UN backs rights-based approach to small-scale fisheries

UN expert explains goal is to combine cutting edge research with local knowledge, practices

The strategy of Blue Growth can only be sustainable if it involves and respects the rights of "blue communities" living on coastlines, UN fisheries governance expert Dr Rebecca Metzner has said.

Blue Growth is the long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors.

Multinationals competing to meet global demand for seafood must not displace small-scale fisheries, Dr Metzner said, and new UN voluntary guidelines aim to promote a sustainable approach.

The guidelines, outlined by Dr Metzner in Galway on Thursday, have been endorsed by the EU, and underpin equitable community access to marine resources as a human right.


The guidelines, endorsed in 2014, aim to promote “responsible fisheries and sustainable social and economic development” for the benefit of current and future generations.

"Small-scale fishing involves about 90 per cent of all such activity the world over, and it is important to protect this sector as a community resource," said Dr Metzner, who is United Nations chief of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Food and Agriculture Organisation.

At a public meeting in Galway and subsequent visit to the south Galway shoreline, Dr Metzner heard about the specific concerns of the inshore sector and seaweed harvesters.

The seaweed harvesters fear loss of access, following sale of State seaweed company Arramara to Canadian multinational Acadian, which is seeking licenses from Clare to Mayo.

The challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss make protection of local knowledge and associated practices even more important, Dr Metzner said.

She explained that a goal of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is to combine modern “cutting edge” research with local knowledge and practices.

Dr Metzner said aquaculture or fish farming was required to “fill the gap” left in demand for seafood worldwide, and managing shared access was a challenge which the guidelines seek to address.

She said she was aware of the recent withdrawal of plans for a 15,000 tonne fish farm in Galway Bay, and said any such plans must involve stakeholders from the outset.

However, stakeholders should work together in advance of any such plans and map where the best shellfish beds are, areas which need specific protection and where conflicts are playing out or can occur, she said.

People who know about fisheries and can facilitate dialogue are crucial, she said, as legal challenges to decisions already taken can waste time and cost money that communities do not have.

Dr Metzner's visit is hosted by Coastwatch Europe and by NUI Galway (NUIG) geography school and Ryan Institute.

Ms Karin Dubsky of Coastwatch said there was a belief that most small-scale fishers and communities were "not on the radar" of national and regional decision makers.

Dr Kevin Lynch of NUIG said the issues around traditional coastal activities required an integrated approach, and several NUIG post-graduate students are working on a number of projects in this area to influence best practice.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times