The era of blue growth, underpinned by neoliberal policy discourses, has been pervasive in the promulgation of European marine governance and policies in the past decade, with little or no regard for the sustainability of small-scale fisheries. In this paper, we engage with theoretical and empirical observations to reflect on how the promise of sustainable economic growth arising from the convergence of international conservation policies and the blue growth paradigm, has failed to materialise and caused huge social and economic inequities among local fishing communities and the catastrophic disruption of the socio-ecological system of fisheries. Drawing on various interventions in Malta, we illustrate how neoliberal policies, lauded and promoted as part of a national blue growth strategy, are suffocating and marginalising small-scale fishing communities by concentrating fishing opportunities into fewer, larger corporate hands, and by a hegemonic anti-small scale fishing narrative that seeks to replace traditional fishing with the ‘darlings of the new blue economy’, aquaculture and coastal tourism. With artisanal-commercial fishing in Malta on the verge of extinction, we call for reversal of neo-liberal policy measures to re-create a more resilient and stable fisheries economy through specific blue degrowth measures including improved access to fisheries resources and markets, and the establishment of marine protected areas that recognize the value of small-scale fisheries to conservation. This could be achieved through equity-based governance systems, including improved profit distribution systems within community economies, that grant small-scale fisheries the possibility of re-institutionalizing their sector and promoting their existence and viability into the future. Ultimately, we demonstrate that through a blue economy roadmap for small-scale fisheries, small-islands states like Malta, can rescue an important component of their maritime traditions, and be better placed to reach the obligations set out within the United Nations sustainable development goals.
Sustainability Science, vol. 15, 2020