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Migration and transboundary issues – getting to rights

As a consequence of the diversification and seasonality of their activities, many small-scale fishers show high geographic mobility and may migrate over hundreds of miles. Most small-scale fisheries are exploited under some sort of open access regime, sometimes enforced by modern governments, even though traditionally social mechanisms may have existed to restrict such access. In combination with increasing fish demand and commercialization this has led to excess fishing capacity, resource depletion, waste of economic and human resources and poor returns on development efforts.

Non-fisheries specific legislation on issues of migration are important in many small-scale fisheries, especially in Africa where migration of fishers and fishworkers is common, but also in other regions. Fishers and fishworkers may need or want to migrate to reduce vulnerability to natural factors (e.g. stock variations), or as a coping mechanism following a crisis or shock to household or individual livelihoods. Migration may also be used as a pro-active strategy to accumulate capital.

The ability to migrate may need to be facilitated through legislation, but perhaps more important is the need to ensure that when operating in an area or country that is not their own, fishers and fishworkers are afforded rights of access to social support, health care and education. However, issues of access to social security need not, and indeed should not, be confined to migratory fishers. Legislation should ensure that small-scale fishers and fishworkers receive the same access to, and coverage under, insurance schemes, pensions, and unemployment benefits as other sectors of the economy.

The issue of workers rights and labour law is also an area usually dealt with outside of fisheries legislation. It is important for those working in processing factories (usually women), as well as for men in capture fisheries, to be covered under national laws, rather than being  considered a “special case” given the nature of the work in terms of its hours and conditions, with a resulting lack of legal protection.


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