Local Voices at the World Fisheries Congress

Left to right: Mark Odaga, Birgen, Odaga & Associates LLP, Kenya; Justice Tsofa, Natural Justice, Kenya [via video on the cell phone]; Felicito Alejandro Nuñez Bernardez, Association of Garifuna Fisherfolk, Honduras; Alejandra Serrano Pavón, ELAW Attorney, Mexico; Kristine Joy Argallon, Philippine Earth Justice Center, Philippines; Rahul Choudhary, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, India; Roberto Ballon, Association of Small Fisherfolk of Concepcion, Philippines.

The World Bank touts the blue economy as the “sustainable use of ocean resources to benefit economies, livelihoods, and ocean ecosystem health.” But not everyone agrees on what “sustainable use” means.

Last month, members of ELAW’s Marine Working Group joined scientists from around the world at the World Fisheries Congress (WFC) in Seattle, to share community voices on the real impacts of blue economy projects in the Global South.

This groundbreaking panel, “Blue Economy and Its Impacts on Small-Scale Fisheries: Moving Towards Just and Equitable Ocean Use and Protection,” included presentations from ELAW partners from Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, India, Kenya, and the Philippines, and members of fishing communities that ELAW partners collaborate with.

Vivienne Solis Rivera is a biologist who works with Coope SoliDar R.L, a cooperative that seeks justice for fishing communities in Central America. She urged participants to say “no” to blue economy projects until a Human Rights-based approach is implemented.

She was joined by Felicito Alejandro Nuñez Bernardez from the Association of Garifuna Fisherfolk in Honduras. Don Felicito spoke about the loss of artisanal fishing grounds due to privatization of small islands and marine protected area (MPA) establishment without consultation.

“We must work together, but in a fair way,” he said. “Small Scale Fishers have joined together in a call to action that demands NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US. Participation is a human right.”

Fishing communities in the Philippines face similar challenges. “Most of our communities live on the coast and rely on the ocean for their livelihood and their food bank,” says Roberto Ballon, founder of the Association of Small Fisherfolk of Concepcion in Zamboanga, Philippines.

Kristine Joy Argallon, Legal and Policy Officer at the Philippine Earth Justice Center spoke about the rights of artisanal fishers and the need to ensure that blue economy projects provide “climate resilient livelihoods.” Her organization represents communities suffering from mangrove destruction, developmental aggression, and more.

“Our session was a first at the WFC — an open dialogue, featuring community voices on key issues that small-scale fisheries face at the intersection of food, water, energy, tourism, and conservation,” says Alejandra Serrano Pavón, ELAW Attorney, Marine and Coastal Lead. “ELAW’s attorney partners were eager to bring perspectives of fishing communities impacted by policies and decisions into the conversation.”

Securing visas for travel to the U.S. proved challenging, so members of fishing communities in Colombia, India, and Kenya participated virtually, some tuning in using pre-paid data on cell phones. Simultaneous translation was provided.

“Small-scale fishing communities suffer disproportionately when they are excluded from the dialogue and planning, which is unfortunately often the case,” says ELAW Scientist Dr. Melissa Garren. “This is why ELAW’s Marine Working Group promotes an inclusive Human Rights-based approach to improve policy, science, and livelihoods.”

We are pleased to bring community voices to this forum and will keep you posted on our progress.

Bern Johnson
Executive Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide