International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022

This page tracks partnerships, as well as research and policy insights arising from deep engagement with human rights during 2022 International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture.

In this page you will find: the aims of our initiatives for IYAFA; opportunities to engage in key events throughout 2022; useful resources, that will be constantly updated; illustrations of how our partnerships with UN, NGO and research partners evolve;’ and reflections on specific areas that require more research (blue economy, gender, ocean defenders, conservation and bio-cultural diversity, and inclusive law and policy development. If you wish to collaborate with us or find out more, please contact Senia.Febrica@strath.ac.uk.

Small-scale fishers are being negatively impacted by ocean pollution, unsustainable ocean uses, and climate change. But their needs, cultural heritage, unique knowledge and customary laws are often disregarded in decisions on the ocean. There is a pressing need to mainstream the human rights of small-scale fishers in ocean governance”.

Elisa Morgera, Hub Director

The International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA) represents an opportunity to raise awareness on the human rights of small-scale fishers and fish workers and on the importance of adopting specific national laws, public policies and programs to enable them to operate in a sustainable manner. Particular attention is to be paid to the most vulnerable rural areas, constrained by poor governance and generally low capacity to low capacity to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

The One Ocean Hub, with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), are joining efforts to strengthen the recognition and protection of human rights of small-scale fishers and their communities during the IYAFA. This collaboration is meant to:

  • advance understanding of the multiple human rights issues facing small-scale fishers, fishworkers and their communities;
  • support a more holistic protection of these rights, in order to ensure SDG synergies and co-benefits; and
  • connect existing research and action on these issues, with a view to expanding partnerships.
“I hope to see the ocean restore itself to what it was”, says SIMLINDILE GXALA, a south african fisherman. Small-scale fishers in South Africa are struggling to make a living and, despite their inter-generational expertise, they remain excluded from ocean decision-making. 

Engage with us for change

Our researchers and partners have emphasised how crucial it is to bring clarity on the content of the human rights-based approach to small-scale fisheries and build the capacities of fisheries-related communities of practice to protect human rights in their work. 

Join us in these events to discuss more how we can join forces to advance the recognition of the human rights of the small-scale fishers worldwide.

June 2022 High-level event at UN World Ocean Week: The Hub will share key research insights and support small-scale fisheries representatives and advocates to voice their human rights concerns feeding into a 2-hour, virtual high-level event where the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, the Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights and other Rapporteurs and other UN representatives will explore how their respective mandates can contribute to enhancing the protection of the human rights of small-scale fishers. The event aims to:

  • raise awareness of the need for a holistic approach to the protection of the human rights of small-scale fishers and fishworkers among ocean funders, governments, civil society, researchers, NGOs, business and communities; and
  • develop guidance on how to better protect the human rights of small-scale fishers, fishworkers and their communities.

World Ocean Week has been organized every year since 2021, and seeks to raise global awareness of the benefits humankind derives from the ocean and our individual and collective duty to use its resources sustainably. During the week, civil society, researchers, NGOs, business, communities and governments to mobilize millions of people around the world in events. This year’s theme is “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods,” and the programme will be the first-ever hybrid celebration, featuring both in-person programming hosted at UN HQ in NYC and virtual components for global public accessibility.

May-September 2022 workshop series: A series of three workshops on ‘Small-scale fishers’ customary law and tangible and intangible heritage within Strategic Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Assessments, Marine Protected Areas, and Marine Spatial Planning” will explore and reflect on how ocean heritage is defined within these processes and the impact of these processes on the heritage and human rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

  • The workshops aim to advance understanding on the integration of small-scale fishers’ human rights, including in terms of customary laws and tangible/intangible cultural heritage, in Strategic Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Assessments, Marine Protected Areas, and Marine Spatial Planning at the national level.

