Tuesday, June 10, 2014

FAO on Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries Guideline

The 31st session of the FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI) began on 9 June 2014 in Rome with discussions on the adoption of a Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries    commencing on the morning of 10 June 2014. 

Given South Africa's recent (and unlawful) 2013 fishing rights allocation process involving small-scale fishery sectors, which has caused sugnificant harm to small-scale fisheries and the communities dependent on these fisheries, the FAO Guidelines are particularly relevant and - we hope - force the Fisheries Department to review how it continues to mismanage our small-scale fisheries. 

We have provided the link to the complete draft text which is being debated in Rome this week by COFI. It is not at all clear what South Africa's position is with respect to the final draft text being debated in Rome this week. It must however be noted that the Guidelines are broadly complemented by South Africa's 2012 Small Scale Fisheries Policy. But this Policy remains unimplemented and without any known implementation plan, budget and committed resources (such as available quotas or adequate personnel to oversee implementation of the Policy). Further, some of the key tenets of the Small Scale Policy (reliance on allocating more small scale fishing quotas despite contracting TAC's, relying on small-scale fisheries for job creation and allocating rights to "communities") are directly contradicted by elements of Chapter 6 of another Cabinet approved policy document - the National Development Plan. In light of this policy schizophrenia, it remains unclear what South Africa's position will be on adopting the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries.

This article therefore seeks to only highlight certain key themes and principles that are particularly relevant to the current crises afflicting the management of our small-scale fisheries and how these impact right holders, fish workers, coastal communities and crew.

Once adopted by the FAO community, the Guideline will be a voluntary instrument (like the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries) and will complement current FAO instruments. In particular, the small-scale fisheries Guideline will be premised on the principles of equitable access to fish resources, resource sustainability, basing decision-making on the best available scientific evidence, the precautionary approach and focusing on the recovery of over fished resources.

The Guideline recognises the importance and relevance of the territorial user rights fishery management system, encouraging states to implement laws to ensure that small-scale fishers, fish workers and their communities have secure, equitable, and socially and culturally appropriate tenure rights to fishery resources and small-scale fishing areas and adjacent land, with a special attention paid to women with respect to tenure rights.

Accordingly, the Guideline emphasises -

  • the need for secure access rights (as opposed to the ad hoc and chaotic interim relief quotas to which many SA small scale fishers are subjected); 
  • the right to fish in adjacent waters (as opposed to granting fishing rights to people in far-flung non-coastal areas such as Johannesburg and Midrand); and
  • that small-scale fishers have both rights and responsibilities, and are obliged to protect and conserve fishery resources for present and future generations.
The Guideline furthermore states that, "States should facilitate, train and support small-scale fishing communities to participate in and take responsibility for, taking into consideration their legitimate tenure rights and systems, the management of the resources on which they depend for their well-being and that are traditionally used for their livelihoods. Accordingly, States should involve small-scale fishing communities – with special attention to equitable participation of women, vulnerable and marginalized groups – in the design, planning and, as appropriate, implementation of management measures, including protected areas, affecting their livelihood options. Participatory management systems, such as co-management, should be promoted in accordance with national law."

States are obliged to avoid policies and financial measures that may contribute to fishing overcapacity and, hence, overexploitation of resources that have an adverse impact on small-scale fisheries. In this regard, policies that seek to add to the number of fishers that target collapsed and overexploited stocks such as lobsters and line fishes should be abandoned. 

Pertinently for South Africa, States must ensure adequate social security for small-scale fishers taking into account seasonality and other factors peculiar to small-scale fisheries management. 

With respect to climate change and stock recovery, the Guideline reaffirms the international community's commitment to the concept of ‘building back better’. In this regard, South Africa has previously committed to the recovery and rebuilding of all collapsed and overfished fisheries by 2015 - a goal we will certainly not be able to achieve in small-scale fishery sectors such as lobster, line fish and abalone. 

Finally, with respect to transparency and accountability, the Guideline stipulates that all States should recognize the importance of communication and information involving fishers and fishing communities, as these are crucial for effective decision-making. 

The Guideline makes it clear that States should endeavour to prevent corruption, particularly through increasing transparency, holding decision-makers accountable, and ensuring that impartial decisions are delivered promptly and through appropriate participation and communication with small-scale fishing communities. This obligation is rather ominous for South Africa given the most recent allegations and revelations of widespread corruption, secrecy and maladministration afflicting the 2013 fishing rights allocation process and a number of recent decisions concerning small-scale fisheries and the transfer of commercial fishing rights. 

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