Numerous bright spots & wonderful moments

Highlights from the SSF Regional Symposium for Asia-Pacific

By Vesna Kerezi, Nova Almine and Ratana Chuenpagdee

TBTI Global

In Spring of 2022, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we made a difficult decision of turning the 4th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress (4WSFC): Asia-Pacific into a mostly virtual event, with only a small number of in-person attendees. And while the 4WSFC Asia-Pacific was a success, we made a promise to meet again in Japan, this time in person. Less than two years afterwards, that promise was fulfilled, thanks in no small part to TBTI Japan coordinator Yinji Li, whose determination and passion for all things small-scale fisheries is simply infectious. Yinji’s ability to bring people together and build close ties between researchers and fishing communities meant that those coming for this Symposium were in for something special.


Taking place on April 9-12, 2024 in Shizuoka, Japan, the SSF Symposium for Asia-Pacific was the first in the series of SSF Regional Symposiums. The overall goal of the Symposium was to facilitate conversation and discussion about ‘Bright Spots ~ Hope Spots’ in small-scale fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region. There are many small-scale fisheries in the region that are thriving and can be presented as examples of ‘bright spots’. But there are many challenges facing small-scale fisheries in the region, making it difficult for them to be viable and sustainable. These are the ‘hope spots’ of small-scale fisheries that need our attention.


The symposium was hosted by TBTI Japan, in partnership with Tokai University and with support from TBTI Global. We are especially grateful to the Yui Fisheries Cooperative Association who generously shared their time and resources, and whose members participated in the fisher panel hosted by the Association. Thanks to the Association, the Symposium participants were able to learn firsthand about the flagship Sakura shrimp fishery, as well as other vital fisheries such as ‘shirasu’. Additionally, they kindly allowed the participants to observe a fish auction, which was unquestionably one of the highlights of the Symposium.


In addition, we are immensely grateful to Miki Jitsuishi and the entire Women’s Group of Yui Fisheries Cooperative Association. Using the fish caught by the fishers in the Yui Fisheries Cooperative Association, they prepared a real feast of seafood dishes for the Symposium’s welcoming dinner.


In organization of this relatively small-size symposium, we relied heavily on the help and support of students, friends and colleagues (as well as family members!). We fondly referred to it as the ‘homemade’ conference. And since the importance of small-scale fisheries goes beyond the sheer factors or size and numbers, it felt fitting to hold a small, homemade conference to talk about the future of this invaluable sector in the Asia-Pacific region.


The four days of the Symposium were packed with great presentations and discussion.

Day 1, April 9

The symposium kicked off with a significant milestone, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the SSF Guidelines. This opening session reflected on the profound impact of the SSF Guidelines over the past decade in shaping policies and practices for sustainable small-scale fisheries.


Throughout the day, discussions around gender, wellbeing, and livelihoods highlighted the essential roles of these factors in ensuring the resilience and sustainability of fisheries communities. Participants were immersed into the current challenges and advancements in this areas, setting a solid foundation for understanding the complex dynamics within the small-scale fisheries. The day continued with presentations from the Dried Fish Matters partnership, whose pioneering research and collaboration efforts aim to promote the dried fish sector, which is vital to the economic and nutritional wellbeing of many communities in the region.

The concluding session of the day featured the inspiring work from TBTI hubs in the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Japan, with an exciting introduction to the upcoming hub in Malaysia. The session provided a vivid snapshot of innovative projects and initiatives that are making a difference in the lives of small-scale fishers across countries. We also celebrated the 4th anniversary of TBTI Japan with a remarkable cake that paid homage to the local Sakura shrimp fishery and the famous Sakura (cherry blossom) season. Overall, the first day of the symposium was filled with rich discussions, sharing of best practices, and collaborative learning, setting a high bar for the days to follow.

Day 2, April 10

Day 2 of the symposium offered insights into the current state and future of small-scale fisheries, with talks that examined the pressing issues facing small-scale fisheries, especially with the discussion about various governance regimes. This set the stage for further deliberation about Blue Justice in Bangladesh, Japan, and Philippines, with participants exploring how equitable access and rights to marine resources are managed in different cultural and regulatory contexts. The session provided a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities present in each region, highlighting the necessity for fair and sustainable practices.

