No hidden catch: mainstreaming small-scale fisheries in national accounts

Article, 26 November 2018

The economic value of small-scale fisheries is often not recognised by national policymakers because of lack of data. A recent IIED webinar looked at how to get better data and how this information can be used to shape national policies.

Stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka; in some countries small-scale fisheries provide nearly half the overall catch but their contribution often goes unrecognised (Photo: Benard Gagnon, Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

Millions of men and women are employed in small-scale fisheries and associated industries, yet their contribution to national economies is vastly underestimated. They are ignored by policymakers and their potential is missed.

Much of this is due to the lack of information differentiated to distinguish between large and small-scale fisheries, and contributions made by businesses and individuals in the fisheries value chain. Many of these small-scale fisheries and businesses are informal and are difficult to track.

But there are emerging ways to deal with this, with natural capital accounting being one method that can help to identify the contribution made by small-scale fisheries to economic performance.

Better quality, transparent data is harder to ignore and can influence policymaking that responds to the specific needs of these fisheries. With greater investment and more inclusive fiscal policies, small-scale fisheries can take their true place in the economy.

A recent webinar organised by IIED focused on this issue. Sarah Harper, from the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, gave an introduction to how it is possible to get better data from small-scale fisheries. Michael Bordt, from UNESCAP Statistics Division, showed how collected data could be used for analysis across sectors. And Ina Porras, senior researcher in IIED's Shaping Sustainable Markets research group, talked about ways to integrate the data into policymaking, translating complex figures into policy-relevant messaging.

From responses to questions arising from the presentations it was clear that a determined effort is being made to gather this information. But as Bordt pointed out, right from the start, there are big gaps in assessing dynamic fish stocks and quantity of catch, with significant amounts of fish landed illegally and therefore, unreported.

Ocean accounts are being tested by different countries but work is still very much at the scoping stage. IIED is working on how to do fisheries accounts using the UNSEEA framework although again, a concerted drive is needed to gather stronger data to put into the framework.

Men and women’s different opportunities to access finance – one of the big issues for small-scale fishers – came up next, and many other questions followed. All four of the presentations, and the question-and-answer session, can be listened to in the recording below or on IIED's YouTube channel.

IIED is producing practical guidance for preparing fisheries accounts that will be published early in 2019.

We’re always keen to hear other people’s experiences, particularly from those people at the sharp end of producing performing reports (such as GDP) in national statistics offices. We’ll be using the guidance in practical workshops in 2019 and as we start to fill our own knowledge gaps, we will share what we’ve found out.


Ina Porras (, senior researcher, IIED's Shaping Sustainable Markets research group

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