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UN Ocean Conference 2022 – bringing fisher voices to the fore

The second United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC) opened on June 27th amidst calls to recognise the role of small-scale fisheries in tackling what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to as an ocean emergency. It closed a few days later with a declaration that largely ignores these calls and falls short of the ambition and courage needed to protect our blue planet.

The declaration, dubbed Our ocean, our future, our responsibility, neither adequately promotes the human rights of small-scale fishers, the primary users of the ocean, nor addresses the main drivers of biodiversity loss. It refers to ‘collaborative decision making processes that include all stakeholders, including small-scale and artisanal fisheries, but small-scale fishers have always been poorly represented in UNOC discussions, including those that formed the basis for the declaration. 

This is why we supported small-scale fishers from across the globe to share their Call to Action, stories and experiences at UNOC, and to voice their concerns and needs around explicit recognition of their rights and their meaningful participation in decision-making. Leaders from coastal communities and civil society in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific relayed messages and appeals to a wide range of audiences, including decision-makers and media, about their vital role in rebuilding coastal fisheries.

Small-scale fishers are the biggest group of ocean users, and science and practice have shown time and again that the most scalable, equitable and sustainable approach to conserving and restoring our oceans is to give them the rights and means to manage and rebuild the stocks on which they depend. 

But as long as policymakers ignore their voices and fail to recognise their role in fighting hunger and protecting oceans, such efforts are doomed to failure. Through the myriad events, talks and interviews, the message the fishers delivered was a simple one: change is possible, but it starts not with talking for fishers, but in listening to what they have to say.  

BV-supported UNOC Events:

A Small-Scale Fisher Call To Action

Small-scale fisher delegates launched a declaration calling for urgent action to protect and restore small-scale fisheries, and recognise their vital contributions to ocean economies, health and culture at a breakfast event we co-organised. 

“I am convinced that small-scale fishers are the drivers of ocean health and sustainability, and that small-scale fishing is at the heart of everything,” said Gaoussou Gueye, president of CAOPA, a pan-African coalition of artisanal maritime and continental fisheries organisations.

Dialogues for marine conservation and artisanal small-scale fisheries

Small-scale fisher representatives spoke about their experiences of, and hopes and ideas for marine conservation, fisheries management and sustainable artisanal fishing at an event we co-organised with with CoopeSoliDar, a coalition representing organisations across Central and Latin America.

 

Exploring inshore exclusion zones at the Transform Bottom Trawling Coalition panel event 

The Royal Thai Government announced a moratorium on new commercial fishing licences for bottom trawlers at a panel event we convened as a founding member of the Transform Bottom Trawling Coalition. Thailand’s commitment to addressing a pervasive and destructive form of industrial fishing that threatens coastal communities’ lives and livelihoods will also include a $US40 million decommissioning and buy-back scheme.

We celebrated the announcement and called on all states to decrease bottom trawling and embrace inshore exclusion zones free from industrial fisheries and preferential access areas for small-scale fisheries in a joint statement with EJF.

At the event, Alhafiz Atsari, representing the Indonesian Traditional Fisherfolks Union (KNTI), explained that in Indonesia:

“Small-scale fishers are forced to compete with industrial giants in our own waters. The giants are fishing vessels using destructive fishing gear, such as bottom trawlers. They take up so much space, are greedy and reckless, and can destroy everything in the ocean.”

Blue Ventures presentations

Our team spoke to a wide range of people across different platforms at UNOC, including addressing global decision-makers at the event and global audiences through media interviews. Our Executive Director, Dr Alasdair Harris, delivered a compelling speech to the UN plenary in a session opened by French President Emmanuel Macron, quoting several of the small-scale fishers whose calls and concerns he had heard at events we co-hosted. 

“There is nothing small about small-scale fishers,” Harris said, “because they have the knowledge and global reach needed to reshape humanity’s relationship with our ocean.”

Harris stressed the importance of providing more space for fisher and community delegates and said that they ought to be the people being invited to speak at these sessions.

