CEO Note: Campaigning with small-scale fishers to restore abundant oceans - Oceana
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CEO Note: Campaigning with small-scale fishers to restore abundant oceans

Sinon Suan a Apo Island fisherman looks down from his banca to spot fish. On this morning he went fishing with his daughter. He has 4 more brothers, all are fishermen.

Today marks the official launch of the United Nations’ International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA). In the year ahead, Oceana will elevate small-scale fisheries and continue to support their critical contribution to the global seafood system.

Oceana’s policy campaigns for the ocean – to stop overfishing, reduce bycatch, limit pollution, preserve habitat, and protect wildlife – support IYAFA’s vision of “a world in which small-scale artisanal fishers, fish farmers, and fish workers are fully recognized and empowered to continue their contributions to human well-being, healthy food systems, and poverty eradication through the responsible and sustainable use of fisheries and aquaculture resources.”

Our campaigns recognize the role of small-scale fisheries in a sustainable ocean environment, and we advocate for policies to support and safeguard their livelihoods. Globally, there are approximately 22 million small-scale fishers who provide almost half of the world’s seafood, contributing to the livelihoods, food and nutrition security, and poverty alleviation for millions of people worldwide, especially in developing countries. Not only are small-scale fisheries important for jobs and food production, but fisheries are also culturally and socially important to individual and coastal community identity and well-being. Small-scale fishers are also often excluded from political decisions that affect the fisheries they depend on.

Many of Oceana’s victories could not have been won without local fishers. Our relationships with small-scale and artisanal fishers are collaborative and depend on unique country contexts. As we campaign with these fishers, we adhere to a few central tenets: fishers are encouraged to get involved in political processes that affect them; local knowledge and customs are respected; partnerships are built to be long-lasting; and grassroots organizing, technology, and communication are used to mobilize fishers.

Oceana pushes to maintain and restore fisheries in countries that manage nearly a third of the world’s wild-caught fish, fish that are a critical component of global food systems and global nutrition security. We also work to improve fisheries management, creating appropriate governance structures for fisheries and implement science-based regulations that can provide stability to fishermen and in the marketplace.

In Peru, where IYAFA will be hosted in 2022, Oceana is advocating for the government to adopt science-based management plans for the main commercial fisheries, many of which are fished by the artisanal fleet and supply the country with fish for local consumption. Small-scale fisheries in Peru catch about one-fifth of the country’s fish and are responsible for nearly half (49%) of the fisheries sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is an opportunity for Peru to demonstrate in their policies that they are prioritizing small-scale fishers.

In Brazil, our campaign to ban bottom trawling in Rio Grande do Sul is elevating the voices of local artisanal fishers who want to safeguard their access to territorial fishing waters. Small-scale fishers in Brazil, where data is limited, account for over 90% of the sector. Our research showed that the wasteful bycatch from bottom trawling was reducing the fish available for artisanal fishers, not to mention the added competition with industrial boats from neighboring states, affecting the livelihoods of local fishers in this area. We organized small-scale fishers to speak out and reach their government representatives to demand support for the ban.

Similarly in the Philippines, we campaign to protect in-shore waters for small-scale, or municipal, fishers by enforcing the prohibition on illegal commercial fishing in municipal waters. Karagatan Patrol, an online platform created by Oceana and the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, helps fishers report illegal fishing to relevant authorities and the media, giving municipal fishers the power to enforce their own waters. By ensuring that these fishers can maintain access to their local fishing grounds, we are helping to preserve the livelihoods and food security of thousands of Filipinos.

Oceana is also a founding member of the Small-Scale Fisheries Resource and Collaboration Hub (SSF Hub), on online platform to provide resources and tools to improve small-scale fisheries governance and community development. The Hub allows small-scale fishers to voice their needs; for example, our Filipino partner John Ortega spoke about his experiences fishing under government restrictions during COVID-19.

As the global community embarks on IYAFA 2022, Oceana will continue to fight for the rights and voices of small-scale and artisanal fishers.