Then, the focus shifted to the intricate relationship between vulnerability and viability within small-scale fisheries, based mostly on the research conducted in the Vulnerability to Viability (V2V) partnership. The discussion shed light on the delicate balance needed to sustain small-scale fishing communities against environmental, economic, and social pressures.

SHIN White Paper on Small-Scale Fisheries  


One of the highlights of the day was the official launch of the SHIN White Paper on Small-Scale Fisheries by TBTI Japan. This launch marked a significant milestone in documenting and advocating for the critical issues affecting small-scale fisheries, strengthening efforts towards sustainable management practices. The aim of the white paper is to offer insights that contribute to a comprehensive and robust research and knowledge sharing programme for small scale fisheries in Japan. Specifically, it will include important research topics such as governance, gender, food, financing, and justice while featuring small scale fisheries in numbers, voices from the field, short communications, international affairs, and a special focus on solutions. 

The day concluded with a special session on ‘Collective Art Making’ led by artist Kelly Jane Bruton, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Kelly uses art in place-based learning to bring a fresh perspective and to enhance the sensory experience of a place. Her goal is to weave art ‘making’ into the natural learning environment, to promote sustainability in artistic projects, and a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the earth’s materials we use.


The ‘Collective Art Making’ experience offered a refreshing and uplifting end to the symposium’s intense discussions, engaging participants in a creative process that reflected their experiences and learnings from the symposium, fostering a sense of community and shared commitment.

Day 3, April 11

Day 3 of the symposium brought a change of pace with a fieldtrip to the Yui Fisheries Cooperative Association in Shizuoka, an area renowned for its Sakura shrimp fishery. Known as the ‘Jewel of Suruga Bay,’ Sakura shrimp has long been an important fishery species for the local economy and a cornerstone of the region’s fishing industry. Participants had the opportunity to witness the fish auction that happened in the fish market and learned about the challenges and practices associated with the different fisheries.

A panel of fishers from Japan, Thailand, and Canada featured their stories and experiences, highlighting ‘Bright and Hope spots’ in their fisheries. The fishers taking part in the panel included:


  • Miki Jitsuishi, wife of a fisher from Yui community and a member of the Women’s Group of Yui Fisheries Cooperative Association
  • Yasushi Mochizuki, a set-net fisher from Yui community, Shizuoka Prefectural Set-Net Fisheries Association
  • Nantachai Sookkuae, a leader of the Thai Fisheries Daily, Thailand
  • Prathip Opchoei, a leader of Bangsaphan Small-Scale Fisheries Group, Thailand
  • Kimberly Orren, commercial fisher and co-founder of Fishing for Success, a non-profit social enterprise in Petty Harbour, NL, Canada


The fishers reflected on the various obstacles their fisheries face, from environmental to regulatory challenges, and passionately spoke about their reasons for remaining hopeful about the future of small-scale fisheries. This exchange provided enriching perspectives on the resilience and the shared experiences of fishers.

Adding to the day’s memorable experiences, participants were treated to the spectacular sight of Mt. Fuji. The iconic mountain provided a stunning backdrop, enhancing the beauty of the Sakura blossoms in full bloom, observed during the trip. This beauty not only added a layer of splendour to the trip but also served as a reminder of the natural wonders that communities work so hard to preserve. The fieldtrip enriched the participants’ understanding of small-scale fisheries in Japan, highlighting its cultural, economic, social, and environmental significance.

Day 4, April 12

Day 4 was a rich culmination of the discussions and explorations from the previous days, covering a wide array of topics focusing on transdisciplinarity and innovations in the small-scale fisheries sector, climate, safety, and resilience, and sustainability and conservation. Each session delved into the complexities and interdependencies of these themes, highlighting innovative approaches and the urgent need for integrated solutions in the face of global challenges for the small-scale fisheries.


The roundtable session on regional collaboration and future prospects facilitated a dynamic exchange among participants, emphasizing the importance of strengthening regional networks and sharing best practices to enhance the small-scale fisheries sector. The discussions underscored the collective resolve to address the pressing issues facing these communities, fostering a spirit of cooperation and mutual support.


