A Small Boat in a Big Ocean

16 May 2015

The second Slow Fish network meeting kicked off on Friday 16 May, to discuss how fishers can make their voices heard in confronting shared challenges. A variety of concerns were raised, with many of the same issues raised time and time again by the various delegates.


The purpose of the meeting was to define a strategy with which to unite all small-scale fishers, throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, who share the same sustainable principles. This is easier said than done though, a sentiment echoed by Jeremy Percy of LIFE (Low Impact Fishers of Europe), who admitted that in the past, “trying to organize fishermen was like herding cats.” 


Some spoke of illegal poaching and fishing, and their feeling of powerlessness in preventing this, while a representative from Istanbul spoke of the dominance of large-scale fisheries in Turkey, something that has led to a drastic depletion of fish stocks. This was also reiterated by Northern African delegates.  In the case of Turkey, cooperatives have been set up, but they severely lack the power required to tackle the dominance of big industry and affect policy.


The lack of political influence was a common concern. Enrique Ferrer Moragues, manager of the Valencia Cofradía fisher association, highlighted their lack of success in changing the landing obligation, which currently communicates the date fish arrives at shore, rather than the date of catch. This gives large-scale fishers a great advantage as they are able to stay at sea and catch larger volumes of fish before returning with their catch. Given the way the information is presented, for the consumer, the fish appears to be as fresh as that offered by their small-scale counterparts who return to shore with the day’s catch. Effectively the landing obligation diminishes one of the biggest selling points for small-scale fishers as providers of genuinely fresh products.


Similarly, a Prud’homie fisher spoke of his desire to see the recently released FAO guidelines enforced by the EU, which support small-scale fishing activities.


One representative from Medartnet, a platform for artisanal fishers in the Mediterranean, insisted that all of the mutual problems described could not be resolved by talking alone, suggesting the, “need to unite as one force and speak through politics”. However if this is to be possible, becoming interconnected was touted as essential in order to be heard by policy makers.


Mohamed Bachir, President of Maghreb (also an artisanal fishery platform), spoke of three platforms that have been created in the last two years and the success they have had. In a just a short time, a number of individuals have been trained to be able to communicate at an institutional level.


Hardy Jensen detailed the plight of the Thorupstrand fishing community after the privatization of quotas in Denmark. However, after the formation of a local guild, run by the fishers themselves, they have not only survived, but have recently signed a partnership agreement with the biggest Danish supermarket chain, based on a fair price, equality and sustainability.


Despite these success stories, fragmentation remains a huge problem among small-scale fishers, who are separated both geographically and have language and cultural barriers to contend with. In developing a united voice for small-scale fishers, it is particularly important that fishers are represented by fishers. Help from NGOs is welcomed, but ultimately the sector needs to be independent and represent its own agenda. Bachir argued that it is this independence that has enabled the Maghreb platform to establish constructive dialogue with policy makers.


Percy, a former fisher himself, emphasized the strength of LIFE as a voice in Brussels. He believes LIFE could be the organization that unites small-scale fishers, and suggested that with a united voice, perhaps battles such as the one over the landing obligation could have been won. Percy insists that the door to policy change is ajar, although a little more coordination is needed for it to be opened fully.


Born from the meeting was also the idea to create an interactive map, connecting the small-scale fishers throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. With a tool such as this, it would be possible for communities to unite, if for example, the need for collective pressure was required.  


What’s more, after the meeting Elisabeth Tempier from L’encre de mer began working on material through which those present would be able to document issues and philosophies related to their fishing communities, with the ultimate aim of detailing a common methodology. This common agreement could represent the basis of another step towards uniting European and Mediterranean fishers.


Gathering and discussing mutual issues is vital if small-scale fishers are to combine their voices. Although progress may be slow, the outcomes of this meeting suggest that it is possible. Without a common voice, a fragmented small-scale fisheries sector is likely to diminish even further. However with mutual cooperation, coupled with patience and persistence, political and actual change really is viable.


 Photo credit: Pixaby 



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