June 2022 UNEP Winter/Summer School on the Environment and Human Rights: A panel on the human rights of small-scale fishers will explore the positive outcomes that collaborative and human rights-focused initiatives can bring to various small-scale fishing actors (from small-scale fishers, fishworkers, and their communities to governments and organizations working with them) simultaneously. The panel will present the perspectives of researchers, and of international and regional organizations that have been working closely with human rights initiatives for small-scale fisheries. It will provide a discussion to further understand how existing initiatives have contributed to multiple benefits and SDG synergies outlined above. It will aim to:

  • Collect evidence and insights of how the recognition, protection and promotion of substantive human rights of small-scale fishers strengthen their capacity to fully realize their fundamental rights and effectively perform all social, economic and environmental aspects of fisheries sustainability; and
  • Distil advice on protecting the rights of small-scale artisanal fishers, fishworkers, and their communities in order to contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to the benefit of all/other sectors of society.

October 2022 (TBC): a technical workshop on fostering cooperation among relevant UN Bodies in the mutually supportive interpretation and implementation of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants. The event is aimed to:

  • provide a platform for small-scale fisher representatives, researchers and UN representatives to develop collaborations on the needs and opportunities to ensure the full realization of small-scale fisher human rights; and
  • identify ways for FAO and the UNOHCHR to advance their cooperation on the human rights-based approach to small-scale fishers.
Artwork by Kevin Ngwenya, A Fishers Tale, 2021

Relevant resources


Small-Scale Fisheries and Blue Justice: Procedural and Substantive Rights of Fisherfolks

Small-scale fishers and ocean well-being

One Ocean Hub highlights role and needs of small-scale fishers at UN consultations on environmental human rights defenders

The nexus between tangible and intangible cultural heritage and ocean governance in Ghana: the case of canoe inscriptions, festivals and asafo companies BLOG POSTS:

One Ocean Hub highlights role and needs of small-scale fishers at UN consultations on environmental human rights defenders

Scroll down for other resources.

Our partners

Together with these partners we showcase the contributions of small-scale fishers to global food security, nutrition, poverty alleviation, and sustainable fisheries, and highlight the interest and need to protect their human rights.



UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UNDOALOS)

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, Dr David Boyd

UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki



Blue Ventures

Too Big to Ignore

The Danish Institute for Human Rights

The IUCN “People and the Ocean” specialist group

Collaboration with our UN partners:

The One Ocean Hub and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have made progress made on these issues in the past two years by:

The UNOHCHR has co-developed with the Hub and FAO a joint programme of work to advance understanding of the multiple threats to the rights of small-scale fishers to have a voice in decisions affecting their lives, health, culture and livelihoods, and garner further support for small-scale fishers that act as environmental human rights defenders. In addition, the collaboration will explore good practices in ensuring the direct participation of small-scale fishers in engagements at different levels.

UNEP: The One Ocean Hun and UNEP are co-developing on a variety of e-learning tools on human rights and SDG 14, as well as on ocean defenders as environmental human rights defenders. In 2021, the One Ocean Hub brought together FAO and UNEP and small-scale fishers’ representatives from Ghana and South Africa to discuss the human rights dimensions of small-scale fisheries and their contributions to ocean well-being and sustainable livelihoods at World Oceans Week.

With UNDOALOS we are working with UN-Nippon Fellows and Alumni for mutual capacity building between government officials, representatives of civil society, and researchers in understanding opportunities and challenges to achieve sustainable development in small-scale fisheries. In addition, the One Ocean Hub is part of the ‘Friends of United Nations World Oceans Day’ and has contributed to the virtual components of these worldwide celebrations since 2020.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, Dr David Boyd, is passionate in advocating sustainable environment as a human right, together we are collaborating to highlight that protection of small-scale fishers rights helps to protect the environment.

The work of UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, stresses the fundamental role of cultural rights for the respect of human dignity, we are collaborating to highlight the contribution of small-scale fishers to sustainable development, while also preserving a diversity of knowledge and ways of life.

Defenders of the ocean Directed by: Laura Merilainen / One Ocean Hub & Noel Keserwany / What Took You So Long. Produced by: What Took You So Long. Cinematography: Nessim Stevenson and Marius Van Straaten

This short animation film tells the story of a South African small-scale fisherwoman, Hilda Adams, who poignantly talks about the challenges small-scale fisher communities face. The film explains how the One Ocean Hub works with small-scale fishers, UN agencies and other partners to protect small-scale fishers and their communities human rights during the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries (IYAFA) and beyond.

