Sailing in a sea of uncertainties

From marginalization to social justice

Many of small-scale fisheries are already marginalized and highly vulnerable in normal circumstances. The Covid-19 pandemic and its widespread impacts make things a lot worse for many small-scale fisheries around the world. Many can no longer go to fish, losing not only income but also food for the families. Some are looking at how industrial fisheries and other sectors are receiving emergency support fund, while they remain invisible and ignored.

Small-scale fisheries are highly affected by the lock-downs, which threaten their basic rights of access to coastal and ocean spaces, resources and markets. Small-scale fishers need to be taken in account, with the due support, to ensure that they will be able to survive during the pandemic, recover from the impacts and thrive amidst adversity. The support fishers have been receiving so far is minimal or inadequate, urging action for Blue Justice for Small-Scale Fisheries. Small-scale fisheries, if appropriately supported and adequately invested, can aid in achieving real sustainable development and just society.  

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In the words of Charles America, a local fisher from South Africa “... the problems and tasks of local traditional fisherfolk are so much more daunting and burdensome. We now need to illustrate (articulate and describe), as accurately as possible, the compromised situation in which we as traditional artisanal fisher peoples find ourselves due to the added complications facing us." [Excerpt is taken from a recent PLAAS article about the impact of Covid-19 on Ocean View fishing community].
Getting organized and working together

In many places around the globe, fisheries-related organizations are emerging or consolidating themselves, as a way to help find solutions, access funds and move ahead through these challenging times. Local Catch, a network willing to connect buyers and fishers in North America, has recently organized webinars, gathering key actors to share experiences, potential solutions and information on how to access governmental support and funding. 

In Brazil, fishers organizations have been generating information and exchanging experiences through an emergency network that was set up in March. They have been collecting information about Covid-19 cases among fishers, summarizing challenges faced by communities and ways to access governmental support. They are also producing podcasts with FAQs about health issues, addressed by local physicians. 

In an opposite part of the world, a Letter from National Fishworkers’ Forum, addressed to the Indian government, demanded support and clear guidelines. The Government of India, they wrote, needs to reach out “[...] to the fishworkers and address their demands in order to build goodwill and work with the fishworkers, who hold within them the capability to feed millions of people at this time of crisis.”   

With a more global approach, FAO is sharing a collection of policy briefs, released on a day-to-day basis, to evaluate the pandemic's impacts on different sectors across the food system. With a qualitative and quantitative assessment, these briefs could provide helpful information to policymakers.

The small town of Trinity in Newfoundland, Canada. By M. Leis
Essential service, empty markets

The Covid-19 crisis also brought about food security implications. Small-scale fisheries are responsible for an important share of the global food supply, accounting for over half of the catch in developing countries, where about 90% of global small-scale fishers live. In many places, such as Canada, governments consider fisheries as an essential service. As such, fishers are still allowed to go out fishing. But when they arrive to the shore, they are facing a very different market to the one prior to Covid-19. In British Columbia, for instance, fishers have lost one of their most important buyers, the restaurants. They are also seeing reduction in exports.

The struggle to keep markets open and connect with consumers is occurring in many ports. In Vigo, Spain, the port continues to be operational but consumers  behavior has changed dramatically. Fresh and expensive seafood, like shellfish and crustaceans, are all of a sudden less desirable. According to Enrique López-Veiga, Vigo Port Authority President, “this results in a general decrease of prices paid to producers, especially to the artisanal and small-scale fisheries sector.”   

In other parts of the world like Kenya, local markets are now flourishing. The main foreign fish supplier in Kenya was China. With Covid-19, buyers are preferring local fish over imports, thus increasing the demand and providing an unexpected opportunity for local fishers that are bringing freshly caught fish from Lake Victoria.


Prepared by: Vanessa Eyng and Mirella Leis, Memorial University
April 15, 2020