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Guidelines for small-scale fisheries


Organizations in the Terra Madre network and fishers involved in the Slow Fish campaign participated in a workshop on the FAO's voluntary guidelines for small-scale fisheries, in Copenhagen in March. Brian O'Riordan from the ICSF explains why these guidelines should be applied to small-scale fisheries in the EU.


Here are notes for the Copenhagen Workshop (Copenhagen, March 22, 2012), by Brian O'Riordan, Secretary of ICSF Belgium Office.




Small-scale fisheries in the European Union are highly diverse, and according to how they are defined, range from relatively intensive, high tech, semi-industrial operations, to very low tech, artisanal operations conducted from vessels, or on foot. This diversity is reflected in a plethora of definitions and terms, and in the wide variety of fisheries activities carried out in the open sea, inter-tidal areas, estuaries, salt and fresh water lagoons, and inland in rivers, lakes and other water bodies.


Likewise the fishery chain includes direct linkages with the high tech processing and marketing industries associated with the large retail outlets, as well as with small-scale, artisanal processing, marketing and retail sectors.


For the sea going fishing operations, under 12 metre vessels using gears that are not towed (i.e. non trawl operations), account for 40% of the employment and 80% of the vessels of the EU's fishing fleets. 91% of these vessels are owned singly. 50% Europe's small-scale marine fishery activities are found in the Mediterranean, 30% in the West Atlantic (mainly France, Spain, Portugal and UK), and 20% in the North Sea, Baltic etc.


In several countries (including Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, and France) inland fisheries represents an important sub sector, and in yet others (including France and Spain) beach based operations, where shellfish gathering and small scale shellfish aquaculture represent important activities carried out by women.


There are several reasons why the Voluntary Guidelines for Small-Scale Fisheries are relevant and should be applied to small-scale fisheries in the EU. These include:

  • Strategic socio-economic importance of small scale fisheries, especially in the EU's most remote regions;
  • The low environmental impact and low carbon footprint characteristics of some fisheries are important aspects to develop;
  • Small-scale fisheries are vulnerable to competition from other resource users, and fishworkers in the small-scale sector are marginalised in the policy decision-taking and management processes;
  • The high opportunity costs in many communities that would be incurred should they be lost;
  • The good practices and systems for self governance/ co-management developed by many small-scale fisheries make an important contribution to the sustainability of the fisheries sector;
  • There are important cultural traditions and local knowledge that need valorising and defending;
  • In many ways, small-scale fisheries in the EU are not so different from small-scale fisheries in the South.


ICSF's work over the last 3 years has highlighted that small scale fisheries in Europe tend to be undervalued and underrepresented, in that there is a dearth of information relating to their activities, and a lack of understanding about their value. So too, they tend to be under represented and marginalised in the decision taking processes.


Small-scale fisheries can be "viable, sustainable, and with a promising future, if given fair treatment and due recognition", concluded an ICSF organized workshop in September 2009. The October 2011 Ocean 2012 statement on "Scale Matters and Quality Counts highlights that "when it comes to putting European Union fisheries on a more sustainable footing, and that if treated fairly, managed responsibly and given well defined and protected fishing access, small scale low impact coastal fishery activities have the potential to deliver healthy fisheries and sustainable livelihoods over the long-term.

The Voluntary Guidelines for Small-Scale Fisheries have a role to play in this regard. The guidelines could also assist in making the European Common Fisheries Policy more coherent with regards to small-scale fisheries. For example, provisions such as mandatory Transferable Fishing Concessions and a discard ban could have serious negative effects on small-scale fisheries, which would undermine the provisions of the new financial instrument intended to provide some positive discrimination for the sector.

Characterization of small-scale fisheries in the EU


As in other parts of the world, small-scale fisheries in Europe have evolved in time and space from specific ecological, and changing socioeconomic and cultural contexts, which are marked by diversity rather than homogeneity.


Any discussion on small-scale fisheries must therefore reckon with the fact that there is a definitional challenge. Definitions are not universally applicable and that which may be called small-scale in one situation may be large or medium-scale in another, artisanal in one situation may be considered semi-industrial in another.


There are various ways to define small-scale fisheries and the process of developing and applying the Voluntary Guidelines for Small-Scale Fisheries needs to take this, and the heterogeneity of small-scale fisheries into account.


Meeting in Brussels in September 2009, representatives from EU small-scale fisheries stated that:

"Defining small-scale fisheries should be done and applied at the most appropriate level, be it regional, national or local. Such definitions should take account of regional particularities and geomorphology, technical aspects (fishing capacity), environmental aspects (selectivity, low discards, low seabed impact, low energy use etc), social aspects (decent work, high degree of benefit sharing, and links with local shore based activities and local employment, and the ownership and control of the operations)."


