The International Year of Artisanal Fisheries: Why It’s Important

There is no need to overstate it, aquaculture has been the world’s fastest-growing food production sector for decades, and it will remain so for at least the next two decades. During the last two decades, aquaculture has evolved from a relatively minor role to play a mainstream part in the global food system. Freshwater fish such as carps, tilapias, and catfishes have the lion’s share in global fish production, predominantly originating from smallholders. Freshwater fish contribute more than any other aquaculture sub-sector to the total volume, rural livelihoods, and food and nutrition security, making small-scale aquaculture the most socially important sector in aquaculture production. However, most produce from small-scale aquaculture does not enter international markets. It is apparent that the increased attention on sector improvement has unfortunately taken the focus away from where it is needed – for smallholder empowerment and practicing sustainability and scalability to be optimized.

African fish farmers working on their fish farm

Source: ©FAO photo rights managed

Both small-scale fishers and fish farmers hold a unique potential to promote changes in how, by whom, and for whom aquatic foods and products are harvested, processed, and distributed. Therefore, recognizing small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture as sustainable methods of food production is imperative as current food systems face increasing global challenges. According to FAO, these challenges include hunger and diet-related diseases, the need to provide a growing global population with sufficient and healthy food, vast amounts of food loss and waste, the depletion of natural resources, environmental degradation, and climate change.

Nevertheless, despite their high potential, small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture themselves face unique and complex challenges. Not only do they face threats from other sectors but also from within the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. The social sustainability of fishers, fish farmers, fish workers, and their communities needs better social services such as healthcare, education, housing, financial, and legal services. The recognition and respect of the role of women remain another core, cross-cutting challenge to ensuring gender not only equality and equity but also the achievement of sustainability: when women are empowered to earn and control income, their spending is more likely to benefit a household’s nutrition, health, and education. There is also a need to educate and empower small-scale artisanal fishers and fish farmers to be better prepared for environmental degradation, shocks, disasters, and climate change.

25 April 2017, Lurambi, Kakamega County, western Kenya - Joyce Makaka (C), a Tilapia and catfish fish species breeder, is pictured with her staff members on her fish farm at Jafi Enterprises. FAO Project: GCP /SFE/001/MUL - Promoting Agricultural Diversification to Reduce Poverty, Fight Malnutrition and Enhance Youth Employment opportunities in Eastern Africa.

Source: ©FAO photo rights managed

25 April 2017, Lurambi, Kakamega County, western Kenya – Joyce Makaka (C), a Tilapia and catfish fish species breeder, is pictured with her staff members on her fish farm at Jafi Enterprises.

In 2017, the 72nd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 2022 as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022), with the FAO serving as the lead agency, in collaboration with other relevant organizations and bodies of the United Nations system. The main objectives of IYAFA 2022 are: (a) enhance global awareness about, understanding of, and action to support the contribution of small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture to sustainable development, and more specifically, concerning food security and nutrition, poverty eradication, and the use of natural resources; and (b) promote dialogue and collaboration between and among small-scale artisanal fishers, fish farmers, fish workers, governments and other key partners along the value chain, as well as to strengthen further their capacity to enhance sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture and to enhance their social development and well-being.

It is 2022, and we are now in the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. Our role and the aim during 2022 and beyond will be to create a world in which small-scale artisanal fishers, fish farmers, and fish workers of all genders are fully recognized by recognized and empowered to continue their contributions to poverty alleviation, human well-being, and resilient and sustainable food systems through the responsible use of fisheries and aquaculture resources and socio-economic development. The IYAFA22 Global Action Plan (IYAFA GAP) aims to build global momentum to empower small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture and secure a sustainable future for these critical sectors. FUTUREFISH joins the IYAFA22 celebrations and will address the need for better social responsibility in artisanal fisheries and aquaculture sectors during the design and implementation of our work.

Dr.Rohana Subasinghe

Dr. Rohana Subasinghe co-founder and director of FUTUREFISH is the Vice-Chair of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries. He is one of the leading experts in the field of aquaculture and his expertise will surely help to achieve IYAFA’s and FUTUREFISH’s initiatives.

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