Wrapping up the event, Yinji Li reflected on the insights gained and the paths forward, capturing the spirit of hope and the imperative of continued collaboration and innovation for the small-scale fisheries sector. It reinforced the commitment to carry forward the momentum generated during the engaging four days of the symposium.

Key insights from the Symposium

To highlight the main messages and discussion points raised, during the closing session of the Symposium the participants were asked to reflect on the following questions:


  • Bright Spots: What’s the most exciting things you heard during the symposium?
  • Hope Spots: What’s the most hopeful things you heard during the symposium?
  • Troubled Spots: What needs more attention and what to do about it?

In terms of the ‘Bright Spots’, the following things were emphasized as positive and exciting:


  • Fishers in the spotlight: Attention being put on small-scale fisheries, especially on fishers and their lived experiences. It’s particularly inspiring to witness fishers, including local fishers, being included in the conversation.
  • Working together to find solutions: The Symposium brought together different kinds of actors, including fishers, artist, researchers and educators from various countries, who share different problems but are looking for solutions togethers. As a networking platform that facilitated this, the symposium itself is a bright spot.
  • Different problems, shared solutions: There is a greater awareness of complexity and diversity of small-scale fisheries as well as an understanding that while fisheries have different problems, there is a common ground for addressing these issues.
  • SSF Guidelines: Greater awareness of the international mechanisms and processes around small-scale fisheries (like the SSF Guidelines).
  • Collaboration in action: We are seeing different kinds of collaborative efforts in all spaces, including co-operatives, knowledge coproduction, etc.
  • Advancing the research: There is a stronger focus in research being put on experiences, grounded studies, social context, and place-based contexts.
  • Inclusive tourism: It’s important that we are looking at how fisheries are linked to others industries such as tourisms, for instance. Also, it was good to see tourism being done in an inclusive way, since this industry is often portrayed in a negative way.
  • Participatory and action-oriented methods: Showcasing and sharing diverse research methods and an insistence on the importance of participatory and action-oriented methods.
  • The power of mixed methods: Emphasizing the advantages of utilizing technology in data gathering and the strengths of collaborations where different methods (e.g., interview, mapping) are used that complement and built on each other.
  • TBTI Philippines: The work done by TBTI Philippines, in particular their e-book The Portrait of Small-Scale Fishers in the Philippines serves as a wonderful inspiration of what can be done to raise the awareness and build capacity.
  • NPOA: The development of the National Plan of Action (NPOA) for the implementation of the SSF Guidelines in Philippines shows the strong commitment from the government to support small-scale fisheries.

When it came to the ‘Hope Spots’, the following things were identified as the most hopeful things heard during the Symposium:

  • Participation of young researchers at the Symposium and the critical perspective they bring to the discussion about small-scale fisheries at forums like this one. Also, the importance of environmental education as well as identifying and sharing the experiences with young people.
  • Long-term initiatives with fishers at the center: The hope that we can have various sustained small-scale fisheries initiatives that will continue for the next 10+ year; thus, the need to continue to make them visible. Crucially, fishers must be at the center of these initiatives.
  • Continuing to improve small-scale fisheries science and turning scientific findings into policy briefs and other forms of communication as a way to strengthen policy and governance of small-scale fisheries, including through the implementation of the SSF Guidelines.
  • TBTI book on Implementation of the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines: A Legal and Policy Scan and its capacity to attract the attention of policy-makers from the international community. The book can show us how to contextualize information from other countries and make it applicable in our own respective areas.
  • Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research: The opportunities that arise from interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research on small-scale fisheries.
  • Fishing as a modern day activity: The importance of looking at fishing as a modern day activity and the fact that we see a continued relevance and collective optimisms of small-scale fisheries practice.
  • Better policy implementation: The hope that small-scale fisheries will receive more attention in the future and that more effort will be put into policy implementation.
  • Justice and rights in focus: The fact that a lot of research being done on Blue Justice and on the rights of small-scale fishing people.
  • Women in fisheries: Continue highlighting the essential role women have in the small-scale fisheries.
  • Power of the collective actions: It’s inspirational to see the power of the collective actions in Japan, the effective work of Japanese cooperatives as well as the benefits of inclusive eco-tourism practices.
  • The concept of UMIGYO and the benefits of combining new ideas in fisheries. One of the next steps is to better define the Umigyo concept.
  • TBTI Philippines charting ahead: Forward looking activities of TBTI Philippines in the ways they are engaging with communities and how their share their findings.