Across Europe, there are many terms and definitions applied to small-scale fisheries. Whilst the anglophone world tends to prefer "small-scale", other language groups and cultures prefer "artisanal". So too across the language groups terms such as "inshore" and "coastal" are often used synonymously with small scale and artisanal.


For example, in the UK, for fishery management purposes, a line is drawn at 10 metres. The French perhaps have the most detailed and comprehensive system to define and categorize artisanal fisheries. At least 4 terms (5 including "petits métiers") are used to describe fisheries that are broadly classified as "artisanal", where the common factor is that the vessel owner must also be the vessel operator.

The French use the following classification.

  • La pêche à pied professionnelle (professional fishers who fish on foot)
  • La petite pêche ("little fisheries"), that fish on the tide, or up to 24 hours, generally in vessels less than 12 metres, and generally by the « petits métiers » (small-scale activities using fixed or non-towed gears) ;
  • La pêche côtière (coastal fisheries) using vessels up to 16 metres and spending up to 4 days at sea. Includes small trawlers.
  • La pêche hauturière (off-shore fishing) using vessels up to 25 metres, mainly trawlers.

In Spain at least 4 terms are used:

  • Pesca de bajura (coastal or inshore fisheries), generally fishing within 12 miles and spending less than 24 hours at sea. It may be carried out in relatively large vessels (up to 18 metres or more), although the majority will be relatively small in size (12 metres and under);
  • Pesca artisanal (artisanal fishing), very similar to the above;
  • Marisqueo and Pesca a Pié (shellfish fishery and fishing on foot) are considered artisanal, and as in France, women workers comprise an important segment of the sector;
  • Artes menores (passive gears) is a term similar to the term "petites métiers" used in France.

In other countries yet other definitions are used.

Small-scale fisheries activities also include:

  • inland fishery activities;
  • providing inputs in support of the fishery activities (gear makers, net riggers etc);
  • post harvest handling, processing and trading activities;
  • family members, notably the "collaborative spouses", who take care of the small fishing enterprises whilst the fishermen are at sea.


But before we try to define small-scale fisheries we need to establish why we want to define it. Such reasons would include:

a) What characteristics of small scale fisheries meet fisheries policies objectives; and
b) What makes the sector different from a fisheries management perspective?


For the purposes of fishery policy objectives, we can classify as small-scale fisheries activities those which have:

  • A low environmental impact, relatively small carbon foot print;
  • An important positive socio-economic impact, with a high opportunity cost if lost;
  • Important cultural traditions;
  • High level of skills and knowledge that should not be lost


For the purposes of fisheries management, we can identify those forms of fishing that readily lend themselves to systems of community-based co-management.


In this regard, there are at least 3 or 4 broad sets of characteristics that need to be looked at:

  • Structural characteristics - size and/or capacity of vessel (vessel length, tonnage or HP/Kw); kind of gear used;
  • Territory/ range: location of fishing grounds - distance from shore, time at sea;
  • Socio-economic criteria: kinship/ community relations between crew; system for sharing the benefits (remuneration, catch and profits); size and structure of the capital of the fishery enterprise, nature of undertaking - cooperative, private owner, family based, joint venture etc);
  • Other criteria (e.g. seasonal diversity (of species and gears), traditional practices (closed seasons, closed areas, co-management arrangements etc.)


Yet another way to look at small-scale fisheries is the degree to which they are industrialised, or mechanised; the degree to which they are artisanal, semi-industrial or industrial.

Recently the EC proposed that, for the purposes of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, and as regards the use of European fisheries funds, marine small scale fishing activities should be defined as those using:

  • vessels under 12 metres in length, and
  • non-towed gears (i.e. non trawler fleet).


But, however small-scale fisheries are defined, definitions need to be practicable and operational.


The definition offered here by the EC may be very practical, based as it is on only two criteria (vessel length and kind of gear (non-trawl)), but it is too limited in scope to take account of regional and local heterogeneity, and is inadequate for fishery management purposes at regional and local level.


Whilst it may be appropriate that there is an EU level definition, it needs to include a greater appreciation of regional heterogeneity, with some flexibility built in so as to allow for best fit, according to regional specificities. However small-scale fisheries are defined at EU level, it needs to include provisions that enable it to be applied in ways that make sense at regional and local level. For example, there could be some flexibility on vessel length and gear, taking into account of horse power (below 250 hp), or whether activities using towed gears haul the gear and power the vessel using manual power or sail.


Fisheries management in the EU


In order to understand how the Voluntary Guidelines for Small-Scale Fisheries could be applied in Europe, it is important to understand how they could be applied at both EU and Member State level.


First of all, the European Union fisheries policy, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) only deals with marine fisheries. Inland fisheries, and fisheries activities carried out in estuaries, lagoons, in the intertidal zones or from the beach, fall under the jurisdiction of member states.


