Joint Press Release: Small-Scale Fishers Call for Global Leaders to Act Now on Oceans at UN Ocean Conference

  • Small-scale fisheries are small in name only. Half a billion people – 7% of the global population – are at least partly dependent on them for food, employment and income. They are the largest group of ocean users, have contributed the least to the ocean emergency, and are among the most affected by it. Yet their needs, roles and rights are often ignored, and they are generally sidelined or excluded from major policy discussions that directly affect their lives and livelihoods.
  • The conference presents a critical opportunity to find a more equitable approach to managing the world’s oceans and to enshrine human rights in the UN’s aim to “mobilise action and start a new chapter of global ocean action”.

Small-scale fishers are the largest group of ocean users on the planet, and their fisheries provide food or income to half a billion people. Yet in decision-making processes, their needs often come second to large corporate interests, and they are generally excluded from policy decisions that disproportionately affect their lives and livelihoods. 

Without solid action now, the Lisbon conference threatens to further undermine community interests. UNOC’s final draft declaration, entitled ‘Our ocean, our future, our responsibility’, fails to recognise the vast contribution that small-scale fisheries make to food security, employment, income and ocean protection and even endorses initiatives that may undermine this vital role. The declaration emphasises the intention to ‘develop and promote innovative financing solutions to drive the transformation to sustainable ocean-based economies’. But we don’t see  how proposed initiatives could benefit coastal and fishing communities.  

Sweeping proclamations urging global ocean action’ are meaningless if they fail to ensure inclusion of the biggest group of ocean users. This is why we are calling on decision-makers to involve coastal communities and small-scale fishers’ organisations more in important decision-making spaces like UNOC, and to adopt a human rights-based approach to marine conservation. We want to see development policies that prioritise support for small-scale fisheries in UNOC discussions and declaration, and beyond. 

Small-scale fishers from five continents have launched a global call to action to ensure their voices are heard by decision-makers at UNOC. They are asking governments and world leaders to protect and increase support for small-scale fisheries.

They are calling on decision-makers to:

  • Urgently secure preferential access and increase co-management of coastal areas
  • Guarantee and promote the participation of women in fisheries 
  • Protect small-scale fisheries from competing blue economy sectors
  • Increase transparency and accountability in fisheries management
  • Increase support to communities, especially young people, to deal with the consequences of climate change

Join our UNOC side-event

Small-scale fishers from Africa, America, Asia, the Pacific and Europe, who represent more than 30 organisations, invite you to a breakfast event on 28 June, to launch a small-scale-fisher global declaration calling for world leaders at UNOC to act now. Join this event: A call to action from artisanal fishing communities, vital users of the oceans, in person or online (just click to join meeting or add to calendar here), and hear the voices of the least represented group of ocean users at UNOC, who are the most affected by its outcomes.

Quotes from small-scale fishers representatives:

Gaoussou Gueye, President of CAOPA (Senegal): 

“We are concerned about the marginalisation of small-scale fisheries within the blue economy strategies of our countries. We cannot survive if we have to compete with powerful, polluting, and environmentally destructive sectors in the marine and coastal environment. In the face of this threat, we call on governments to adopt a precautionary approach, and to say, ‘do not give the green light to a destructive blue economy!’”

Micheline Dion Somplehi, President of the Union of Women Fish processors cooperatives USCOFEPCI (Cote d’Ivoire/Ivory Coast):

“Artisanal fishing is as much about women as men. But their contribution is often invisible, while their working conditions are disastrous. It is essential that governments make a visible and sustained commitment to recognising them as key players in the fishing industry, who are at the origin of many innovations that enable better use of our resources for the benefit of our populations. For this to happen, women must have access to financing, fish resources and social well-being. It is under these conditions that we will be able to protect these oceans, which are the lifeblood of our existence.”

Alhafiz Atsari, KNTI (Indonesia): 

“Small-scale fishers (SSF) are forced to live with giants. The giants are fishing vessels using destructive fishing gear, such as bottom trawlers. They take up a lot of space. They are greedy and reckless. And they destroy everything in the ocean. These destructive giants are colonial products that were introduced to Indonesia on the assumption that SSF are unable to produce and process fish efficiently. SSF are powerless to confront them nor chase them away. We are forced to live with them.”

