A toast to the coast

Close to a fourth of the worlds total marine fish production comes from the artisanal and small-scale sector; and almost the entirety of this catch is taken from the coastal waters. Two-thirds of the total marine fish production comprises stocks which pass the first and most vulnerable stages of their life-cycles in coastal areas. Not surprisingly, therefore, the health of the coastal marine environment is inextricably linked to the livelihood of over 120 million people who are directly or indirectly dependent on this sector.

Normally, negative externalities from fisheries to other sectors are insignificant, but the reverse processfrom non-fishing activities to fisheriesis formidable. Although fisheries do not pose any threat to agriculture or industry, the environmental impact of agricultural and industrial activities on fish habitats can often be devastating. Likewise, destructive and non-selective fishing methods and practices can also have a negative impact on fish habitats.

In many low-income food-deficit countries, the fisheries sector is usually the employer of last resort. Hence, the degradation of fish habitats is of even greater concern to fishing communities in these countries. This fact further underscores the critical importance of integrating fisheries into coastal area management.

But problems aboundfrom the definition of the coastal zone’ to the coexistence of various forms of property regimes (private property, state property and common property). These only compound the difficulty in prescribing effective measures for coastal management. The variety of problems and the specificities of the coastal zone accentuate the need for a holistic approach to coastal area management.

However, the attempts so far have been, at best, compartmentalized and are inadequate to tackle the task. Developing, integrating and implementing a common framework for coastal management is still a remote goal. The recent South Asian Workshop on Fisheries and Coastal Area Management, organized by ICSF (see pages 40 and 44) threw up interesting proposals for better management of the coastal zone. The Workshop sought to define the coastal zone by recognizing the complexity, diversity and fragility of coastal ecosystems, and their contribution to sustaining livelihoods. Participants felt that the right to livelihood, based on human and ecological values, should be given priority over the right to earn socially irresponsible profits.

Principles of common property and community ownership, as well as decentralized and participatory regimes, ought to be part of coastal area management. The principle that the “polluter must pay should be strictly adopted. Environment and social impact analyses ought to be undertaken before projects are sanctioned; and public review processes must be made mandatory. Without some sort of coherence among the relevant legislative measures meant to manage natural resources, precious little will be achieved. Equally vital is the creation of conflict resolution mechanisms. By addressing these issues, the Workshop thus provided “some firm foundation to construct future partnerships and regional linkages for the sustainable use of coastal zones and for promoting the livelihood rights of coastal communities.

In the final analysis, however, coastal zone management is not a problem confined to coastal communitiesit reflects the anomalies inherent in the utilization of natural resources. The coastal zone is a sign of what we do to our environment and to our fellow-beings. If, as the Vietnamese say, “the sea begins in the mountains, the status of the coastal zone certainly reveals a sign of what we have done with our resources, both in the coast and in the hinterland.

Unless there are major attempts to change our outlook on resource utilization, and unless there are serious efforts to clearly define our rights and responsibilities in relation to such resource utilization, threats to coastal resources and coastal communities will continue unabated. In such a context, effective management of the coastal zone will remain just a distant dream.


The first decade of ICSF

This piece has been written by V. Vivekanandan, Co-ordinator, Animation Team, ICSF

Ten years ago, on 25 November 1986, a diverse group of anthropologists, biologists, boatbuilders, community organizers, economists, social scientists and sociologists from 16 countries, gathered in the small Indian city of Trivandrum. Their aim: the formation of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF).

That act was far from impulsive-it was the direct outcome of the historic, first-ever international Conference of Fishworkers and their Supporters, held in Rome in 1984, as a parallel meet to the FAO’s World Conference on Fisheries Management and Development.

The founding members formed ICSF after “seeing the emerging needs for information, for training, for various kinds of support… to give form to the need for more international exchange and common action in support of the cause of fishworkers in all the regions. The term ‘collective’ was deliberately chosen to stress the non-hierarchical style of functioning and to emphasize transparency, flexibility and informality among the members.

It was in their individual capacities that the founding members took up the challenge to commit their time and experience to ICSF’s programmes. Initially, the mandate was humble enoughto keep the organization going for at least three years.

At the 1990 Bangkok Conference, ICSF reviewed the four years of its existenceand decided to continue the organization’s functioning by further streamlining programmes. The major emphasis has always been to defend the rights of artisanal and small-scale fishworkers to a better life and livelihood from fisheries resources, within the framework of the sustainable utilization of such resources.

The post-Bangkok period threw up a range of projects on, for instance, the implications of North-South fisheries agreements; the viability of maritime zoning arrangements; credit and insurance systems; and the ecological, social and economic aspects of fishing gear selectively.

One of ICSF’s earliest campaigns was against the inequitable aspects of fisheries agreements between Senegal and the European Union. The campaign has since attracted several European NGOs, under the umbrella of the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Agreements (CFFA), and forced the incorporation of some demand of Senegalese fishworkers.

In the last quinquennium, ICSF intensified its campaigns. A task force looked into the conditions of work on industrial fishing vessels. ICSF also undertook several exchange programmes to strengthen fishworkers’ organizations and to transfer more environment-friendly technologies.

By actively associating with the preparatory and follow-up processes of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), ICSF entered a new phase after June 1992. This included influencing the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, as well as the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, to highlight the importance of artisanal and small-scale fishing.

Samudra Report, an important output of ICSF, is published thrice a year, in English, French and Spanish, to disseminate information on a wide variety of topics. It has also served as a forum for critical debates on, for instance, issues straddling environmental and fisheries interests.

A decade after the formation of ICSF, one thing can certainly be said: global resource depletion and fishing overcapacity may have hampered the livelihood of artisanal and small-scale fishworkers, but many things have, in fact, changed for the better for fishworker communities, especially in the Third World. Not only are they more often consulted, but their worldview is also being better recognized by national governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies. The industrial model of development in fisheries is increasingly being challenged, while the role of traditional knowledge in fisheries management is being accorded a greater status.

ICSF’s activities have been synergistic and the overall impact, quite positive. However, a great deal remains to be done; more contacts with fishworkers’ organizations in several countries where ICSF does not yet have a presence; and, in the realm of fisheries management, steps to ensure a better future for fishworker communities and greater responsibility for fisheries resources.

For ICSF, it is a matter of pride that the world has more or less recognized artisanal and small-scale fishing and that special way of life. What remains to be done is to consolidate these gains through better programmes for resource management with community participation. Equally, if not more, important is to strive for a gender perspective on these issues.

One decade gone, a more ten years, but several nautical miles to go and many oceans to cross…