Market Access Certification Standard Especially for Small-Scale Fisheries?

Alexander Ford • 22 April 2022

Hello everyone! I am interested in knowing your thoughts on whether a market access certification standard designed specifically for small-scale fisheries and based on the SSF Guidelines would be useful for bolstering the sector. With the SSF Hub's amazing support I have some questions i'd like to throw at you and get your feedback on!

Here is my first question:

Certification of small-scale fisheries would help fishers and fishworkers across the globe to formalise their work and provide access to new markets – what would such a certification need to make sure of fairness and equality?

Stay tuned for the next question!

Comments (13)

Momo Kochen

I like the idea of it being linked to the small scale fishery guidelines and think the 'how' of this needs to be explored, especially as the SSF guidelines are focused on a national level and certification usually on a fishery or community level - thats a super interesting conundrum to work on! There's lots of things a certification like this needs to think about and aspects it needs to hit.....affordability, accessibility, innovative ways for communities and fisheries to become engaged, markets capacity to deal in SSF volumes and, and, and...... Definitely interested in peoples thoughts on the topic!

Vivienne Solis Rivera

Thank you for this interesting question and discussion. Several efforts have been done on the "market" Solutions to SSF realities, none of them has really change the situation and vulnerability of the sector. Because usually there are other structural problems that are even more serious to this sector, ex. non access rights for SSF to marine resources or no access to tenure which inmediately takes them out of the process. That is why we are trying a public private process for the recognition of SSF as a form of life first that is providing benefits to Society in general, it is call "Los doce remos". unfortunately in spanish, but very happy to talk more on the issue.

Brian O'Riordan

Spot on Vivienne! Market solutions to SSF problems do not exist in isolation. As you rightly point out, and as succinctly encapsulated in SDG14b, the 2 sides of the SSF coinage are secure access to resources and secure access to markets. These are 2 basic conditions to ensure the viability of SSF. Next comes organisation and capacity building/ empowerment. Without organisational capacity and the political and economic strength to be taken seriously by decision makers and commerce, SSF will always have to play second fiddle. Without organisational capacity and political clout, SSF will not get recognised or given the importance they deserve. A label on its own, even if rooted in the SSF Guidelines, will remain only on the paper it is printed on.

Alexander Ford

Thanks for your comment Vivienne.

Perhaps a major issue undermining small-scale fisheries is peoples' perception of them. Perhaps they are not taken seriously in the context of the Blue Economy and the Sustainable Seafood Movement. Do you feel that a market initiative, like a certification scheme, has the power to change this and lend them a more formal influence?

Brian O'Riordan

Hi Alex

One of the main problems facing small-scale fishers is getting a fair price for their products. Can a label help them to do that? Will it enable them to become price makers in the market place? Will it help to differentiate their products and create a niche demand for them? If so, then it will be a success.

A label should not become a non-tariff barrier to market entry.

The view of LIFE is that a label at best can only provide part of the solution. It needs to be part of a wider process of capacity building and awareness rasing amongst both consumers/ markets and fishers, bringing them together through a shared set of values.

Local Catch ( seem to be leaders in this field of "Community Supported Fisheries", and LIFE and its partners are taking inspiration from them with the Foodnected project -


Alexander Ford

Thanks for your questions and comments Brian

I get the impression your initial questions are directed at the retail/brand end of the value chain? In the context of formalising the sector, what role do you perceive responsible retailers playing in this process of developing a certification for small-scale fisheries, if any?

Vivienne Solis Rivera

I think what Brian is saying is totally correct, we have spent 45 minutes of our organizational life following issues related to capacity strengthening of SSF organizations, supporting their concerns related to Human Rights and incorporating the recognition of Women's work in the value chains. 15 minutes of our organizational life ( starting with the COVID 19 pandemic) has been spent in creating a fair and just market for the Marine REsponsible fishing areas and Marine territories of life network that today is a reality and it is working very nicely. You can check on the experience here

Vivienne Solis Rivera

Now, on the issue of perception, clearly we need a new narrative concerning SSF and that is something that clearly has to be work soon.

Paula Barbeito

Totally agree with Brian and Vivienne comments.
Certifications can be useful but should not be seen as the cornerstone, I think. Right now, there are so many certifications out there that in my opinion, don't bring too much light to the scenario. From a consumer point of view, what is the difference between MSC and Friends of the Sea? MSC is also developing a brand for small-scale fisheries called Blue Fish, but in the end is the same certification entity. This entity supposes a lot of money for the producers. What does it happen if at certain point the fishers cannot afford the renewal of the certification? In the minds of consumers, this could be translated as "this fish is no longer sustainable". If we want sustainable seafood, the key issue is to move from black and white situations and avoid the scenario whether fishers have a certification or they perish. Sustainability means for me bringing consumers closer to producers, that means sharing responsibility for value chain stewardship that goes beyond buying a fish because it has this or that logo... It means knowing the socio-ecosystem where your fish comes from and being a part of that food community. That's why I think schemes such as Participatory Guarantee Systems, Community Supported Fisheries are more constructive.

Alexander Ford

Hi Paulo, thanks for your comments. Personally, I agree that trying to source fish as locally as possible is preferrable to sourcing fish from far away regions, but just to play devil’s advocate I wanted to put a question to your response.

Firstly, you suggest that certification creates a black and white scenario where small-scale fisheries would run the risk of being labelled as “unsustainable” if they failed; but what if a system similar to for FIPs was created for small-scale fisheries? In the context of formalisation, this has worked quite well for fisheries in FIPs (even if this has led to greenwashing in some instances) by providing market access.

(Please note that I am not saying the same rules, criteria or stakeholders that govern should be the same as a version for small-scale fisheries, im just suggesting a similar platform that would help buyers know that the small-scale fishery is under some kind of route to improvement.)

Secondly, if you have time, could you unpack your view on the distinction between “local fisheries” and “small-scale fisheries”. This is an issue I struggle to decide on sometimes: on the one hand, international trade can help fishers and fishworkers in impoverished regions access higher value markets and secure a better livelihood (in theory – I understand it’s not always as simple as that); but on the other hand, this goes against the idea of sourcing fish locally and undermining the food community and fisher-consumer relationship. What is the right balance for this? What does this mean for Recommendation 7.6 of the SSF Guidelines?

Hope I understood your comment correctly and looking forward to yours and anyone else’s input on this.

Alexander Ford

Hi everyone,

Thanks to all of you that have contributed to this discussion so far - I really value your input and hope there will be much more to come!

So its time for the next question - or statement in this case - on ICT4SSF! A bit of a hot topic and one that gets a lot of people chatting, so please share your thoughts on what you think of this opinion....

With increased access to and ownership of digital tools (computers, smartphones, internet, etc), Information Communication Technology for Small-Scale Fisheries (ICT4SSF) will make a small-scale fisheries certification scheme a reality.

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