from the Inuit Territory of Nunatsiavut. Snook levies a vigorous defence of co-management and argues for more education about co-management institutions in Canada, particularly from Indigenous perspectives. He discusses the institutional barriers to successful co-management implementation, and the differences of opinions on what constitutes the best possible scientific advice. He shares success from Nunatsiavut, with co-managed small-scale fisheries as a solution for sustainability, including to successfully implement the precautionary approach robust to multiple perspectives.

For Snook, land claim agreements are “the starting points” for bigger solutions, including “more aspirational future goals that continue to privilege Inuit rights and flourishing, while promoting sustainable usage of natural resources.”

Solutions for decent work in small-scale fisheries

Through the Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada e-book, we are learning about the opportunities small-scale fisheries bring in Canada and the social safety net they provide. We are also learning about the importance of supporting their quality of life and work to help foster positive environmental, social, cultural, economic, and environmental outcomes, as well as the contributions they can make to good fisheries governance.

This May, we are releasing two chapters in support of commercial small-scale fisheries in the Atlantic, including Newfoundland and Labrador where small-scale fisheries have had a difficult start to the season with fisheries closures and the struggles in the snow crab fishery. The two chapters focus in some way on small-scale fisheries work and solutions for decent work, including those developed through research.

In the first chapter, Maria Andrée López Gómez and Emily Reid-Musson write about how a range of conditions in small-scale fisheries in Atlantic Canada come together to create precarious working conditions in small-scale fisheries, in a chapter titled ‘Precarity in Small-Scale Fisheries in North Atlantic Canada.’ Their commentary draws on collective research experiences based on two studies from Ocean Frontier Institute Module I Informing Governance Responses in a Changing Ocean. In their commentary, López Gómez and Reid-Musson argue that despite some unique policy and social protections,

 “small-scale fisheries work in Atlantic Canada has historically been associated with high levels of poverty and socio-economic deprivation, lack of social security, and increasing inequality within fisheries despite being a mechanism of subsistence to coastal rural communities”. They point to a “changing working environment due to biophysical and socio-ecological factors and the new policies and regulations designed to mitigate negative outcomes.” Ultimately, on solutions, López Gómez and Reid-Musson are optimistic. They argue “decent employment in Atlantic Canadian small-scale fisheries may be possible if policies and regulations align with a holistic approach that considers all actors in small-scale fisheries and the context in which they take place: community-based, familiar, rural and coastal.”

In the second chapter, Lillian Saul shares her story and motivations for small-scale fisheries work and research in ‘Cold Hands, Dark Mornings: Why I am a Small-Scale Fisheries Researcher in Newfoundland and Labrador.’ Saul writes about her experiences as a small-scale fishing person in Maine and Alaska, as well as more recently in Newfoundland and Labrador. As she weaves between her fishing and research experiences, she discusses fishing work, “For skippers and crew, every moment on the water counts and being out of commission for even a short time due to injuries or mechanical breakdowns can devastate fishers’ yearly income.” To address many struggles and opportunities in small-scale fisheries discussed by Saul, she highlights the SSF Guidelines as a set of principles that can help foster solutions for and from small-scale fisheries. She writes,

“[F]isheries problems are not ethereal or external, but they are experienced—in cold hands, on dark mornings, in fishers’ anxious thoughts and sore muscles. They are lived on rocky coasts, at the local bank, at the breakfast table, at the kid’s school, in the gear workshop, and on the fishing boat. Implementation of the SSF Guidelines requires hard work and knowledge, but also a return to basics in connecting principles to human lives.”

Saul is the co-founder of a social enterprise, Roots and Wings Fish Company, a social enterprise to promote and market dried fish and ultimately, improve the viability of small-scale fisheries and deepen engagement between consumers and fishing people.

Exploring adaptation solutions for and from Canadian small-scale fisheries

Canadian small-scale fisheries are navigating rapid changes in coastal zones, driven by climate change impacts, coastal zone development, and other drivers like COVID-19. Given the prevalence of rapid changes influencing fisheries, solutions that can foster adaptation while foregrounding equity and justice are of high importance.

This July, we are releasing three chapters from 'Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada' that bring attention to new opportunities and questions for adaptation solutions for and from small-scale fisheries in Canada. The chapters speak to how solutions for adaptation can be and should be fostered locally, particularly through governance that involves small-scale fisheries. The involvement of small-scale fisheries people is a key ingredient of governance for adaptation that advances equity and justice for the fisheries, the communities that depend on them, as well as other marginalized groups.