David Chacon Rojas: President of CoopeTarcoles R.L. (Costa Rica) 

“Where there is hunger there is no conservation”

Maria Carrillo: Coordinator from the Women Shrimp Processors Association in Barra del Colorado (Costa Rica)

“It seems that we women from the coasts and seas, and our work, are invisible to the world”


Quotes from supporting organisations: 

Annie Tourette, Head of Advocacy at Blue Ventures (Global): 

“Small-scale fishers employ more people than all other sectors of the ocean economy combined.They are the group most affected by ocean governance decisions, but are excluded from many policy discussions Coastal communities and small-scale fishers do not have a seat at the decision-making table, but are far from being  passive victims of the ecological and climate emergencies. They are frontline defenders of nature and biodiversity, and the world leaders need to listen to them now.”

Beatrice Gorez, Coordinator for CFFA (Global): 

“With the focus of UNOC being on innovation, the final conference statement should recognise the effective innovations, based on local and traditional knowledge, introduced by small-scale fishing communities, to tackle key challenges such as improving fisheries management and conservation, improving working and living conditions, accessing good quality raw material, or making better use of renewable energy, particularly for fish processing activities. These innovations are helping coastal fisheries dependent communities to become more resilient.”

Vivienne Solis Rivera, CoopeSoliDar R.L. (Costa Rica)

“Small-scale fisheries are threatened strongly by the blue economy movement that concentrates interest on the economics of marine resources. Small-scale fisheries are a way of life and they need an integral perspective that needs to go beyond economics to be able to survive. The world will remember this when people will reach a market and fish will not be there.”

Dr Hugh Govan, Adviser Advocacy and Policy, the LMMA Network (Global): 

“The theme of the conference is innovation. What would actually be innovative is governments and donors recognising the important role that coastal fishing communities already play, not only in feeding the world, but in managing these vital resources and habitats. Examples of communities managing fisheries resources and coastal ecosystems in collaboration with governments are increasing across the globe. But what is urgently needed is far more commitment and ambition from governments to recognise and protect the rights of these forgotten millions from the impacts of industrial fishing and unbridled development.”


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Thailand’s small-scale fisheries are the cornerstone of social, economic and nutritional health for the communities living along the majority of the country’s nearly 3,000 kilometre coastline.
In the southernmost Trang province we are supporting communities reliant on nearshore fisheries − in particular for crab, shrimp and squid − in partnership with the Save Andaman Network (SAN).

We’re providing training and tools to aid organisational development, community led fisheries monitoring and management, and building community-owned social enterprises that fund and sustain local conservation efforts.


Since 2016, our work in Timor-Leste has evolved into a dynamic movement supporting community led marine management and coastal livelihood diversification in Asia’s newest country. From our origins on Atauro Island, considered to harbour amongst the highest levels of marine biodiversity on earth, we’re now working with numerous communities on the island and the mainland to ensure that local communities have access to diverse sustainable livelihood options to relieve fishing pressure on critical coral reefs and seagrass ecosystems.

We’re engaging communities in monitoring the relatively unexplored marine biodiversity of Timor-Leste, and managing local marine resources through customary local laws known as Tara Bandu. Alongside our community conservation efforts, we have pioneered Timor-Leste’s first homestay association, which now provides a consistent income from visiting ecotourists and sparked interest in replication by a mainland community. Using homestays as a hub, communities are well placed to host learning exchanges, training events, and act as an outreach platform to engage and inspire communities in fisheries management and livelihood diversification. Exchanges have led to communities of best practice and strengthened associations, and the opportunity to establish a formal network throughout the country.

Our team in Timor-Leste’s capital Dili works closely with government, civil society organisations and NGO partners.


Like its neighbours within the Northern Mozambique Channel marine biodiversity hotspot, Tanzania harbours some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the Indian Ocean.  These habitats are facing unprecedented challenges from overfishing and climate change.

Our Tanzanian team has worked with communities and local organisations to support locally-led marine conservation since 2016.  Our work has expanded from Zanzibar to mainland regions of Tanga, Lindi and Kilwa where our technicians work with local partners to help communities strengthen co-management systems, working through beach management units (BMUs), Shehia Fishing Committees (SFCs) marine parks and Collaborative Fisheries Management Areas (CFMAs).

Our partners Mwambao Coastal Community Network, and Sea Sense have spearheaded a remarkable acceleration in the uptake of community-based fisheries management and conservation in recent years, notably through the use of short term fisheries closures to catalyse broader community conservation.


With one of Africa’s longest coastlines, Somalia’s diverse marine environment supports enormously productive coastal and offshore fisheries.  Decades of conflict have undermined the country’s capacity for fisheries management, with many foreign industrial vessels fishing with impunity, and little regard for the critical importance of Somalia’s coastal fisheries for local livelihoods and food security. 

