Ocean Philosophers and Mundus maris teamed up for a workshop on sustainable fisheries in Kiel, 17 November 2021, to cast some light on the difficulties of small-scale fishers in Europe and seek ways to support their low impact activities with high potential to lead to sustainable forms of fishing. That was intended to be a contribution to the Fisheries Week organised as part of the Ocean Summit in Schleswig Holstein, northern Germany. In particular, the event was to highlight World Fisheries Day, which is celebrated the world over each year on 21 November.

The workshop could not be conducted as originally planned because attendance was low mostly as a result of recently increasing incidences of infections with the Delta variant of Covid-19. However, the slides (click on the link to see them) of the impuls talk, jointly prepared, were still useful as guidance for some reflections on research results and pointers to reliable sources of information. Informative posters about fish species occurring in the Western Baltic and produced during the recent summer sailing trip of the Ocean Philosophers created a friendly atmosphere for the conversation.

So, to honour the presence of those in attendance, the opportunity was seized for a more free wheeling brain storming about the challenges to small-scale fishers and what could be done to support their struggles to get more recognition and attention in society at large and policy circles. Over the years, their numbers have steadily fallen in Europe, largely as a result of pro-industry policies and subsidies. In the mostly northern European countries where much of the catch allocations continue to be national TACs (total allowable catches), small-scale coastal fishers get at best the bread crums of tonnage assigned to industrial vessels. These get decided in an annual horse trading event before X-mas of ministers in charge of fisheries with little desire to invest precious 'political capital' into the thorny issue of how to get out of the enduring crisis. Small-scale fishers, once the backbone of high quality fish supplies for human consumption, have lost economic ground, in Europe, when long-term overfishing pulled the rug under their feet and imports from all over the world covered up for shrinking domestic landings. That is also the case in the Mediterranean, where 85% of the populations supporting fisheries are in extremely bad shape! Social studies back in the 1990s showed another side of the medal in that the sons of coastal fishers sought their future elsewhere as they could barely find companions accepting their often difficult life styles. Mothers discouraged their kids from stepping into the foot steps of their fathers.

Yet, tourists enjoying holidays on the coast in the Baltic, North Sea and Mediterranean are particularly attracted to scenes of small-scale fishers unloading fresh fish and going about their land-based business on shore. They love to hear some of the lore and expect the flavour of maritime culture represented in the crafts of coastal fishers and tasting fresh quality fish. They love that atmosphere so much that a colleague from Sweden had told us earlier about the desperate measures of municipalities hiring actors to pretend to the tourists they were fishers as the real ones had been driven out of their livelihoods. According to the estimates of the FAO only little more than 400,000 artisanal fishers are left in Europe, not a strong electoral reservoir or powerful lobby group.

Yet, these very fishers using low-impact gears could be the guardians of the resources as Mundus maris has seen during a visit to Paolo Fanciulli in Talamone on the Tuscan coast of Italy. His underwater museum, the House of the fish (la Casa dei pesci), constituted of marble sculptures keeps illegal and highly destructive bottom trawlers out of the coastal strip reserved for artisans like him. The valuable posidonia meadows, nurseries of many species, are protected and fish can grow to reproductive sizes. The protection of this still small part of the sea has already recovered some functions of a healthy marine ecosystem and is even attracting back some dolphins, turtles and other threatened species. Where the sciences, arts and committed people meet, a better life comes within reach.

Can you imagine to go forward to a well protected, healthy ocean producing the five million tons more fish in European waters that would be possible with wise management according to a report of independent scientists already back in 2016? These would come on top of the 8.8 million tons landed at the time, an increase of 57%.

Imagine, the trade ministers in the WTO would finally stop the USD 22.2 billion per year harmful subsidies, public funding for overfishing of mostly industrial fleets and incentives for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Imagine the negotiations at the UN would lead to an agreement on seriously protecting 30% of the world's ocean, a share of all types of marine ecosystems, by 2030. That would have huge positive effects on recovering the functions and productivity of these ecosystems, significantly slow the mass extinction of species and positively affect the ocean's role in climate stabilisation. It would also give a new lease of life to safe and prosperous low impact fisheries. It would allow revitalising high quality food value chains by men and women taking the best of maritime traditions to new levels.

Instead of piling up new obstacles and objections, why not teaming up to make such a vision come true? It'll take more than today's remaining artisans. It's a vision to engage our entire societies as we try to navigate unknown waters of change - change for living with the ocean and one another in respectful manners. There are countless ways to approach that - have a look at the Ocean Summit Initiative in Kiel for more (in German).

Do you want to help us reaching out to more people and make positive change possible? An easy first step is to download the free FishBase Guide App from the Google Play Store to get key information on any fish species by typing in the common name in a language in use in the country you're in. You'll see for example what the size is at which the species will reproduce and what is the optimum size for high catches for ever. You'll also see at a glance how vulnerable the species is to overfishing. It helps you get criteria as a producer of buyer to make decisions for sustainable use.

If you want to support us and get a little more involved with our work, you can contact Mundus maris on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the Ocean Philosophers on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - we love collaboration. And 2022 is the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries. Let's seize the opportunity together!

Text and photos by Cornelia E Nauen.