He also talked about the need for more community-led fisheries management and conservation models and fewer top-down approaches during a UN televised panel discussion hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies in the UNOC Blue Zone.

Our Blue Carbon Technical Advisor, Leah Glass, took part in a Fair Carbon panel discussion hosted by Sea Shepherd and highlighted the importance of community involvement in blue carbon projects. 


Links to full speeches, press pieces and more details about Blue Ventures’ week at UNOC: 

The Canary – Thailand paves way for countries like the UK to limit disastrous bottom trawling

A UK-based news outlet The Canary covered our event on bottom trawling, and interviewed our Head of Advocacy Annie Tourette.

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The Guardian – ‘Talk with us, not for us’: fishing communities accuse UN of ignoring their voices

The Guardian featured the voices and calls of fisher and civil society representatives we supported to attend and speak at UNOC.

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Mongabay – U.N. Ocean Conference ends with promises. Is a sea change coming?

Mongabay feature with news announced at our TBT event from the Thai government about stopping issuing new licences to commercial industrial trawlers and decommissioning old vessels.

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EcoBusiness – UN Ocean Conference leaves indigenous peoples feeling excluded (reprinted from Mongabay)

Mongabay’s piece was reprinted here, featuring civil society leader Vivienne Solis Rivera from a partner organisation in Costa Rica, CoopeSoliDar, and some of the artisanal fishers from across Central and Latin America that we supported to attend UNOC and speak at events.

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Radio Catalunya – Sick oceans, dead fish and jobless fishermen

Fishers from around the world call on leaders and governments attending UNOC to end sea pollution and climate change, featuring small-scale fisher representatives we supported.

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Loop – Small-scale fishers launch global call

Another feature on small-scale fishers and the launch of their global call to action.

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‘El Debate’ – The ‘custodians of the sea’ claim ‘a seat at the table’

The world’s largest Spanish-speaking newswire EFE produced a TV piece featuring small-scale fishers on El Debate discussing the significance of attending UNOC and their wish to have their place in discussions and decision-making spaces where they are generally excluded, and their needs and calls sidelined or backbencher.

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Swiss Info

A wide range of outlets ran a print piece based on EFE’s coverage, which included the voices of Spanish-speaking indigenous leaders from Chile. 

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France24 Espanol – Report from Lisbon: artisanal fishers demand to be heard

France24’s Spanish TV service featured small-scale fishers we supported from Mexico, Honduras, Panama, and Brazil. 

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UN TV – The Evolving Role of Philanthropy to Save Our Vibrant Ocean

Our Executive Director Alasdair Harris speaking on UN TV with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Global Fishing Watch. Scroll down to Wednesday 29 June – The Evolving Role of Philanthropy to Save Our Vibrant Ocean.

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UN.org – Speakers Call for More Scientific Partnerships, Knowledge-Sharing to Protect Humanity’s Common Ocean Heritage, on Day Four of Lisbon Conference

Alasdair Harris’ speech to the UN plenary featured in the UN’s press highlights. 

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UN.org – 7th Plenary Session

Full video of BV Executive Director Alasdair Harris speaking here at 1hr47m in plenary session that President Macron of France opened.

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Sea Shepherd – Fair Carbon Panel Discussion featuring Leah Glass

“There is so much to be learned by listening” says Leah Glass, Technical Advisor on Blue Carbon for Blue Ventures. “Encouraging conversations with state actors and communities is essential.”

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Causa Natura – Faced with trawling, artisanal fishermen must be guaranteed access to marine resources: NGOs at Conference on the Oceans.

More coverage coming from our Transform Bottom Trawling event at UNOC. 

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Azul – They raised “the children with fishing” and want to decide the future of the oceans

A Portuguese magazine featured the voices of small-scale fishers who spoke at our first breakfast event.


More media pieces are to follow from a range of international media outlets featuring our Head of Advocacy Annie Tourette. These will be shared on the Blue Ventures website when they come out. 

