United Nations
Illuminating Hidden Harvests: The contribution of small-scale fisheries to sustainable development
by Food and Agriculture Organization (United Nations entity)
Small-scale fisheries are a vital source of livelihoods for millions, particularly in developing countries, and provide food and nutrition for billions. Despite this, SSF continue to be underreported and undervalued, causing them to receive little policy attention and investment at the national, regional and international levels. In response, FAO, WorldFish and Duke University are working in partnership with global experts to assess the contributions of small-scale fisheries. This effort is critical to supporting the growing momentum in implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines), and action on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Encompassing the pre-harvesting, harvesting and post-harvesting sectors of inland and marine fisheries, the study asks the questions:

What are the social, environmental, economic and governance contributions of small-scale fisheries at global and local scales?
What are the key drivers of change in these sectors, including both threats and opportunities?

The research builds on the initial 2012 Hidden Harvest study by FAO, the World Bank and WorldFish, which highlighted the diverse and misreported livelihood and economic contributions of capture fisheries globally. The research found that small-scale fisheries in developing countries produce almost as much fish for direct domestic consumption as large-scale fisheries, and most of this is consumed locally in rural settings where poverty rates are high and quality nutrition is sorely needed. Importantly, the study highlighted that almost 50 percent of workers in the sector are women.

The new study will use a case study approach to engage with local expertise in priority countries that have substantial small-scale fisheries sectors or notable nutritional dependence on small-scale fisheries. The study will also take advantage of improved availability of relevant national and global datasets on fisheries, demographics, employment, fish consumption and nutrition in the synthesis and extrapolation process.

Besides updating many indicators from the first study, the new study seeks in particular to provide new synthesis on social and nutritional benefits, and social differentiation in the flow of benefits from different fishery sectors. A series of thematic studies will highlight available information on important themes that may include among others climate change impacts, contributions to conservation and governance, where global synthesis is perhaps not yet possible. The team will engage diverse expertise across the research sector to improve the depth of analysis, and the validity and precision of new estimates, as well as customizing reporting and information presentation for diverse end-user groups.

To maximize the reach and uptake of the research findings, the project will engage in ongoing and diverse communication activities.
Progress reports
By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
Type of commitment
By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
Type of commitment
  • Economic benefits from sustainable fisheries
Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
Type of commitment
  • Legal/policy/institutional measures
  • Access to market-based instruments
  • Transfer of fishing technology
  • Access to coastal fishing grounds
  • Access and capacity building for eco-labelling and traceability systems
  • Community empowerment for fisheries management
Ad-hoc questionnaire on small-scale fisheries that will feed into both national case studies and global synthesis
Thematic studies and country case studies will be published as separate reports and scientific journal articles where appropriate rolling basis
IHH synthesis report and communications effort, involving close engagement with key stakeholders to support small-scale fishery communities and the drive to implement the SSF Guidelines based on study findings and recommendations - 07/2020
Methods and outcomes framework for monitoring change trajectories and impacts of investments and management innovation in the small-scale fisheries sector 12/2020
In-kind contribution
Staff / Technical expertise
Financing (in USD)
Basic information
Time-frame: June 2017 - December 2020
Duke University (Academic institution); WorldFish (Scientific community); Food and Agriculture Organization (United Nations entity)
Ocean Basins
  • Indian Ocean
  • North Atlantic
  • North Pacific
  • South Atlantic
  • South Pacific
Beneficiary countries
Other beneficaries
Contact information
Joe Zelasney, Fishery Officer, joseph.zelasney@fao.org,
Other SDGs
United Nations