‘Speak with us, not for us’: fishing communities accuse the UN of ignoring their voices | Environment

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Small-scale fishers and women in coastal countries on the front lines of the “ocean emergency” have accused world leaders and other decision-makers at the UN ocean conference of ignoring their voices for corporate interests.

More than half of the fish caught globally for human consumption come from small-scale fishing communities, but their contribution to food security and ocean protection is not sufficiently recognized, they say.

Daniel Caniullan, an aboriginal leader and fisherman, says the expansion of salmon farming has caused an “ecological disaster”.

Suzanne Njeri of Kenya, vice-president of the African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network, which has members from 44 out of 54 African countries, said coastal fishing communities need “a place at the table”. and were too often overlooked.

“We want policy makers to talk with us, not for us,” Njeri said. “We see the damage to fish breeding grounds. We are the ones fighting malnutrition. We need more practitioners here to tell their stories.

Daniel Caniullan, an indigenous leader, diver and fisherman from Chilean Patagonia, said his community had been fighting to defend their territories for many years.

“There has been an expansion of the salmon farming industry, which releases chemicals and antibiotics into the sea,” Caniullan said. “This is causing an ecological disaster and we are witnessing a decrease in marine fauna.

“There are 400,000 people like me who are affected. We want to bring this to the attention of the UN and the Chilean government. We are the ones dealing with the problem and we have solutions.

Boats moored in a small port.  Waterfront home, steep wooded hills behind.
Caleta La Arena, a small fishing village in southern Chile, where the local economy is dominated by environmentally unsustainable salmon farming. Photograph: Juan Vilata/Alamy

Caniullan wants Chile to implement an existing law that would allow the creation of a marine protected area on indigenous territory to safeguard livelihoods.

Around 120 million people around the world depend on fishing, of which almost 97% live in developing countries.

Many small-scale fishers and women took part in discussions, panels and other events at the Lisbon conference, co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal. However, they say that while the final draft declaration refers to their contribution to food security and poverty eradication, it does not sufficiently recognize their role.

African woman talking to other women
Margaret Nakato, who represents fish processors in Uganda, spoke passionately at the conference about strengthening the role of women in food production. Photo: One Earth/Katosi Women Development Trust

Fishing communities also fear that the draft declaration, which emphasizes the intention to “develop and promote innovative financing solutions to drive the transformation towards sustainable ocean-based economies”, could undermine this contribution. , as they already face competition from tourism and other sectors for access to the ocean.

Margaret Nakato, who represents over 1,000 fish processors in Uganda and belongs to the World Forum of Fishermen and Fishworkers, said: “Many fishing communities are being driven out by the prioritization of other sectors, such as tourism , oil and gas, and land use such as agriculture, giving us less access to fishing grounds.

“It’s also a food crisis – small-scale fishers are providing food and our livelihoods are at risk. It’s a fight to be heard. »

This week, fishing communities on five continents issued a global call to action, demanding that governments and world leaders protect and increase support for small-scale fisheries.

They ask policy makers to protect them from competing sectors of the “blue economy”; secure preferential access and increase co-management of coastal areas; ensuring the participation of women; and increase support for coastal communities facing the impact of the climate crisis.

Gaoussou Gueye, from Senegal, who is the President of CAOPA, an African Artisanal Fisheries Alliance, said, “We are concerned about the marginalization of artisanal fisheries in our countries’ blue economy strategies.

“We cannot survive if we have to compete with powerful, polluting and environmentally destructive sectors in the marine and coastal environment.”

Lisbon is the last major political conference before the final High Seas Treaty negotiations in August. Forty-nine governments, including the 27 EU member states, have pledged to finalize a treaty this year.

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