Moving towards an inclusive blue economy

April 2018 to April 2019

Marine and coastal resources support the livelihoods of millions of poor people across the world. They also provide a range of critical ecosystem services to the rest of the economy. The connection between high seas and coastal waters where small-scale fishers are active is relatively unexplored but already, the need for an ocean governance system, which will protect both areas, is evident.

The small town of Ancon in Peru is home to more than 400 small-scale fishers. Small-scale fisheries account for 80 percent of the country’s seafood consumption. (Photo: Alex Proimos, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Marine and coastal ecosystems provide a range of critical services reaching across supply chains, from food, biodiversity and culture to regulating important functions such as carbon sinks, climate regulation and flood protection. Despite this, they are a resource under threat from over exploitation. 

One of the most critical governance challenges is lack of understanding of the benefit generated from these ecosystems. When it comes to knowing the part small-scale fisheries play in this picture, for example, their contribution is often undervalued and overlooked, compared with the rest of the sector. As a result, they receive minimal attention from policymakers and minimal investment, if any, which often leads to unsustainable activities.

Governments have a range of regulatory and market-based instruments they could apply to the fisheries sector to promote sustainable management. Examples include using fiscal instruments to incentivise good behaviour, or setting up social safety net programmes or changing natural resource use through ‘good’ subsidies. 

When the sector is not sufficiently understood, subsidies that benefit industrial-scale businesses may have a detrimental effect on smaller fisheries, or result in over fishing across the sector generally. It is important to understand the whole picture, to make sure that fiscal instruments do not have a negative effect on either fisheries, particularly small-scale fisheries, or the marine and coastal environment.

These coastal waters are the workplace of small-scale fishers; their long-term viability is key to many men and women’s livelihoods. Yet they are vulnerable not only to national economic reforms but also to what goes on out at sea.

The impact of actions such as dumping of chemical waste and plastic, or excessive harvesting of marine resources, including fish, is felt not only on the ocean ecosystem but on coastal ecosystems too – the connection between the two is now clear. 

This is another critical challenge: the governance gap in the high seas.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes a broad framework for ocean regulation but there are important gaps. We now need a new equitable and legally binding instrument to help strike a balance between conserving marine life and allowing a range of marine resource users to achieve their social and economic objectives.

Those users may be countries working to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals, companies seeking to provide marine services, powerful players or less powerful small-scale businesses. International negotiations must represent the views of everyone to arrive at a regulatory framework which is owned and honoured by all.

By linking local practices, national policies and international aspirations, we can create a blue economy that supports people and ecosystems to thrive.

What is IIED doing?

IIED is working in four different areas to contribute to creating a thriving blue economy:

  • Enhancing understanding of the true economic value of small-scale fisheries both to the national economy and to different social groups, and mainstreaming these values in national accounts to contribute to evidence-based policymaking
  • At national level, entering into dialogue with officials from ministries of finance and policymakers in fisheries agencies to promote fiscal and expenditure reforms, backed up by research on the possibilities for revenue collection, which have the best economic and social impacts and leave no one behind once they are applied
  • Supporting negotiators from least developed countries at the UN negotiations for an internationally legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We will also conduct scientific research to demonstrate ecological and socioeconomic connectivity between territorial waters and the high seas. 
  • Building understanding of the most effective methods for monitoring and evaluating progress towards achieving SDG14 – Life below water, and how the resulting data will also contribute to managing the trade-offs between this goal and achieving other Sustainable Development Goals.

IIED's Essam Yassin Mohammed explains why we should value the contribution of small-scale fisheries to the economy  

The project builds on, and is linked to, IIED’s work programme on ocean and fisheries economics which has accumulated experience in South Asia (Bangladesh and Myanmar), Coastal East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique), and the Mediterranean region (Albania, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia) to ensure ownership, uptake and impact of the research.

In October 2018, IIED held Fish Night 5, an event that looked at how we can make sure that subsidies designed to benefit marine and coastal ecosystems don’t have a detrimental effect on smaller fisheries. It was streamed live on Facebook and you can watch the video.

In November 2018 an IIED webinar looked at how to get better data, and how this information can be used to shape national policies to better recognise the economic value of small-scale fisheries.


Seize the moment: towards fairer capacity building and marine technology transfer, Elisa Morgera, Mara Ntona (2018) IIED Briefing

Equity and benefit sharing from marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, Elisa Morgera (2018), IIED Briefing paper

Towards an inclusive blue economy, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2018), Project flyer