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Mahé Regional Technical Seminar on IUU fishing, Decent Work and Safety at Sea

A woman selling fish on the African island of Sao Tome and Principe.
A fishworker at the port of Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire.
Women working in a seafood processing factory in Tunisia.
Celebrating World Fisheries Day with a joint FAO-Holy See event dedicated to decent work in the fisheries sector at FAO Headquarters, 21 November 2018.

In recent years, decent work in the fisheries sector has been receiving greater international attention.

Appalling working conditions do exist within the fisheries sector. Labour and human rights abuses have been reported on-board fishing vessels, affecting fish workers often including migrants. Human trafficking and forced labour on-board fishing vessels are often associated with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Drug trafficking, corruption and other crimes are also linked to IUU fishing. Fishing companies are able to act with impunity, using flags of States that are either unable or unwilling to provide protection to fish workers. This can also be coupled with the use of ports with weak or non-existent regulatory controls.

These linkages between labour abuses and IUU fishing have been increasingly recognized by the international community, notably by the FAO Committee on Fisheries and the FAO/International Maritime Organizations (IMO) ad hoc Joint Working Group on IUU fishing and related matters, which suggested stronger cooperation among FAO, International Labour Organization (ILO) and IMO.

FAO and partners have been organizing several regional and global events to draw attention to the issues, to forge networking and collaboration between different authorities and organizations, and to identify actions to address these issues.

At joint FAO-Vatican events at FAO Headquarters on World Fisheries Day 2016 and World Fisheries Day 2018 representatives of member states, industry, and stakeholder organizations called for implementation of relevant instruments and for closer cooperation between the different international agencies involved, including FAO, ILO, IMO, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and  Interpol.

FAO and partners are holding a series of regional technical seminars addressing decent work challenges in the region, and possible ways in which to improve working conditions along ten entire fisheries value chain. The first regional technical seminar was held in the Philippines for countries across Asia. The next regional technical seminar addressing IUU fishing, Decent Work and Safety at Sea will start 21 May in Mahé, the Seychelles.

Located off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, where it hosts the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) headquarters, the Seychelles offers an excellent opportunity for many experts and stakeholders in the fisheries sector to participate.

The technical seminar, organized by FAO and the Apostleship of the Sea, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), meets 21 – 23 May, with the participation of experts and stakeholders from fisheries, labour and port administrations as well as from industry, civil society organizations and unions from ten African countries in the region (Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Réunion (France), Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Zanzibar). The meeting is organized with the support of the International Transport Federation (ITF).

At the Mahé regional seminar, fishery inspectors, labour inspectors, port authorities, fishworker unions, employers, and international agencies get together to identify issues to be addressed, and actions to be taken. The different regional calls for action will be discussed in the ad hoc joint IMO, FAO, ILO joint working group on IUU fishing and FAO’s Committee on Fisheries.

Although there are numerous challenges to improving working conditions in the sector, and eliminating instances of labour abuse, forced labour and child labour, there are international instruments in place that provide support to these efforts, including the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (P029), the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188), which specifically addresses fish workers and the IMO Cape Town Agreement on the Safety of Fishing Vessels is one of IMO’s instruments. FAO's Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing is aimed at combating illegal fishing around the world, and also targets the labour abuses or slave labour that too often accompany these illicit fishing activities.

Speaking about this week's seminar in Mahé, FAO's Felix Martin noted "The level of engagement on this issue is both encouraging and growing, and we want to keep up this positive momentum and collaboration between the various partners. It is important to follow up on this work at international, regional and national levels, and it's important to have stakeholders from governments, seafood industry, fishworker organizations and unions from ten different East African countries working alongside us in the Seychelles to discuss concrete next steps to achieving decent work in the sector throughout the Western Indian Ocean."

Other regional fisheries management organizations and regional fisheries bodies such as the Southeast Asian Fisheries development Center (SEAFDEC), General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), Southwest Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission (SWIOFC), and Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) are already discussing human and labour rights issues in their fisheries sectors.

We'll be following the event closely, and tweeting out discussions under the hashtags #decentwork and #fisheries.

Fishworkers preparing Nile perch fillets at a factory in Kitale, Kenya.
Mending the fishing nets at the landing site in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Once the fish are landed, women oversee many of the post-harvest processes, from preparing the fish and processing it to bringing it to market. Too often, women’s important role along the fisheries value chain is invisible.
Small-scale fishermen at work in the port of Zarzis, Tunisia.
This woman on Africa’s island of Sao Tome and Principe meets the fishing boats each day to gather the day’s catch. The Mahé Regional Technical Seminar will examine ways forward to promote decent work in fisheries and aquaculture across Africa.


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