WCS Community Fisheries Program

Photo Credit: ©Erika Pineros


We envision just and regenerative community fisheries equitably benefiting nature and people.


Coastal communities and ecosystems are intricately and inextricably entwined. People depend on coastal ecosystems for nutrition, livelihoods, refuge, protection, and climate resilience, and in the 21st century, coastal ecosystems depend on people to conserve, protect, and steward the plants, creatures and processes that together provide crucial ecosystem services.

It is estimated that about 90 percent of all people directly dependent on capture fisheries work in the small-scale fisheries sector, which accounts for 40 percent of global catch. Small-scale fisheries are a source of essential micronutrients for millions and provide more than one sixth of animal protein consumed by humans. They are also a wellspring of commerce and livelihoods in countless coastal and shoreside communities, providing employment for upwards of 492 million people. These fisheries tend to be firmly rooted in local communities, traditions, and values, and are the living wellspring of food, employment, and culture for a substantial and diverse segment of humankind.


At WCS we work to support community fisheries to achieve a shared vision for a more secure and resilient future. We created our global Community Fisheries Program to coordinate this work across our organization. Drawing on long, in some cases multi-decadal, fisheries and conservation partnerships in over 30 countries with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, their governments, and other coastal stakeholders, WCS is uniquely positioned to support the enhancement of small-scale fisheries to secure biodiversity, food security and livelihoods.

Our approach is ambitious and transformative but not prescriptive; restoring community fisheries to their full potential should be envisioned and led by fishers, fishworkers, and other members of their communities. WCS’ role is supporting them to realize their vision for community fisheries and nature, through synthesizing inclusive knowledge and science, securing fishers’ and fishworkers’ rights, practicing equitable and co-management, and incentivizing more socially responsible and environmentally sustainable fishing.

We are not only looking to slow declines in community fisheries and coastal ecosystems; we are working to reverse them. When and where our technical expertise is invited, we join with fishers and their governments to harness the potential of communities to restore and transform small-scale fisheries into engines of prosperity and resilience – social, environmental, and economic.

If you are interested in our forthcoming 2030 Community Fisheries Strategy, please email us at SSF@wcs.org and we will share it with you directly when we finalize it.

Photo Credit: ©Alissa Everett/WCS

Selected Program Highlights

Chosen from 5 of the 30 countries in which WCS partners to secure the biodiversity, nutrition, livelihoods, and cultural benefits of community fisheries.

Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS


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.


WCS partnered with Afro-Colombian piangueras (clam fisher-women) to apply their traditional ecological knowledge to monitor arc clam populations and codify community harvest rules including replenishment seasons, and the women and their community councils expect a resurgence of pianguas, more catch with greater profitability, and healthier mangrove forests.

Photo Credit: ©Javier Silva/WCS
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 partnering with coastal fishing communities to co-design and designate locally-managed fisheries replenishment zones, resulting in improved conservation and fisheries, and is also supporting small-scale fishers to monitor their fisheries directly using emerging ICTs.

Photo Credit: ©Erika Pineros
Photo Credit: ©Chiara Luxardo


WCS is helping 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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