Enacting food system transformation through the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines

Hillary Smith, Xavier Basurto, Kevin St Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Calls to transform food systems along more ethical and sustainable lines are mounting alongside debates about what constitutes transformative change and strategies needed to achieve it. Civil society organizations (CSOs) have argued that transforming food systems requires transforming the governance of food systems, as dominant “productivist” approaches to governance have narrowly invested in corporate priorities while marginalizing the many small-scale food workers that animate our food system. In this paper, we examine the possibilities and unexpected pathways of food system transformation through the case of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF Guidelines). Mobilized by CSOs, the SSF Guidelines transformed understandings of fisheries sustainability and strategies to achieve it. Moving beyond narrow productivist concerns and capitalist priorities, the SSF Guidelines foreground a diverse range of ethical concerns, economic practices, and values as central to sustainable governance, opening different food system sites, and infrastructural concerns to transformation. Strategically, the SSF Guidelines outline the need to recognize, strengthen, and connect existing “organizational structures” linking fishworkers to invest in (re)building appropriate “infrastructure” for sustainable food systems, especially for women in provisioning, whose organizations, practices, and economic activities have been overlooked. We follow efforts to implement the SSF Guidelines in Tanzania through an initiative to map existing women’s fisheries organizations, an initiative that revealed that these networks are already part of widespread, diverse economies. Mapping served as an inventory of other- and more-than-capitalist practices that enable women’s fishing cooperatives to navigate their interdependency through practices of reciprocity, care, and creativity in seafood systems. Drawing on diverse economies theory and analytic techniques, we argue that food system transformation can be understood as a process “here and now” that can be enacted, in part, by recognizing and amplifying existing social, economic, and political infrastructure for the food system we want.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2
JournalMaritime Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Aquatic Science
  • Development
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Civil society organizations
  • Diverse economies
  • Fisheries cooperatives
  • Food system provisioning
  • Gender equality
  • SSF Guidelines
  • Small-scale fisheries governance


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