Economic Freedom
REELING IN SUSTAINABILITY: Three Experts Weigh in on the Promotion of Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries through the G20

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The concept of sustainability is often framed as a vague and open-ended goal. Within the context of fisheries and aquaculture, the need for sustainability has become increasingly apparent through global food, health, and diet challenges.

But what does sustainability look like for fisheries?

Three panelists weighed in on how small-scale fisheries can play a significant role in the sustainability movement. Hosted by the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), the Think20 (T20) side event entitled “Promoting Sustainable Fisheries through the G20” brought together Michael Arbuckle– T20 co-chair Task Force 4 and independent fisheries expert, Ratih Ananda Putri– Programme Coordinator Business and Human Rights for the Foundation for International Human Rights Reporting Standards, and Dessy Anggraeni– Indonesia Program Director for the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Asia Pacific. The event highlights recommendations for G20 summit leaders, which will be hosted in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022. 

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The Importance of Sustainable Seafood

Anggraeni and Arbuckle began their discussions by defining key concepts involved in the sustainable fishing movement. 

Anggraeni defined sustainable seafood as seafood that is caught or farmed through methods that (1) secure the long-term vitality of ocean species, (2) promote a healthy ocean ecosystem, and (3) promote the wellbeing and livelihood of fisheries-dependent communities and their workers. 

Arbuckle defined blue foods as foods that encompass any edible aquatic organism, including algae. During his discussion, he argued that blue foods have been largely overlooked and deserve more attention than they have received. Because blue foods provide roughly 17% of global animal protein and are a rich source of bioavailable minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids, blue foods can make a major contribution to global health and diet challenges. Blue food production systems are highly diverse with global reach and can be climate-friendly if local production and distribution are fostered. This is where small-scale fisheries come into play.  

The Significance of Small-Scale Fisheries

Small-scale fisheries can positively contribute to global food security, the livelihoods of those in the industry, and consumers. 

Small-scale fisheries provide significant global employment opportunities. Arbuckle highlighted that small-scale fisheries directly provide 37 million people with jobs and 100 million with jobs indirectly. According to Anggraeni, 90-95% of all small-scale catch is meant for human consumption, and small-scale fisheries are responsible for 40% of the global fish catch. 

However, small-scale fisheries face plenty of challenges in achieving sustainable practices. Governmental regulation, mismanagement, a lack of cooperation, and human rights issues create barriers for fisheries to improve their practices. 

Hurdles to Overcome

Overcoming the challenges to reaching sustainability exist on every level. Local fishers often work under an array of human rights violations and lack protection. Regional and national policies often conflict, creating confusion and mismanagement; this creates an environment for noncompliance and confusion. Globally, transnational organizations often have difficulty creating cooperative agreements that countries will ratify. 

Arbuckle underscored an issue in value chain activity. Small-scale actors cannot effectively participate or benefit from value chain activity due to being under-protected. This occurs due to deficits in several areas, including infrastructure, technical capacity, and long-term environmental planning. Additionally, unsupportive and conflicting local, regional, and national policies on natural resource management further complicate this process.

The challenge is connecting more small-scale fishers to the value chain without compromising food security.

Putri brought to light the ongoing human rights and labor violations in the fishing industry, including modern-day slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking. In Southeast Asia, an estimated 17,000 fishers can be classified as enslaved. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices contribute to further human rights violations. These issues persist due to the non-ratification of key conventions, unharmonized overlapping authority, and difficulty monitoring vessels at sea. 

“Human rights are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Simply put, a development path in which human rights are not respected and protected cannot be sustainable and would render the notion of sustainable development meaningless.”


-       The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights [Ratih Ananda Putri’s Presentation]

Anggraeni took a transnational approach by arguing that internationally recognized sustainability tools are complex for small-scale fishers to attain. There is a weak demand for responsibly sourced and sustainable seafood in developing regions. Inaccessibility and unaffordability further complicate this process. A lack of education surrounding responsible and sustainable seafood adds another hurdle to the global sustainability effort.

Despite the shortcomings and barriers to change, the fishing industry has made great strides within the past decade to reform unfavorable practices. 

Steps Forward

Putri presented Indonesia’s response to ongoing human rights violations in the country’s fishing industry. The Presidential Task Force to Combat Illegal Fishing through the Presidential Decree was established to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. There have also been a series of national regulations established that have led to increased cooperation. 

While efforts in Indonesia have been established, governmental bodies and private parties are still not on the same page. 

Anggraeni brought attention to the Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) and Aquaculture Improvement Project (AIP)– a multi-stakeholder effort that brings together buyers, suppliers, and producers to improve fisheries through improved management and policies. These efforts provide the necessary tools to provide a baseline for sustainable practices–practices that fisheries can slowly incorporate.  

G20 Recommendations

Global consolidation is needed to further the interests of several UN SDGs, foster sustainability in small-scale fisheries, and improve the livelihoods of fishers. A series of G20 recommendations were made by each panellist with these goals in mind. 

Arbuckle provides six recommendations, including (1) anchoring supply chains in an effective regulatory environment; (2) recognizing and protecting Indigenous and small-scale fishers’ interests in supply chain resource ownership; (3) investing in fishery and aquaculture supply chains and ensuring inclusive access to financing; (4) deploying integrated environmental planning and waste management to ensure biodiversity conservation; (5) ensuring social protection and employment opportunities for the actors and improving awareness of nutritional benefits to consumers; (6) and lastly, streamlining policy coordination across local, regional, and national levels.

According to Arbuckle, these recommendations are practical, economical, and attainable.

The improvement of labor conditions and the promotion of human rights was centrally important in Putri’s discussion, where she advocated for the advancement of policies to protect the rights of fishermen and for continuous engagement with workers. For fisheries, further development of human rights policies is required in addition to complying with preexisting human rights standards. For stockholders, investment decisions ought to be made with human rights in mind. For consumers, refusal to buy products from fisheries that perpetuate human rights violations can incentivize fisheries to halt these harmful practices. 

Anggraeni concluded that small-scale fisheries need to make small strides forward, such as aiming toward “responsibly-sourced seafood” to act as a starting point. While “responsibly sourced” and “sustainably sourced” seafood are not equal, they are interrelated. The term “responsibly sourced” encourages desirable behaviour that can eventually lead to sustainable fishing practices. 

Ironically enough, small-scale fishers have one of the biggest roles to play in efforts toward increasing sustainability. When managed and supported properly, small-scale fisheries can become key players in achieving global sustainability goals and become the solution to pressing food-related challenges. 

To watch the full panel discussion, click here

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Written by Keiran Ellis.

The Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS) is an independent, non-profit, and non-partisan think tank that advocates for practical policy reforms informed by evidence-based policy research and analysis. Find out more here