IYAFA: Interview with Manuel Barange, Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Division at FAO, on the importance of artisanal fisheries and aquaculture for the environmental sustainability

We sat down with professor Barange to hear his vision for the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture and to focus on Pillar 1 of IYAFA’s Global Action Plan on environmental sustainability. Mr. Barange believes that the year is the perfect opportunity to shine a light in the big contributions this sector provides. Small-scale fishers, fish farmers and fish workers are custodians of the aquatic resources and therefore must be included in high-level decision processes.

Celebrating IYAFA is a big opportunity to bring small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture into the spotlight. What would success for the International Year look like?

There is no agreed definition of what constitute small-scale or artisanal fisheries and aquaculture, but there is a good understanding of what the term is meant to reflect: fisheries and aquaculture production that are largely dedicated to feeding local consumers, characterized by limited capital investments and levels of technology, often family or community managed, and usually under-recognized by management and regulatory bodies. IYAFA will be successful if the global awareness of these producers, which account for a large majority of the people involved in the sector, is significantly enhanced. By this I mean a serious re-evaluation of the role of small-scale producers, and a better recognition of their role to secure the ecological, economic and social sustainability of the small-scale fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

We need to bring small-scale producers closer to the evidence gathering processes, the data collection exercises, the decisions on and the monitoring of management regulations, facilitate their access to resources and markets, support their efforts to develop and improve fish value chains, among others. In short, put them at the heart of the search for innovative and workable long-lasting solutions to guarantee a future for all small-scale fishers and fish farmers. We need to empower them, the ultimate custodians of the resources and get them fully on board in the difficult job of ensuring that natural resources are sustainable and contribute to ending hunger and poverty in the world.

How can different partners take action to celebrate this International Year?

International years are springboards for action, opportunities for partners to use the momentum to further their own individual and collective objectives in support of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. For example, partners may want to facilitate dialogues between producers and other stakeholders and push for adjustments in policies and governance mechanisms. They could engage with consumer organizations to better recognize the quality and value of locally sourced fish products, adding value and market opportunities for their products. They could work with the private sector to follow opportunities to modernize supply chains or with academic institutions to develop and value the role of small-scale producers in securing sustainability. These are just examples, but partners would do well by reading the IYAFA Global Action Plan (GAP), which has seven pillars that provide a significant framing for any action conducted in the name of IYAFA. An important element of this GAP is that every activity in connection with IYAFA 2022 should follow a human rights-based approach, seeking to analyze the inequalities that lie at the heart of development and address them.

Pillar 1 of the IYAFA Global Action Plan is about environmental sustainability. Why is this important for small-scale fisheries and aquaculture?

I would make two reflections in this regard. The first is that while there is no evidence to conclude that small-scale fisheries and aquaculture are by definition more environmentally sustainable than their large-scale counterparts, small-scale and artisanal producers are best placed to enrich sustainability dialogues because they connect the environmental, social and economic legs of the sustainability stool better than most. Sustainable communities are in fact part of a sustainable environment – artisanal producers do not see a separation between them and nature, and thus sustainability is a more personal and relevant quest that for other producers. The second reflection is that as we enter the era dominated by climate change we need those with a daily contact with our environment to identify the challenges and opportunities that climate change will bring in real time. As they say, think globally and act locally – artisanal communities can play a big role in finding solutions, using their long and diverse traditional knowledge to fill gaps in scientific evidence. 

How can we use the International Year to maximize the contribution of small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture to environmental sustainability?

Essentially by combining high level political momentum with local voices and action. Fisheries, in particular, is the only major food production sector that relies on the natural production cycles of nature. Nobody understands this better than artisanal and small-scale fishers, the stewards of our natural resources. To give them a voice and to recognize their role is not only right, but also the best recipe for long-term sustainable solutions. As we approach a world of 10 billion people, we will have to face tough choices to ensure we all have food to eat and a life we are proud of, while keeping the planet within its environmental boundaries. IYAFA is an opportunity to bring the many to the table, not as observers, but as players, with the responsibilities and benefits that this entails. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.


Professor Manuel Barange is Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and an Honorary Professor at the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, UK. Until May 2016 he was Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Science at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK. From 2010-2013 he was Chair of the Scientific Committee of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. His research has focused on the impacts of climate change and economic globalization on marine-based commodities, and on the interactions between natural and social sciences in fisheries, ecosystems, and climate change. Manuel has over 120 peer-reviewed publications and in 2010 he was awarded the UNESCO-IOC Roger Revelle Medal for his contributions to ocean science.

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