Bryggen, the old harbour with historical wodden warehouses, now a World Heritage Site, was a perfect setting for the conferenceThe conference in Bergen was a joint event of EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes), NFU (Norwegian Association of Development Research) and the University of Bergen and the 9th in the series of EADI conferences taking place every three years. The theme in 2017 was Globalisation at the crossroads. Rethinking Inequalities and Boundaries, a topic of obvious relevance also to Mundus maris work.

Mundus maris has participated in the previous two already in 2014 in Bonn, Germany, and 2011 in York, UK:

This time, Mundus maris convened a panel together with Prof. Svein Jentoft of Tromsø University titled: "Small-scale fisheries between tradition and modernity - addressing poverty alleviation, food security and social development through the lens of human rights and dignity." Bergen with its historical waterfront buildings in Bryggen, now a World Heritage Site, and dating from the period of most intense trading exchange around stockfish (dried cod), provided a perfect setting. The panel was introduced as follows:

At the end of a three-year long bottom-up international consultation animated by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and involving some 4000 participants in a series of workshops and conferences around the world, the "Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication" (SSF Guidelines) was adopted in 2014 in a landmark decision.

While still often neglected and even marginalised, the SSF Guidelines recognise the important role that small-scale fisheries play in local food security and international trade. Their aggregated global production – predominantly for human consumption - has in fact tripled over the last five decades according to latest research of the Sea Around Us Project, while industrial output is steadily falling since the mid-1990s.

The implementation of the SSF Guidelines is now ongoing, and is being followed by the international research and networking project "Too Big to Ignore" about small-scale fisheries. The project offers several research clusters for investigating different aspects of the SSF Guidelines. Among others, it invited a number of academics and practitioners to write chapters about their research findings and analyses related to sections of the SSF guidelines. The resulting book, titled "The Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines: Global Implementation", has been published in June 2017 by Springer.

The book forms the core of the panel presentations and discussions, which address issues related to participation and empowerment of men and women operators in the small-scale fisheries sector - this as a way to address poverty alleviation and food security challenges within a framework of sustainable development and human rights and dignity. Among the specific dimensions in the SSF Guidelines in focus are the governance of tenure in small-scale fisheries and resource management, social development, employment and decent work; value chains, post-harvest and trade, gender equality, disaster risks and climate change.

The panel also addresses the SSF Guidelines in relation to other international instruments, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted the UN’s General Assembly in 2015, and which like the SSF Guidelines stress the need for a combined focus on environmental, economic and social dimensions on human well-being.

Cornelia E Nauen of Mundus maris set the scene during her introductory remarks and then passed the floor to Svein Jentoft who also represented Nicole Franz of FAO who was unable to join the conference.

He shared more background about the extra-ordinary bottom-up process that had led to the development of the draft SSF Guidelines and, in a complicated negotiation process to the adoption in their present form by FAO's  Committee of Fisheries in 2014.

Prof. Svein Jentoft, University of Tromsø, Norwegian College of Fishery ScienceThe SSF Guidelines broaden perspectives beyond the important productive roles of small-scale fisheries towards the demarginalisation of this social activity of men, women and children with all its diverse facets. They confirm the importance of ensuring their human rights and dignity and the need for participation of communities and individuals in the governance process.

Svein also shared highlights from the research network "Too big to ignore", where an international working group he chairs has chosen to investigate a wide variety of perspectives on the implementation of the SSF Guidelines in several countries. Altogether 97 authors, including two from Mundus maris, contributed chapters to the book, which counted more than 800 pages in the end and showcases the great variety within and between countries, but also many commonalities shared by different small-scale fisheries. Quite an exploit!

The next speaker was Dr. Martin Bohle, attended here in his function as representative of the International Association for Promoting Geoethics.

He argued that the earth sciences were underpinning many aspects of our societies and that geoethics in exercising the sciences and their applications was therefore of utmost importance. He then discussed the implementation challenge of the SSF Guidelines as one particular realisation of a more common governance challenge, which required a normative approach to achieve a sustainable governance of the 'wicked' global commons.

Dr Martin Bohle spoke about geoethicsHis "take home message" was that 'overall values, norms and principles that guide institutions and actions' set an essential meta-order to iterate the way forward. Geoethical thinking is a contribution to develop such a meta-order for appropriate behaviours and practices, wherever human activities interact with the Earth system. Click here to see his slides.

It was the role of Dr Aliou Sall of Mundus maris to round up the presentations with a critical reflection about the governance crisis in Senegal. Not being able to make the trip, Dr Cornelia E Nauen stood in and shared the highlights. The squeeze on fisheries resources in the country was engendered by heavy industrial and artisanal fishing that had escalated in the last two decades. The competition (and occasional collaboration) between the two subsectors in response to demand from local, regional and global markets had already led to the commercial extirpation of some of the most valuable resources, such as groupers, in Senegalese waters. It also resulted in women often having greater difficulties to get access to fish catches for processing and marketing in local and regional markets. Field research suggested that the difficulties of the government and its international aid donors in reigning in this overinvestment was closely connected to the break-down of earlier tacit alliances between traditional social regulations and public institutions. This had been brought about by the ill-informed creation of new institutions competing with traditional authorities and whose legitimacy was challenged by the artisanal fishers. Examples of earlier restraint and good collaboration and the negative effects of the subsequent break-down were illustrated through examples from the field. Suggested remedies were:

  • Recognition and restoration of the symbiosis between conventional legal institutions and informal instances of social regulation – the latter are spaces for producing alternative law;
  • Development of a SSF academy as a collective meeting and learning space blending existing and newly co-produced knowledge from different spheres;
  • Specific support to women to evolve in their roles according to their aspirations;
  • Developing learning modules on demand for fishers, e.g. on the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF).

Click here for the slides.

Achim Steiner, Chief Administrator of UNDPThe concluding discussion was lively with some participants suggesting that the SSF Guidelines and the EAF were too broad to be useful and thus could not be operationalised. It was admonished that there was not even a unique definition of small-scale fisheries and the general image of fisheries painted in too negative a way. The presenters countered that it was important to accept the diversity of definitions of what constituted small-scale fisheries in each and every country, where they always represented the majority of employment. That allowed to develop contextualised answers to the specifics in each country or region rather than pretending a global one size fits all. It was argued that a sort of iterative and modular progress would be most appropriate for social activities which had certain meta-commonalities, but also many site-specific features. Ensuring the sustainability of such diverse fisheries and the well-being of the men, women and children participating therein was a long-term challenge requiring continued efforts at different levels, including from research. While some differences of appreciation remained, there was consensus at the end that the SSF Guidelines were a stepping stone towards the even greater challenge of making the sustainable development goals a reality. Moses Adjei of the University of Bergen produced the report of the session. He had earlier-on reported about his field research in Ghana about the conflictual relationship between fisheries and the budding oil industry.

With up to 10 parallel sessions for the 470 registered participants, it was always hard to chose between equally interesting topics and presentations. The keynotes each day were the occasions to refect together about the major themes. The closing keynote was delivered by Achim Steiner, former head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) who had only recently taken on the role of head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). As the key body within the UN system to support implementing the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030, he made a passionate plea to put competition aside and broaden partnerships and essential cooperation to bring them to life. He appealed to everybody's sense of urgency and responsibility to act to ensure greater equality and good living conditions for the present and future generations. 

To get more information about the conference, click on the EADI Website.

The pictures are by CE Nauen.