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Artisanal fishing pressure is an indicator of how the harvesting of free-ranging fish from coastal waters and high seas by small-scale fisheries can impact the success of future catches of wild fish harvests. This includes catch and bycatch (both high and low) of fish, other seafood and marine wildlife.

Artisanal fishing (also referred to as small-scale fishing) provides food and livelihoods for vast numbers of people around the world, especially in developing nations. Artisanal fisheries can be subsistence or commercial and provide for both local consumption and export, but catches are generally used or marketed locally. These fisheries typically use relatively small amounts of capital and energy, as well as small fishing vessels, to make short fishing trips close to shore (FAO).

Due to their size and practices, small-scale fisheries are potentially more sustainable than large-scale. However, they can also inflict pressure on the environment through overfishing and the use of destructive or unregulated fishing methods, which can result in high levels of bycatch, i.e. the catch of unintended species or undersized/underaged specimens of a target species.  

How Was It Measured?

To measure Fishing Pressure, the Ocean Health Index uses a composite index that includes two pressures caused by artisanal fishing.

1. Artisanal Fishing, High Bycatch

This pressure is caused by fishing with dynamite (blast fishing), which causes high bycatch because the explosion injures or kills many non-target species of fish and other animals. 

Reefs at Risk Revisited recorded the presence or absence of destructive artisanal blast and poison (cyanide) fishing in a country based on survey observations and expert opinion. Because these data are categorical, a binary system was used for scoring regions for this pressure. Where destructive artisanal fishing practices were recorded as either “moderate” or “severe,” the Ocean Health Index (OHI) categorized the value as maximum (score = 1). “Unclassified” regions were determined to have minimal threat from blast and poison fishing and were categorized as having no artisanal high bycatch fishing (score = 0).

A notable limitation of using these data as a proxy for high bycatch artisanal fishing is that they only pertain to coral reef habitats. High bycatch artisanal fishing likely exists in every coastal country, but it was not possible to determine the type or extent for each country. For all non-habitat destructive (but still potentially high bycatch) fishing, catch data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) were used.

Artisanal fishing, High Bycatch is used as a pressure in calculating scores for Food Production (Fisheries), Natural Products (Ornamental fishes), Artisanal Fishing Opportunities, Natural Products (sponges), Sense of Place (Iconic Species) and Biodiversity (Species and Habitats:corals).

2. Artisanal Fishing, Low Bycatch

This pressure is caused by fishing with cyanide, which causes bycatch because the poison injures or kills any species with which it comes in contact. However it does not physically harm habitats and is less destructive than fishing with dynamite. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports statistics on this type of catch for many, but not all, countries; the Ocean Health Index (OHI) utilized data for the 59 countries reported in 2006 and modeled the values for the remaining countries. There currently is no available information on the gear type used for this catch. When determining score, the assumption was made that little of it is done with habitat-destructive gear (e.g., blast fishing) or high bycatch gear (e.g., seine nets) but recognizing that high bycatch gear in particular is common.

Artisanal fishing, Low Bycatch is used as a pressure in calculating scores for Food Production (Fisheries), Natural Products (Ornamental fishes), and Livelihoods & Economies (Commercial Fishing and Aquarium Trade components).

Artisanal Fishing Pressure Infographic

What Are The Impacts?

Bycatch Can Harm Ecosystem Structure, Affecting Existing Populations as Well as Potential Future Catch


Unsustainable fishing pressure alters marine ecosystem structure and can have a significant impact upon biodiversity, productivity and overall food web dynamics.

Destructive fishing practices result in bycatch, which is the catch of unintended species or undersized/underaged specimens of the target species. Bycatch of non-target species can harm the ecological structure of an ecosystem, affecting existing populations as well as potential future catch.

Although some countries utilize bycatch for food and/or fishmeal, non-target species are dead or dying if they are returned to the water.

Species other than fish, including whales, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and sea birds die as bycatch from the use of nets and longlines.


Without the opportunity to catch their own seafood, millions of people could not meet their daily needs for protein. Fish provide more than 3 billion people, particularly in low-income, food deficient countries, with 15 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein (FAO 2010). 


Artisanal fishing includes 90% of all fishing jobs worldwide, approximately 45% of the world’s fisheries, and nearly a quarter of the world catch (Schorr 2005).

