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Artisanal fishermen. (Photo: Copyright: FIS)

Small fishermen face a sea of ​​obstacles

Monday, September 11, 2017, 21:20 (GMT + 9)

Out of 37 million people engaged in artisanal fishing or aquaculture around the world, 90 per cent are in Asia and use their scarce nets, boats, cages to be able to fish or raise fish with which to survive.

Further 100 million are indirectly involved in these activities, according to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Despite acting on a small scale, they provide two-thirds of the fish that is consumed by the population.

A reality that is "too big to ignore", as it is mentioned in its name by the global network "Too Big To Ignore" (TBTI), with hundreds of researchers trying to respond to the problems that drown the sector.

Its director, Ratana Chuenpagdee, listed the main concerns at a conference in Rome: ecosystem health, social justice, livelihoods and food security.

On all these aspects there is a shadow of climate change, with rising temperatures and sea level and with its profound changes in the environment.

The small fishermen are among "the most affected ones without having contributed to this phenomenon," says Chuenpagdee.

Another example of inequality lies in subsidies. The expert asks to target them to large-scale fisheries, which is estimated to accumulate 60 per cent of the USD 35 million added to these fishing aids.

Unintentionally, artisanal fishing has been forced to deal with competition from large vessels in search of the maximum economic yield, and the ban on exploiting marine reserves.

It has occurred, for example, on the island of Zanzibar, where some 250,000 people (one-fifth of its population) depend directly on fishing.

Between 2005 and 2011 numerous protected areas were created there with the support of the World Bank, leaving behind traditional fishing practices and adopting other Western ones, although some problems such as catch reduction or ecosystem destruction have been solved.

In addition, the authorities intend to attract foreign investors to take advantage of the waters so far little exploited by the Tanzanians. This is reflected in a TBTI publication analyzing the situation of small fisheries in dozens of countries.


Norwegian university professor Tromsø, Svein Jentoft, explains that the communities are very diverse among them and "there are difficulties to transfer the lessons learned from one country to another".

In other words, what works in Ghana may not work in Nicaragua. Each faces its own obstacles.

In Greenland, in contrast to its large international fishing companies, local fishermen, including indigenous people and women, are clearly disadvantaged and have limited means, according to the report.

In many ways, it is possible to manage the resources and support these artisans of the sea in spite of the limitations.

In India, hundreds of ships are moored along the coast several months a year by prohibiting fishing in monsoon times to prevent damage. Only small fishermen go out to sea, those who move with oars, sails or small engines. A much-discussed measure that, according to experts, ultimately benefits the most marginalized ones.

With one of the highest rates of fish consumption per capita, Japan has the fishermen organized in cooperatives that offer them market for their products, material means, insurance and credits.

The debate is now concentrated on how to group the smaller associations, which have seen their membership decline as the population ages.

The weakness also weighs on another country of fishing tradition such as Spain, where artisanal fishermen's associations confront industrial fishing and tourism in the exploitation of a Mediterranean Sea with symptoms of exhaustion, reasons why they have joined forces to defend their interests at European level, as the study shows.

Need to put order

For FAO specialist Nicole Franz, the key is to "count on the small communities of fishermen when making any decision that affects them".

It is also necessary to recognize their rights to have the resources. In many countries there are communal norms, as in South Africa or the Solomon Islands.

Franz thinks it possible to combine the different interests at stake if the areas of action are delimited well and the rules are respected.

He recalls that small-scale fisheries and aquaculture "contribute to social stability, giving work and future prospects to the population of islands and coasts".

In order to ensure sustainable small-scale fisheries, FAO countries adopted, in 2014, voluntary guidelines that are currently being implemented at the local, regional and global levels.

"They go beyond fisheries management, they also talk about gender equality, climate change, social development and decent work," says Franz, who values ​​their "coherent and human rights-based approach."

For the time being, the guidelines are, above all, disseminating in workshops and seminars.

Jentoft sees two key actors for their implementation: States and civil society. Some have already set to work. Costa Rica has drafted a bill to include them by listening to the needs of small, mostly poor, fishermen.

The NGO Community and Biodiversity (COBI) of Mexico is working to connect artisanal fishermen with buyers and develop new forms of financing, digital platforms and collective actions.

TBTI's experts include other initiatives such as "Gente da Maré" initiative, which a few years ago brought together authorities, researchers and local associations to improve the conditions of shellfish farmers in the impoverished northeast of Brazil.

Examples that seek to combat social inequalities and give a second opportunities to artisanal fishing.

Source: Belén Delgado / EFE

[email protected]


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