My research focuses on the intersection between conservation and food security, with a particular focus on small-scale fisheries, which account for 90% of all fishers and 40% of global fisheries yields. While my background is in coral reef science and ecology, I also work on marine governance, co-management, conservation planning, and impact evaluation. I am also passionate about human rights and the role that international conservation organizations play in supporting equity and inclusion, and a human rights-based approach more broadly.

I am currently a lecturer at James Cook University, and work closely with both international conservation and development organizations, in particular the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and WorldFish. Prior to my current position I was jointly funded by WCS and WorldFish to help develop the new WCS Community Fisheries strategy, conduct high-level research on the intersection between human rights and marine conservation, and research small-scale fisheries management in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Bangladesh, and Tonga.

My current research program is divided into two thematic areas:

Theme 1: Advancing the Wildlife Conservation Society Community Fisheries Program

(From the WCS Community fisheries playbook)

Based on decades of work in coastal communities, we have developed a strategy that crystalizes the goal shared by fishers and other coastal stakeholders worldwide: a vision of just and regenerative fisheries that equitably benefit nature and people. We are not only looking to slow declines in communities, coastal ecosystems and fisheries, but to reverse them to restore fisheries to their full social, economic, and environmental potential.

Our current research workstreams are:

A.   Mainstreaming equity and inclusion within all aspects of WCS work with community fisheries. This includes assessments of both high level NGO policies and practice as well as on the ground operations.

B.  Monitoring and evaluation of all aspects of community fisheries – ecological, fisheries, and socioeconomic, in ways that deliver clear and locally actionable knowledge of the impacts of interventions.

C.  Elevating community fishers and strengthening their organizational capacity to participate fully in coastal governance.

D. Practicing effective co-management – evaluating and integrating the latest research on fisheries co-management into best practice.

E.  Incentivizing responsible fishing that addresses unsustainable practices such as destructive fishing, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and bycatch.

You can access the WCS Community Fisheries playbook and strategy here.

You can access the Fisheries Co-Management Guidebook here.


Theme 2: Strenghtening Pacific Fisheries Co-Management

Fisheries co-management occurs in many countries, but its heart lies in the Pacific. I work in this region to understand how small-scale fisheries can be effectively governed by relationships between communities and government. Since 2016 I have been collaborating with the government of Tonga to support the management and monitoring of their marine ecosystem and inshore fisheries. Specifically, my research is focused on supporting the Tongan Ministry of Fisheries research priorities.

Our current research workstreams are:

A.    Health status of Tonga’s coral reef ecosystems and the fisheries that they support.

B.    Economic value of Tonga’s inshore fishery and its contribution to national GDP.

C.    Understanding the impacts of Tonga’s Special Management Area program – the ecological, fisheries, and socioeconomic impacts from their national co-management program.

D.    Streamlining monitoring and evaluation protocols and training – how to develop efficient and locally actional monitoring programs.

E.    Understanding Tonga’s volcanic archipelago – impacts of the 2022 volcanic eruption, mapping marine life and recovery around Tonga’s outer islands, potential UNESCO World Heritage value of Tonga’s volcanic islands.

You can access the 2020 Tonga Special Management Area Report here.

You can watch a video of our work on Tonga’s volcanic archipelago here.

  • MB3014: Managing Tropical Fisheries (Level 3; TSV)
  • MB3150: Fisheries Science (Level 3; TSV)
  • MB5003: Fisheries Science (Level 5; TSV)
  • MB5014: Managing Tropical Fisheries (Level 5; TSV)
  • Human rights and conservation. Understanding the legal and ethical obligations, and practical benefits, for why marine conservation should support human rights.
  • Ethical practice of marine conservation organizations. Developing inclusive models of conservation that support Indigenous peoples, foster flourishing communities, regenerative fisheries, and resilient ecosystems.
  • Inclusive governance of small-scale fisheries, including co-management, community-based marine management, and locally managed marine areas.
  • Impact framing and conservation planning. Counterfactual analysis, ecological and socioeconomic monitoring and evaluation.
  • Coral reef ecology. Using underwater visual surveys and experiments to address ecological questions on coral reefs.
  • 2023 to present - Lecturer, James Cook University (Townsville, Australia)
  • 2022 - Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Wildlife Conservation Society; WorldFish (New York, USA)
  • 2020 to 2021 - Postdoctoral Research Fellow, WorldFish (Penang, Malaysia)
Research Disciplines