Collaboration with our NGO partners:

With Blue Ventures we are collaborating to identify international support needed to ensure synergistic implementation of the FAO Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants.

With Too Big to Ignore we are developing awareness raising materials to highlight the barriers and injustices faced by small-scale fishers and opportunities for States and non-state actors to advance small-scale fishers’ human rights.

WWF is passionate about addressing increasing threats and challenges to small-scale fishers by the “Blue Economy” agendas which frame the ocean as the new economic frontier, together we work to draw attention to implications of the blue economy for fishers, and to support the role of fishers in conservation and sustainable use of the ocean.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights shares the Hub’s passion to protect and provide access for small-scale fishers to marine resources and markets. Together we collaborate to highlight the essential need for a human rights-based approach, which ensures participation, accountability and non-discrimination, to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development).

The IUCN “People and the Ocean” specialist group shares with the Hub a common concern on the lack of recognition for small-scale fishers as environmental human rights defenders. We are exploring together the need to build the capacity of ocean practitioners to contribute to the protection of human rights in their work.

The Hub has collaborated with the Global Network of Human Rights and the Environment since 2021, with a view to raising awareness about the ocean-human rights nexus and the need for environmental and human rights lawyers to engage in ocean governance. After contributing to the inaugural Winter/Summer School, the Hub co-developed with the Network the call for the 2022 Winter/Summer School that was entirely focused on the water cycle and the ocean.

Hub’s research on small-scale fishers

Blue economy

Participation of small-scale fishers in the blue economic sector is poorly defined and managed. This results in injustices, such as lack of access to resources and economic opportunities and impactslivelihoods and increases vulnerability to change. The One Ocean Hub is working with small-scale fishers in three African countries; Ghana, Namibia and South Africa In South Africa, through arts-based methodologies (empatheatre) our research has highlighted that current economic discourse and processes are exclusionary and often results in illegal behaviour and rising conflicts in ocean and coastal governance processes.  In addition, we have found that the recreational fishing sector is generating significantly towards state income, yet this is not filtering through to the most vulnerable. We continue to work in South Africa with  theCoastal Justice Network to support small-scale fishers  to meaningfully engage with the ocean’s economy plans and tackle environmental and social issues more inclusively – defending their rights to a healthy future. In Ghana, cultural attachment, and the role of women in the artisanal fishery sector has been highlighted. Work so far has shown that intangible and tangible heritage is revealed in stories and art painted on traditional canoes, with continued work in progress to improve the legal instruments, training and capacity building across scales. Research is beginning in Namibia to explore both artisanal and recreational fisheries and their contributions and access to equitable blue economies.


Women play a critical role along the entire economic value chain in small-scale fisheries, but their voice is often not heard. Women have  limited access to resources and influence on the decision-making processes. There is an urgent need to respect and recognise the human rights of woman artisanal fishers. Our research has shown that unless access to resources, better working conditions and a voice at the decision-making table is provided, they will continually be exposed to human rights injustices and disempowered.  Hub researchers at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana have undertaken legal and sociological research on the role and challenges of women in small-scale fisheries and have joined forces with various partners to connect efforts in this area. A study conducted by the Hub’s NGO partner, Hɛn Mpoano (“Our Coast”), revealed that women are poorly organized and lacked fisheries-related assets or access to credit, which contribute to their limited voice in ocean decision-making. The lack of access to savings and micro credit, by small-scale fishers, according to Hen Mpoano, reduces their opportunity to switch to other livelihood opportunities during the lean fishing seasons and might indirectly contribute to the use of unsustainable fishing practices.

