By Lydia O'Kane
Every year on November 21, World Fisheries Day is observed to highlight the importance of the marine-based labour sector.
An estimated 59.5 million people are employed in this industry, and one out of two workers is a woman.
A message issued on Friday to mark World Fisheries Day by the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson, highlights that “Asia has the highest number of workers, in this sector, and contributes some 85 per cent of the world total labour force; and with 3.1 million vessels, it accounts for 68 per cent of the global total fishing fleet.”
As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, Cardinal Turkson notes that the outbreak has had “dramatic consequences for the economies of many countries and a severe impact upon more vulnerable sectors such as fisheries.”
Speaking to Vatican Radio, Martin Foley, Chief Executive Officer and European Regional Coordinator of Stella Maris UK, an agency of the Catholic Church which offers practical and pastoral care to all seafarers, welcomed the Cardinal’s message.
“It demonstrates the support of the Church through the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, for fishers and their families that during these challenging times the Church through Stella Maris’ mission to seafarers and fishers remains close to them.”
As the world grapples with this global pandemic, one of the problems that has been laid bare is a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for fishers. Addressing this issue, Mr Foley said that even pre-pandemic “many fishers were denied adequate PPE. Now with the added risks posed by the pandemic, it’s even more important that fishers are supplied with adequate PPE.”
He went on to say that Stella Maris’ Chaplains in many ports around the world are giving face masks to fishers and helping them with basic hygiene measures. The CEO also stressed that providing this equipment was “primarily the responsibility of their employers”.
Rights for fishers
Reiterating Cardinal Turkson’s call for a renewed effort from international organizations and governments, to strengthen their commitment to implement legislations to improve the living and working conditions of fishers and their families, Mr. Foley agreed that “the time is now”. “We have the ILO [International Labour Organisation] which is essentially a bill of rights for fishers… now is the time for governments around the world to implement that convention fully, because if they fail to inforce it, then really, it remains no more than fine words.”
On the issue of “fisheries crime” which was also highlighted in Cardinal Turkson’s World Fisheries Day Message, the Stella Maris CEO said illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing still remains a serious problem in the sector and does “enormous damage to the marine environment; to fish stocks, and in our experience, where you find environmental degradation, you also find human rights abuses.”
The next 100 years
This year Stella Maris (formerly the Apostleship of the Sea) is celebrating its centenary. Asked what he sees as future hopes and challenges as the Catholic agency marks this milestone anniversary, Mr Foley said the challenges remain as they always were, "being there, being alongside seafarers and fishers and their families in their place of work and supporting them pastorally, spiritually, financially.” He also acknowledged that as the maritime industry faces greater challenges posed by the pandemic, the onus is on Stella Maris to redouble its efforts step up its support for fishers and their families.
“We’ve been entrusted with a great mission by the Church and we’re very proud of that mission, and we want to ensure that wherever there are seafarers and fishers in need, we are there for them. That’s fundamental to who we are,” he said.