Main Issue

The global ocean is central to the livelihoods and food security of billions of people around the world, with an estimated 4.3 billion people reliant on fish for 15 percent of their animal protein intake. The ability of the ocean ecosystems to support long-term economic growth and essential protein is, however, threatened by human activities. These threats are exacerbated by fragmented and uncoordinated management decisions that at times are not informed by sound science.   

The $70 billion annual trade in international fisheries products is coming under increasing pressure as fishing systematically removes the larger species from our oceans. Making matters worse, pollution and other human activities on the coasts are removing key spawning and nursery habitats. The serious depletion of coastal and marine fish stocks is now threatening our  biodiversity  and the well-being of our coastal communities. 

Fisheries are a central component of the Blue Economy — a vision of a vibrant ocean and coastal areas that also fosters economic growth and sustainable livelihoods. A number of ocean and coastal nations around the world, most critically Small Island Developing States, but also including the European Union and larger coastal nations, are actively developing and promoting a Blue Economic growth agenda. 

What We Do

The GEF promotes sustainable fishing practices and wider ecosystem stewardship on a regional level as well as through national investments that tie to regional commitments. Our investments support the move from exploited fisheries to more sustainable practices. At the same time, we improve management of national and shared seascapes to support the billions of people who depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. 

The majority of GEF investments supporting fisheries management have been through the  large marine ecosystem (LME) portfolio. The Global 66 LMEs support over 85 percent of global fish catch; investment in these LMEs is thus essential to address unsustainable fishing. In most of these projects, efforts are underway to ensure fishing efforts are at sustainable levels through approaches to gear, catch levels and/or closures.  

The GEF also has invested in improved management of high seas fisheries, particularly tuna, through the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction program. Within the Western and Central Pacific region, for example, 15 of 22 Pacific islands and territories participated in a GEF ocean management project. The project serves as a showcase for empowering small islands to engage on an even footing with larger and more politically influential countries. 


In recognition of the vital role fisheries play in eliminating hunger, promoting health, and reducing poverty, the GEF supports sustainable fishing practices and wider ecosystem stewardship both on national and regional levels. The GEF has promoted improved management of shared fishery resources, for example in West Africa, the  Humboldt Current,  Bay of Bengal, the  Coral Triangle  as well as in the open sea, such as the Western Central Pacific. To date, the GEF through its International Waters focal area, has invested $160 million in coastal and marine fisheries, leveraging roughly $1 billion in funding from other partners. 

Traditional methods of catching shrimp are inefficient, as fishers often end up with young fish, turtles and other by-catch. Over 60 percent of shrimp is discarded, making it among the most environmentally damaging fisheries in the world. The GEF is working to address bycatch in the Latin America and Caribbean region in shrimp and bottom trawl fisheries. Almost all participating countries have tested the use of trawl nets, which make it easier and faster for fishers to process the shrimp. In Mexico, for example, more than 140 vessels using the new methods and reported both  increased quantity and quality of shrimps.

Looking Ahead

GEF support through the International Waters Focal Area will promote sustainable fishing practices and strengthen ecosystem governance both at national and regional levels to maintain productivity while sustaining biodiversity within fisheries. GEF-7 will build on, strengthen, and expand existing partnerships and address national and shared fisheries by supporting existing governance goals and targets. The International Waters strategy will help reduce anthropogenic pressures – e.g. pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing, and unregulated coastal development – and contribute to the integrity and resilience of vulnerable coastal and marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds, and associated ecosystems.  

The GEF-7 International Waters focal area strategy will also support countries as they identify sustainable public and private national investments under the rubric of the Blue Economy, including effort to improve management of vital fisheries. GEF will help fund collective management of coastal and marine systems and implementation of the full range of integrated ocean policies, and legal and institutional reforms. This will be done in tandem with catalyzing regional processes, such as the transboundary diagnostic analysis/strategic action program in order to advance cooperation in large marine ecosystems. Approximately 100 GEF-eligible nations have used this process to reach agreements to improve Ocean management.  

GEF has an opportunity to assist countries in effectively addressing a suite of stressors such as overfishing, land-based sources of pollution, and loss and damage of key coastal and marine ecosystems through a combination of national and regional investments targeted to strengthen national Blue Economy opportunities. Given the numerous initiatives around oceans in recent years that have emerged in the international community circles, there is a clear need to establish an overarching and integrated framework required to mobilize action, and support institutions in a cross-sectoral transition toward achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14: conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.