Despite the positive outcomes, there remain some ‘Troubling Spots’ that participants identified as requiring more attention:


  • Lack of policy makers’ participation at platforms such as this one
  • Insufficient gender awareness in small-scale fisheries
  • Poor coordination among the governments and communities
  • Mainstreaming small-scale fisheries takes time
  • More inclusive participation of fishers in policy-making
  • More citizen science in small-scale fisheries
  • Not enough action-based research
  • Establish closer connections with civil societies
  • Engage people and facilitate knowledge exchange
  • Consider larger economic factors to understand what is happening in small-scale fisheries.
  • The challenge of defining small-scale fisheries regionally; it would be great to have a shared definition of fisheries that is not based on vessels only.
  • Small-scale fisheries are more than tourism and subsistence fisheries: There is an identity crisis going on so we need to improve the understanding and appreciation of cultural aspects of small-scale fisheries so that people start valuing the fish again.
  • Be mindful of misrepresenting and glorifying small-scale fisheries by always portraying them as poor and non-profit seekers. Small-scale fishers have the right to seek profit and maximize their revenue and have autonomy.
  • More fisher representation at platform like this: We need to work on improving exchange between academia and traditional ecological knowledge and seek ways to create right sort of forums for experience sharing, which will include different learning processes and tools.
  • We continue to deal with the same old issues over the past 20 years (e.g., aging workforce, climate change, power dynamics, capitalism, etc.)
  • Awareness and educational programs should be enhanced; we need to educate the locals, and not only the fishers.

Finally, these are some the suggestions about how we could go about solving these issues:


  • Outreach: Reach out to governments and authorities to include small-scale fisheries into their agendas and policy-making. Work harder at bringing policy-makers (international, national, local) on board.
  • Strategic partnership opportunities (e.g., collaboration, advocacy): Look for strategic partnership activities with Blue Justice being one of the concepts used to initiate this. Country-based, fisher-led groups can be powerful voices of advocacy so we could share these stories with them and let them bring these to policy makers.
  • Education as stewardship: Educate tourists on local issues, as part of the stewardship efforts.
  • Solution for solving climate change: Bring forward the notion of small-scale fisheries as a key factor for solving climate change since they employ and feed more people, among other. We need to do better at driving the message forward about the role of small-scale fisheries in addressing many problems, including climate change.
  • Educating decision-makers: Put greater effort into educating decision-makers by using various types of media to utilize the power of storytelling (e.g., documentaries, podcasts) to highlight the importance of small-scale fisheries.
  • Engage the mainstream media: We need to engage the mainstream media so that our messages reach the right people.
  • Affecting the governance: We need to move away from purely describing the issue and look into how to transition and improve governance.
  • Shaping the narrative on global level: TBTI needs to continue shaping the narrative on global level and we all need to keep doing what we’re doing well. We need to use research effectively and think of ways to make use of what we do best.
  • Private sector: Participation of fishers is crucial but we also need participation of private sector.
  • Champions: Find a champion who can bring our messages forward.
  • Translate science-based research for policy and management intervention through policy briefs, for example.

‘Girls Who Fish’ special event

Launched in October of 2021, ‘Girls Who Fish Japan’ is a sister program of ‘Girls Who Fish Canada’, that aim to increase awareness and participation of women in the fishing industry. Following the Symposium, Tokai University hosted a special event on April 13th, bringing together ‘Girls Who Fish’ program coordinators, participants, and fishers.

Girls who like to eat fish

By Ratana Chuenpagdee, TBTI Global

Being in Japan this time (Shimizu, April 2024) reminded me of what I love most about this country – the beautiful diversity of fish that you can eat. It is a stark contrast from Newfoundland where I now live, where the word fish basically means cod. This speaks volume about the importance of cod, economically and culturally prior to the moratorium in 1992. But it does not take long for visitors and newcomers to the province, especially those from places where fish comes in all shapes and forms, to realize how difficult it is to find other fish in this island. Don’t take me wrong. Cod is a great fish, and I would go for the freshly caught cod from a small boat on any day. It is something that I look forward to in the summer and early fall when ‘food fisheries’ take place, which basically means anyone can go out and catch a few cod for their own consumption. Today it is referred to as ‘recreational fisheries’, but many people still prefer the term food fisheries, which is how it should be.