The first chapter, 'Community Supported Fisheries as Inherently Adaptive', is a conversation with Sonia Strobel. Strobel is co-founder and CEO of Skipper Otto, a Community Supported Fishery based on Coast Salish territory in Vancouver, BC. She defines community supported fisheries as a “network that connects harvesters directly to end consumers, usually through a subscription model.” The chapter discusses Skipper Otto as an example of a community supported fishery, wherein members join the network at the start of the season and agree to “eat whatever the ecosystem provides to harvesting families that year”. Essentially, members agree to eat with the ecosystem, a commitment to adapt with the harvesters, while supporting a network that fosters improved access to local seafood. Strobel argues that the work does not stop at adaption and food security. Community support fisheries are critical for fostering change in governance for sustaining effective adaptation solutions. Strobel says that

 “[a]s we approach 10,000 members, there are a lot of people in Canada who now know harvesters personally, and care about policies that will affect them. This means we can engage the public in policy advocacy and decision making - when they know the harvesters and care about these things.”

The second chapter, 'How the COVID-19 Pandemic Gave a Stimulus to Local Seafood Consumption', is co-authored by María Andrée López Gómez and Frédéric Cyr. The chapter explores how COVID-19 increased access to local seafood to inhabitants of the Magdalen Islands. The authors describe how

“[l]obsters have always been anchored in a long-lasting tradition on the Magdalen Islands, a small archipelago in the province of Québec. [However,] islander consumers often find themselves unable to afford lobster, even though the resource is harvested locally. This situation has been exacerbated with the recent surge in the international demand for seafood, for which the seasonal workforce in the processing plants plays a central role in the supply chain.” Their chapter focuses on new opportunities brought on by COVID-19, with authors describing a confluence of factors let local seafood producers to “sell a large part of their live product locally, and at low prices.”

For Cyr and López Gómez, adaptation to COVID-19 with the renewed access to local and affordable seafood brings new questions and ideas about Canadian small-scale fisheries as solutions for food insecurity under conditions of rapid change. They argue,

“While climate change - and now the pandemic - are threatening food security around the globe, small-scale fisheries not only are essential to people’s cultural livelihoods, but are also an important aspect of local food security worldwide, including in Canada.”

The third chapter, 'Are Canadian Small-Scale Fisheries Too Small to Ignore? A Risk-Based Occupational Health & Safety Perspective', is led by Zaman Sajid. The chapter centers around the need for adapting to emerging, diverse, and intersecting Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) risks, often worsened by rapid changes. The authors highlight that “Working in a safe environment is the fundamental right of every enterprise owner and boat operator associated with Canadian small-scale fisheries.” Yet, there are many risks to consider. In response, the chapter provides a risk-based approach. It maps OHS risks in Canadian small-scale fisheries, and corresponding governance system challenges and opportunities. The authors argue for a stronger governance framework to facilitate adaptation, emphasizing how

“Canadian small- scale fisheries must be recognized in governance policy to develop well- documented and monitored OHS conditions for Canadian associated with small-scale fisheries.” They contend that this will only be achieved when there is a better understanding of the risks to Canadian small-scale fisheries and of what an integrated solution for OHS might look like."

Solutions for navigating complexities for small-scale fisheries

As we are learning through TBTI-Canada’s e-book 'Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries', small-scale fisheries in Canada help advance environmental stewardship, and provide a social and economic safety net to rural communities. Yet, as these contributions suggest, small-scale fisheries do not occur in isolation. They exist in aquatic systems, and often they interact with other fisheries as well as diverse aquatic activities. The governance of small-scale fisheries involves different leaders and organizations, whose influence on small-scale fisheries is apparent at different scales. These small-scale fisheries systems are also dynamic, influenced by a range of intersecting global and local changes. The result is a suite of complexities that shape small-scale fisheries contributions to environmental, social, cultural, and economic goals, including how these contributions can be enhanced and then potentially mobilized in other contexts. Given the role of complexity underpinning small-scale fisheries as solutions in Canada, we are releasing two chapters this August that help understand what these complexities are and how to navigate them.

The first chapter, 'The Importance of Scale Complexities in Fisheries Research' is by Dr. Rosemary Ommer in which she discusses four types of scale complexities –geographical, temporal, technological, and intellectual. She argues,

“It is only by being aware of these different scales that we will be able to recognize when one or more of them are in play and may possibly conflict. Only then can we interrogate fisheries management adequately...”

