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Small-scale fisheries and blue justice: procedural and substantive rights of fisherfolks

Senia Febrica

One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde, UK

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  • artisanal fisheries,
  • fisheries,
  • advocacy,
  • challenges,
  • coastal communities,
  • fishing
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  • Policy makers,
  • Researchers,
  • Students,
  • Community workers
  • English
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This webinar explores the role and practical relevance of international legal instruments for the recognition and full realisation of the human rights of small-scale fishers.

On 10th November 2020, the One Ocean Hub in collaboration with the FAO led a “Small-Scale Fisheries and Blue Justice: Procedural and Substantive Rights of Fisherfolks” webinar for the UN-Nippon Fellows and Alumni. This is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Hub and the UN Division on Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea to share research findings with UN-Nippon Fellows and Alumni for capacity-building purposes and for the sharing of experiences across the countries represented in the UN-Nippon Fellows and Alumni network. This webinar explored the role and practical relevance of international legal instruments for the recognition and full realisation of the human rights of small-scale fisherfolk, with particular attention to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication. It explained why these legal instruments came into being and discussed their respective contributions, with a view to exploring how these instruments matter in the specific context of small-scale fisheries in South Africa and Ghana.

Professor Elisa Morgera (University of Strathclyde), Director of the One Ocean Hub, started the webinar by relating the importance of engaging with the human rights of small-scale fisherfolk in terms of integrative and inclusive ocean governance to mirror the connectivity of the ocean and to benefit from all the voices of those whose livelihoods are interwoven with a healthy ocean. A joint presentation by Professor Morgera and Ms Julia Nakamura (University of Strathclyde) highlighted the parallels and differences between the UN Declaration and FAO Guidelines, focusing on their respective approach. The presentation underscored the tension between a clearly defining small-scale fisherfolk as rights-holders and the diverse and dynamic forms of small-scale fisheries; and the inter-dependence of the recognition and protection of legitimate tenure rights to fishing grounds in both inland and marine waters with the full realisation of fisherfolks’ human rights. The presentation also highlighted the need to engage with impact assessments, consultations, and fair and equitable benefit-sharing as partnership-building opportunities not only to safeguard, but also to contribute to the full realization of, the rights of small-scale fisherfolk, including of indigenous peoples, traditional knowledge holders, and women.

Dr Bernadette Snow (Nelson Mandela University) and Ms Taryn Pereira (Rhodes University) provided a comprehensive explanation of procedural rights in the context of small-scale fisheries in South Africa. They pointed out how procedural injustice affected small-scale fisherfolks by increasing inequalities in access to resources, information and markets, as well as power imbalances along lines of gender, class, and race. They underscored limited understanding among policymakers, law enforcement agents, and conservation officials of the lives and rights of fisherfolk. Drawing from the examples of the Integrated Management Plan for Isimangaliso Wetland Park and Durban, Dr Snow and Ms Pereira stressed that during the COVID-19 pandemic, small-scale fisherfolk have been left out of policy processes, harassed by law enforcement agents, and not allowed to fish at a time when many families were struggling the most with access to food and income-generating activities.

Dr Bolanle Erinosho (the University of Cape Coast) and Dr Harrison Kwame-Golo (the University of Education, Winneba) explored opportunities and barriers to improving the protection of women’s and children’s rights in small-scale fisheries in Ghana. They noted that in Ghana women in small-scale fisheries communities are most acutely affected by declining fish catch and poverty due to their limited access to resources and decision-making processes. Dr Erinosho and Kwame-Golo also highlighted the problem of child labour and trafficking in the fisheries sector. The presentation concluded by highlighting the importance of improving national legal frameworks in the light of international human rights law to address class and gender discrimination, empowering women to realize their rights and enhancing the accountability of duty-bearers.

The ensuing discussion centred around the necessity to understand the daily realities of marginalisation of small-scale fisheries communities and to address systemic sources of discrimination and poverty, and the challenges in supporting the exercise of small-scale fisheries communities’ human rights as part of transformative ocean governance.