UN report confirms urgent need to respect fisher people’s right to food

Ahead of a significant report on fisheries and the right to food to the UN Human Rights Council this week, FIAN and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples call on states to take urgent action to address the multifaceted challenges faced by fisher peoples and realize their right to food and nutrition.

Around the world, millions of people depend on the fish caught by almost 500 million fisher peoples for the essential protein in their diet. The full enjoyment of human rights by fisher peoples is a prerequisite for realizing the right to food and nutrition for all.

However, despite international recognition of their human rights, fisher peoples continue to encounter unprecedented levels of marginalization, eviction, and dispossession. Their right to food, nutrition, and other related human rights is abused and violated by the actions and inactions of states.

Revisit blue economy agenda

We welcome the report Fisheries and the Right to Food in the Context of Climate Change from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food – and in particular his call for states to respect, protect and fulfill fisher people’s customary tenure rights – including full implementation of the FAO Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF) Guidelines and measures to “revisit the blue economy agenda”.

“This report illustrates that fishing should not be considered merely an industry or a commodity, but rather as a way of life for fisher peoples,” says Jones Spartegus, a representative of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples.

In the name of green and blue sustainable development, states are seeking to transform into liberalized global superpower economies at the cost of nature and nature resource-based indigenous peoples.

“In the vast expanse of our shared waters, fish is not merely sustenance – it is our commons, and fishing rights are fundamental human rights. The realization of the right to food becomes hollow if the harvest of the sea is tainted by the subjugation of fisher peoples,” says FIAN International case work and research officer Yifang Slot-Tang.

State-driven exploration and extractive blue economy and blue growth initiatives – along with coastal infrastructural and industrial development projects, conservation efforts, and extractive industries – encroach on fisher commons and further marginalize these communities.

Disregard for fishing communities

For example, in South Africa, the government continues to grant permits for oceanic oil and gas exploration without involving local fisher communities in decision-making.

“Small-scale fishers in South Africa see the continuous expansion of oil and gas applications and coastal mining. Despite active participation in opposition to these developments, fishing communities' voices are often disregarded,” says Jordan Volmink, from the South African small-scale fishers’ community development group Masifundise.

“Conservation efforts often infringe upon the livelihoods of small-scale fishers, who have historically relied on ocean and forest resources. This leads to harassment and violence, impeding their ability to sustain themselves and exercise their customary rights, thus impacting human rights, particularly the right to food and nutrition.”

Marginalization and violence

The conversion of small-scale, artisanal, and subsistence fishing economies into export-oriented seafood industries – fueled by globalized economies – has led to the deterioration of marine and coastal ecosystems. Mechanization, corporate interests, and colossal aquaculture projects result are driving dispossession of coastal lands, loss of marine biodiversity and marginalization of fishing communities.

India, driven by a growing global appetite for shrimp, has become one of the world's top shrimp producers, supported by government policies at the expense of fisher people’s health and livelihoods.

In the name of combating “illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing”, some states use extreme violence against fisher peoples. In Uganda, armed forces have been deployed since 2017 in an attempt to combat illegal fishing leading to overzealous arrests, the destruction of property and fishing gear and boats, and physical assault.

States must recognize the crucial role played by fisher people in feeding our planet and realize their right to food and nutrition by fully implementing the FAO’s SSF Guidelines and revisiting the blue economy agenda.

For more information or media interviews please contact Tom Sullivan sullivan@fian.org


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