Marine Tenure and Small-Scale Fisheries: A Sourcebook on Good Practices and Emerging Themes

The Sourcebook examines the state of knowledge on small-scale fisheries and marine tenure around the world. Through its commitment to addressing extreme poverty, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is focused on understanding the specific role of marine tenure in achieving multiple development benefits among small-scale fisheries around the world. Marine Tenure and Small-scale Fisheries: A Sourcebook of Good Practices and Emerging Themes (Sourcebook) draws on findings from scholarly research, policy documents, development projects, and publications by development practitioners, researchers, and nongovernmental organizations to explore good practices and emerging themes in marine tenure and small-scale fisheries. During the last 30 years, a rich body of work has developed that examines governance frameworks and design principles for improving community-scale tenure institutions, including national laws and policies as well as collaborative management (or co-management) with key stakeholders such as the government. Specific elements of marine tenure institutions are examined in closer detail: debates about rights-based fisheries in the context of broader social, economic, and environmental objectives; the emergence of hybrid marine tenure institutions from the convergence of customary and contemporary marine tenure systems; the configuration of fishing rules to support sustainable small-scale fisheries and compliance; use of mapping and marine spatial planning to support recognition of marine tenure rights and address competing and conflicting resource uses; and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fisheries. The Sourcebook provides a review of the lessons from this work and identifies some innovative new themes.

The Sourcebook is a companion document to Looking to the Sea to Support Development Objectives: A Primer for USAID Staff and Partners (Primer). The Primer is designed to help USAID integrate consideration of marine tenure explicitly in the design of programs and projects involving small-scale fisheries by providing tools based on good practices from the Sourcebook.

Securing sustainable small-scale fisheries is an emerging global development agenda. “Small-scale fisheries” is a simple name for a complex and large category of the global fisheries sector. Men and women fishing in nearshore waters for both subsistence and commercial catch significantly contribute to social, economic, and ecological benefits among coastal communities in developing countries. Catching about the same amount of fish as industrial fisheries, small-scale fisheries employ 25 times the number of fishers and use an eighth of the amount of fuel annually. Small-scale fisheries have so far been invisible within the global fisheries sector, even though they play a pivotal role in meeting food needs and building local as well as global economies. As modern, large-scale fisheries have grown, they have come into conflict with small-scale fisheries for the same coastal resources. Other challenges to small-scale fisheries include population growth, the growing commercialization of the fisheries sector, out-migration, and technological growth. The 2015 Voluntary Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) establishes a human rights-based agenda for small-scale fishers.

Responsible governance of marine tenure is a key dimension of this global agenda. The responsible governance of tenure forms a key dimension of this emerging small-scale fishery agenda. Tenure over natural resources refers to the social relations, institutions, and rules that govern people’s access to and use of land, water, and natural resources. Natural resource tenure, therefore, establishes a set of rights and responsibilities as to who is allowed to use which resources, in what way, for how long, and under what conditions, as well as who is entitled to transfer rights to others and how.

Small-scale fishers and coastal communities with secure rights over a given fishery, fishing ground, or territory have a strong interest in organizing and acting collectively to manage their resources sustainably. The diversity of community-managed marine tenure institutions in the world reflects the importance of adapting the details of marine tenure governance and resource rights arrangements to suit social, cultural, political, economic, and ecological conditions. Although these marine tenure institutions are extremely diverse in terms of membership, governance systems, technology, leadership, and geographic scope, understanding how they endure and identifying emerging threats provides lessons on how they can be strengthened in the face of new challenges such as climate change and globalization.

Small-scale fisheries provide globally significant and multidimensional contributions to rural coastal development. The vital role that sustainably managed small-scale fisheries play in ending extreme poverty and providing food security, nutrition, and livelihoods in developing countries is undisputed based on research from around the world. By recognizing this substantial and multidimensional role, USAID and its partners have many opportunities to support numerous development objectives. Historically, USAID investment in marine and coastal issues has largely focused on meeting biodiversity conservation objectives. Development partners should seek innovative ways to diversify and align investment portfolios to support the enabling conditions for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries. An assessment of the status of country implementation of the SSF Guidelines could provide a starting point for identifying gaps and opportunities for investment.

Responsible governance of tenure in small-scale fisheries needs to be considered explicitly in program and project design. Responsible governance of tenure involves respecting the rights of small-scale fishers and fishing communities to the resources that form the basis of their social and cultural well-being, their livelihoods, and their sustainable development. National legal and policy frameworks, administrative and judicial systems, effective co-management arrangements, dispute resolution mechanisms, local participation and empowerment, and strengthened institutional capacity are all key ingredients of responsible governance of marine tenure. A more explicit approach would seek to (a) define and secure the full bundle of tenure rights, including exclusion, withdrawal/access, management, enforcement, and alienation rights; (b) identify and build the capacity of national and local tenure governance bodies to secure these rights; and (c) invest in the generation of social-ecological system knowledge to better characterize the complexities through supporting baseline assessments and monitoring. The integration of marine tenure in situation models and theories of change will strengthen development programming in rural coastal areas.

National legal and policy reform for marine tenure and small-scale fisheries can be guided by good practices articulated in the SSF Guidelines. There are few examples of countries with strong policies supporting responsible governance of marine tenure and ecosystem approaches to fisheries management in small-scale fisheries. A useful starting point is to assess the local situation while developing an analysis of the policy, law, and administrative needs at the national level.

Social-ecological system knowledge from multiple sources and at multiple scales is necessary to design and monitor programs and projects involving marine tenure and small-scale fisheries. Small-scale fisheries are complex social-ecological systems. In the face of growing, complex, and often uncertain local and global impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems, knowledge of the social-ecological system will need to integrate place-based, fine-scale spatial and temporal information alongside large-scale ecological processes, which have historically not been captured in traditional ecological knowledge. Moreover, future conditions and uncertainties must be projected to provide the information needed to prepare for and adapt to change. Traditional, local, and modern scientific knowledge are all needed to understand the connectivity and interactions among the ecosystem, resource users, governance systems, and an array of social, economic, and political drivers.

Marine tenure governance institutions need to be strengthened to protect tenure rights and effectively engage in co-management arrangements at multiple scales of governance. While marine tenure considerations often focus on the tenure rules governing rights and responsibilities, it is critical to strengthen marine tenure governance institutions that design and support tenure arrangements through the creation and enforcement of associated rules. Well-designed, community-based marine tenure institutions can contribute to multiple development outcomes: food security, poverty reduction, gender equity, and biodiversity conservation. Effective co-management arrangements need to embed marine tenure systems that support ecosystem-based management as an approach for sustainable resource use. The effectiveness and direction of accountability of co-management arrangements with national and sub-national government agencies need to be evaluated in terms of support for community-based management. Meeting these goals requires long-term and consistent support to strengthen governance bodies.

A country-specific sourcebook of good practices and lessons can be developed building on a global community of practice while recognizing that “no one size fits all.” Over the last 3 years, key design principles have been identified that enable success of community-based marine commons. These can be considered key components of the good practices that should be promoted among existing as well as newly created marine tenure systems for small-scale fisheries. Secure tenure rights and legal recognition provide an important avenue through which people pool their knowledge, investments, time, and labor to yield both short-term and long-term benefits securely in a spatially complex production condition. The key issues that determine success will need to be addressed: governance approaches, overarching goals of the marine tenure institutions, and how this fits into ecosystem-based planning. Because it is clear that no simple one-size-fits-all approach will work, the art of crafting effective tenure institutions lies in carefully tuned, iterative approaches to adaptive learning that can benefit from building a broader “community of learning.”