With over 2,000 miles of coastline, Vietnam is the world's fourth largest seafood exporter, with one of the fastest-growing fishing fleets. Small-scale fisheries play vital social, environmental, economic, cultural and welfare roles for villages integrated within marine and freshwater systems. Today, these communities are in a period of structural transition, motivated by far-reaching economic changes stemming from urbanization and globalization, fisheries declines and species loss and the rapid expansion of aquaculture. These internal changes and external developments have significant impacts on social-ecological wellbeing for fishing villages and the sustainability of Vietnam's natural heritage.  


With limited adaptive capacity, small-scale fishermen and women involved throughout the supply chain argue that they have been sidelined from the dialogue between international environmental and economic actors who frame the strategies for inland waters and the ocean's future. Current agendas undervalue human security objectives, and in doing so erode cultural heritage, gender relations, social capital, ecosystem services, human rights and the basic requisite of providing both livelihoods and affordable, nutrient-packed food for those who count on them most.

Through participatory media workshop, Vietnamese fishermen, fish farmers, women involved throughout the supply chain, their children, local cooks, and seafood-dependent consumers share stories in creative, constructive ways to enrich qualitative studies with added depth and detail, and reach policymakers for more holistic fisheries management plans. On the Importance of Fish looks at eight entry-points for examining the contribution and importance of small-scale fisheries from the perspective of fish-dependent stakeholders themselves.

  1. Food security roles of small-scale fisheries

  2. Environmental roles of small-scale fisheries

  3. Gender roles of small-scale fisheries

  4. Social roles of small-scale fisheries

  5. Cultural roles of small-scale fisheries

  6. Economic roles of small-scale fisheries 

  7. Emotional welfare functions of small-scale fisheries

  8. Human rights and maritime security within small-scale fisheries

Cultural Roles

Whale temples and spiritual connections between fishermen and their boats - the links between loss of fish, development, illegal fishing and ocean-centered social practices.

Economic Roles

Incomes earned from fisheries and what job alternatives exist for fishermen and women involved throughout the sector as wild marine fish stocks collapse and are depleted. 

Food Security Roles

From fish sauce to bánh xèo mc, marine life as a staple ingredient in Vietnamese traditional cuisine and the impact of there being less of it.

Environmental Roles

Abundance, resilience, and threats to marine wildlife in the East Sea and along the Vietnamese coast. 

Gender Roles

Undervalued and vital, women are key agents in sustaining fisheries and fish-dependent villages. 

Social Roles

The large and nuanced ways fish and fishing are woven into human interactions with one another and Vietnamese society. 

Emotional Welfare

The psychological impacts of fisheries loss on affected fishing communities and the steps fishers take to achieve wellbeing.

Human Rights & Security

The ways marine degradation, resource scarcities and weakened livelihoods contribute to social injustices and conflicts within and around fisheries.


​High-profile dialogue and policy decisions on the ocean's future are informed primarily by economic and ecological research while social sciences' concerns for food security, livelihoods and wellbeing have yet to gain traction with the policy discourse on maritime governance and coastal planning. At the same time, small-scale fisheries are being subtly and overtly squeezed for geographic, political and economic space by larger scale economic interests, unsustainable development, and stressed by environmental change.


Here are five challenges to healthy small-scale fisheries as fish-dependent stakeholders experience them:

Download a copy of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.

There's a lot going on behind the scenes of a research project. Follow along the adventure via Open Explorer, National Geographic's blog for explorers in the field. 


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