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We live, We celebrate, We protect: Fishers, Oceans, Mother Earth


Statement of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) – World Fisheries Day, 21 November 2020

We, the World Forum of Fisher Peoples representing over 10 million small-scale fisher people including Indigenous People from coastal and inland regions in fifty-four countries, remember World Fisheries Day in the midst of the worst global crisis humanity has ever experienced. Even as our communities face hardship and loss, we take this day to celebrate with pride our global movement, with its diverse cultures and livelihood traditions, and to remember our fallen leaders whose struggles laid a path for us to tread and in whose footsteps we continue the struggle for life, dignity and human rights for all fisher peoples.

Fish as vital food in the COVID-19 crisis

The coronavirus pandemic has hit working people, including small scale fisher people, wherever they may be across the globe. In some places the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 have been even worse than the biomedical impacts. Yet government relief and support efforts tend to overlook the working poor, including small scale fishers, and do not reach those most in need. Access to good health care is insufficient. Many small scale fisher people, whose very survival is at stake, are being squeezed by lack of healthcare, loss of work and livelihoods, and harsh lockdowns

Harsh lockdowns are preventing fishers from fishing in many countries; landing sites remain closed, transportation is disrupted, no ice storage and no sellers and markets, and demand for fish has decreased along with working people’s purchasing power. Small-scale fishers continue to fish for their survival, but are criminalised for exercising their right. Some governments are pushing through policy reforms that further restrict our participation in decision making and our access to water bodies and coastal lands.

At the same time 800 million hungry people globally are expected to join the ranks of the hungry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Calls are growing for a transformation of food systems that would enable affordable healthy diets. Here, small scale fishers are key. We are a key part of the solution to the crisis because we provide healthy and nutritious fish, and we are the source of income and livelihood for millions world-wide.

We continue to fight the climate catastrophe

The International Panel on Climate Change continues to warn of  irreparable damage being done to oceans and inland water bodies. Sea-level rise, tropical storms, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching are negatively impacting cycles of life and the livelihoods of fishing communities. Despite government promises to reduce carbon emissions and deliver on the Paris Agreement and growing talk of ‘Green New Deals’, actions tell a different story. We see an ever increasing expansion of mining, oil, and gas exploration in our territories at sea and in inland water bodies. Other sectors responsible for vast carbon dioxide emissions are still being advanced and are often given a green label. Tourism is being re-branded as environmentally sustainable even though air-travel remains a significant contributor to the climate catastrophe. The issuing of Blue Bonds for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas is doing little, if anything, to reduce emissions. These areas do not absorb more carbon dioxide simply because they are labelled as Marine Protected Areas. But such labelling often allows for (even more) extraction of non-renewable resources by big business investors.

Meanwhile, small scale fishers are being squeezed more. Our fishing communities being hit hard by worsening natural disasters and are being expropriated to make way for big infrastructure and conservation projects in the name of economic development and climate change adaptation.

As guardians of our inland and coastal fishing grounds, we are cooling the planet, protecting our ocean and lakes, and maintaining healthy marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Our fishing methods, Indigenous and traditional knowledge, and intergenerational wisdom deeply embedded in our fishing culture is the backbone for sustaining nature and life for generations to come.

New waves of capital finding the oceans

Economic crisis has sent waves of capital towards the planet’s last frontiers – the oceans and inland water bodies. In the name of ‘development’ and ‘job creation’, so-called ‘blue growth’ is now widely pushed as the saviour. National governments, intergovernmental bodies, and the corporate world have unleashed a wealth of new ‘blue’ initiatives and unprecedented capital investments in well-established sectors such as oil and gas, port development, shipping and tourism, and in new sectors such as deep-sea mining, smart cities and bio-engineering. Corporate bodies, such as the World Ocean Council and the World Economic Forum, and government initiatives, such as the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, are busy shaping the future governance of oceans. ‘Marine Spatial Planning’ is being touted as the way for all ‘stakeholders’ to solve conflicts over access rights and decide on how oceans shall be governed. Yet, our experiences with Marine Spatial Planning show that we as rights holders have little, if any, say in who should have rights to resources and territories and for what purpose. We are regularly approached to participate in ‘blue’ initiatives — but only after the agendas and political direction have been set, and our presence merely serves to tick the ‘participation’ box of multistakeholderism and legitimise processes. At the same time, working people in small-scale fisheries continue to face criminalisation and expropriation as a direct consequence of so-called development of the ocean economy. Three decades after the birth of the UN sustainability agenda, two decades after green growth became the buzz-word, and a now a decade with the blue economy, we see little sign of governments respecting the human rights of fisher peoples.

We call upon our governments

On this World Fisheries Day, we continue our struggle for our human rights, for our rights to catch fish and access our territories and for our rights to retain livelihoods for men, women and youth involved in small-scale fishing. We demand climate reparation, restoration of nature, and restitution of rights that have been taken away from us. We call upon all governments to acknowledge our vital role in contributing to eradication of poverty and hunger and remind that we, by magnitude, make up the most numerous segment of all working people dependent on the ocean and inland waters for livelihoods and income.

We fought for the adoption of the Small-scale Fisheries Guidelines and demand our governments to work closely with our members to implement them in the true spirit in which they were intended.

We call on FAO to continue its support to the Global Strategic Framework in support of the implementation of the SSF Guidelines (SSF-GSF) by reaffirming small-scale fishers as the real agents for change. 

Issued by:

Nadine Nembard (General Secretary), Christiana Louwa & Moises Osorto (Co-chairpersons)

For the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP)

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