Watch the full Transform Bottom Trawling panel event: A Sea Change for Small-Scale Fisheries – Preferential Access and Inshore Exclusion Zones.

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Thailand

Thailand’s small-scale fisheries are the cornerstone of social, economic and nutritional health for the communities living along the majority of the country’s nearly 3,000 kilometre coastline.
In the southernmost Trang province we are supporting communities reliant on nearshore fisheries − in particular for crab, shrimp and squid − in partnership with the Save Andaman Network (SAN).

We’re providing training and tools to aid organisational development, community led fisheries monitoring and management, and building community-owned social enterprises that fund and sustain local conservation efforts.

Timor-Leste

Since 2016, our work in Timor-Leste has evolved into a dynamic movement supporting community led marine management and coastal livelihood diversification in Asia’s newest country. From our origins on Atauro Island, considered to harbour amongst the highest levels of marine biodiversity on earth, we’re now working with numerous communities on the island and the mainland to ensure that local communities have access to diverse sustainable livelihood options to relieve fishing pressure on critical coral reefs and seagrass ecosystems.

We’re engaging communities in monitoring the relatively unexplored marine biodiversity of Timor-Leste, and managing local marine resources through customary local laws known as Tara Bandu. Alongside our community conservation efforts, we have pioneered Timor-Leste’s first homestay association, which now provides a consistent income from visiting ecotourists and sparked interest in replication by a mainland community. Using homestays as a hub, communities are well placed to host learning exchanges, training events, and act as an outreach platform to engage and inspire communities in fisheries management and livelihood diversification. Exchanges have led to communities of best practice and strengthened associations, and the opportunity to establish a formal network throughout the country.

Our team in Timor-Leste’s capital Dili works closely with government, civil society organisations and NGO partners.

Tanzania

Like its neighbours within the Northern Mozambique Channel marine biodiversity hotspot, Tanzania harbours some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the Indian Ocean.  These habitats are facing unprecedented challenges from overfishing and climate change.

Our Tanzanian team has worked with communities and local organisations to support locally-led marine conservation since 2016.  Our work has expanded from Zanzibar to mainland regions of Tanga, Lindi and Kilwa where our technicians work with local partners to help communities strengthen co-management systems, working through beach management units (BMUs), Shehia Fishing Committees (SFCs) marine parks and Collaborative Fisheries Management Areas (CFMAs).

Our partners Mwambao Coastal Community Network, marinecultures.org and Sea Sense have spearheaded a remarkable acceleration in the uptake of community-based fisheries management and conservation in recent years, notably through the use of short term fisheries closures to catalyse broader community conservation.

Somalia

With one of Africa’s longest coastlines, Somalia’s diverse marine environment supports enormously productive coastal and offshore fisheries.  Decades of conflict have undermined the country’s capacity for fisheries management, with many foreign industrial vessels fishing with impunity, and little regard for the critical importance of Somalia’s coastal fisheries for local livelihoods and food security. 

A period of relative political and social stability unprecedented in recent decades is now presenting new opportunities to address past challenges, and to realise the considerable opportunities that well-managed coastal fisheries and conservation can offer Somalia. We are forging partnerships with community organisations in Somalia to build their capacity and skills to help coastal communities manage their fisheries for food security, livelihoods and conservation.

Philippines

The Philippines forms part of the ‘coral triangle’ epicentre of global marine biodiversity, with unparalleled diversity of marine species. Over half of the country’s 107 million people (55.6%) live in rural areas, and approximately three quarters depend on agriculture or fisheries as their primary source of livelihoods.

With our local partner People and the Sea, we are working in the eastern Visayas to support coastal communities to establish locally led marine conservation and fisheries management efforts underpinned by participatory data systems that put evidence in the hands of communities.

Papua New Guinea

The largest country in the Western Pacific Region, Papua New Guinea‘s coral reefs and mangroves are among the most diverse and extensive in the world. Papua New Guinea has a long history of traditional approaches for fisheries management, and huge unmet marine conservation needs.