Comparatively, artisanal and commercial fisheries catch the same amount of fish for human consumption (30 million tons), yet artisanal fisheries employ 25 times the number of fishers (over 12 million people) and use an eighth of the amount of fuel used by industrial fisheries annually (Jaquet and Pauly 2008).

Costs associated with small-scale fishing tend to be lower than those for large-scale fisheries, as boats tend to have lower running costs and require less fuel, use less expensive technology, and harvest resources more efficiently (FAO 2012).

70% of the world’s total fish catch comes from developing countries, and over half of this comes from small-scale fisheries (WorldFish Centre 2008).

Net losses to the global economy from unsustainable exploitation of living marine resources are calculated to substantially exceed $50 billion per year- equivalent to more than half the value of the global seafood trade (World Bank 2009).

Small-scale fisheries are susceptible to risks posed by natural disasters and fuel and fish price fluctuations (Béné, 2006).

What Has Been Done?

Artisanal fishers in Costa Rica now use bottom long-lines to catch spotted snapper (Lutianus guttatus) sustainably; this technique does not over-exploit the snappers and it does not harm the habitat.  The Ministry of Environment has established two Marine Protected Areas that allow use of bottom long-lines, but not shrimp trawls or gillnets.  The fishermen market the snappers to local hotels and restaurants at a premium price, providing incentive to continue sustainable fishing practices.

The project was one of the 2010 winners of Geotourism Challenge 2010: Places on the Edge - Saving Coastal and Freshwater Destinations, sponsored by the National Geographic Society and Ashoka, and is being evaluated for certification by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Maximilian Hirschfeld 2010/Marine Photobank

The loco snail (Concholepas concholipas) is the most economically important shellfish in Chile. Until the late 1980s, the fishery was open access - fishers had no incentives to cooperate and local resources were being overexploited. In 1988, fishers, scientists and government agencies set up a co-management agreement that covered 4-km of seashore and allowed only local fishers to extract loco. This agreement significantly improved the welfare of the local community and two decades later, more than 700 areas are now co-managed along 4,000 km of the Chilean coast, involving more than 20,000 artisanal fishers and resulting in one of the most successful abalone fisheries in the world.

(Gutiérrez et al. 2011).


Fishing traps for artisanal fisheries in Curacao and Kenya have been updated with escape gaps in order to reduce bycatch. Initial results show an 80% reduction in bycatch as well as an increase in the overall value of catches. These modified traps can potentially be utilized in reef fishing worldwide and there is an estimated cost of less than one USD to retrofit existing traps.

Ofir Avny/Marine Photobank

Get More Information

SCRIPPS Institution of Oceanography: Small-scale and Artisanal Fisheries Research Network (SAFRN)

SAFRN focuses on the global development of methodology for the study of small-scale and artisanal fisheries.

Consortium for Wildlife: Bycatch Reduction

A database of collaborative research between the fishing industry and the scientific community, which aims to reduce bycatch for endangered species.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF): Smart Gear Competition

Created in partnership with industry leaders, scientists, and fishers, the competition encourages fishers to reduce the incidental catch of non-target species in fishing gear.

The World Bank: Global Program on Fisheries (PROFISH)

A programming and funding partnership between key fishery sector donors, international financial institutions, developing countries, stakeholder organizations and international agencies.


Cesar, H., L.A. Burke and L. Pet-Soede. 2003. The economics of worldwide coral reef degradation. WWF-Netherlands.

Chuenpagdee, R., L.E. Morgan, S.M. Maxwell, E.A. Norse and D. Pauly. 2003. Shifting gears: assessing collateral impacts of fishing methods in US waters. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1, 517–524.

Davies R.W.D. et al. 2009. Defining and estimating global marine fisheriesbycatch. Marine Policy. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2009.01.003.

FAO. 2009. Report of the Technical Workshop on the Status, Limitations and Opportunities for Improving the Monitoring of Shark Fisheries and Trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Report. No. 897. Rome, FAO. 

Gutiérrez, N. L., R. Hilborn and O. Defeo. 2011. Leadership, social capital and incentives promote successful fisheries. Nature 470, 386–389.

Jacquet, J. and D. Pauly. 2008. Funding priorities: Big barriers to small-scale fisheries.ConservationBiology 22(4): 832-835.    

Ruttenberg, B. I. 2001. Effects of artisanal fishing on marine communities in the Galápagos Islands.Conservation Biology, 15: 1691–1699. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.2001.99556.x