AgroNoticias Latin America & The Caribbean

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The world's first artisan fishing law: Protecting small-scale fisheries in Latin America and the Caribbean

Nine out of ten fishermen in Latin America and the Caribbean work in the artisan or small-scale fishing sector. This figure is very representative of the importance of this type of fishing within the region’s overall fishing sector – which employs 2.3 million people – as well as being indicative of the living conditions that many of these people face on a daily basis. Artisan fishing provides livelihoods for millions of families, mainly rural and indigenous communities, and is a source of essential subsistence for the region. Moreover, many traditional fishing techniques and systems are representative of the region’s rich cultural and social heritage.

However, the current overexploitation of resources, the adverse effects of climate change and scarce institutional recognition have left these people in a precarious situation. Their livelihoods, which more often than not depend on working in this field, are constantly threatened by circumstances beyond their control. According to FAO Chief Fisheries and Aquaculture Officer Alejandro Flores, “it is essential to reinforce fisheries management measures and recognize the rights of artisan fishermen and women given the highly dynamic context of global fisheries, characterized by lower capture volumes due to climate and environmental processes and overexploitation.

In light of this issue, in June of this year, the Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO) gave the green light for a law on artisan fishing – the first of its kind in the world – with the objective of defining a legal, regulatory, normative, institutional framework for this activity. The “Model Law for Artisan or Small-Scale Fishing” was formulated to serve as a normative reference for the countries in this region, encouraging them to replicate it in the development of their respective national policies. This would not only provide recognition and protection to millions of people, but would also potentially establish firm, cohesive legislation for the sector throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Sustainability and Inclusion

In an effort to promote efficient fishing systems that are equitable and sustainable in the long-term, the law states that “fishery resources, users and methods of governance interact with each other, thereby affecting the system as a whole.” The law extends from a social focus to an environmental and institutional perspective in order to “ensure the sustainability of environmental services in the ecosystems where fishing is practiced.”

Mentions of social inclusion, land tenure and value chains clearly demonstrate the parallels with family farming, which face similar issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. Common antecedents include the need for more sustainable use of natural resources, fighting gender inequality and encouraging the inclusion of youth and indigenous communities in decision-making processes. “In this regard, the fishing law involves equitable access to fishery resources for small-scale fleets, with differentiated policies to ensure gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples,” adds Alejandro Flores.

What is artisan or small-scale fishing

PARLATINO defines it as a fishing activity that predominantly involves self-employed manual labor in the capture, collection, transformation, distribution, and commercialization of marine and inland fishery resources, which is generally practiced by individuals, family and community groups, and organizations settled in coastal or riverside communities, using ships with limited range, requiring fishing skills and techniques that involve minimal modernization and dimensions that vary depending on the definition of the respective national legislations. This represents the main source of livelihoods for coastal and riverside communities, including women and indigenous peoples, and significantly contributes to their food security and family income.

The law also promotes the inclusion of artisan fishermen in social protection systems, both contributory and non-contributory, as well as occupational safety, especially in the case of spearfishing. This practice has been the subject of discussions this year, as it exemplifies the risky conditions faced by the people who engage in this practice and the pressure they must endure to reach fishing quotas, which often force them to dive even deeper in order to make ends meet. In light of the need for a regulatory policy framework that guarantees safety in spearfishing, the new law is in line with the working guidelines worthy of FAO, the OIT and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Promoting uniform legislation

This law is a major advance since the Agreement on Port State Control Measures entered into effect in 2016 – the first major international agreement against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). Promoted by FAO, the agreement already has the support of 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, some of which have already begun to apply relevant measures. The new artisan fishing law is in line with this agreement, granting greater legislative and social recognition to small-scale fishermen.

However, only time will tell whether the countries will implement these measures, and to what extent. Achieving a consensus among all the parties involved is no easy task. As Alejandro Flores comments, “The biggest challenge will be land use processes with continued social participation, in which industrial sectors, artisans, indigenous peoples, academia, institutions, and other actors are involved in decision-making, focusing on the common good, equality, and fishing based on the rights and sustainability of fishery resources as a beacon of light.”


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