International Guidelines for Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries


Small-scale fisheries contribute to about half of global fish catches. When considering catches destined for direct human consumption, the share contributed by this sector increases to two thirds. Inland fisheries are particularly important in this respect, with small-scale fisheries fish production dominating the sub-sector


Many small-scale fisheries are effectively unregulated, unreported and poorly monitored, especially in developing countries and inland water areas. Customary practices for allocation and sharing of resource benefits – practices that generally used to be in place in small-scale fisheries – have often been eroded because of centralized fisheries management systems, technology development and demographic changes.


Pollution, environmental degradation, climate change impacts, natural and man-made disasters, and overexploitation of resources add to the threats faced by small-scale fishing communities.


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA) made history at the 31st session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries in Rome in June 2014 when 143 countries from around the world unanimously adopted new international guidelines for sustainable fisheries. The new guidelines focus on the social and economic aspects of sustainability. They call on countries to enable small-scale fishermen to organize and to participate in decision-making processes and value-chain dynamics for a more equitable distribution of benefits from national, regional and international trade.


Adopted by the 31st session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries, the guidelines address five thematic areas:


  • Governance of tenure in small-scale fisheries and resource management
  • Social development, employment and decent work
  • Value chains, post-harvest and trade
  • Gender equality
  • Disaster risks and climate change


Key areas for supporting the implementation of the guidelines are also explored, including: policy coherence, institutional coordination and collaboration; information, research and communication; and capacity development.

There are 17 Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, composed of nations that share economic interests in small-scale fisheries

The new guidelines seek to enhance the contribution of small-scale fisheries to poverty alleviation, food and nutrition security, and economic growth. They support the empowerment of small-scale fishing communities while creating an avenue for sustainability.


The FAO Committee Sustainable Fisheries Guidelines have been established to:

  • Provide a comprehensive framework that enhances the understanding of the actions needed for small-scale fisheries governance and development – in order to facilitate cooperation amongst those involved in providing support to the sector.
  • Establish principles and criteria for the elaboration and implementation of policies and strategies for the enhancement of small-scale fisheries governance and development – and provide practical guidance for implementation of these policies and strategies.
  • Promote further research and the advancement of the knowledge on small-scale fisheries governance and development.
  • Serve as a reference tool in the area of small-scale fisheries governance and development for the establishment or improvement of required institutional structures and processes, and capacity development.