Estimates from scientists such as fishery biologist Professor Daniel Pauly (University of British Columbia) suggests around 90 per cent of the global capture-fishery workforce is employed in small-scale fishers, with an annual catch directed for human consumption similar to that produced by industrial fisheries.
Regardless of the figures, small-scale fisheries are more likely to provide essential subsistence and livelihood opportunities in remote communities.
The knowledge-gaps on small-scale fisheries are many – fishing techniques, governance, challenges faced, and so forth. Addressing these knowledge-gap has implications for economic, social, and environmental sustainability of small-scale fisheries, and issues surrounding equitable use and food security.
Enter the Information System on Small-Scale Fisheries (ISSF) – the "first interactive global repository on small-scale fisheries, providing information on key characteristics of this sector in various locations around the world, as well as synthesized knowledge about their importance, contributions and potentials".
ISSF is the brainchild of research network and knowledge mobilization partnership Too Big to Ignore (TBTI). At its heart ISSF is a crowd-sourcing platform (similar to Wikipedia), in which knowledgeable people such as researchers, fishery managers, and fishery organizations can create and update ‘records’ on small-scale fisheries.
As of May 2016, over 400 people from 140 different countries have contributed some 2,500 records.
These records comprise of profiles on small-scale fisheries, small-scale fishery related publications (peer-review and grey literature), case studies, and directories of individuals and organisations working in small-scale fisheries.
“ISSF offers a comprehensive view of small scale fisheries ‘system’” Professor Ratana Chuenpagdee, TBTI project director explained, highlighting ISSF’s coverage of the entire ‘fish-chain’, from the ecosystem the fishery operates in, details on the fishery itself, utilization of the catch, marketing, and governance of the fishery.
The information contained within ISSF highlights the diversity and uniqueness of small-scale fisheries. For Professor Rodolphe Devillers, leader of the ISSF development team, one ‘country-level’ fishery profile in particular stands out – Nepal, a land-locked nation known more for its mountains than its fisheries.
“This profile, which is very well documented, describes fisheries that have existed for centuries in remote regions, employing about half a million people. I found it fascinating!” The level of detail provided for Nepal is perhaps a little unusual. Professor Chuenpagdee notes that many profiles are incomplete “which suggests to me that a single researcher does not have all the required information”.
For small-scale fisheries, collaboration between different disciplines is key for gathering information, understanding, and even the effective management of small-scale fisheries.
“The unexpected function of ISSF is in fostering multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches in fisheries research”, Professor Chuenpagdee explained. A key feature of ISSF is the ease at which a broad range of information on small-scale fisheries can be accessed.
“You can now look on a map and see who works on small-scale fisheries in those countries, what publications exist, what fisheries look like in different communities, etc.” Professor Devillers enthused.
“It acts as a catalyst helping understand what we know or don’t know, who can be contacted for more information”.
With the free-to-access online system now successfully deployed, the ISSF team are looking to bring even more data into the system. With new information coming to light, and new research on small-scale fisheries being conducted around the world, records will need to be continuously updated, and new records created. The strength of ISSF will ultimately lie in the hands of the researchers, managers, and stakeholders that make up the small-scale fishery community. Without their continued contributions, ISSF’s potential will be cut short. Fortunately ISSF is increasingly gaining support from the community.
At the 2015 ICES Annual Science Conference, Professor Chuenpagdee’s invitation to ICES scientists to contribute to ISSF was met with wide approval. In the future, capacity development workshops such as the use of ISSF for systematic data collection, and for monitoring changes in small-scale fisheries, will help increase contributions as well as use of the system.
ISSF aims to be more than an online database, with the information collected providing an opportunity for analysis and comparisons of small-scale fisheries around the world.
Several years of consultations with international experts resulted in the identification of core attributes central to the fishery profiles, allowing fisheries to be described and compared on a like-for-like basis.
Alongside analysis of fisheries in specific places, ISSF will focus on the key similarities and differences of small-scale fisheries, the challenges they face, and how they are governed, at regional and potentially global scales.
Far from being purely of research interest, the information resulting from such analysis may improve policy making for sustainable small-scale fisheries, capacity building, and sustainability. Once complete, the results will be made available in a number of different formats including reports, e-Book presentations, and peer-reviewed publications.