Similarly,  the Hub researchers of the Environmental Research Centre at the University of Rhodes in South Africa is supporting groups of coastal fisherwomen who are drawn from small scale fishing cooperatives in Gqeberha and Hamburg. The women approached the Hub researchers and shared the challenges they face in the fishing sector (more so with Covid 91 lockdowns and restrictions) and a wish to diversify or supplement their livelihoods through sewing and gardening. The Hub researchers through its partners managed to source funds and purchased the start-up materials which involved sewing machines and materials. In addition, the hub researchers have partnered with other stakeholders to provide skills training and access to markets, scheduled for early April 2022.

ocean defenders

“Environmental human rights defenders” are defined by the United Nations as individuals and communities that raise awareness about the negative impacts on human rights of unsustainable decisions on the environment, who are increasingly the object of (often lethal) attacks by governments or private companies. They thus exemplify a double flaw of national governments: they do not effectively protect or ensure sustainable use of the environment to the detriment of human rights, and they persecute or allow persecution of those that raise awareness about these problems. The Hub shared some of these research findings and innovative methodologies for collaborating and supporting small-scale fishers  in the context of a UN Global and African consultations on environmental human rights defenders in 2021. This contributed to the recognition of small-scale fishers , indigenous peoples and local communities negatively affected by blue economy initiatives as environmental human rights defenders. This revealed a blind spot in current international initiatives that are land-focused and ignore “ocean defenders.” Hub research was integrated into recommendations to the UN System to better coordinate efforts and fill gaps in supporting ocean defenders (to be published in 2022). Findings and approaches to enhancing participation and inclusion of small-scale fishers from South Africa (notably the Coastal Justice Network approaches) are being considered among good practices to be documented by UNEP.

Conservation and biocultural diversity

Biodiversity and culture are inextricably linked. Often conservation decisions are made excluding people and the cultural connections with the ocean space. Current and continued research is showing there is deep connection between SSF communities and not only the coastal environment but also with the deep-sea. This co-produced knowledge using different research methodologies can help inform and reform current conservation management practices, to not only protect biodiversity but also culturally significant areas in marine protected areas. In addition, the Hub is developing pathways to protect procedural rights of SFF towards consultation and participation in the decision-making processes, for example in integrated coastal zone management and marine spatial planning. Our research is informing international and regional approaches to marine spatial planning with a view to ensuring that SSFs’ human rights are fully integrated in decisions on access and uses of the marine environment. 177/200

inclusive law and policy development / participation

Inclusive law and policy development (guided by the 2018 UN Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment) is essential to support more integrated and equitable decisions on the ocean, to the benefit of the most marginalized communities, such as small-scale fishers. To that end, it is necessary to bring together expertise from the law, arts, history, sociology, anthropology, politics, and different marine sciences to iteratively co-develop inclusive law and policy with research with partners at local, national, regional, and international levels. This inter- and transdisciplinary approach supports authorities in achieving policy coherence and co-beneits, while enabling marginalized actors to voice their demands as legal entitlements. The Hub’s research and engagement activities on customary law and cultural heritage in Ghana, South Africa, and Namibia are facilitating access for community leaders, small-scale fisheries authorities, and women to decision-making process, and establishing knowledge action networks to strengthen partnerships between researchers, NGOs and communities to effectively participate in ocean-related processes.

Additional resources

Fishers Tales (an arts-based storytelling project that collects the wondrous tales that fishers enjoy telling about their ocean adventures)

COVID-19 impacts on the South African Small-Scale Fisheries Sector      

Namibia’s Experience on Implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Small-Scale Fisheries (Day 1)       

Namibia’s Experience on Implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Small-Scale Fisheries (Day 2)       

Photo-story: Small-scale fishers and human rights

Breaking Laws on the Sea I   

Breaking Laws on the Sea II  

2021 Summer/Winter School: Environmental defenders in times of pandemic       

2021 Summer/Winter School: Participation as Resistance   

Articles: Morgera E and Nakamura J (2021) Shedding a Light on the Human Rights of Small-scale Fishers: Complementarities and Contrasts between the UN Declaration on Peasants’ Rights and the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines, in Brunori et al, Commentary on the Declaration on the Rights of PeasantsM. Sowman, J. Sunde, T. Pereira, B. Snow, P. Mbatha and A.  James, Unmasking  governance  failures:  The  impact  of  COVID-19  on small-scale  fishing  communities  in  South  Africa, Marine  Policy, (2021)