Scaling Holistic and Human Rights-Centered Approaches to Small-Scale Fisheries Sustainability

A new partnership to inclusively and equitably elevate and improve small-scale fisheries in three dozen countries

Panama City, Panama – March 3, 2023 — Three international organizations working in small-scale fisheries have come together to announce a new partnership to inclusively and equitably elevate and improve small-scale fisheries. The new partnership will combine the small-scale fisheries portfolios of Conservation International (CI), Ocean Outcomes (O2) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and will work to advance social, economic and environmental outcomes in those fisheries — in partnership with local fishery stakeholders and in line with the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines).

The first-of-its-kind partnership covers projects and programs in more than three dozen countries and will support tens of thousands of small-scale fisheries stakeholders through the development and implementation of social, economic and environmental improvements. Collectively, this partnership and its work represent one of the largest networks of small-scale fisheries initiatives on the planet. As part of the partnership, CI, O2 and WCS will use their collective reach and networks to work with, and in support of, small-scale fisheries stakeholders towards securing equitable, just and sustainable small-scale fisheries.

“Given our aligned values on holistic approaches to small-scale fisheries improvements that center around the human rights of fishers and fishworkers — and our global reach and strong in-country partnerships with fishing communities, governments and market actors — we feel that this collaboration can take our work to the next level,” said Elena Finkbeiner, Director of Coastal Community Fisheries for CI. “We really wish to use this partnership to unlock funding opportunities for small-scale fishing organizations and communities, and to ensure that programs and projects affecting and engaging small-scale fisheries and coastal communities reflect their needs, priorities and values.

Small-scale fishery

An estimated 120 million people work in small-scale fisheries — half are women

Small-scale fisheries play an increasingly vital role in ensuring food security and coastal community well-being around the world — in addition to being key to environmental conservation needs. An estimated 120 million people work in small-scale fisheries, 95% of whom live in ‘least developed countries’ where they play a particularly important role in providing food and livelihoods. Across small-scale fisheries, women play a critical but overlooked role: making up 50% of the workforce, they are vital to small-scale fisheries' ability to produce one sixth of the animal proteins consumed by humans globally.

But small-scale fisheries and the vital socio-economic systems they support are under threat and remain underserved, fragmented and difficult for investments in the sector to reach. Chronic and acute stressors impacting coastal communities and food production systems include climate change, competition with industrial fishing and other high-impact extractive activities, systemic insecurity, political disenfranchisement and economic marginalization, gender inequality, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With this MOU, we’re formalizing our longstanding collaboration for systematizing fisheries enhancement,” said Hoyt Peckham, who leads WCS’s Community Fisheries program. “Together we’ve built and tested technical systems for assessing fisheries’ performance and planning and monitoring their improvement and seen their effectiveness across a range of fisheries. We look forward now to deepening our partnerships with fishing rights holders and their organizations to ensure that our joint work equitably benefits people and the nature upon which we all depend. This is a humble start, with and for fishers and nature, and will begin with listening to and working with small-scale fisheries rights holders.”

Small-scale fishery

Providing direct financial and technical support for small-scale fisheries in-country

The new partnership will enable CI, O2 and WCS to innovate together on how best to directly support frontline community groups and fishers to develop and implement social, economic and environmental projects. Importantly, these projects will build sequentially on securing fishers’ human rights and tenure, fostering local and international governance and potentially co-developing value-aligned markets committed to equity and sustainability. Leveraging the new partnership’s capacity and reach to provide direct financial and technical support for small-scale fisheries in-country will help drive sustainable, locally-relevant and equitable impact in the sector.

“By building our projects around a holistic understanding of environmental, social and economic risks and opportunities, we can work with the fishing communities to co-identify needs and prioritize actions to address those needs. For example, one outcome in a project we are supporting in Costa Rica was increased collaboration between managers and users of officially designed fishing areas. Community users were actively engaged in updating the management plan of one of these areas, and they provided data to support the updates, so that the designated fishing areas were fit for purpose,” said Iván Martínez-Tovar, who leads O2’s work in Latin America.

CI, O2 and WCS are not only committed to advocating for and catalyzing change across small-scale fisheries, but also within their respective organizations — a core focus of the partnership will be to build on the human rights-based approach to our collective work, not only in their small-scale fisheries programs, but within each conservation institution at-large. As such, the partnership is committing to use the FAO’s SSF Guidelines and other relevant international human rights standards and codes of conduct throughout its work.

“Moving forward, we will seek to collaborate with other civil society organizations, both international and locally-based, to ensure this collaboration is as effective as possible,” added Elena. “We invite small-scale fisheries’ rights holders, local and provincial governments, and other stakeholders to engage us as allies to further elevate the needs, priorities, and values of small-scale fishing communities, the critical importance of the small-scale fishing sector for food and livelihood security and marine conservation, and to unlock funding opportunities at-scale.”

Additional Resources:

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Learn more about our small-scale fisheries work

Learn more about Conservation International (CI) at

Learn more about Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) at