Small-Scale Fisheries & Coastal Development

SSF Hub Presents: Small-Scale Fisheries as Part of the Blue Economy 


SSF Blue Economy
Photo: Huadang Lyu


On April 17th, 2023 the SSF Hub co-hosted a webinar in partnership with the COAST Foundation, National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO) and Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) to discuss the ways that small-scale fisheries are critical components of blue economy agendas and sustainable development projects. 

Blue economy agendas focus on sustainably leveraging oceanic resources for economic growth and include sustainable fishing, aquaculture, marine transport/infrastructure, offshore wind, and tourism.  Blue agendas’ emphasis on growth often neglects the existing role of small-scale fisheries in sustainable development. As a result, small-scale fisheries and their aquaculture operations are subtly and overtly displaced in favor of larger scale economic and environmental conservation interests, endangering the livelihoods, food security, and nutrition of millions of people. 

Small-scale fisheries are an integral part of the ocean economy, fueling nearly a quarter of global fish consumption, employing 44 percent of individuals directly engaged in fishing, and  generating an average annual revenue of 77 billion USD from the first sale of catch. Small-scale fisheries create additional livelihoods through fishing gear maintenance, food processing, and induced economic activity. Small-scale fisheries also provide important non-monetary contributions to communities such as self-identity, kinship, household, and community linkages. Despite their economic and non-economic contributions, fishers and fishing communities have yet to secure adequate social protections and rights as well as meaningful representation in blue economy discussions. 


Md. Mujibul Munir, co-director of COAST Foundation, discussed the economic importance of small-scale fisheries to the people of Bangladesh. Not only are fisheries major contributors to employment and overall GDP, fisheries are an integral part of Bangladeshi culture. 


Machh e bhat e Bangali,” which translates to “Fish and rice make a Bengali.”


The fisheries sector in Bangladesh is changing rapidly - the majority of fisheries activity used to be capture fisheries, however; in the last few decades, that has given way to aquaculture. Mr. Munir discussed how despite the fact that Bangladesh has many government ministries, laws, and policies in favor of small-scale fisheries, there are still barriers to implementation and small-scale fishers are not prioritized. Similarly, the government is promoting larger scale aquaculture projects and small-scale fishers are losing their traditional fishing grounds and losing food security and income because of it. As a result, there are serious debates around blue economy projects and the need for new infrastructure but at the expense of fisher’s human rights. 

Mr. Munir discussed how small-scale fishers lack of social protections are exacerbated by their  lack of access to finance, as fisherfolk often do not have access to traditional funding methods. As a result, they are dependent on local lenders to provide the funds needed to continue fishing and meet basic household needs, but at extremely high interest rates. Therefore, Mr. Munir stressed that it is important to protect fishers’ control over their value chain and that projects need to promote “additional incomes” and not “alternative,” as this would suggest fishers need to give up their traditional livelihoods. 


Sri Lanka

The next speaker, Thadsa Thavachelsvam, is working with the National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO) in Sri Lanka. She is focusing her attention on development projects in Point Pedro, Sri Lanka and is working to mobilize and lead a grassroots movement of small-scale fishers who are fighting against large scale development projects in their traditional fishing grounds and working waterfronts. The village of Point Pedro has approximately 3,000 small-scale fishers. 

She spoke on this case study and how the proposed mega harbor construction project in Point Pedro will have vast social, economic, and environmental implications. Small-scale fishers are Sri Lankan fishers were greatly impacted by the civil war - they have been displaced and disregarded in decision making processes to better support their livelihoods and are still marginalized in discussions of coastal development.   

Despite the government saying that this project is for the benefit of the fisheries and the marine sector, local fishers say this project is incompatible with their community and not helpful to them in any way. This large-scale development project would inhibit access to beaches that fishers have used for over 100 years, change anchoring points, women would not be able to go to their harvesting grounds, and other essential, daily activities would be negatively impacted. 

The fishers have received mixed signals from the government about their access rights to the fishing grounds and adjacent lands once the project is finished, many will be displaced by the project. Furthermore, there is great concern amongst the community that it will impacts on the local ecosystems, displace local schools and temples, and contribute pollution that will further disrupt the fisheries. 

Despite the demands of the people, the government is moving ahead with the project. “Instead the government has given priority to the large scale fishery industry in developing the harbor, without meeting any of the demands from the small-scale fishers in the province.”

Thadsa and NAFSO are working to spread awareness and mobilize local fishing communities to advocate against this type of development without the consent of the people. Instead, these communities would like the government to fund projects that “Improve sanitation, give better access to clean water, reduce income inequalities, give better access to public transportation, provide sufficiently healthy foods, and improve people’s jobs and income.”



The third speaker, Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk, Director of the Sustainable Development Foundation, spoke about large scale aquaculture projects inThailand and how they are adversely impacting small-scale fishers. Small-scale fishers make up 70% of the fishing industry in Thailand. 

Fisheries are a key part of coastal economies in Thailand, however, over the past few decades production has declined and so has fishers’ income. Initially, marine mollusk aquaculture projects were seen as a way of helping small-scale fishers, but the government has favored larger scale operations. 

As aquaculture projects expand and encroach on traditional fishing grounds, small-scale fishers are having a harder and harder time carrying out their livelihoods. Public lands and waters are illegally privatized and small-scale fishers are not allowed access to the areas around the farms. Many different types of small-scale fisheries stakeholders are impacted by the encroachment of development projects. In Ban Don Bay, shorelines where women gather shrimp and mussels by hand are disappearing, and indigenous groups are losing up to 50% of their historical income as the sustainability of the fisheries in the nearshore waters diminish. Small-scale fishers in the area are facing poverty and food insecurity as they are no longer able to sustain their livelihoods or switch professions. 

According to Sustainable Development Foundation, Thailand, “the most important issue to be reviewed is the lack of dimension to protect community rights, access to local fishermen resources, making marine public spaces a private owner-occupied, granting the right to a group of people that affect community rights, a non-holistic way of thinking and lack of understanding of community rights. The most problematic is to give an absolute authority to manage the resources to some agencies. The situation will worsen if the state lacks an understanding that those resource bases are necessary for the livelihoods and self-sufficiency of local fishermen communities. Ban Don Bay's lessons are therefore important to pilot in the integration of participatory management in order to manage the area in a balanced, fair and long-term sustainable manner.” 

As the coastal landscape starts to change and governments explore blue economy agendas and aquaculture projects, it is important that small-scale fishers are involved in the decision making process, and that their voices are heard. 

To learn more about the work of our speakers, please visit COAST Foundation, National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO), and Sustainable Development Foundation, Thailand (SDF). 

Watch a recording of the webinar on the SSF Hub's YouTube Channel (Recordings available in Bengali, English, Tamil, and Thai)

To learn more about the SSF Guidelines and tools available to small-scale fishing actors to address the issues of coastal development, please visit the Resource Library on the SSF Hub.


SSF Hub Presents: Fisher Voices

IYAFA 2022

IYAFA 2022 aimed to focus world attention on the role that small-scale fishers, fish farmers and fish workers play in human well-being, food security and nutrition, poverty eradication and sustainable natural resource use. Learn more about the SSF Hub's Fisher Voices Campaign

This article is part of the SSF Highlights series of articles published regularly to the SSF Hub.  To read previous SSF Highlights, follow this link.

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