A period of relative political and social stability unprecedented in recent decades is now presenting new opportunities to address past challenges, and to realise the considerable opportunities that well-managed coastal fisheries and conservation can offer Somalia. We are forging partnerships with community organisations in Somalia to build their capacity and skills to help coastal communities manage their fisheries for food security, livelihoods and conservation.


The Philippines forms part of the ‘coral triangle’ epicentre of global marine biodiversity, with unparalleled diversity of marine species. Over half of the country’s 107 million people (55.6%) live in rural areas, and approximately three quarters depend on agriculture or fisheries as their primary source of livelihoods.

With our local partner People and the Sea, we are working in the eastern Visayas to support coastal communities to establish locally led marine conservation and fisheries management efforts underpinned by participatory data systems that put evidence in the hands of communities.

Papua New Guinea

The largest country in the Western Pacific Region, Papua New Guinea‘s coral reefs and mangroves are among the most diverse and extensive in the world. Papua New Guinea has a long history of traditional approaches for fisheries management, and huge unmet marine conservation needs.

We have been supporting our local partner Eco Custodian Advocates since 2019 in Milne Bay, notable for its vast mangrove forests and coral reefs. We are now expanding this support to other local organisations in Papua New Guinea, focused on supporting the establishment of customary LMMAs that provide locally relevant approaches to community led fishery management built upon local cultural traditions.


Indonesia comprises almost 17,500 islands stretching across three time zones. This archipelagic nation has the longest coastline − and the largest coastal fisheries resource − of any country on Earth. Ninety five percent of Indonesia’s seafood production comes from small-scale fisheries, which are underpinned by the most biodiverse marine ecosystem on Earth, known as the Coral Triangle.

In Indonesia, Blue Ventures’ partner Yayasan Pesisir Lestari, based in Bali, works with locally-based organisations Forkani, Yayasan LINI, Yapeka, Yayasan Planet Indonesia, Foneb, Komanangi, JARI, Yayasan Tananua Flores, Baileo, AKAR, Japesda, Yayasan Mitra Insani and Yayasan Hutan Biru.

These partners support community-based approaches to coral reef and mangrove conservation at 22 sites across seven provinces. Interventions are customised to each context − the local fisheries, community stakeholders, seafood supply chains, legal frameworks and customary traditions governing fisheries management and conservation.

Since 2019 we have brought these partners together within a peer learning network of Indonesian organisations specialised in supporting community-based marine conservation. The network is based around the shared values of the organisations, including a commitment to promote the rights of traditional fishing communities in conservation. Seventeen of the sites represented in this group are enacting local marine management through customary management regimes and traditions. This group, largely comprising sites in Eastern Indonesia, provides an important opportunity to share learning in traditional marine and fisheries management practices.

In West Kalimantan and East Sumatra we’re supporting mangrove-dependent coastal communities to integrate mangrove fishery and forestry management, alongside activities to develop alternative livelihoods or upgrade existing livelihoods. In North Sulawesi we’re supporting the development of community-owned ecotourism businesses, such as homestays, that diversify local livelihoods and place further value on protected and healthy marine ecosystems. Across our work in Indonesia, where partner communities have an unmet need for healthcare, we’re supporting the integration of health improvement activities into our interventions.

Find out more


We continue to work in India with our long term partner the Dakshin Foundation. We are collaborating in three distinct locations; the archipelago of Lakshadweep, coastal regions of Odisha and the Andaman Islands.

Overfishing has led to a reduction in fish catches, challenging the future of many traditional fishing communities.

Our partnership is working to build the capacity of communities to manage coastal fisheries,  and improve the health of fishing communities, for the long-term wellbeing of both the communities and their fishing grounds.


Kenya’s coast supports an extraordinary diversity of tropical marine and coastal habitats.  These  waters are threatened by a proliferation of destructive fishing practices and over-harvesting within the artisanal and commercial fishing sectors.

Our approach in Kenya focuses on strengthening Beach Management Units (BMUs) to improve fisheries management.  Since 2016 our Mombasa-based technical team has provided support, mentoring and assistance to local partners including Pate Marine Community Conservancy (PMCC), Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and Coastal and Marine Resource Development (COMRED).

These partnerships have seen notable achievements in community led fisheries management and conservation, including training and mentoring BMU leaders in eighteen communities in Kwale and Lamu Counties.


