The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that greater efforts must be made to lift fishermen out of poverty and reduce the overexploitation of threatened fish stocks.
“While fishing’s role in helping people in the world’s poorest communities feed themselves and stave off destitution cannot be understated, our studies reveal that despite the food and income that fishing provides many fisherfolk still live in poverty,” said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.
Fishing communities are often overcrowded and are characterized by sub-standard living conditions, with residents having low levels of education and lack of access to services, such as schools and health care, and infrastructure, such as roads and markets. Many fishers also do not have the rights to the property on which they live.
Opportunities for employments in fields other than fishing – an extremely hazardous occupation – are limited.
Due in part to their poverty and vulnerability, fishing communities also face problems such as a high rate of HIV infection. In developing countries in Africa, Asia and Central America, the rate of infection is as much as five to 14 times greater in fishing areas than in the general population.
“Stronger efforts to tackle the diverse factors underlying this reality are needed, or else these communities will simply continue to tread water, surviving from day to day, living in poverty, and not managing local fish stocks as well as they might,” Mr. Nomura said.
FAO asserts that poverty also contributes to poor fishing management, resulting in the shrinking coastal and inland fish stocks.
“Poor people can rarely afford to defend their long-term interests of securing access to healthy fish stock,” Mr. Nomura noted.
According to the agency, greater strides to bolster education, income and health issues in fishing communities will not only help combat poverty and social problems, but will have the added benefit of solving problems related to fish stocks.
In addition, by granting small-scale fishermen legal access to fishing sites, increasing their responsibility in managing local fisheries and providing training, the issues of poor management and stock degradation could be addressed.
The topic of poverty and social problems in small fishing communities was discussed by 131 countries participating in FAO’s Committee on Fisheries meeting last month, who called for the “adoption of human rights principles” in social development and a “rights-based approach to managing small-scale fisheries.”