We have been supporting our local partner Eco Custodian Advocates since 2019 in Milne Bay, notable for its vast mangrove forests and coral reefs. We are now expanding this support to other local organisations in Papua New Guinea, focused on supporting the establishment of customary LMMAs that provide locally relevant approaches to community led fishery management built upon local cultural traditions.

Indonesia

Indonesia comprises almost 17,500 islands stretching across three time zones. This archipelagic nation has the longest coastline − and the largest coastal fisheries resource − of any country on Earth. Ninety five percent of Indonesia’s seafood production comes from small-scale fisheries, which are underpinned by the most biodiverse marine ecosystem on Earth, known as the Coral Triangle.

In Indonesia, Blue Ventures’ partner Yayasan Pesisir Lestari, based in Bali, works with locally-based organisations Forkani, Yayasan LINI, Yapeka, Yayasan Planet Indonesia, Foneb, Komanangi, JARI, Yayasan Tananua Flores, Baileo, AKAR, Japesda, Yayasan Mitra Insani and Yayasan Hutan Biru.

These partners support community-based approaches to coral reef and mangrove conservation at 22 sites across seven provinces. Interventions are customised to each context − the local fisheries, community stakeholders, seafood supply chains, legal frameworks and customary traditions governing fisheries management and conservation.

Since 2019 we have brought these partners together within a peer learning network of Indonesian organisations specialised in supporting community-based marine conservation. The network is based around the shared values of the organisations, including a commitment to promote the rights of traditional fishing communities in conservation. Seventeen of the sites represented in this group are enacting local marine management through customary management regimes and traditions. This group, largely comprising sites in Eastern Indonesia, provides an important opportunity to share learning in traditional marine and fisheries management practices.

In West Kalimantan and East Sumatra we’re supporting mangrove-dependent coastal communities to integrate mangrove fishery and forestry management, alongside activities to develop alternative livelihoods or upgrade existing livelihoods. In North Sulawesi we’re supporting the development of community-owned ecotourism businesses, such as homestays, that diversify local livelihoods and place further value on protected and healthy marine ecosystems. Across our work in Indonesia, where partner communities have an unmet need for healthcare, we’re supporting the integration of health improvement activities into our interventions.

Find out more

India

We continue to work in India with our long term partner the Dakshin Foundation. We are collaborating in three distinct locations; the archipelago of Lakshadweep, coastal regions of Odisha and the Andaman Islands.

Overfishing has led to a reduction in fish catches, challenging the future of many traditional fishing communities.

Our partnership is working to build the capacity of communities to manage coastal fisheries,  and improve the health of fishing communities, for the long-term wellbeing of both the communities and their fishing grounds.

Kenya

Kenya’s coast supports an extraordinary diversity of tropical marine and coastal habitats.  These  waters are threatened by a proliferation of destructive fishing practices and over-harvesting within the artisanal and commercial fishing sectors.

Our approach in Kenya focuses on strengthening Beach Management Units (BMUs) to improve fisheries management.  Since 2016 our Mombasa-based technical team has provided support, mentoring and assistance to local partners including Pate Marine Community Conservancy (PMCC), Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and Coastal and Marine Resource Development (COMRED).

These partnerships have seen notable achievements in community led fisheries management and conservation, including training and mentoring BMU leaders in eighteen communities in Kwale and Lamu Counties.

Comoros

The Comoros islands are located in the northern Mozambique Channel, a region home to the world’s second highest marine biodiversity after the Coral Triangle. This globally important biodiversity underpins coastal livelihoods and food security, but is at risk from climate change and overexploitation of inshore fisheries.

We have maintained a permanent presence supporting locally led marine conservation and fisheries management in Comoros since 2015, providing support to local partners, governmental institutions and communities.

On Anjouan, the second largest and most densely populated island in the Comoros archipelago, we work closely with national NGO Dahari. Our partnership has developed a replicable blueprint for community-based marine management, which has seen the creation of the country’s first locally managed marine areas − including temporary and permanent marine closures − designed to safeguard the coral reef ecosystems underpinning the archipelago’s coastal economy.

