Strengthening knowledge on national policy and law and their alignment with the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines

By Senia Febrica, Julia Nakamura, Jackie Sunde & Tapiwa Warikandwa

As part of our ongoing partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Hub researchers from Ghana, Namibia and South Africa have contributed to the development and launch of a new international database that serves to identify relevant national law and policy instruments for small-scale fisheries and to assess whether there is alignment with the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines). This blogpost outlines Hub’s contributions to the development of the SSF-LEX database and its launching event. 

Introducing SSF-Lex 

SSF-LEX is FAO’s ​ free online legal and​ policy database entirely dedicated to small-scale fisheries​​ that ​support​s​ the implementation of the SSF Guidelines.​ SSF-LEX provides ​country profile​​s with information about national ​small-scale fisheries socioeconomic data, international and regional commitments, constitutional provisions, institutional arrangements, definition(s) of ‘small-scale fisheries’ and related terms, and​ a list of ​ national legislation and policies​ relevant to small-scale fisheries​. ​T​he database also provides ​brief​ analys​e​s of the national regulatory and policy framework for selected countries​, covering sustainable governance of tenure and resources management, social development and decent work, value-chains and trade, gender equality, disaster risks, and climate change issues​. The database helps identify good State practices and needs for improvements. 

Hub early-career researcher​ Julia Nakamura (University of Strathclyde, UK) co-led the team in FAO that developed SSF-LEX, while ​Bolanle Erinosho (University of Cape Coast, Ghana), Jackie Sunde (University of Cape Town, South Africa), and Tapiwa Warikandwa (University of Namibia) reviewed and contributed to the SSF-LEX’s country profiles of Ghana, Namibia, and South Africa​​.  

Reflecting on Hub contributions to SSF-Lex 

For the country profile on Ghana, Bolanle Erinosho ​underscored:​​     ​ 
  • ​​t​he role of the Constitution in SSF, as it acknowledges respect for international law (Article 40) and states that the Government shall conduct its international affairs in consonance with the accepted principles of public international law and diplomacy, in a manner consistent with the national interest of Ghana (Article 73); 
  • the role of the Co-Management Policy for the Fisheries Sector (2020)​;​ 
  • the Coastal Development Authority Act, 2017, which includes an objective for the Authority to develop the fishing industry for small-scale fishers and improve their competitiveness as part of ‘social development, employment and decent work’, through improved technology and to promote efficiency for the domestic export market’. 
For the country profile on ​Namibia,​ Tapiwa Warikandwa highlighted that: 
  • ‘an estimated 46,500 fishers are employed in the small-scale fisheries sector. Of these, 45,000 hold inland jobs and 1500 coastal jobs. The small-scale fisheries sector is estimated to support the livelihoods of over 280,000 Namibians in terms of food, income, nutrition and spin-off industries’; 
  • ​​​‘​the Government of Namibia has implemented the programme known as “the Namibianisation of the fishing sector’ to revive Namibia’s fishing industry, with the following objectives: to increase local ownership of vessels and companies involved in the fishing industry; to create new jobs; to replace foreign labour with Namibian labour; and to build a domestic processing sector’;​​​​     ​ 
  • the Namibian Constitution prohibits slavery and forced labour, and calls upon the Parliament to enact legislation providing directly or indirectly for the advancement of persons within Namibia who have been socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged by past discriminatory laws or practices, or for the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at redressing social, economic or educational inequalities in the Namibian society because of past discriminatory practices;  
  • the Namibian Constitution stipulated that Ombudsman had the duty to investigate complaints concerning the over-utilisation of living natural resources, the irrational exploitation of non-renewable resources, the degradation and destruction of ecosystems and the failure to protect the beauty and character of Namibia; 
  • By developing the National Plan of Action for Small-Scale Fisheries (NPOA-SSF) in 2022, Namibia became one of the first African nations to adopt the SSF Guidelines. 
​​​​ For the country profile on South Africa, Jackie Sunde provided substantive inputs on: 
  • ​The recognition of customary fishing rights: following the 2012 Policy for SSF, which called for recognising customary fishing rights, the 1998 Marine Living Resources Act was amended in 2014 to include recognition of small-scale fisheries. The Supreme Court affirmed that the Act includes recognition of customary rights in 2018, in line with the SSF Guidelines’ recognition of customary systems of tenure. Lessons on the implementation of this piece of national legislation were also integrated in the FAO e-learning course on SSF laws and policy that the Hub co-developed in 2022; 
  • ​the Commercial Fishing Rights Allocation Policy, which provides for a separate process for allocation than that for small-scale fishing rights, overlaps with the small-scale sector, as many of the resources that are allocated to commercial rights holders have historically also been harvested by small-scale fishers. On the other hand, the SSF Policy includes the principle of preferential access to resources for SSF;​ 
  • the General Policy on the Allocation and Management of Fishing Rights (2015 and 2021) targets the commercial sectors (e.g. abalone, demersal shark longline, hake deep sea trawl, squid), but it is also of relevance to the small-scale sector, as these species are already in the small-scale fisheries basket or have the potential to be allocated to small-scale fisheries in the future; 
  • the 2021 National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy is also relevant for SSFs. 

Launching the SSF-Lex at the World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress 

​​​ ​Julia Nakamura ​ co-organised ​the launch of ‘SSF-LEX: the new small-scale fisheries policy and legal database’ at the 4th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress–Africa (Cape Town, South Africa, 21-23 November 2022) on 23 November 2022, with a view to addressing fisheries managers, legal practitioners, scientists, academics, governments representatives, non-governmental stakeholders, fishers, and fishing communities. ​At the event, Julia underscored:​​ 

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​​​Jackie Sunde was invited as a panellist, who reflected on the usefulness of SSF-LEX to fishers, academics and human rights lawyers, from the South African perspective.​ She highlighted the importance of including in the definition of small-scale fishing, all small-scale fishers along the value chain, including women. This is part of a broader research efforts across the Hub to better understand gender dimensions of small-scale fisheries and other connections to the oceans, and their human rights implications.​   ​​ 

Ongoing research under the Hub 

Julia Nakamura is currently working on a joint research paper with other Hub researchers on the international legal responses for protecting small-scale fishers’ human rights impacted by a changing climate, as part of the Hub-led special issue of the International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law (IJMCL) on the ocean-climate nexus and human rights. For more information on ocean and climate change nexus, see previous article Mitchell Lennan and Elisa Morgera published by IJMCL on ‘The Glasgow Climate Conference (COP26)’ that has nearly 9,000 pdf views and downloads.  

Bolanle Erinosho, Jackie Sunde and Tapiwa Warikandwa will meet at the University of Namibia in early February, together with other Hub researchers of the Customary Law Network, to discuss progress and compare research findings across Ghana, Namibia and South Africa on small-scale fishers’ customary laws and the protection of their human rights.  

Photo by Gideon Williams