* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
10 June 2014, Rome - Countries today endorsed a set of wide-reaching guidelines that will boost the already vital role of small-scale fishers in contributing to global food security, nutrition and poverty eradication.The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication are designed to support the world's millions of small-scale fishers, particularly in developing countries, by promoting their human rights and safeguarding the sustainable use of the fishery resources they depend upon for their livelihoods.Small-scale fisheries account for more than 90 percent of the world's capture fishers and fish workers - about half of whom are women - and supply around 50 percent of all global fish catches. They provide a valuable source of animal protein for billions of people worldwide and often underpin local economies in coastal and lake- and river-side communities.But despite their importance, many small-scale fishing communities continue to be marginalized. Often located in remote areas with limited access to markets and to health, education and other social services, small-scale fishers can have difficulty in making their voices heard.Small-scale fishers and fish workers face a range of challenges, from unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and poor infrastructure to pollution, environmental degradation, climate change and disasters threatening the resources they depend on for their livelihoods.They can also suffer from unequal power struggles and insecure tenure arrangements over land and fishery resources.The Voluntary Guidelines endorsed today are accordingly broad, ranging from measures to improve fisheries governance systems and working and living conditions to recommendations on how countries can help small-scale fishers and fish workers cut down post-harvest food losses and waste.
"These guidelines are a breakthrough. They are an important tool that will promote the implementation of national policies that will help small scale fishers thrive, and play an even greater role in ensuring food security, promoting good nutrition, and eradicating poverty. FAO is committed to helping countries implement these guidelines," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. "It is fitting this achievement should come this year, as we celebrate family farming and are working to focus attention on the needs of small-scale food producers. I want to congratulate and thank all those involved in the process that has led to today's achievement."Árni M. Mathiesen, FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture, added: "The guidelines will help small-scale fishers know and exercise their existing rights, and take charge of their own development."One-of-a-kind instrumentAs the first ever international instrument dedicated entirely to small-scale fisheries, the guidelines call for policy coherence to ensure that small-scale fisheries can fully contribute to food security, nutrition and poverty eradication. In particular, they stress the importance of respecting and realizing human rights and dignity, and on the need for gender equality throughout the sub-sector, as well as encouraging countries to ensure small-scale fishers are represented in decision-making processes that affect their livelihoods. They complement existing international instruments such as the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Committee on World Food Security's 2012 Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests.More than 4,000 people from governments, regional fisheries bodies, civil society organizations, academia and research and fishing communities all over the world have been involved since 2011 in developing the guidelines, which were given the green light by members of the Committee on Fisheries meeting at FAO headquarters in Rome this week. However, Mathiesen warned that the real challenge lies in the implementation of the guidelines, which will only become effective once they are put into practice. FAO is broadening its engagement with partners to develop a global assistance programme that will help countries implement the guidelines.Committee on FisheriesCOFI is the only global inter-governmental forum except for the UN General Assembly where major international fisheries and aquaculture problems and issues are periodically examined and where recommendations for action by governments, regional fishery bodies, NGOs, fish workers, FAO and the international community are made.Member countries are meeting for the 31st session of COFI at FAO headquarters in Rome until the end of the week.