Fixing fairness in fisheries starts at home

Posted by Willie — 30 March 2012 at 10:23am - Comments
Artisanal fishing boat 40 miles off the coast of Mauritania
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace / Pierre Gleizes
Artisanal fishing boat 40 miles off the coast of Mauritania

Approximately 1.5 MILLION small-scale fishermen live and work along the coast of West Africa. They live a life directly dependent on the seas on their doorstep. And it's not just them - their families and communities depend on it too, of course. Yet here in the seas off West Africa it's clear to see their interests are being ignored in favour of allowing massive, industrialised, factory fishing vessels to gobble up all the fish. Of course some of this is illicit, but much of it is legitimised plunder, such as the huge PFA vessels down here with EU subsidies and paid-for Fisheries Partnership Agreements

That means some people in power have decided this is okay, the voice of big businesses from Europe and Asia has trumped the local fishermen in the corridors of power - legitimising the theft of African food from African people.

Clearly, that's not right: but let's not kid ourselves that it's a problem unique to Africa.

Europe's fishing laws are flawed, and need to be radically overhauled, that's a given. But there is also a huge amount of injustice over who has the access, power, and voice when it comes to fishing right here in Europe. And that's not a problem our politicians need to get Brussels to sort out - it's something they can, and should, do themselves.

For example, whilst EU subsidies gleefully lubricate the activities of Spanish-flagged vessels in far-away fisheries, such as those engaged in deep-sea trawling, the local Spanish artisanal fleet are floundering. Despite making up a far larger proportion of the industry, and being generally much lower impact in the way they fish, fisheries policy is ignoring them. And they, rightly, are getting a bit fed up about it.

Before Spain or any other country decides to export the overcapacity in its fleet, surely it should deal with its own backyard first? It seems absurd that it is not political suicide to ignore the local, inshore fishing fleet - but there we are.

And the situation in the UK is similarly grim. Despite making up the vast majority of the 'fishermen', the smaller boats in the inshore sector get a pifflingly-small amount of access to quota. So whilst discarding is happening on a large scale with larger trawlers, and whilst the EU, Faroes & Iceland square up to haggle over huge quotas of mackerel in the North Atlantic, local fishermen are losing livelihoods because they simply don't have enough access to quota to be viable. The situation is so ridiculous that some are effectively going to the wall over a few boxes of fish.

Their problem perhaps is that in the past they have not been well-enough organised, or had people in the right places shouting for them. But in traditional fishing communities around our coasts, the inshore fishing fleet is a vital and integral part of the community. Sure, they may not be perfect, but at least from an environmental perspective they have a bloody good reason to look after their local patch, as they don't have the wherewithal to go anywhere else. And yes, we should prioritise access to quotas to those who are fishing in the lowest-impact ways.

That there is a common thread here was best evidenced to me when we took some African fishermen to Cornwall last year - despite the cultural distance, they had much more in common with the Cornish inshore fishermen than you'd think.

It's a no-brainer to me. If it is a straight choice, then we should be supporting local fishing industries with less-damaging methods, more reason to look after their local area, and who are providing employment and genuine benefits to local communities. And that's true in Africa, Spain and the UK. That's why Greenpeace is standing shoulder to shoulder with those fishermen, to help their voice be heard where it matters.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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