Small-Scale Fisheries Learning Circles Project

In recent years there has been a growing global awareness of the important role small-scale fisheries plays in food security and nutrition, poverty eradication, equitable development and sustainable resource use around the world. At the same time, small-scale fisheries are facing increasingly serious challenges everywhere, including threats to access and tenure, threats to habitat and ecosystems, overexploitation of resources by large scale fishing and aquaculture operations, centralized and unresponsive management systems and competing economic interests. Over the past decade, small-scale fisheries organizations have been working on both local and international levels to gain support in meeting these challenges. Most notably they have worked with the FAO in the introduction of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries.

In parallel to this international work, small-scale fisher people and their communities have also been finding innovative ways of meeting these challenges at a grassroots level through participatory processes of resistance, self-governance and capacity-building, resulting in a great diversity of local solutions and strategies. This has in turn led to interest in finding ways for communities to share their stories, insights and strategies, and to pose relevant research questions. This kind of communication and mutual support is the purpose of the Small-Scale Fisheries Learning Circles (SSF-LC) Project: to facilitate dialogue and mutual support that will inspire and inform the struggles of small-scale fisher people locally and worldwide.

The Small-Scale Fisheries Learning Circles project is coordinated by Bay of Fundy Marine Resource Centre (MRC) and is funded by the International Development and Research Centre (IRDC). The project consists of a series of workshops, or ‘learning circles’, using online and teleconference technologies, that brings together small-scale fisher people and those working closely with them in their communities. The scope of the project is international, and the time period is 18 months.

One of the main aims of the project is to provide an opportunity to share strategies on a number of key issues related to SSF struggles. These include strategies for:

  • dealing with loss of access due to privatization
  • developing post-harvest marketing initiatives hat supports small-scale fisheries livelihoods and communities
  • recognizing and strengthening the role of women in small-scale fisheries *ensuring self-determination and local management of small-scale fisheries

Many of these strategies correspond to the issue areas outlined in the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (IG-SSF) that are currently before the FAO. Therefore, a related aim of the learning circle will also provide an opportunity to talk about how the IG-SSF can be used to support national, regional and local small-scale fisheries and their communities.

Each learning circle will:

  • consist of a series of Skype-based workshop that are arranged and facilitated by the MRC
  • be translated in English, French and Spanish
  • be recorded and transcribed, and posted on the website

In addition, support material will be also posted, including:

  • a short discussion paper that identifies the key issues and perspectives, as the basis for further discussions
  • a further reading list
  • research papers and articles
  • list of resources and links to other media

The intent here is that each workshop will be available to others who did not or could not participate in the workshop. The actions, or next steps, that come out of the learning circles project will be determined by the participants. These might include further workshop, exchanges, international solidarity, or any actions that answers the question: How can we work together to strengthen and support small-scale fisheries?

The idea for this project grew out of a number of previous initiatives undertaken by MRC: - The Bay of Fundy Learning Community Project, a 2-year initiative that linked fisher people and their communities in a learning community relating to community-based fisheries management

  • Saltwater Network, a grant-making, capacity-building, cross-border network of fishing organizations around the Gulf of Maine

  • Writing the Rules, a participatory project that brought together 14 Bay of Fundy Fishermen’s Associations to define the principles of ecosystem-based fisheries management

  • The Learning Circles Project, a 3 year national project that looked at learning circles, and their role in community-based social change, in which the MRC led the rural component

  • The Coastal Learning Communities Network, a project that linked First Nations and nonindigenous communities involved in community-based management of natural resources

  • The Rural Leadership Learning Circle, a 3 year project that brought together a diverse group of local community activists, in a First Nations cultural setting, in to look at ways to support rural grassroots leadership

  • The Small-Scale Fisheries Learning Exchange that convened fisheries leaders from Canada and other countries to explore ways that the international fisheries movement can impact nation and international fisheries policy Read more…

These projects all shared two common elements: 1) they were multi-scalar, working at the local, regional, national and international levels, and 2) they supported mutual learning processes that lead to collaborative action. Participants have used these learning circles as opportunities

  • to build solidary and mutual support
  • to create a space for dialogue an recognition of difference
  • to learn lessons from our colleagues in other countries
  • to inform a common plan of action

The basic idea of the learning circle is to start with sharing EXPERIENCE, then look for COMMON PATTERN between our experiences, then discussion of RESOURCES AND TOOLS that can help us address issues and challenges, and finally, as the basis for taking ACTION together

There are currently eight learning circles, on the following themes:

  • intertidal small-scale fisheries
  • Indigenous small-scale Fisheries Read more… In conjunction with this learning circle, there is also a network of researchers working on indigenous SSF themes read more…
  • the impact of privatization on small-scale fisheries Read more…
  • implementing the VG-SSF
  • inland small-scale fisheries
  • women and small-scale fisheriesRead more…
  • youth and small-scale fisheries
  • weir fisheries