Brian O’Riordan, ICSF

Workers in the small-scale fisheries sector throughout the value chain around the world have cause to celebrate. At a meeting in Rome on June 10 of the 31st Session of the FAOs Committee on Fisheries (COFI 31), 116 members (of a total of 143) approved the adoption of the first ever international instrument dedicated to small-scale fisheries.

For over six years, a platform of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has been actively engaged with FAO and its member states to develop this instrument. These organisations include the World Forum of Fisherpeople (WFFP); the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers (WFF); the International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty (IPC) and the International Collective of Fishworkers (ICSF). Together, the two World Forums represent around 70 community-based organisations of small-scale fishers from Latin America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.


Exchanging experiences in Costa Rica

Approximately 90% of the 140 million people engaged in fisheries globally work in the small-scale fisheries sector, predominantly in the Global South. These small-scale fisher people catch half of the world’s total catches by volume, and provide over 60% of the fish destined for direct human consumption.

For each fisher-person in the small-scale sector, at least four other people are engaged in related land-based activities, such preparing equipment, fish processing, and marketing. In total, more than half a billion people are estimated to depend on fisheries for their livelihoods.

Food security

As a family-based activity, fishing makes a direct contribution to household food security where women play a particularly important role, linking land-based and sea-going activities; providing the main link with the market and wider economy, and putting food on the table in the household. An international instrument could help to ensure that this sector is given the security and recognition it deserves.

The instrument takes the form of Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Alleviation (VG SSF). The chair of COFI dedicated the instrument to Chandrika Sharma in recognition of her tireless work, leadership and immense contribution to developing the instrument. (Chandrika Sharma, the Executive Secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), disappeared on March 8 2014 aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.)

March 8 was also International’s Women’s Day, and through her work, Chandrika championed the cause of women workers; their rights to equal opportunities; to decent work; to access resources; not to be discriminated against and to engage as equals in the decision taking processes that affect them.

Guiding principles

Gender equality and equity are guiding principles of the guidelines; the Guidelines give visibility and recognition to the rights of women and to the important role they play throughout the fisheries value chain. Without their engagement, fisheries would not be viable. Putting the Guidelines into practice will help defend their space and enable women to participate fully in the decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods.

Sid Ahmed Abeid, President of the National Artisanal Fishermen’s Federation of Mauritania (FNP) called it an “historic day for artisanal fisheries,” and added: “We have fought hard for this for many years. Today marks an important landmark victory.”

For the organisations who have engaged with developing the instrument, the victory has a bitter-sweet taste. The loss of Chandrika Sharma has been a tragic blow; however her name and contribution will live on in the new instrument. The new instrument is global in scope, and applies to small-scale fisheries in all contexts, but with a specific focus on the needs of small-scale fishing communities in developing countries.

Some COFI members questioned whether or not the instrument applied to high-tech modern small-scale fisheries in the industrialised world. But as the majority of small–scale fisheries are located in the developing world, the importance of such a distinction seemed questionable.

“We all belong to the same family, and are fighting for the same rights,” said Naseegh Jaffer of the World Forum of Fisherpeople. “Whether in the North or South, small-scale fisheries are the largest and most sustainable segment of the world’s fishery sector. The Guidelines apply to us all.”

Editrudith Lukanga from the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers explained that the Guidelines were comprehensive and in one instrument, dealt with all significant aspects of small-scale fisheries and fishing communities within a human rights perspective. “These Guidelines will support the visibility, recognition and enhancement of small-scale fisheries and fishing communities in the context of eradicating hunger and poverty. The Guidelines will contribute significantly to effectively addressing numerous challenges and constraints facing small-scale fishing communities around the world.”

While this is an important victory to celebrate, there are significant challenges ahead for small-scale fisheries organisations, Member States and the FAO to ensure the full implementation of this new instrument.

For more information contact: Brian O’Riordan, Secretary, Belgium Office, International Collective in Support of Fishworkers. [email protected]