“The most prevalent seafood supply chain is the shortest one: from the ocean to the plate. And that’s the one we have the least information on,” said Nereus researcher Jack Kittinger. Small-scale fisheries are vital to coastal communities around the world, but their contributions to global harvests are severely underestimated. This means policymakers often overlook the social, cultural, nutritional and economic contributions to the people and communities small-scale fisheries support. Duke University, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WorldFish have collaborated to plan a global study of small-scale fisheries to fill the knowledge gaps that render them invisible in the eyes of policy-makers.

This week, the Nereus Program hosted an expert consultation to plan and map out next steps of the proposed global study. Several Nereus researchers were among a group of international experts gathered to provide input, with an emphasis on cross-cutting issues of equity in small-scale fisheries. “It was a world-class group of experts,” reflected Duke professor John Virdin. “They generously rolled up their sleeves to help.”

The discussions went on for two full days, and spanned from data collection and research methodologies to communication strategy. “Who is actually benefitting from small-scale fisheries? We need to address the social differentiation there,” said WorldFish’s David Mills. “We’re digging into datasets on consumption, employment, income, and really putting a focus on those areas.”

“Well, that’s the economic point of view,“ responded Nereus Program Director Yoshi Ota. “Are we trying to tackle the real hidden variables? The intangible datasets that can’t be counted?”

The group was in agreement that small-scale fisheries provide far more than economic value. Nonetheless, we are all still caught in the dilemma of being compelled to represent its value in the way large-scale fisheries do, in catch data and economic statistics. “The main task we have as an interdisciplinary team is to commit to understanding and representing the diverse, systematic contributions of small-scale fisheries as they are,” said Ota. “We must prevent continuous mirroring, that is to study this issue based on our preexisting knowledge and understanding, rather than study what is actually going on with livelihoods, culture and identity. What we really need isn’t just a number change, but a perspective change for the public value of small-scale fisheries.”

The workshop was a vital part of the study development process, tapping the pooled knowledge of 20 experts to ensure this study provides a comprehensive picture of the role of small-scale fisheries in society. At the Nereus Program, we look forward to continued collaboration with all of the excellent institutions involved.

Interdisciplinary team of researchers work together to plan global study of small-scale fisheries

Small-scale fisheries experts participating in a live-broadcast panel discussion. Click photo to watch lecture.

What to learn more about small-scale fisheries? Watch this video!