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 23+ research outputs authored by Dr Patrick Smallhorn-West from 2017 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Fisheries Society of the British Isles - Research Grant Fund

Impacts of a volcanic eruption on coral reef fisheries in a co-managed fishery-system

Indicative Funding
$12,186 over 2 years
In January 2022, a massive submarine volcanic eruption occurred in the Kingdom of Tonga, causing widespread damage from both ashfall and tsunami waves. For 20 years prior to this eruption, the Tongan government has worked closely with local communities to manage and conserve the countries coral reef ecosystem and reef fisheries. In the wake of this acute disturbance, I aim to: 1)understand how coral reefs and their fisheries respond to massive acute disturbances, and 2)investigate whether local marine management measures can mitigate observed impacts. Ecological surveys of fish and reef health will be conducted across the country?s coral reefs, both within and beyond managed areas, at varying distances from the eruption epicentre.
Lucy Southworth, Andrew Hoey, Patrick Smallhorn-West and Amy Diedrich (Research Division and College of Science & Engineering)
Small scale fisheries; Fisheries co-management; Volcanic eruption; Habitat degradation; Food security; Fisheries productivity

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research - Contract Research

Strengthening coral reef monitoring and ocean equity for marine co-management in Tonga.

Indicative Funding
$70,660 over 1 year
The proposed project would aim to build off one of the most successfully implemented marine management programs in Tonga, the Special Management Area program (SMA). The SMA program is Tonga?s version of marine co-management and currently involves over 50 % of coastal communities (59 communities as of February 2023), with the aim to reach 100 % capacity by 2025. Implementation and scaling of the SMA program has been widely successful but is now struggling with issues in M&E, as well as community coordination. These issues have been expressed to us from the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF) and Civil Society of Tonga and are largely due to staff in these organisations being under-resourced and already working at full capacity. 1. Strengthen SMA Monitoring and Evaluation capacity in Tonga 2. Strengthen equity and resilience in the governance structure of Tonga?s Special Management Area program
Patrick Smallhorn-West in collaboration with Sophie Gordon (College of Science & Engineering and Australian Institute of Marine Science)
Impact Evaluation; Small-scale Fisheries; Tonga; Co-management

WorldFish Center, Malaysia - Grant

The impact of conservation NGO interventions on small-scale fishers

Indicative Funding
$129,176 over 2 years, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society ($129,176)
The objective of this post-doctoral position is to conduct a systematic review of NGO interventions to support Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF) and to apply these findings to WCS? programs. The position will be co-hosted between James Cook University, WorldFish, and the WCS Global Marine Conservation division.
Patrick Smallhorn-West (Research Division)
Impact Evaluation; Non-Government Organization; Small-scale fisheries; Conservation

Crawford Fund - Research Grant

What can locally managed marine areas do for you?

Indicative Funding
$12,000 over 1 year
Locally-managed marine areas (LMMA) regulate when, how, and by whom harvesting of resources occurs and are the dominant local marine resource management approach in the Pacific. Recently, a new wave of lessons have emerged on the efficacy of LMMAs that has yet to be interpreted and critiqued amongst resource managers, NGOs, and government actors. This project will involve hosting two workshops and co-developing communication products (infographic, pamphlet, and short video) in various Pacific languages on the current state of knowledge on LMMAs as a fisheries management tools. This work will provide an up to date synthesis of the contexts under which they can be successful, the trade-offs that may result when managing for multiple objectives, and the realistic impacts that can be expected from their use.
Patrick Smallhorn-West (Research Division)
Workshops; Marine Protected Areas; Outreach; Community based fisheries management

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Socio-ecological impacts of a massive volcanic eruption on a co-managed reef fishery (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Implications of Small Body Size: Ecology and LifeHistory of Small and Short-Lived Coral Reef Fishes of the Genus Trimma (PhD , Secondary Advisor)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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