Artisanal Fisheries


Local fisherman in Madagascar sorting through the morning's catch ~ Photo by Tara Whitty

Grant Recipient:  Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Project Support:  Artisanal Fisheries Research Network
2010 – 2012

The Artisanal Fisheries Research Network (AFRN) is a San Diego-based group of students, researchers, and faculty who study artisanal (subsistence and small-scale) fisheries around the world. Network members represent a broad range of academic disciplines – including marine biology, economics, international relations, anthropology, and geography – and are associated with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and San Diego State University.

Founded in January 2010, AFRN aims to serve as a hub for interdisciplinary communication and collaboration on methods for studying artisanal fisheries, and for elucidating the commonalities and differences across fisheries in different regions where our research is conducted. What unites AFRN researchers and their projects is a recognized need to study the ecological, social, economic, and cultural context of artisanal fisheries in order to move toward effective management and conservation.

Project Support

Artisanal fisheries are defined as small-scale operations that catch fish for subsistence or for local markets. Globally, these fisheries catch approximately 30 million tons of fish annually for human consumption (the same amount as commercial fisheries), and provide protein and income for an estimated 500 million people. However, these fisheries have the capacity to significantly alter marine ecosystems through overfishing and habitat damage. Nevertheless, they are also our greatest hope for achieving sustainable harvests, because they are more efficient than commercial fisheries in terms of much lower bycatch and fuel use and much greater employment.


Ayana Johnson conducting socioeconomic interviews with fishermen at a roadside fish stand in Curaçao.

Understanding and reducing the negative impacts of artisanal fisheries on the marine environment is a rapidly emerging priority for marine conservation, and is critical to both the health of marine ecosystems and the welfare of people who depend upon them. To better understand, scientists must engage in interdisciplinary research that considers each the ecological, social, economic, and cultural aspects of artisanal fisheries. Collaboration among scientists, projects, regions, and disciplines is critical if research is to contribute to effective, well-informed management.

By synthesizing the collective expertise and experience of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and beyond, the team will develop and disseminate standardized methods to better document and understand the socioeconomic and cultural context of artisanal fisheries, with the aim of producing results that are applicable to effective management.


Small-scale fisheries provide income for many times the number of people as industrial fisheries while using far less fossil fuel. Photo: Ted Groves.

The Big Research Questions

1 )  What are the environmental impacts of artisanal fisheries and how can they be minimized?

2)  What is the socioeconomic and cultural context, and how can sustainability be incentivized?

3)  Can management guidelines be generalized instead of continuing to treat each fishery as unique?

AFRN aims to serve as a kernel of collaboration within the field of small-scale fisheries research.

Research Team Leaders

sio_stuart-sandin.jpgStuart Sandin (Principal Investigator) is an Assistant Professor of Marine Ecology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Sandin and his lab group work on questions of community ecology, addressing how species-rich marine ecosystems are affected by changing climate and changing interactions with humans.  Coral reefs are a core habitat for this research, as they provide many services to the people living nearby, from fisheries productivity to tourism revenue.  The ecological research in the Sandin lab provides insights that are essential to improve management of marine ecosystems for the generations to come. 

                               Tara Whitty (founder and co-chair) is a biological oceanography PhD candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She aims to understand ecological and sociocultural aspects of human impacts on the environment, and to work with communities in developing nations toward conservation, management, and capacity-building for research and conservation. For her dissertation, she is studying the bycatch (accidental capture) of cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, and whales) in artisanal fisheries. Her research comprises: (1) a collaboration with the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission to develop a report on cetacean conservation in developing countries, and (2) ecological and social science fieldwork to study Irrawaddy dolphin bycatch in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. She has a bachelor’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a certificate in Environmental Studies from Princeton University, and has conducted ecological and conservation research in several tropical developing nations.

sio_ayana-johnson.jpgAyana Johnson (co-chair) is the Director of Science and Solutions at the Waitt Foundation. Her goal is to restore the ocean to cornucopic abundance, with a particular focus on supporting sustainable use of ocean resources for the approximately 1 billion people in developing countries who depend on the ocean for the their nutrition and livelihoods. She travels the world to collect, create, curate, actualize, and amplify the best ideas in ocean conservation and blogs about it at In 2011, Ayana completed a marine biology PhD at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her research, conducted on the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Bonaire, took a holistic approach to understanding how to sustainably manage coral reefs by incorporating ecology, economics, and sociology. This included research on trap fishing proving escape gaps can reduce fish trap bycatch by 80% without reducing catch value (that research won Rare’s Solution Search competition) and socioeconomic interviews with 400 of Curaçao and Bonaire’s fishermen and SCUBA diving instructors to understand their views on coral reef health and management options. Recently, Ayana completed a Knauss Sea Grant Fellowship focused on projects related to the National Ocean Policy and the National Shellfish Initiative.

sio_hannah-bassett.jpgHannah Bassett (project coordinator and co-chair) is a Research Associate in Professor Sandin’s lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and has been involved with AFRN since it’s founding in 2010. Hannah is particularly interested in the fusion of natural and social sciences resulting in a truly whole-ecosystem approach to fisheries studies. She sees interdisciplinary research and collaboration as a necessity for working towards preservation of the world’s marine resources and is dedicated to promoting work that will best inform management efforts. In 2012, Hannah’s research will be focused on the small-scale fisheries of American Samoa in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and National Park Services. Specifically she will be assessing the need and potential for continued monitoring of American Samoa’s fisheries and the effectiveness of research methods developed by AFRN. Hannah received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of California, San Diego in 2008 and has worked in cetacean acoustic research for the past four years.

About Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the leading institutions in ocean science of the world, conducting groundbreaking research and education in physical, chemical, biological, ecological, geological, and geophysical systems of the oceans and earth. A department of UC San Diego, Scripps’ leadership in many scientific fields reflects its continuing commitment to excellence in research, modern facilities and ships, distinguished faculty, and outstanding graduate and undergraduate students.


Artisanal Fisheries Research Network Website
Scripps Institution of Oceanography Website

Comments are closed.