New Report Offers Regulatory Guidance for Small-Scale Fisheries

February 2021




(Washington, D.C.): The future of the ocean, and that of the planet, depends on sustained, effective changes to natural resources governance. Over the last couple of decades, ocean stewardship efforts have turned to focus on several key approaches, such as the creation and enforcement of marine protected areas (MPAs) and the implementation of sustainable fisheries practices, including small-scale fisheries (SSF) co-management. A new report from the Environmental Law Institute, Law and Governance Toolkit for Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries: Best Regulatory Practices, helps streamline the implementation of co-management processes and mechanisms by offering a methodology for regulatory reform specifically aimed at the SSF sector, along with samples of model legal language.

Implementing ocean governance approaches always requires the enactment of a legal mechanism, a “blueprint” of how to implement a policy instrument or idea. The quality of the final “product,” whether it is a vessel, an MPA, or an SSF co-management scheme, greatly depends on the accuracy of the blueprint: its fine-tuning, resilience during testing, and level of detail. However, when fishers’ associations complain about the inefficiency of fisheries regulations and demand action to, for example, combat illegality, this central issue is often overlooked.

 “Too often, ocean governance decisions are made without providing regulatory guidance to ensure implementation,” explains Xiao Recio-Blanco, Director of ELI’s Ocean Program and one of the lead authors of the report. “In the case of SSF collaborative management, regulatory clarity on the management procedures and on the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved is directly related to the effectiveness of the management system,” he added.

The Toolkit provides a methodology for assessing the reform needs to strengthen SSF governance, along with examples of model regulatory language for the core governance elements. Given the central role of co-management in sustainable SSF governance, the legal language in the Toolkit focuses on creating and implementing co-management systems (Part 3), along with two basic governance elements that strengthen co-management: exclusive fishing rights for SSF communities (Part 1), and the creation of exclusive zones for SSF (Part 2). The three remaining Parts address fundamental elements for enhancing the likelihood of the success of a sustainable SSF co-management scheme: strengthening compliance (Part 4), overcoming the conceptual opposition between fisheries and MPAs (Part 5), and making SSF governance compatible with other area-based ocean management approaches (Part 6).

The Toolkit is available for download at: 

Funding was provided by the Oak Foundation.

Xiao Recio-Blanco is available for interview.