World Forum of Fisher Peoples demands implementation of FAO’s Small-Scale Fisheries guidelines

Published on
December 6, 2017

The six-day 7th General Assembly of World Forum of Fisher Peoples took place 15 to 21 November in New Delhi, India, with delegates strongly pushing for broader implementation of Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF) guidelines.

The SSF Guidelines were signed by member-countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in June 2014. They take a human rights-based approach to fisheries regulation and are meant to be folded into national laws. 

Established in Delhi on the World Fisheries Day in 1997, the WFFP is a mass-based social movement of small-scale fisher people designed to “represent the voice of the over 10 million fish workers across the world.” Since its founding, it has become a member of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, and the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security. 

The SSF guidelines are vital in protecting the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, including women and indigenous communities, the WFFP declared at the assembly. Throughout the meeting, delegates from member-countries shared their experiences of working with various global governments on implementing the SSF guidelines, and stressed the need for fisher organizations to monitor the implementation process. 

Jesu Ratinam of the National Fishworkers Forum of India, a federation of state-level unions, which has more than one million members, said that although India is included in the list of countries that has adopted SSF guidelines, the country has yet to put significant resources into its implementation. The same is true of India’s new National Marine Fishing Policy, Ratinam said, stressing that the rights of small-scale fish workers will become a reality only if the government guarantees a legal sanction to it. 

Arthur Bull, an advisor to the WFFP coordination committee, said in his talk at the assembly that some of the industrialized countries, including his native Canada, argued in the FAO that there are no human rights issues or poverty in fisheries in their land. But through processes of advocacy and policy engagement with the Canadian government, the fisher organizations got the government to change its position. Currently, in Canada, the fisher organizations and allies have been able to move ahead and work for the implementation and monitoring of the SSF guidelines.

Mujabul Haq Malik of COAST Trust, a nonprofit seeking to improve the lives of Bangladesh’s coastal population, warned of an ongoing shift of control of fisheries resources from small-scale fishers and their communities to large, multinational companies. 

“Being a member of FAO, we need to ensure that to sensitize the government to implement the guidelines,” Malik said. “Fisher people should demand that it be implemented with the support of civil society organizations.”

Malik and others at the gathering said implementation and stronger support for the SSF guidelines are a vital matter for the fishing communities around the globe.

“Fishers across the world [must] come together to fight ocean, land, and water-grabbing,” Malik said. “We must advance food sovereignty in a fishery context, address problems relating to inland fisheries, and guard the spirit through [a] human rights-based approach.”

Reporting from Mumbai, India

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