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DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT. With over 700 EU lagged fishing vessels fishing outside European waters, and many more owned by European companies under joint ventures or operating under third-country lags, Europe has positioned itself as the largest fishing region in the world.
The need for fish resources in the southern hemisphere has sidelined international conservation obligations, and many of the EU Commissions confidential reports clearly indicate that the European vessels continue to fish from stocks that are already over fished.
It is therefore self-evident that the World Forum of Fisher Peoples has a duty to take part in the reform of the European fishing policy.
Fisher peoples’ rights undermined In many countries in the southern hemisphere, economics determines the politics of the day and the democratic opportunities for fisher people are almost non-existent. In sovereign states with great national resource wealth, we have witnessed political elites selling these resources to third nations without listening to the voices of the people. This is, for example, the case when fish resources are traded via bilateral agreements, or when African states liberalises their economies.
The democratic deficit is deepened by the fact that fisheries as a sector is considered secondary to sectors of greater economic importance. The first ever African ministerial meeting on fisheries at African Union level was only held in 2010 – in Banjul, Gambia – whereas ministerial meetings on agriculture, for example, have been held long before the inception of the African Union in 2002. This democratic deficit, or neglect of the needs and wishes of fisher people in the southern hemisphere, is reflected in the fishing policy that was proposed by the European Commission in July 2011.
The trawlers’ paradise
When politicians in the southern hemisphere either do not or will not listen to the voices of the fisher people, then it also means that their demands are not reflected when governments of the South engage with the EU.
It is, therefore, not a surprise to see what the EU proposes as an underlying principle of the new policy is a quota system, where it will be possible to trade the quotas in the near future - also outside Europe’s own territorial waters. Quota trading sounds good to some, but it will certainly lead to dispossession by the concentration of quotas.
The South African government is one of several from all over the world that has experimented with similar models. In 2005, a quota system was introduced, which led to 90 percent of its 30,000 traditional fishers being stripped of their right to fish. To make ends meet, many fisher people were forced to break the law and go to sea illegally. In fear of the authorities, fishers launched their boats at night, but to fish in the Atlantic in small boats at moon light is a dangerous exercise, and the quota system has widowed many women. On top of this, food has become an unprecedented scarcity on the tables in coastal communities, and today more than half of the households are classified as ’food insecure’.
A global challenge
Since WFFP is a global body we have also given membership to small-scale fisher organisations from Spain and France. These two organisations have, over the last five years, addressed numerous presentations to the EU via their national governments, directly at hearings, and at conferences in Brussels. They have conveyed the importance of small-scale fisheries with respect to employment provision, income security, and sustainable food production at the European level. But they have also made appeals on our behalf for the European fishing industry to conduct their fishing activity in southern waters in a much more sensitive way.
The proposal of the EU Commission to introduce what is referred to as ’rights based fisheries’ - but in fact is a quota system that ultimately allows for the concentration of quotas and dispossession of fisher people – is unfortunately an indication that little has happened. It is even sadder to note that the EU representative to the Committee of Fisheries - under the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation - took an unsupportive stance, at a committee meeting in 2011, when he argued that the proposed international guidelines on small-scale fishery should be focused only on the southern hemisphere.
It is apparent from the messages from Brussels that small-scale fisheries will continue to be subordinate to the large-scale fishing sector. However, we are up for the challenge, and will continue to push for the rights of millions of fisher people from all over the world, and make sure that our voices are part of the democratic reform.
Born in South Africa in 1958. Former activist who fought the Apartheid regime until its fall in 1994. After the introduction of democracy in South Africa he has played a leading role in the work for a just fishing policy in Africa. Today, he serves as Co-Chairperson of the World Forum of Fisher Peoplesí (WFFP) a world organisation representing millions of fishers and fish workers from approximately 40 different countries.