21 March 2023

(Book Review) Blue Justice: Small-scale Fisheries in a Sustainable Ocean Economy

Title: Blue Justice: Small-scale Fisheries in a Sustainable Ocean Economy (a collection of essays)

Editors: Svein Jentoft, Ratana Chuenpagdee, Alicia Bugeja Said, Moenieba Isaacs

Year of Publication: 2022

Publisher: MARE Research and Springer

Review by: Harish Makarim


Blue Justice emerges as a counter-narrative to the promises and commitments of the blue economy and blue growth. Blue justice shifts the focus from solely pursuing positive growth figures to strengthening the central role of small-scale fisheries actors and ensuring social justice in sustainable marine development.

The book “Blue Justice: Small-scale Fisheries in a Sustainable Ocean Economy” demonstrates that blue justice must be considered when implementing sustainable marine development plans by nations. This is because blue justice involves human rights embedded in the principles and institutions of sustainable marine governance. Both elements make a difference in the daily lives of small-scale fishers.

Regarding the instruments of blue justice, it’s important to understand the injustices faced by small-scale fishers. These range from allegations of environmental neglect to labeling their fishing practices as illegal or sudden encroachments on their traditional fishing grounds.

“Blue Justice: Small-scale Fisheries in a Sustainable Ocean Economy” is a collection of essays. The book is divided into 12 parts (marked as “Part”), comprising a total of 35 chapters (marked as “Chapter”). These 35 chapters are further divided into 12 thematic sections representing all continents worldwide.

Part II reveals that although Blue Justice is a new term in a new context, issues of injustice often have deep historical roots. The question is whether Blue Growth will exacerbate or alleviate these injustices. This section also discusses the condition of small-scale fishers in Brazil, who have long been marginalized and oppressed and are now among the most affected groups by environmental and health issues.

In other regions, like the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, small-scale fishers were once an integral part of the economy. However, they are now pressured by the tourism industry, leading to limitations on their traditional fishing grounds, rising living costs, and declining incomes. The authors argue that this is a result of development governance failures. Furthermore, in the North Atlantic region, the authors analyze instances of injustices felt by small-scale fishers, who are also indigenous communities.

Part III highlights how justice issues stem from both historical and new conflicts. This section discusses the situation in Ghana, West Africa, where small-scale fisheries are the primary food suppliers but have experienced declining catches in recent years. Poor governance is a major cause, prompting initiatives to reform governance to be more collaborative, effective, and fair.

Furthermore, a case study in Sri Lanka illustrates the issues faced by migrant fishers and how migration can both benefit fishing families and be a source of injustices and conflicts. This section also addresses the conditions of small-scale fishers in Finland and the Baltic Sea, where they manage to survive amid pressures of urbanization, industrialization, and low recognition of their traditional ways of life and local knowledge. The authors argue that this success is due to institutional innovations and the role of Fisheries Local Action Groups supporting Blue Justice.

Chapters in Part IV illustrate the systemic and multidimensional aspects of Blue Justice. This section portrays the conditions of small-scale fisheries in Nigeria, which daily confront a range of justice issues and conflicts closely linked to institutional governance that often fails to secure justice for small-scale fishers. Moreover, small-scale fishers in Nigeria also face pressures from other sectors, struggling to secure livelihoods in a governance environment with weak accountability and perceived bias against them.

This section attempts to offer institutional reform ideas on how to ensure justice for small-scale fishers. In Bengal, India, the authors depict the multidimensional justice issues threatening the survival of small-scale fishers.

Part V argues that Blue Justice is also a territorial and spatial issue, related to differential access to fishing grounds. In some cases, small-scale fisheries are trapped in geopolitical disputes. This section discusses the conflict between Colombia and Nicaragua over maritime boundaries. Furthermore, in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, the authors describe the challenges of establishing a local governance system involving small-scale fishers in policy-making amid power imbalances.

Part VI continues from the previous section, focusing on alternative livelihoods for small-scale fisheries, some of which may exacerbate justice issues. This section explains the situation of small-scale fishers in Japan and the Inatori Kinme fishery, which is feared to be marginalized within the context of Blue Economy, particularly by sectors like tourism. In Australia, small-scale fishers also face marginalization in the face of dominant recreational sector expansion.

Part VII centers on inland small-scale fisheries, a topic not extensively covered in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Their interests in food security and employment highlight the need for greater attention and improved conditions. Authors first describe the situation in Nepal, where few small-scale fishers exist, living in marginalized and impoverished ethnic communities. Similar circumstances arise in the Mekong region, which is undergoing significant economic and social changes, mainly due to large-scale hydropower investments. This leaves small-scale fisheries vulnerable and at risk, threatening their role as food suppliers.

Authors emphasize the necessity for alternative development processes that counteract the marginalization of small-scale fisheries in the Blue Economy and involve them in development discourse, restoring their rights. 

Part VIII explores how crises make Blue Justice issues more apparent. This section analyzes Brazil’s situation after a large amount of oil was discovered along its 3,000 km coast, affecting over 1,000 locations and causing economic and health problems for small-scale fishers, who were largely exposed. Oil spills exacerbated pre-existing environmental issues, revealing the need for comprehensive recovery initiatives, not just cleanup.

Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic worsened injustices for small-scale fishers in South Africa and Zimbabwe, making it difficult for them to meet their livelihood needs and disrupting food supply chains. In Sri Lanka, small-scale fisher communities were severely impacted by civil conflict and the 2004 tsunami disaster, resulting in many casualties.

Part IX argues that Blue Justice must precede sustainable development agendas. It discusses the vulnerability of small-scale fishery communities to rapid Blue Growth and urbanization, using the example of Lagos Lagoon in Nigeria. Authors assert that emerging justice issues require stronger governance to ensure equity and justice for small-scale fishery communities.

Furthermore, the situation in the Philippines addresses how marine protected areas push small-scale fishers away from nearby fishing grounds and deeper into the ocean. This case study shows that resource allocation and access can lead to injustice due to a policy-making process that excludes small-scale fishers.

Part X questions the claims of Blue Justice, arguing it should transcend mere concepts. This section examines the Turkish context, discussing the feasibility of establishing small-scale fishery cooperatives amidst damaging effects of the fishing industry and coastal mega-projects on small-scale fishery sustainability.

Part XI asserts that Blue Justice requires a strong knowledge foundation. This section focuses on Colombia’s Pacific coast, emphasizing the need for interdisciplinary approaches involving collaborative, community-based, and participatory action research strategies to restructure power relations and strengthen small-scale fishery governance and the agency and rights of diverse ethnic fishing populations.

The book concludes with Part XII, highlighting the importance of contextualizing Blue Justice in the experiences of small-scale fishers. After all, justice is something people strive for in their daily lives. This section concludes with recommendations for action toward achieving Blue Justice for small-scale fishers.


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