In TBTI, we have a cluster called ‘Fish as Food,’ to recognize that fish from small-scale fisheries contribute significantly to local food security. We look not only at fresh fish (or other products from water) but also at various forms of processed fish, noting how they are part of the staple diets in many cultures. Looking at fish after it is caught and landed, like cleaning and cooking, processing and trading, is where we can really observe the major role of women and girls.

Our visit to the Yui Cooperative as part of the SSF Regional Symposium for Asia-Pacific, hosted by Tokai University, was eye opening to all of us. We were very excited to see the different types of fish that were caught in the set-net fishing in the early morning, and brought to the landing place for the auction. But the real excitement was when we waited in anticipation for the landing of shirasu. Waiting with us, and perhaps with even greater anticipation, were the women who were there to help with the unloading and moving of the crates full of these tiny silvery fish. We were told that the shirasu fishery, like Sakura shrimp fishery, is a cooperative fishery and thus women from the fishing households are involved. It was there that we got to taste raw shirasu, which has a distinct texture and taste. Later in the fish market in Shimizu, we ate blanched shirasu, which was also very nice. Since then I found shirasu in many other dishes, including in tofu dishes, as a special touch.


I was particularly taken by shirasu, as this fishery is banned in Thailand for a reason that they are juveniles of economically important fish, like Indian mackerel. Shirasu in Japan are juveniles of anchovies, sardines, etc., and they have been fishing it for hundreds of years. While there may not be consensus among scientists whether this kind of fishery should be allowed or not, Japan continues to enjoy the fish seeing it as nutritious and something that kids growing up enjoying.


None of the fish goes to waste in Japan!

The landing of shirasu was highly anticipated, especially by the two Thai fishers, who were able to fish tiny anchovies in Thailand in the past, but can no longer do it due to the change in the regulation. Prathip explained that the concern was related to the fish being juveniles of economically important species. He kept saying that the fish was ‘pretty’, with bright eyes, and they were rather big. Prathip said that he would like to learn more about the shirasu fishery work in Japan, to help him think about what needs to be done for the government to allow the ‘sai mai’ fishery again. If Japan can do it, why not us!

As I watched the fisher Yasushi Mochizuki from Yui community, who has been qualified as Fish Meister* cut up the yellow tail for us so that we can have sashimi for lunch, I noticed how he put the skin and the offal of the fish to the boiling pot of water. He was making a delicious soup for us, out of the fish he cut. He said jokingly that we need to be careful with the bones. The soup was so delicious and I didn’t mind the bones one bit. I couldn’t help thinking how much fish we throw away when we don’t know what to do with the head, skin and bone. This is the case with cod in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is often fileted. I wish I could collect all the ‘discarded’ piece and use it to make soup, just like what Yasushi Mochizuki has done. I appreciate very much the effort to fully utilize fish in Japan, which does not only reduce food waste, but also can help address food security concern. This kind of teaching starts at a household, with parents teaching their children about how to prepare, cook and enjoy fish in all varieties and forms. This kind of knowledge and cultural heritage maybe at risk of losing its significant nowadays when we do not prepare meals as often at home. This is why ‘Girls Who Fish’ programs can really make a difference, and we are proud to support the chapter in Japan.

* A fish Meister is a storyteller and evangelist who conveys the wonders of fish which approved by the Japan Fish Meister Association.

In News

Japanese Fisheries Daily


The Symposium was featured in The Japanese Fisheries Daily on April 16, 2024. With the headline ‘Sharing information on the theme of hope; Inaugural Small-Scale Fisheries Symposium by TBTI Global & TBTI Japan,’ the article gave an overview of the symposium with a special mention on the 10th anniversary of the SSF Guidelines. The article also captured the TBTI Japan’s new initiative on the SHIN White Paper on small-scale fisheries.

University of Tokai coverage

Check out the University of Tokai coverage of the SSF Regional Symposium for Asia Pacific.