Accounting for small-scale fisheries and the ocean

As the interest in accounting for ocean economies grows, we need to ensure vulnerable small-scale fishers and communities do not continue to be left behind.

June 2018 - March 2020
Inclusive blue economy
A programme of work supporting resilient marine and coastal ecosystems and the millions of people who depend on them to thrive by aligning incentives with investments
Fishermen hauling in a net

Fishermen haul in their catch in Cartagena, Colombia. Policymakers often overlook the vital importance of small-scale fisheries for local communities and the wider economy (Photo: Louis Vest via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Small-scale fisheries provide livelihoods for millions of families and local communities, yet they go unnoticed because statistics tend to focus on formal, industrial sectors. As a result, they receive minimal attention from policymakers and consequently, minimal investment, undermining the country’s ability to fulfil its commitments to sustainable development (such as SDG14 (life under water), SDG2 (zero hunger) and SDG8 (decent work).

Improved statistics systems need to help fill in some of these gaps: 

1. What is happening to fish stocks? In some countries, small scale fisheries (SSF) are responsible for 50% to 70% of total catch. Lack of information on capture, species and seasons reduces the potential for developing effective marine plans for sustainable stock management. 

2. What is the economic impact of the sector? This lack of visibility acts as deterrent for more targeted and effective policies that can help leverage private sector investments (processing, marketing, insurance, and so on). Existing strategies to help ‘reveal’ the sector remain isolated, often because the methodological approach does not allow results to be mainstreamed into national planning. 

3. How are people affected? SSF play key roles in coastal communities, ensuring protein and nutritional intakes for millions of poor men and women. Increasingly, coastal communities are in direct conflict (and often on the losing side) for space and clean habitats for fishing with other, more economically visible sectors such as tourism, recreational fishing and urban developments.  

4. How can we predict and adapt to change? A limited capacity to predict, understand and prepare for change is aggravated by climate change, which threatens severe impacts on fish stocks. Other changes can be linked to market shocks (prices, risks) and government policies (rules, taxes and subsidies). 

What is IIED doing?

We aim to increase visibility, impact and inclusive investments for small-scale fisheries through:

  • The publication of a toolkit to support statistics officers to improve the way they account for small-scale fisheries, especially in data challenging environments 
  • Capacity building, through a webinar to discuss how natural capital accounting (NCA) methods can be used to identify the contributions of small-scale fisheries in economic performance; and an international conference and workshop in Costa Rica, to raise awareness of the potential uses of NCA in national planning and decarbonisation plans, plus specialised training on how to implement NCA in fisheries following the System of Environmental Economic Accounting for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries framework
  • A scoping study in Cambodia, to provide a diagnostic to understand priorities and capacities of improved fisheries accounting within a national vision of blue economy, SDG reporting, and local needs of poverty reduction; and conduct a data and policy mapping
  • An animation, which can be viewed below on or IIED's YouTube channel, that urges policymakers around the world to recognise the value that small-scale fishing brings to national economies, and
  • Shaping the change, by actively contributing to milestone reviews such as Blue Paper 8 of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and as founding members of the Oceans Accounts Partnership.

Additional resources

Towards ecosystem-based governance of the high seas, Vito De Lucia (2020), IIED Briefing

Longread: Action for an ocean for all, by Maggie Watson (March 2019)

Blog: Focusing the blue economy future on small-scale fisheries, by Rosalind Goodrich (February 2019)

Blog: Green lessons for the blue economy, by Laura Kelly (December 2018)

Animation: No hidden catch: why small-scale fisheries matter (2019)

Poster: No hidden catch: why small-scale fisheries matter (2019)

Towards an inclusive blue economy, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2018), Project flyer


Oceans Accounts Partnership

WAVES partnership