In the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, how have Collaboration members been supporting these sectors?

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 to be the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. But what are artisanal fisheries and fish farms, and why are they important?

There’s no one universal definition for “artisanal” or “small-scale” in seafood production. What could be viewed as artisanal or small-scale in one country could be large-scale or industrialized in another. Typically, the terms artisanal and small-scale are commonly used to describe fisheries and aquaculture production that requires relatively low inputs, low volumes of production and low levels of technology or capital investment. Although recreational and sport fishing meet some of these criteria, they are not included in the artisanal fisheries sector.

Small-scale fisheries play an essential role in ensuring global sustainable fisheries management and the catch from artisanal fisheries is more likely to stay in local markets and support domestic food security. Similarly, artisanal aquaculture helps support healthy diets in areas where other sources of proteins and essential micronutrients are hard to obtain.

Artisanal and small-scale production methods also often have a lower environmental impact than large-scale or industrial production methods for reasons like fishing closer to shore, shorter fishing trips, more selective fishing methods, or lower stocking densities in aquaculture (therefore less need for antibiotics or other therapeutants).

Artisanal seafood activities also employ far more people than industrialized fisheries or aquaculture operations. In 2020, 37.9 million people were employed in fisheries, 90% of whom were engaged in small-scale fishing (FAO, 2022). A further 20.7 million people were employed in aquaculture activities (FAO, 2022), the majority of which is also small-scale. Nearly all artisanal fisheries and aquaculture operations are in developing countries.

Clearly, artisanal and small-scale seafood production have a lot of benefits – higher employment opportunities, food security and nutrition benefits, and lower environmental costs. The members of the Certification and Ratings Collaboration have been supporting artisanal and small-scale producers for many years, and in the spirit of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture, here’s a snapshot of some of the projects and initiatives our members are engaged in.


ASC’s Improver Programme is designed to support farms that want to improve their practices but cannot currently achieve certification or do not wish to seek certification. Especially for small-scale producers, entering into the Improver Programme means that they can benefit from the support tools and networks that ASC offers while making stepwise improvements in a time-bound manner.

Currently, a group of shrimp farmers in Situbondo, East Java, Indonesia has started an Aquaculture Improvement Project (AIP) under the ASC Improver Programme. As part of the AIP, a number of farms with strong linkages to local processors will move to ASC certifications, whereas a number of other producers are making improvements more generally on better water quality management, as well as meeting requirements around permits and licenses. The project is implemented by Yayasan Sustain Aqua Indonesia (YSAI), a local NGO which is trained and qualified by ASC to act as the implementing partner. YSAI is tasked with overseeing the day-to-day support to the farms, engagement with local and national government and reporting on the progress of the farms in the AIP. A short video of the project can be found here.

Another way that ASC is increasing the accessibility of certification to small-scale producers is through its “Group Certification” methodology. This allows small producers to share the costs and resources involved in meeting ASC requirements, including audits. Since every single farm in the group taking part in the audit process must meet the requirements of the ASC standards in order to achieve the ASC certification, consumers can be confident that seafood coming from these small-scale producers have been farmed responsibly, meeting the strictest standards in the aquaculture industry.

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) certifies wild-caught seafood through its Capture Fisheries Standard, which was designed to help small-scale and artisanal fisheries demonstrate that they are employing good practices and gain a market advantage as a result. Vessels which spend 31 or more consecutive days at sea are categorized by Fair Trade as large-scale fisheries and are not eligible for certification.

Fair Trade USA also certifies farmed seafood under its Agricultural Production Standard. To date, the aquaculture program requires those who seek certification to hold an Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices, or Whole Foods Market Quality Standards for Farmed Seafood certification to comply with the environmental module. This Standard is currently undergoing a major revision which will expand the aquaculture program with a focus on supporting small-scale fish farmers. It will be rolled out December 2023.

Both the Capture Fisheries Standard and Agriculture Production Standard aquaculture program are geared towards supporting small-scale producers. From economic stability to education to empowerment, Fair Trade USA gives fishers, fish farmers, and workers a voice and an improved livelihood. A key component of FTUSA’s model is the Premium, which enables economic development of Fair Trade producers through their trading partners. Fishers and fish farmers earn a Fair Trade Premium, which they use to invest in self-directed community development projects like education, healthcare, clean water, and protecting the fisheries or farms that sustain their communities. FTUSA recognizes that sustainability is a journey, and thus the standards are structured in a way that allows for continuous improvement over time to achieve better social, economic, and environmental practices. This stepped approach to full compliance makes progress more accessible and achievable, particularly for small-scale fisheries and fish farms that may need more time to build capacity or gather resources necessary to achieve compliance.

Marine Stewardship Council

To help small-scale fisheries access the MSC program, MSC facilitates assessment of small-scale fisheries using informal and traditional methods by providing assessors with guidance to interpret these management systems and take the scale and intensity of fishing activities into account. And, MSC has developed a flexible suite of tools, training and financial support: 

Small-scale fisheries can also apply for financial support for a range of activities through the Ocean Stewardship Fund. Fisheries in the In-Transition to MSC program are eligible for the Transition Assistance Fund, which supports the cost of the required sustainability improvements.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

One example of the Monterey Bay Aquarium supporting artisanal aquaculture is its project working with small-scale, family-run Giant tiger prawn and Whiteleg shrimp farms in Cá Mau, Vietnam.

These small-scale farms make up the majority of the Vietnamese shrimp industry, the vast majority of which goes for export. Vietnam is the third-largest producer of farmed shrimp in the world and accounts for 8% of warmwater shrimp imported by the United States.

Currently, 86% of shrimp produced by Vietnam is rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program as Avoid (“red”). The Aquarium is hoping this project will significantly reduce that percentage by helping farms improve their practices. Its goals are that by 2025, 20,000 giant tiger prawn farms in Cá Mau will be rated Best Choice (“green”, or equivalent) and by 2030 all remaining shrimp farms in the province will be rated at least Good Alternative (“yellow”).

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) has been working to help empower small-scale fisheries so they can participate in co-management of the resource that sustains their livelihood. In practice, this has meant:

SFP is currently working with artisanal squid fishers in Peru and blue swimming crab fishers in Indonesia.

In conclusion, there are many ways that certification and ratings programs can help support artisanal fisheries and aquaculture operators, and many great reasons to do so. You can follow the work our members are doing to help support small-scale producers and the sustainable seafood community by subscribing to their newsletters or following them on social media using the links below: