A little known aspect of Elisabeth Mann Borgese was her passion and support for small-scale fishing peoples of the world. Certainly, she is known for her achievements on the global stage, forging the law of the sea and other major international instruments. But from her coastal home, outside Halifax, Canada, she could see the fishing people heading out to sea, and later returning to their families and their community. That day-to-day life of coastal communities mattered to Elisabeth, and was, I think, important in grounding her big-picture global work.
The quotations from Elisabeth on the opposite page reflect the range of her analysis. First, a sense of history, and a poetic ability to capture the importance of fisheries over the course of millennia. Second, a profound concern for sustainability, and a practical sense of the new approaches needed to achieve that, through better fishery and ocean governance. Third, a view to the future, and how the human use of the ocean might develop over time. Fourth, an enduring and unshakeable holistic vision—one that brings humans and nature together, and brings humans together with one another.
A striking line by Elisabeth is this: “Fisheries management, even in the most advanced countries, quite simply, has been a failure.”1 Note that she wrote this just following one of the world’s most dramatic and significant fishery collapses, the Canadian cod fishery.2 Indeed, that collapse deeply affected the fishers near Elisabeth’s home, and affected her as well. After the collapse, Elisabeth wrote about some positive changes emerging, ones continuing to this day. Has it been enough? Have we ‘found’ sustainability? Are we at least on the path to sustainability? The essays in this chapter evaluate the most prominent among those changes, as well as some enduring challenges we continue to face.
When we look to foundational change in fisheries, there are perhaps no greater shifts in recognized need for improvement than (a) the governance direction of better involving fishers, and others, in the decision-making process, and (b) the need to look more broadly and holistically at the ‘fishery system’.3
A third foundational change in recent years has been international recognition of the crucial importance of small-scale fisheries, particularly with the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines.5 A fourth major change is the increasing prominence of market-based approaches—both a controversial use of the market to allocate fishery access and catch6 and use of the consumer market as an incentive for more sustainable fishing, as covered in this part.
Turning to enduring challenges in fisheries, this part explores three key aspects: the need to connect science and other forms of knowledge with management decision-making, the need to balance natural resource sustainability and economic development, and the need for strong institutions that can effectively work at the necessary spatial scales. For each of these, we can say that progress has been made, but challenges remain. On the third of the challenges, a shining light of progress has been in tackling illegal (IUU) fishing through new global enforcement and compliance measures.
Finally, Elisabeth was prominent throughout her career in looking to the future, and in doing so, she predicted a greatly expanded role for aquaculture. This part closes with two essays on aquaculture—focused on sustainability and on the offshore areas of the ocean.
As Elisabeth Mann Borgese illustrated so well, the ocean’s wealth, and particularly its living resources, have been crucial historically, as they are today, and into the future. Continuing to create livelihoods from the living resources of the sea, sustainably, remains a fundamental requirement of humanity.