UN Ocean Conference,
Interactive Dialogue 5 (PM)

Voices of Small Fisheries Undervalued, Overlooked in Global Food Systems, Speakers at Lisbon Dialogue Stress amid Calls to Curb Illegal Practices, Overfishing

World Trade Organization Ban ‘Good News’ as Public Funds Can Now Support Artisanal Practitioners, Rather than $22 Billion Annual Subsidies

LISBON, 29 June — While small-scale fisheries provide jobs along the value chain for 60.2 million people — nearly 90 per cent of fishing employees worldwide — their voices are often undervalued and unrecognized in global food systems, experts and delegates alike stressed today, as participants in the fifth Lisbon dialogue explored ways to protect their valuable stocks from overexploitation.

Taking place on day three of the 2022 Ocean Conference, the interactive dialogue — “Making Fisheries Sustainable and Ensuring Access to Marine Resources and Markets for Small-Scale Fishers” — looked at how subsidies exacerbate the problems of overcapacity and overfishing and are often a source of unfair competition against small-scale fishers.

Against that backdrop, Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said oceans, rivers and lakes can help feed the world, provided that their precious resources are exploited responsibly, sustainably and equitably.  While marine food production is proven to be more nutritious, has less environmental impact and emits fewer greenhouse gases than land animals, too few countries include fish in their food security and nutrition strategies.

Nonetheless, he said effectively managed fish stocks are recovering, citing progress on Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, which aims to eliminate subsidies that promote overfishing and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

Following suit, Henry Puna, Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, took stock of efforts by the “Blue Pacific” initiative to combat overfishing, noting that several agencies are involved in the sustainable management and development of fisheries resources, including the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.  It works in parallel with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, a subregional organization comprised of eight countries and one territory which control 50 per cent of the world’s tuna supply.

He explained that these agencies work in cooperation with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, a regional organization, to sustainably manage tuna in that area which is the only ocean that has healthy tuna stocks — thanks to cooperative management by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, whose members derive 30-90 per cent of their revenue from tuna fishing license fees.

The voices of the Pacific were also heard at the twelfth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference, where a “partial agreement” on fisheries subsidies was reached.  The Pacific islands are keen to obtain flexibilities that offer developing WTO members the political space they need to develop their fisheries, and, therefore, calling on the WTO and major subsidizers to commit to further negotiations to include overcapacity and overfishing and reach a comprehensive agreement as soon as possible.

Shakuntala Thilsted, 2021 World Food Prize Laureate, Global Lead of Nutrition and Public Health of World Fish, and Steering Committee Member of the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, highlighted the significant contribution of small-scale fishers to the ocean economy.  She voiced regret that they are often undervalued and unrecognized for their participation in global food systems, noting that disruptions caused by climate change, COVID-19 and conflict have underscored their vulnerable access to national social security systems, such as loans, insurance, education and health care.

However, strong international instruments and platforms, such as today’s Conference, are helping to identify opportunities to advance their cause.  She cited the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Ensuring Sustainable Artisanal Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication as another powerful tool for Governments, policymakers, practitioners, academics, the private sector and local communities to advance small-scale fisheries and increase their contribution to global food and nutrition security.  These recommendations should not be taken in isolation, she explained, but rather operationalized in conjunction with the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition, which ensure convergence of the food, agriculture, nutrition and health sectors.

Santiago Wills, Ambassador of Colombia to the WTO and Chair of the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations, recalled that Goal 14.6 mandates the WTO to negotiate a ban on subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and overfishing, taking into account the needs of developing countries.  After many years and enormous efforts, WTO ministers on 17 June adopted a legally binding agreement on fisheries subsidies — the first WTO environmental agreement, the first and largest legally binding multilateral agreement on ocean sustainability, and most importantly, a big step forward in redirecting Government funds to support environmental sustainability.

He said the agreement contains innovative notification and transparency requirements for fisheries subsidies, he said, and will significantly improve the collection of data.  “This is excellent news that will greatly facilitate the difficult task of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and in particular, its Fisheries Committee,” he said.  It is also good news for small-scale artisanal fishers, as public spending can now support the sustainable fishing practices of artisanal fishers, rather than the $22 billion spent each year on harmful subsidies.

Launching the interactive dialogue, lead discussant Elisa Morgera, Director of One Ocean Hub and Professor of Global Environmental Law at University of Strathclyde Law School, highlighted the importance of taking a human rights approach to fisheries.  Equally essential is recognizing the collective and customary rights of small-scale fishermen, facilitating their access to justice and involving them in decisions that affect them.  She also called for the integrated management of marine resources, describing these fishermen as “guardians of the water”.

Lead discussant Editrudith Lukanga, Co-President of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers and Vice-Chairperson of the International Steering Committee of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022, said 500 million people depend on small-scale fisheries.  It is estimated that they account for at least 40 per cent of the world’s capture fisheries and provide jobs along the value chain to 60.2 million people — nearly 90 per cent of fishing employees worldwide.  She pointed to the Voluntary Guidelines on Ensuring Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication in 2014 in this context.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the Solomon Islands, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, argued that small-scale fisheries are essential to the way of life of people in the Pacific and voiced support for a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Joining those calls, the representative of French Polynesia called for an ecosystem approach to the management of coastal fisheries, advocating for more financing and investment in the artisanal fisheries sector.  For their part, the representatives of Madagascar and Norway stressed that small-scale artisanal fisheries are a source of food, income and cultural identity for several million people worldwide.  They also provide more than half of all fisheries resources for human consumption, making them an important contributor to global food security.  Given this, Madagascar has developed a blue policy framework that highlights artisanal fisheries and the professionalization of small-scale fisheries actors.

For the Marshall Islands, said its representative, the question hinges on whether partnerships can help small island developing States build capacity to improve surveillance and combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on one hand, and address the sustainable development of fisheries on the other.  He called for islands to be “truly in control” of their own resources, while Cabo Verde’s representative stressed the relevance of protected marine areas to replenish fish stocks and stop biodiversity loss.

The speaker from Africa Blue Economy highlighted fishing’s share of gross domestic product in many African countries, noting that steps have been taken at the national, regional and continental levels to promote sustainable fisheries management.  The African Union is also working to establish a food security agency to reduce post-catch losses by upgrading the “cold chain” and other measures to facilitate market access.

As a responsible fishing nation, Japan decided to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in international waters, announcing its intention to enact a law banning the entry of products from these means into its market.  The European Union’s representative likewise said it takes a zero-tolerance approach to such activities, and more broadly advocated investment in small-scale fisheries, which account for 80 per cent of the catch in the region.  He added that vessels must be upgraded to meet sustainable and responsible fishing requirements.

Speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Pakistan’s delegate said 80 per cent of the world’s fishermen live in developing countries.  Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing exacerbates poverty and food insecurity, and undermines marine ecosystems.  Mechanisms for cooperation and knowledge sharing in marine research and technology access must be strengthened, while innovative financing is needed to help countries transition to a sustainable ocean economy.

Co-chaired by Derek Klazen, Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources of Namibia, and Lawrence Hanson, Deputy Minister for Fisheries and Oceans of Canada, the dialogue was moderated by Gim Huay Neo, Director-General of the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate.

For information media. Not an official record.