Feeling Gratitude and Building New Images: Reflections from the 4WSFC Europe

By Evan J. Andrews, Senior Research Fellow, TBTI
Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada

From September 12-14, I was fortunate to attend the 4 th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress: Europe held in Malta. Previously, I served as a co-Chair of the International Organizing Committee for the 4WSFC North America held in St. John’s, Canada, June 20-22. In Malta, it was my privilege to ‘pass the torch’ from the North American to European Congress, and enjoy many interesting and engaging activities.

The theme of 4WSFC Europe was Imagine the (Un)imaginable: Revitalizing Small-Scale Fisheries in Europe. Similar to North America, small-scale fisheries in here have been mostly ignored. Imagining ways to bring recognition, visibility, and enhancement for these fisheries was at the top of conversation. It was fascinating to listen to congress attendees explore and play with the idea of ‘imagining the (un)imaginable’ to galvanize understanding and support for European small-scale fisheries.

Throughout the Congress, I realized I was doing some imagining of my own: I was building new images. I listened to Congress attendees, and cultivated a new appreciation and understanding for small-scale fisheries in the Global North. I learned about these fisheries Europe were doing, and heard the strategies, innovations, and collaborations proposed to revitalize them. There are now new images in my mind, with strategies that are going to be very useful as I work within the North American context, particularly in Canada.

The fun started early. On the Sunday before the Congress, I attended ‘Fish Fest’ or Festa Ħut (Mir-Raħal tas-Sajjieda). Fish Fest was a celebration of small-scale fisheries and their importance to communities, like Marsaxlokk, to countries, like Malta, and to the best things of life: tasting good food, enjoying the coast, meeting new people, and learning new things. I was inspired by all the activities that built appreciation for fishing life and small-scale fisheries. Now, I want to host a similar event in St. John’s so that others can experience eating tasty fish, enjoying the harbour, buying local products, and talking with locals about fishing. I think Fish Fest serves as a great model for outreach and engagement on small-scale fishing in Canada. When the Congress started, I ‘passed the torch’. I had the privilege to give a framed picture of the 4WSFC North America social media card to the Honourable Dr. Alicia Bugeja Said, the Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Animal Welfare in Malta. Also, I shared some reflections about the North American Congress to European fisherfolk, government representatives, NGO leaders, and researchers.

Later, on the first day, I appreciated the focus on Imagining Blue Justice (Plenary #1) and Imagining Gender Equity (Plenary #2). I learned about the role of images in navigating the unknown related to the Blue Economy, including the fears associated with ocean and coastal development, and the hopes made possible in the struggles for Blue Justice. In Imagine Gender Equity, panelists were women fishers, researchers and advocates. They shared their stories about their experiences on the water, in communities, in organizations, and in universities fighting for gender equity. I am motivated to continue my commitments to gender and social equity at home.

On the second day, I listened to panelists and attendees who discussed subsidies for small-scale fisheries in Imagine Good Subsidies (Plenary #3). ‘Subsidies’ is a topic I only thought about in the Canadian or high seas contexts. After the plenary, I now know that I need more thinking about subsidies affect small-scale fisheries and communities across the value chain. Later, I discovered a concept, called ‘low impact fishing’ during Imagine Low Impact Fishing (Plenary #4). I liked how this concept was a way to categorize, promote, and bring visibility to small-scale fisheries. Notably, I heard from fishers directly that low impact fishing was about fishing at the right place, right time, and with the right gear. But, I also heard was a way of life and a key livelihood strategy that represents the best that fisheries can offer to ocean and coastal sustainability.

On the third day, discussions were had about moving small-scale fisheries to the centre of governance during the Imagine SSF-Centric Governance (Plenary #4). A key theme was how everyone needed to work together to achieve this. Similarly, there were opportunities to bring small-scale fisheries to the heart of all the Sustainable Development Goals, not just SDG 14, during Imagine SSF in all SDGs (Plenary #6). During the final plenary, Imagine All Things Possible for SSF, speakers discussed how we need to move beyond imagining and into taking action. We need to act before the unthinkable: the total loss of small-scale fisheries. We need to advance human rights, dignity and Blue Justice across Europe and into the future.

As I leave Malta, I am motivated to take these lessons back to Canada and the North American contexts. I leave feeling grateful to 4WSFC Europe organizers and attendees for the opportunity to attend the Congress, and to meet and talk with more people who care about the revitalization of small-scale fisheries. I was so happy to learn from them.