The Comoros islands are located in the northern Mozambique Channel, a region home to the world’s second highest marine biodiversity after the Coral Triangle. This globally important biodiversity underpins coastal livelihoods and food security, but is at risk from climate change and overexploitation of inshore fisheries.

We have maintained a permanent presence supporting locally led marine conservation and fisheries management in Comoros since 2015, providing support to local partners, governmental institutions and communities.

On Anjouan, the second largest and most densely populated island in the Comoros archipelago, we work closely with national NGO Dahari. Our partnership has developed a replicable blueprint for community-based marine management, which has seen the creation of the country’s first locally managed marine areas − including temporary and permanent marine closures − designed to safeguard the coral reef ecosystems underpinning the archipelago’s coastal economy.

This approach, which is expanding rapidly across the Comoros, is also demonstrating the importance of inclusive conservation in empowering women − through local women’s fisheries associations − to play a leading role in fisheries monitoring and decision making.

On neighbouring island of Moheli and the french island of Mayotte, we’re supporting the Moheli National Park and the Mayotte Marine Natural Park with efforts to strengthen community engagement in fisheries management and conservation.


Belize’s marine environment encompasses some of the most important marine ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea, including vast coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass ecosystems. We have maintained a permanent presence in Belize since 2010, supporting diverse fisheries and conservation efforts from our base in Sarteneja, Belize’s largest fishing community.  

We work in close partnership with the Belize Fisheries Department, MPA managers, fishing cooperatives and fishers’ associations, and are actively involved in promoting the establishment of a national scale domestic fishery for invasive lionfish.  We’ve worked with coastal stakeholders to develop a national strategy for lionfish management, including launching the National Lionfish Working Group.  

We’ve led a ten year MPA monitoring and evaluation programme in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, and provide training in coral reef monitoring methods to six MPA authorities in Belize, including helping establish management targets for Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Belize’s largest MPA. 

Our team supports community-based fisheries and conservation groups across the country to ensure local interests are mainstreamed in the design and implementation of marine conservation and fisheries management, improving the effectiveness of co-management of conservation areas.


Our Mozambican team has worked with communities to develop locally led approaches to fisheries management and marine conservation since 2015.

Our approach is focused on supporting and strengthening local organisations and Community Fisheries Councils (CCPs) to better understand their local fisheries, make informed management decisions to rebuild fisheries, and assess the impact of management actions.  This work is developed in close collaboration with our partners Oikos- Cooperação e Desenvolvimento in Nampula province and African Parks in Inhambane province.

Ongoing security challenges have devastated many coastal communities and emerging marine conservation efforts in several areas of Cabo Delgado, where our work is regrettably now on hold.

As in Madagascar, given extremely high levels of coastal poverty and a pervasive lack of access to basic services, alongside our work in conservation we facilitate partnerships with specialist health providers, through an integrated health-environment approach.


Blue Ventures’ journey began in Madagascar in 2003, and we’ve been supporting communities in marine conservation across the country ever since. We have five regional field programmes along Madagascar’s west coast, as well as regional offices in the towns of Toliara, Morondava and Ambanja.  Our national headquarters is located in the capital Antananarivo.

Across all these sites we support communities with the establishment of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), and work with government partners to secure national recognition for community conservation initiatives.  First developed in Madagascar by Blue Ventures in 2006, the LMMA concept has since been replicated by communities at hundreds of sites over thousands of kilometres of coastline, now covering almost one fifth of Madagascar’s inshore seabed.  Our research in Madagascar has demonstrated globally important evidence of the benefits of LMMAs to fisheries and conservation.

Our work focuses on strengthening community institutions in marine management and governance, and pioneering new approaches to catalyse community engagement in ocean conservation.  These innovations have included establishing the world’s first community-based sea cucumber farms and the country’s first mangrove blue carbon project.

At the national level, we have incubated the MIHARI network, now an independent civil society platform that brings together 219 LMMA sites across the country and 25 supporting conservation partner organisations.  Our policy team is also actively involved in advocating for more robust legislation to safeguard the rights and interests of fishing communities, and to remove destructive industrial fishing from coastal waters.

Given the lack of basic services in remote coastal regions in Madagascar, we also help communities access basic healthcare through training and supporting women to serve as community health workers. We do not replace government health systems, but work to strengthen existing structures in close collaboration with government health actors and specialist NGOs.  We also incubate Madagascar’s national health-environment network, which brings together 40 partner organisations to address the health needs of communities living in areas of conservation importance across the country.