As Ommer describes, these complexities shape the effectiveness of fisheries research. Her chapter, then, provides a foundation for the types of inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration that can help advance visibility, recognition, and enhancement for small-scale fisheries. Such collaboration requires different resource users, leaders, and researchers to come together across diverse knowledge silos and motivations for action. Ommer writes:

“unless we understand not only what we do, and how we do it, but also why we do it, there is little hope that things will change.  It is only when one understands the root motivations for human actions that one uncovers the place from where to start instituting change.”

The second chapter 'The Intersection Between Diverse Small-Scale Fisheries and the Recreational Fishing Sector in the Inland Waters of Canada' is led by Dr. Steven Cook. It takes us to freshwater inland fisheries in Ontario and Manitoba. It uses these settings to explore the synergies and conflicts that arise in freshwater systems where small-scale fisheries and recreational fisheries intersect. The chapter produces two important priorities to be explored for small-scale fisheries in Canada. First, it highlights the role of different rights, values, and interests which interact in multi-use aquatic systems. In response, the authors “highlight the importance of thinking holistically when addressing multi-sectoral fisheries in an integrated governance format.”

Second, with this holistic perspective in mind, the chapter positions dialogue and co-learning for the future to move to more proactive fisheries governance. The authors state,

“Anticipating conflicts (rather than operating from a reactive perspective) will benefit from more holistic thinking and creating new governance structures and mechanisms. There is work to do but the future of inland fisheries would benefit from such efforts.”

Broadening the lens for small-scale fisheries in Canada

This September, we are releasing two chapters from e-book, Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada, that help expand the research lens for Canadian small-scale fisheries. Both chapters encourage new thinking across different perspectives and contexts in pursuit of mutual understanding, including on the challenges and opportunities for small-scale fisheries solutions.

The first chapter, Indigenous Feminism and the Sea, is a conversation between Drs. Christine Knott and Dr. Sherry Pictou. For the podcast, Fishy Feminist, Knott sat down with Pictou to discuss how Indigenous feminist frameworks offer insight into the oceans, coastal communities, blue economies, and small-scale fisheries. The conversation is a deep and thoughtful journey across time, cultures, and political and economic structures. Knott and Pictou confront biases and assumptions while they discuss the decolonization of the ocean through Indigenous feminist thinking. Using this line of thinking, Dr. Pictou shares many reflections on the status of Indigenous women in a just and sustainable ocean. For example, she shared about cultural renewal:

[W]e have this long history here in Mi’kma’ki. We were whale hunters at one point. We know we have stories that are based on the ocean. And about sea serpents. We have creation stories that are based on the ocean. And women have been involved in most of these in some way or form. How do we rescue those? What are the teachings in there?

The second chapter, Echoes: Newfoundland Output Fisheries and Indigenous Traditions, reflects on the similarities and contrasts across cultural traditions in small-scale fisheries. Barry Darby and Helen Forsey boldly and thoughtfully share their observations about how to advance the “long-term health of the marine environment and the fisheries that depend on it”. The authors highlight prospects in harnessing small-scale fisheries solutions that exist in the echoes between Newfoundland outport fisheries and Indigenous Traditions. The authors argue:

As we embark on our voyage of change, hope lies in using the marks of Indigenous and outport past to set a course based in respect and reciprocity, to navigate safely and to harvest honourably on the stormy waters of the future, listening through the fog for the echoes that can tell us how.

Over the upcoming months, we will be releasing other chapters from the e-book in preparation for an official book launch. The e-book brings together over 100 authors from across Canada to share stories, perspectives, and research about small-scale fisheries in this country. There are contributors from small-scale fishing communities, civil society, government, and academia. The book will illustrate the diversity of  small-scale fisheries in provinces and territories across  Canada, including what they are and how they are doing. The diverse authorship sets a foundation for exciting opportunities for collaboration. The authors will demonstrate that small-scale fisheries in Canada exist and that they matter to communities on the coasts, rivers’ edges, by the lakes, and everything in between. Importantly, e-book shows that Canadian small-scale fisheries are not a problem. These fisheries successfully navigate the complex and uncertain challenges of social-ecological changes in aquatic systems and their governance. They are, and they offer, key solutions for a range of issues challenging governance of aquatic systems across this country.

Contributor: Evan J. Andrews
Andrews BIO (1)

Evan Andrews is a scientist working at the intersections of governance, social-ecological change, and transdisciplinarity, largely in the contexts for small-scale fisheries. He is the lead editor of Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada and co-founder of SSF-Can. He has a PhD in Social and Ecological Sustainability. Currently, he is a Senior Research Fellow in Too Big To Ignore: A Global Partnership for Small-Scale Fisheries Research and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I, both based at Memorial University.

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