Building a model for collaboration and exchange in the Asia-Pacific region

Much of EDF’s work in the Asia-Pacific region has focused on the small-scale fisheries, or SSF, sector — home to some of the most marginalized fishers in the world. These are people who are highly dependent on marine resources for their livelihood, often living in remote, coastal areas with few alternatives for employment. Small-scale fishers are also facing extremely dire threats — in their ability to sustain themselves and continue their way of life — from challenges like species depletion, coastal development, pollution and the growing impacts of climate change.

One of my observations from personally supporting EDF’s work in places like Indonesia and China is that people are often working on a specific issue in their community or geography, and that the valuable experiences and lessons learned seldom get shared outward. Whether they are fishers, NGO practitioners, industry representatives or government officials, people need to work smarter and faster to meet the complex needs of managing SSF.

One big opportunity to rapidly increase the capacity of practitioners is to enable them to learn from each other. As we’ve seen in some our existing work, whether it was bringing mayors from the Philippines to study the Japanese cooperatives system or exposing practitioners from China, Japan and the Philippines to electronic monitoring systems and management on the U.S. West Coast, when we break down silos and facilitate cross-national exchange, the capacity and ability to solve complex fisheries challenges can be greatly enhanced.

The Asia-Pacific Small-Scale Fisheries Learning Network

Since 2018, EDF has been working with our partners in Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, China and Japan to develop a new model for coordinated and sustained collaboration on SSF in the region. This effort began in a workshop held in Bali, Indonesia, where we assembled a group of around 50 SSF practitioners from these five countries to identify shared challenges across the region and discuss opportunities for increased collaboration. Coming out of the workshop, we continued to hold periodic webinars with the group to begin defining a formal structure for peer-to-peer collaboration, finally landing on a learning network model.

This November, EDF held a follow-up workshop in Tokyo, Japan, to begin formalizing the Asia-Pacific Small-Scale Fisheries Learning Network. We recruited 18 participants from the five countries, many of whom attended the 2018 workshop, to form the core group of the network, tasked with steering the vision of the network and supporting its launch. These 18 participants came to Tokyo to help us define the future of the network and to formalize their roles as core group members. The design of the workshop was broken down into three key themes: Content, Strategy and People.


We wanted to use this workshop as an opportunity for practitioners to continue learning about and sharing experiences from fisheries in their respective countries. We therefore worked with participants before the workshop to put together country overview documents, which provided an overview of SSF management structures, areas of success and strength and areas of continued need in each country. Throughout the workshop, we were able to revisit and continue discussion around the status, opportunities and needs in SSF in each country.

In addition, we were fortunate enough to take a trip to a fishing cooperative in Yokohama, where we were able to learn more about the nested system of co-management in Japan. Participants were especially inspired by the ability of cooperative members to self-organize to manage the amount of catch each year and to designate no-fishing zones in local waters that all members voluntarily abide by. Participants were also impressed with the research collaborations that regularly occur between the cooperative and local research institutions that focus on finding ways to make gear more selective for valuable resources like eel.

Participants left with a deeper understanding of SSF across the geographies and started to generate some potential ideas for future exchange and collaboration.


One of the major objectives of the workshop was to come out with a shared vision, goals, outcomes and activities for the network over the next few years. We worked with participants, utilizing highly participatory methods, to define each element. Collectively, network members will be carrying out network activities and supporting its growth, and therefore, creating a participant-led process for strategic planning was vital.

Over the course of two days, participants were able to define a shared vision and goals for the network, and defined the following areas of focus:

  1. Science and technology supports the management of SSF
  2. Empowerment of fishing communities to engage in fisheries management
  3. Leadership development of practitioners to influence change
  4. Strong advocacy and effective communication
  5. Government and policy to support SSF
  6. Enhance market access to support sustainable fisheries

Under each focus area, participants were able to begin brainstorming lists of activities that they and practitioners from their countries might be interested in attending. These included events like peer-to-peer exchanges, research collaborations and co-development of case studies and other resources.


Because the strength of any network is only as powerful as the individuals who are members of the network, we sought to invest heavily in the cultivation of individual relationships and the building of individual capacity. One of the key roles network members play is to be an influencer, as they will need to help motivate various stakeholders in their respective countries to participate in network events and exchanges.

For this reason, we included professional development as a key component of this workshop. We were fortunate to have Amelia Juhl, design director at IDEO Tokyo, join us at the workshop and lead a session on “Storytelling for Influence.” In this session, Amelia presented a framework for communicating ideas to motivate action from any audience. Participants had the opportunity to develop and practice pitches, either related to gaining support for the learning network or related to their own personal work. For many of the participants, this was the first time they were able to learn and practice communicating in a way that was motivational versus technical, and many participants found this to be one of the most valuable components of the workshop.

Furthermore, we focused workshop design heavily on creating opportunities to strengthen personal relationships between network members. We created plenty of time for informal conversation, and also incorporated team building exercises where people could create shared experiences or open up more deeply about themselves. It was inspiring to see people from different cultural backgrounds come together to listen to one another, support one another and unite under a shared purpose by the end of our time together.

Outcomes and next steps

Coming out of the workshop, we have formed three working groups to keep the core group of the network engaged. The first working group is focused on communication channels and continuing to define how network members might communicate and share information with each other. Some ideas include regular email newsletters, an informal chat group and building a website. We plan to begin launching communication initiatives in the first half of 2020. The second working group is focused on polishing and refining the strategy that was developed at the workshop. Finally, the third working group will be focused on getting financial support for the network and securing funding for pieces of our collective strategy by the end of the year.

I have often felt that people working on SSF in the region are doing incredible work, but when they are not able to share their experiences with others, they are in a way, selling themselves and the world short. Therefore, it has been an incredibly fulfilling opportunity for me to help foster these human connections and support the development of a platform that could facilitate the spread of their great ideas, stories and experiences. In a world with increasingly complex challenges, especially from issues like climate change, we need more models like this for collaboration between stakeholders and across nations.

I am hopeful that through the continued development and launch of the Asia-Pacific Small-Scale Fisheries Leaning Network, we will be up to the challenge.

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