Collaborative Sustainable Innovation

co-designing small-scale fisheries governance approaches


The research findings are expressed in different forms, including a video animation, a policy report, a collection of research poetry and a peer-reviewed article (see below).

Key Findings

  • The current fisheries policy framework produces inequities for small-scale fishers despite the State’s critical policy objective to manage quota-controlled stocks as a public resource. This policy is supposed to ensure that fishing opportunities are not concentrated into the hands of large fishing interests and to maintain a strong economic link between fishing vessels and the island and coastal communities where alternative economic activities may not be available.
  • The Irish fisheries policy environment does not welcome challenges to the status quo, with the result that small-scale fishers continue to operate within a system that has been designed around the realities of the larger, industrial fleet. This entrenchment of the status quo constrains the agility of access to the resource that is crucial to the survival of island small-scale fishing communities who depend on fish stocks appearing in inshore waters within their reach.
  • Resistance to changing the status quo of fisheries management approaches prevents the emergence of the spaces needed to trial innovative fisheries governance initiatives such as co-management of the islands small-scale fleet on a distinctive regional basis.
  • To address the inequities in the system, differentiated approaches are needed that move beyond carving out sections of a historical status quo that privileges a small number of large operators. The recently overturned policy directive banning fishing by larger vessels in the 6 mile zone is a good example of such a differentiated approach.
  • Windows of opportunity are open at this time of significant policy change that involves the development of a cohesive cross-Government Islands Policy and action plan for the offshore islands alongside the development of national and regional marine plans for the sound management of Ireland’s marine environment. These co-temporaneous processes provide an opportunity for the design and piloting of innovative governance initiatives for small-scale island fishing communities, that contribute towards meeting policy objectives at national, European and international scales.

Policy Recommendations

  1. Create spaces within the current fisheries management system for trialling innovative fisheries governance approaches by integrating into the fisheries management system, and piloting, an agreed proposal between all parties for ring-fenced quota for the polyvalent-registered small-scale island fleet.
  2. Proactively support the creation of a fish producer organisation for the islands fleet. Ireland’s four existing producer organisations represent approximately 10% of the fleet. Recognition as a producer organisation provides access to decision-making tables that are otherwise inaccessible.
  3. Develop and implement a cross-cutting pilot Offshore Islands Regional Plan, that incorporates the inhabited offshore islands of Ireland and their associated marine areas out to the six mile limit. The design of innovative spatial measures for fishing (informed by the expertise of local fishing communities working together with scientists from the Marine Institute’s Fisheries Ecosystem and Advisory Services) could connect with the national marine planning process, the process to expand Ireland’s marine protected area network and the process to develop a cohesive national policy and action plan for the offshore islands.
  4. Draw on the experience, networks, knowledge and expertise of island groups and organisations to capture the diversity of ideas on community-led co-management approaches and partnerships, and to identify from the outset potential points of conflict, as part of a pilot Offshore Islands Regional Plan. Properly resource the co-management process at grassroots level (for example, through medium to long term funded leadership roles).
  5. Make the roles of women in fisheries more visible by including, for example, relevant parameters informed by women in fisheries in the design and development of fisheries apps, to encourage data collection on such roles.
  6. Bring fisheries and aquaculture within the remit of the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill to ensure coherence in the national marine planning process.
  7. Take steps to implement the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication by including an objective to achieve Sustainable Development Goal Target 14b (Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets), in the National Marine Planning Framework and in the Inshore Fisheries Sector Strategy. Ensure measurement of Target 14b on a regional scale to accurately reflect progress towards this target.
  8. Formally adopt the 2019 Charter for Fishers, Coastal Communities and the Islands as guiding principles for the management of fisheries, coastal communities, the islands, marine biodiversity and biocultural diversity within the National Marine Planning Framework.
  9. Include the concept of ‘building back better’ in the National Marine Planning Framework’s ‘Planning Policies and Key Issues for Marine Planning for Rural Coastal and Island Communities.’
  10. Bring marine-related activities within the remit of one Government Department or Agency, such as in the Marine Scotland model, to facilitate coherent governance of the marine environment.
  11. Integrate objective social and environmental criteria into quota allocation practices to ensure transparency and fairness in the system.
  12. Improve representation of the inshore fleet and transparency in the Quota Management Advisory Committee through publication of minutes and inclusion of representatives from (future) producer organisations for the inshore sector, such as an islands-specific producer organisation.
  13. Amplify the State’s critical policy objective to manage fisheries as a public resource by committing to maintain strong economic, social and cultural links between fishing vessels and fisheries-dependent island and coastal communities, in order to strengthen the recognition that fishing is more than a commercial, profit-maximising operation.

Managing for Diversity: keeping everyone afloat in Irish fisheries (6:47, 2020)