This approach, which is expanding rapidly across the Comoros, is also demonstrating the importance of inclusive conservation in empowering women − through local women’s fisheries associations − to play a leading role in fisheries monitoring and decision making.

On neighbouring island of Moheli and the french island of Mayotte, we’re supporting the Moheli National Park and the Mayotte Marine Natural Park with efforts to strengthen community engagement in fisheries management and conservation.

Belize

Belize’s marine environment encompasses some of the most important marine ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea, including vast coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass ecosystems. We have maintained a permanent presence in Belize since 2010, supporting diverse fisheries and conservation efforts from our base in Sarteneja, Belize’s largest fishing community.  

We work in close partnership with the Belize Fisheries Department, MPA managers, fishing cooperatives and fishers’ associations, and are actively involved in promoting the establishment of a national scale domestic fishery for invasive lionfish.  We’ve worked with coastal stakeholders to develop a national strategy for lionfish management, including launching the National Lionfish Working Group.  

We’ve led a ten year MPA monitoring and evaluation programme in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, and provide training in coral reef monitoring methods to six MPA authorities in Belize, including helping establish management targets for Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Belize’s largest MPA. 

Our team supports community-based fisheries and conservation groups across the country to ensure local interests are mainstreamed in the design and implementation of marine conservation and fisheries management, improving the effectiveness of co-management of conservation areas.

Mozambique

Our Mozambican team has worked with communities to develop locally led approaches to fisheries management and marine conservation since 2015.

Our approach is focused on supporting and strengthening local organisations and Community Fisheries Councils (CCPs) to better understand their local fisheries, make informed management decisions to rebuild fisheries, and assess the impact of management actions.  This work is developed in close collaboration with our partners Oikos- Cooperação e Desenvolvimento in Nampula province and African Parks in Inhambane province.

Ongoing security challenges have devastated many coastal communities and emerging marine conservation efforts in several areas of Cabo Delgado, where our work is regrettably now on hold.

As in Madagascar, given extremely high levels of coastal poverty and a pervasive lack of access to basic services, alongside our work in conservation we facilitate partnerships with specialist health providers, through an integrated health-environment approach.

Madagascar

Blue Ventures’ journey began in Madagascar in 2003, and we’ve been supporting communities in marine conservation across the country ever since. We have five regional field programmes along Madagascar’s west coast, as well as regional offices in the towns of Toliara, Morondava and Ambanja.  Our national headquarters is located in the capital Antananarivo.

Across all these sites we support communities with the establishment of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), and work with government partners to secure national recognition for community conservation initiatives.  First developed in Madagascar by Blue Ventures in 2006, the LMMA concept has since been replicated by communities at hundreds of sites over thousands of kilometres of coastline, now covering almost one fifth of Madagascar’s inshore seabed.  Our research in Madagascar has demonstrated globally important evidence of the benefits of LMMAs to fisheries and conservation.

Our work focuses on strengthening community institutions in marine management and governance, and pioneering new approaches to catalyse community engagement in ocean conservation.  These innovations have included establishing the world’s first community-based sea cucumber farms and the country’s first mangrove blue carbon project.

At the national level, we have incubated the MIHARI network, now an independent civil society platform that brings together 219 LMMA sites across the country and 25 supporting conservation partner organisations.  Our policy team is also actively involved in advocating for more robust legislation to safeguard the rights and interests of fishing communities, and to remove destructive industrial fishing from coastal waters.

Given the lack of basic services in remote coastal regions in Madagascar, we also help communities access basic healthcare through training and supporting women to serve as community health workers. We do not replace government health systems, but work to strengthen existing structures in close collaboration with government health actors and specialist NGOs.  We also incubate Madagascar’s national health-environment network, which brings together 40 partner organisations to address the health needs of communities living in areas of conservation importance across the country.