Most large-scale fisheries have seen more progress toward sustainability because of cultural and market pressures. Small-scale fisheries, on the other hand, have not received as much attention.

The three biggest driving factors for change in large markets are:

Economic – Certifications communicating the sustainability of seafood raises the perceived value of the product and commands a higher price. 

A 2014 Swedish study showed a 10% higher price for MSC certified cod fillets vs non-certified fillets. In most cases it is in the interest of stakeholders within the supply chain to achieve a certification, therefore commanding a higher price for their catch.

Cultural – On average, an industrial fishery has a considerably larger footprint than a small-scale fishery. From an environmental conservation point of view it makes sense to tackle problems in the largest fisheries first. 

Some of the negative externalities created by commercialized fishing include: 

  • Bycatch
  • Environmental degradation
  • Unfair labor
  • Overfishing

Media coverage related to “where your seafood comes from” drives awareness and action from seafood buyers, NGOs, and governments to move toward economic and environmental sustainability.

Geographic – Well-managed industrial fisheries are frequently found in northern latitudes in fisheries that target a single species (eg. salmon and cod). These single species fisheries are well-suited to environmental certification standards because they have a large consumer base and are easier to regulate than fisheries with a large variety of catch. Small-scale fisheries in tropical and subtropical oceans tend to target a large number of different species.

Small-scale fisheries face some of the same risks of commercial fisheries, as well as a host of unique challenges, but have not received the same level of attention. In addition, because small-scale fisheries play such a large role in their local economies, communities are more at risk.

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