Small-Scale Fisheries

Small-scale fisheries (SSF) play vital roles in sustaining coastal wildlife systems and provide crucial nutrition for billions and livelihoods for millions of people, but they are jeopardized by myriad social, economic, environmental, and political challenges. Conserving coastal oceans depends on the largest group of people who utilize the ocean - the women and men who fish and trade from SSF. WCS supports fishers, their communities and governments to maintain ecosystem integrity, and to sustain resilient SSF and their natural ecosystem, food security and poverty-reduction functions in more than thirty countries.

Photo Credit: ©Erika Pineros


Across the planet we collaborate with small-scale fishers and their communities to achieve a shared vision for a more secure and resilient future. At WCS we focus on the most intact coastal ecosystems left on the planet. These peopled seas are home to small-scale fishers and coastal communities, some of whom are Indigenous Peoples. Intact coastal systems are the source of their families’ livelihoods and wellbeing and the foundation of their cultures. Their direct and continuing interest in the health of these systems has made small-scale fishers and their communities our best partners and most important political constituency for conserving natural resources in the wild landscapes and seascapes on which we all depend.

We created our global SSF Program to coordinate this work across our organization, supporting WCS country programs to develop and implement initiatives that empower small-scale fishers and fishworkers and their governments to best manage and utilize coastal resources. Key to our approach is to respect, incorporate and foster traditional, indigenous and community-based management systems and knowledge to protect the biodiversity, societal and economic values provided by marine ecosystems. Central to our global work with SSF is the sequential, human rights-based approach articulated by WCS’ Rights & Communities program.

WCS partners with fishers to help secure their basic socio-economic rights, including the rights of future generations to fisheries resources. Once fishers and their rights are relatively secure, WCS supports them and their governments to more effectively, transparently, and accountably co-manage fisheries. When fishers and governments have secured rights and authority and capacity to co-manage fisheries, WCS supports them to benefit more from their fishing without overfishing, helping to create virtuous cycles that secure coastal ecosystems and the food, jobs, services and other benefits they provide.

WCS´ 2030 Small-Scale Fisheries Strategy

In parallel with the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, WCS is developing its first global small-scale fisheries strategy. The strategy will focus and synergize our work with SSF both within and between our country programs, elevate small scale fishers and their fisheries on the global agenda through policy and communications, and ensure scale is achieved both within and beyond our network through our regional programs and partners. We are developing ourthe strategy by drawing on our decades-long partnerships with fishers, governments and other coastal partners. We are currently completing an exhaustive portfolio review which we will combine with the above and results from pilots in governance, markets and gender in SSF. If you are interested in helping us refine our draft SSF strategy in June 2022 please email

Photo Credit: ©Alissa Everett/WCS

Project Highlights

Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS


WCS supports the sustainable management of SSF as reflected in the comprehensive Fisheries Resource Act of 2020, the nationwide fisheries Managed Access program, and the promotion of gender equity, all grounded in science and community engagement.


WCS is pioneering support for gender equity and social inclusion in coastal fisheries and elevating the role of women in the management of fisheries, including mud crabs and pearl oysters.

Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS
Photo Credit: ©Edgard Herrera


WCS is helping the Miskito people to secure their traditional tenure of fishing rights throughout the Honduran Miskito Cays so they can co-manage them to conserve wildlife and sustain fisheries.


WCS is partnering with coastal fishing communities to co-design and designate locally-managed fisheries replenishment zones, resulting in improved conservation and fisheries, and is also empowering small-scale fishers to monitor their fisheries directly using emerging ICTs.

Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS
Photo Credit: ©Chiara Luxardo


WCS is to improve the capacity and livelihoods of women in fisher communities through a business and financial management incubator program, so they can both maintain the wildlife and benefit from the fisheries in the co-management areas they helped create


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