Member States also have special jurisdictional rights over the 12 mile zone, where the bulk of small-scale fishery activities are carried out.


For this reason and other reasons, it may be argued that small-scale fisheries are a subsector that is best dealt with at Member State level, as regards defining it, managing it, and as regards the policy decision taking processes that govern it. It may also be argued that differentiating between small and large-scale fisheries makes for artificial boundaries that restrict the dynamic nature of the fisheries sector as a whole, thereby creating tensions and causing conflicts.


These issues certainly merit some debate, but in the past small-scale fisheries have tended to be neglected, and in many cases this has led to their marginalization and demise. A differentiated approach is not about creating artificial boundaries between small and large-scale fisheries. Both small and large-scale fisheries are dynamic sectors, and there are synergies and overlap between them. Both need to be allowed to innovate and to respond to changing circumstances, and their respective fishing activities need to be managed according to their quite different characteristics and situations. But small-scale fisheries may require positive discrimination and protection measures against larger scale, higher impact, more intensive fishery activities, which can impact negatively on their fishing grounds, fishery activities and overall prospects.


In this regard, the Voluntary Guidelines for Small-Scale Fisheries are relevant.

When they accede to EU membership, EU Member States concede competence for fisheries management to the European Commission in waters within 200 miles (Community waters), and as regards international and third country waters for vessels registered in European States.


Marine fisheries is an exclusive competence of the 7 EU institutions, the main ones being:

  • The Council of (Member States) Fisheries Ministers (legislative and executive functions - most power is centred here);
  • The European Commission (delegated executive, legislative and quasi-judicial functions); and increasingly through "co-decision";
  • The European Parliament (some legislative and executive functions)


Other important EU institutions include the:

  • European Court of Auditors (financial/ budgetary audit functions;
  • European Court of Justice (judicial functions);


The EU's law making procedure is complex, but in a general sense "the Commission proposes, and the Council disposes".


From the point of view of the Guidelines, at EU level they will therefore apply exclusively to marine fisheries. For inland fisheries and shore based fisheries activities, the Guidelines will apply at Member State level.


The Guidelines may also have relevance for EU fisheries in international and third country waters as these may affect small-scale fisheries outside EU jurisdiction.


As far as deciding on whether or not, and if so how the Guidelines should apply to fisheries in the EU, for marine fisheries the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Fisheries Ministers are the most important bodies.


As far as inland and close to shore fisheries are concerned, it is the Member States' Governments who are the deciders.


Issues of relevance in the Guidelines for Small-scale fisheries in Europe


1. Sustaining livelihoods, sustaining employment, sustaining communities, sustaining maritime traditions and culture.


In Europe there are no fishery dependent communities. If a fisherman loses his job, there is a system of social security that can provide unemployment benefit, retraining grants etc.
However, if fishery activities are lost from coastal communities, there may be few alternative employment opportunities, and so a big opportunity cost.

Along with the loss of small-scale fishery activities, there is also the loss of the skills, traditions, knowledge and culture that comprise the social fabric of communities.

It is therefore important to recognize and defend small-scale fisheries as a unique sector, that could make an important contribution to the sustainability of EU's fisheries.


2. Promoting good governance and best practice.


In many parts of Europe, small-scale fishworkers have engaged in a variety of responsible fisheries activities, geared towards establishing best practice for their activities under co-management arrangements. Such initiatives include those undertaken by the Prud'hommes de Pêche in the French Mediterranean, the marine reserves established by the fishing communities of Lira and Cedeira in North Spain, the Restinga Marine Reserve (El Hierero - Canary Islands, Mar de las Calmas, Spain), the engagement of French fishermen's organizations in the management of the Iroise National Park in West France, Bay of Biscay selective langoustine/nephrops trawl fishery, and the Mid Channel Agreement between France, UK and Belgium, and the Inshore Potting Agreement in Devon.


3. Small scale fisheries in Europe tend to be marginalised in decision taking processes


When it comes to participating in CFP decision taking processes, small-scale fisheries face many constraints and disadvantages, which need to be addressed in the regionalization process. These include:

  • Many small scale fisheries operators are not-affiliated to formally recognized organizations or associations, and so have no channels through which to participate;
  • Associations and organizations to which small scale fishworkers belong to are often not incorporated into structures that are recognized at EU level (such as POs, enterprise associations such as Europêche, or trade unions such as ETF etc.);
  • When they do belong to such associations, their interests are often not treated with the same priority as larger scale interests.


Both space and an enabling environment are required for small-scale fisheries to establish and develop representative and organizational structures.


The Voluntary Guidelines for Small-Scale Fisheries would be relevant in this regard. They are relevant both at EU level for framing policy, and at national level for informing management decisions.





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