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Prof Moenieba Isaacs

Academic Coordinator and Professor

moenieba isaacs


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Prof Isaacs is the Academic Coordinator for the institute and manages Post Graduate Diplomas, MPhil and PhD research at PLAAS. She is also the co-coordinator of accredited short-course training on the Political Economy of Land Governance in Africa in collaboration with the AU- African Land Policy Center targeting land professionals in Africa. Her research focus is on understanding the social and political processes of fisheries reform in South Africa, mainly through the lenses of small-scale fisheries policy processes and implementation.  She has worked extensively with communities in South Africa to find policy solutions to the problems, which has highlighted the need to deal with social differentiation in fishing ‘communities’; unless an understanding of such complexities is part of research processes, they can perpetuate local conflicts. Engaged and reflective research must include finding creative and appropriate ways to engage with social processes, decision making and policymaking in the context of diverse civil society interests.

She is the regional coordinator and founding member of a Global Partnership for the future of Small-Scale Fisheries called TooBigToIgnore and engages in participatory action research. Her research in South Africa and the region aims to enhance the understanding and real contribution of small-scale fisheries to food security, nutrition, sustaining livelihoods, poverty alleviation, wealth generation and trade, as well as the impacts and implications of global change processes such as urbanization, globalization, migration, and climate change on small-scale fisheries.  She leads the international research cluster on Fish as Food for the Global Partnership on Small-scale Fisheries – “Too Big To Ignore”. She co-chaired the Human Dimension Working Group on Integrated Marine Bio-geo-chemistry Ecosystem Research (IMBER) 2010-2015.  This group developed a decision making tool – I-ADApT to assess global change. She formed part of the UN Committee on Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) on the Role of Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture for Food Security and Nutrition.  She was part of the expert team organised by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to unpack the notion of fisheries crime in February 2016 and is a director of the research group PescaDolus developing frameworks for fisheries crime internationally.  In 2016, she worked with a team to review the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure in Land, Fisheries, Forestry and Indigenous Communities for the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM).


She is currently leading the campaign for Blue Justice for small-scale fisheries via the platform and currently working on framing the concept.  In 2017,  she received UWC Institutional Individual Engagement Excellence Award for her research, policy and community engagement work.

Research Focus

Small-scale fisheries management and rights, Individual Transfer Quotas (ITQs)


  • PhD on the implementation of new fisheries policies in four South African fishing communities, University of the Western Cape, 2004
  • MPhil, University of the Western Cape

Selected Publications

International Peer Reviewed Journals

Isaacs, M. and Witbooi, E. 2019. Fisheries crime, human rights and small-scale fisheries in South Africa: A case of bigger fish to fry. Marine Policy, 105, pp.158-168.  DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2018.12.023

Isaacs, M. 2016. The humble sardine (small pelagics) ‒ fish as food or fodder. Agriculture and Food Security. DOI: 10.1186/s40066-016-0073-5

Isaacs, M. 2015. Multi-stakeholder process of co-designing small-scale fisheries policy in South Africa. Special Issue: Global change, human-ocean interactions and ways forward. 15(7) ISSN 1436-3798.Reg Environ Change. DOI 10.1007/s10113-015-0874-2


International Peer Reviewed Book Chapters

Isaacs M. (2018) Climate variability, overfishing and transformation in the small pelagics sector in South Africa. For chapter in volume ‘Responses of marine systems to environmental change’, eds Patrice Guillotreau, Alida Bundy and Ian Perry. Routledge Academic Books.

Isaacs, M. 2015. The Governability of the Small-Scale Fisheries Food System in South Africa – The Case of Snoek and West Coast Rock Lobster. Springer Academic Books.

Isaacs, M. 2011. Creating an Action Space: Small-Scale Fisheries Policy in South Africa. In Jentoft, S (ed.) Poverty Mosaics: Realities and Prospects in Small-Scale Fisheries. Poverty Mosaics. Springer Academic Books. 359-382.


Peer reviewed  International Research Reports:

Ortega, D, Isaacs M, Guttal S (2016) Sythesis Report on Civil Society experiences regarding use and implementation of the Tenure Guidelines and the challeng of monitoring CFS decisions. Civil Society Mechanism Committee (CSM) on World Food Security (CFS) WG on monitoring. CSO report on the use and application of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) as input to the Global Thematic Session during CFS 43.

HLPE. 2014. Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture for food security and nutrition. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, June 2014. UN, FAO, Committee on World Food Security (CFS).