Securing small-scale fisheries sustainably

Implementation of guidelines at various levels requires collaboration of several ministries, departments and agencies

Nasir Ali Panhwar September 24, 2017
The writer is a development professional

All the world’s great civilisations have evolved on the banks of rivers. Teeming with life are the villages peopled by those associated with fishing. Fishermen feed humankind with an essential food requirement. Eating fish is part of the cultural traditions of many people and for some segments of the population, fish products are a primary source of nutrients.

Fisheries support the livelihoods of over half a billion people globally. Many of the fishermen dependent on small-scale fisheries live in developing countries and face climatic shocks and stresses such as cyclones, floods, droughts, sea-level rise, land erosion and temperature and rainfall fluctuations. More than 90% of the world’s capture fisheries find work in small-scale fisheries. They provide many local communities in the developing world with a source of food security and livelihoods. The small-scale fisheries sector tends to be rooted in local communities, traditions and values. Many small-scale fishermen are self-employed and usually provide fish for direct consumption within their households or communities. Women are significant participants in the sector.

Inland fisheries are particularly important, as a majority of the catch from small-scale fisheries are directed to human consumption. As such, small-scale fisheries serve as an economic and social engine, providing food and nutrition security, employment and other multiplier effects of local economies, while underpinning the livelihoods of riparian communities. For many small-scale fishermen, fisheries represent a way of life and symbolise a diverse and cultural richness that is of global significance.

Similarly, the contribution of small-scale fisheries to sustainable rural development could be further harnessed through securing food, efficient use of water, farm materials and resources, diversifying livelihoods, generating rural employment and income, fostering social harmony and empowering women.

The precise characteristics of small-scale producers vary depending on the location, while small-scale fisheries tend to be strongly anchored in local communities, reflecting often historic links to adjacent fishery resources, traditions, values and supporting social cohesion. However, poverty exists among small-scale fishermen and it is of a multidirectional nature and is caused by low income and also due to factors that impede full enjoyment of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. These communities are often located in remote areas and tend to have limited or disadvantaged access to markets and may have poor access to health, education and other social services.

The opportunities available are limited as small-scale fishermen face a lack of alterative livelihoods, youth unemployment, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, forced and child labour. In addition, pollution, environmental degradation, climate-change impacts, natural- and human-induced disasters add to the threats faced by them. All these factors make it difficult for small-scale fishermen to make their voice heard, defend their rights and secure the sustainable use of the natural resources on which they depend.

The culture and heritage of Sindh is closely related to the River Indus and wetlands. Sindh’s contribution in fishing sector is immense, which is vital to the economy. Fishing settlements have been expanded but physical and social infrastructure is not meeting the requirements. In the past, Sindh used to be called the land of lakes and small and big water bodies. The number of small and big water bodies has now reduced considerably. Many of them have either evaporated or their quality has deteriorated — making them unfit for the survival of fish.

In June 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organisation committee on fisheries had formally adopted the voluntary guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication. Implementation of the guidelines at various levels requires the collaboration of several ministries, departments and agencies.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2017.

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