Exactly one year ago I had the privilege to attended the congress of European fishers using fishing gear with a low impact on marine life. At this congress, their brand new association L.I.F.E. (Low Impact Fishers of Europe) was officially established. It was a special moment of solidarity between fishers in Europe who put healthy seas before quick profits.
Today, the acts of solidarity continue as people in 20 countries on five continents send a powerful message supporting low impact fishers and a sustainable future for our oceans. Holding signs saying, “Overfishing affects me too”, fish mongers, consumers, fishers, ocean lovers, divers and cooks from Australia, Indonesia, Senegal and from Poland to Canada are asking that our ocean crisis be tackled with urgency. With 90% of global fish stocks either fully exploited or overexploited, I truly hope fisheries ministers all over the world will pay attention to this global act of solidarity.
In Senegal for instance, hundreds of low-impact fishers depict the burial of the “last traditional Senegalese pirogue”, as they lose their jobs because of overfishing. On the iconic Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior, the crew wrapped themselves in a large net on deck of the ship.
No doubt, this is a needed and timely reminder of commitment made by governments all over the world at The Earth Summit in 2002 (and then again ten years later at The Rio+20 Summit) to reduce fishing levels in order to restore the worlds fish stocks by 2015 . It is widely acknowledged that in order to do this, the priority should be to significantly downsize the catch capacity of the global fishing fleet. However, little has been done in this regard and oversized and destructive monster boats are still roaming our oceans, moving from one fish stock to the next and leaving behind a trail of overfishing and destruction.
Those losing out are “the people of the sea”; coastal people from around the world who depend on fish and fisheries. More than 10 % of the world’s population depend on fisheries for their livelihood. Recent estimates show that 58.3 million people are engaged in fisheries and aquaculture. For example, in Kiribati, a remote Pacific Island nation, fish makes up around 84% of their animal protein intake. The situation is similar in Senegal, West Africa, where fish makes 44% of people’s protein intake. These people depend on fish to survive.
Coastal fisheries in both countries are under threat because of unfair competition from monster fishing boats coming to their waters from Asia and Europe. Some of the biggest tuna fishing vessels globally – for example, the Albacora Uno and the Albatun Tres— are fishing in Kiribati waters. In West African waters Chinese, Korean, Russian as well as European boats — including Europe’s largest fishing vessel, the 144 meters long Annelies Ilena — are dividing up the rapidly dwindling pie between them. These monster vessels leave behind very little for local fishermen to fish, as they venture out to sea in their small boats.
As a result, Pacific Island nations have teamed up with Parties to the Nauru agreement to jointly manage their fish stocks and ensure monster boats are not the ones reigning in our seas. In Senegal, coastal fishers recently formed an association to ensure they speak with one strong voice and to remind their government of people’s needs.
Today is the day where we all stand up in solidarity with low impact fishers from around the globe to demand governments finally live up to their commitments and put an end to overfishing. The best way for governments to get started is simply by removing the most destructive and oversized fishing vessels from our oceans and let low impact fishers do the fishing instead of destructive monster boats.
Nina Thuellen is the fisheries project leader with Greenpeace EU Unit
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