"Leading by examples", thus was the motto of the African regional gathering of the 4th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress convened in Cape Town, South Africa, 21-23 November 2022. This congress concluded the series of five regional conferences, one for each continent, towards the end of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022). Hosted by the University of the Western Cape together with the Fisheries Department and organised by the Too Big To Ignore global research platform led by Ratana Chuenpagdee, the congress attracted some 160 participants mostly on site, but also offered online participation. Moenieba Isaacs of UWC (pictured) chaired the opening together with Shehu Akintola of Lagos State University.

Six plenary session allowed to delve into key themes like: Action Research, Blue Justice, Climate-Friendly Food Systems, Business and Social Innovation, Community-Based Conservation, and Gender Equity. Sessions on future leaders, a policy forum and the closing session framed additional themes, many of which were further debated in the numerous parallel break-out sessions. Implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries as a key demand ran at least in the background through most sessions. Thankfully, many contributions focused on ways forward and promising examples of engagement of and with small-scale fisheries and the men and women working hard along the value chains. Selected results of the Illuminated Hidden Harvest (IHH) Study showing the huge social and economic importance of small-scale fisheries (SSF) were cited over and over again. The numerous case studies conducted by FAO, Duke University and WorldFish Center to come together in the IHH surely inspire greater attention and determination to protect and promote SSF.

A debate on how to develop and sustain more local and national initiatives without being dependent on aid donor funding or big international NGOs or foundations warrants particular attention. That would imply building on the types of local developments, including national and regional trade in traditionally conditioned products meeting consumer tastes compared to a widespread trend to destroy these autochtonous efforts to make room for foreign extractive models. That may resonate with those who have seen the multiple prize winning documentary from 2018 about the small-scale fisheries in Casamance, southern Senegal titled 'Golden Fish, African Fish' (Poisson d'or, poisson africain) by Thomas Grand and Moussa Diop. Mundus maris co-sponsered it to get it off the ground. It ends with the same type of reflection by an old wise gardener in the face of mass displacements of women fish processors into squalid conditions to make room for a foreign funded fishmeal factory and disrupting the regional economic integration that had developed around the fishery of small pelagics.

As we heard in many congress presentations, the de facto aim of many national policies is still primarily focused on international export with insufficient regard for conditions and aspirations of men and women in SSF who, after all, contribute the lion's share towards jobs, food security and more. That's against a backdrop of eroding livelihoods of SSF where even basic needs like regular food, health and sanitary services, and schooling are not always accessible. So many demands from women and men in the fisheries were strongly focussed on creating first the conditions allowing them to earn a decent living. Meeting basic needs entails typically access to affordable credit, safe access to land/decent working spaces, training and education, health services, being listened to by people in decision making positions higher up.... These basics come usually before engaging with bigger global issues - even though effects of international IUU fishing and climate change loomed large in many sessions as they are being felt already in people's daily lives. Crucial gender equity issues came up frequently, however, male participants were shy to participate in the Q&As though a couple men presented papers advocating gender equity.

Mundus maris was very happy to contribute to these important debates with some insights from practice in some West African countries. Cornelia E Nauen presented some first hand experience together with Aliou Sall on how to make the connections between the principles of good governance in fisheries and how to put these into practice as part of the SSF Academy approach. The Academy is a safe, respectful space for co-creation of knowledge. It promotes dialogue with and for women and men in SSF rcognising their knowledge and experience. It fosters interaction with others who provide complementary perspectives through e.g. scientific information and policies. Everybody is welcome. One of the themes increasingly raised in fishing communities is the ecosystem approach to fisheries, which is finally becoming more broadly recognised. The demand for co-management also voiced at the conference is spreading. But challenges remain on how to practice its major principles in daily lives. Some additional learning support can be by videos, preferably in local languages to inform academy learners about their rights. Some printed materials are also available, increasingly complemented by applications on mobile phones which are becoming more widespread also among people in SSF. The slides of the talk are available here.

Sarah Appiah, from the Department of Economics of the University of Ghana and also from Mundus maris talked about Livelihood shocks and coping strategies among Ghanaian women in SSF. She reported that the four most dramatic shocks noted by the more than 300 women interviewed for the study were

- a major decline in price noted by 281 women (84.4%),
- the decline in local fish catches deplored by 264 women (79.3%),
- financial loss due to credit sales suffered by 237 women (71.2%), and
- loss of produce during processing experienced by 130 women (39%).

None of the women could count on insurance or other support to cope with such shocks. The most prominent response was to buy fish on credit from fish mummies - 312 women used this strategy (93.7%), 20% could rely on savings, about another 20% migrated temporarily. Some 61 women (18.3%) benefited from assistance from family and friends, but 178 women (53.5%) did nothing, at least initially. The study illustrated the creativity and determination of the women to cope with the hardships and effort to regain their status as pillars in the SSF economy.

The congress offered a platform for a rich menu of analyses and avenues tested to respond to deteriorating conditions such as reduced catches compounded by climate change effects. Here is not the space to report on the great diversity of conditions, but also more in depths about many commonalities. Interestingly, during the closing session, the organisers asked participants to reflect in smaller groups about what steps should be taking next on the strength of the findings presented and discussed. The groups were fishers and traders, policy makers, online participants, NGOs and civil society organisations, researchers, young people and upcoming scientists. After less than half a hour of group discussions, each group reported back in plenary.

Interestingly, the policy group with a minister and government officials advocated the implementation of SSF-friendly regulations and substantive advances in implementing the SSF Guidelines based on human rights. The entire congress has been recorded and sessions can be revisited until February 2023. All concerned about the future of SSF should keep a watching brief also of any follow-up by Too Big To Ignore and other organisations and platforms supporting the event.