By Lydia O’Kane
World Fisheries Day is marked annually on 21 November by the fisherfolk communities.
It aims to draw attention to the importance of healthy oceans ecosystems and to guarantee sustainable stocks of fisheries in the world. It also serves to shine a spotlight on the challenges fishers face while out at sea.
A message released on Friday to mark World Fisheries Day by the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson, highlighted the importance of changing the way the world manages global fisheries to ensure sustainable stocks and healthy ecosystems, while at the same time championing and protecting the human rights of the fisherfolk.
Martin Foley is the 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.
Conditions at sea
Welcoming Cardinal Turkson’s message, he said, “I think Cardinal Turkson’s exhortation to uphold the human rights of fishers is both welcome and timely. The real challenge we face in the maritime sector is one of enforcement; enforcing legislation that exists."
Despite continuous efforts made by international organizations to implement the various conventions and agreements regarding working conditions, safety at sea and illegal, unreported and unregulated.
Cardinal Turkson’s message noted that “While on the fishing ground, fishers experience threats and intimidation by the skipper and officers, they are forced to work endless shifts day and night to catch as much fish as possible in any kind of weather.”
“With more than 24,000 deaths in a year, we can define the fishing industry, a deadly one,” the Cardinal emphasised.
Speaking about the difficult situations fishers are forced to deal with while at sea, Mr. Foley pointed out that the main bill of rights for fishers is the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention 188, but unfortunately, he said, “very few states have ratified that convention and even few states are actively enforcing it.”
“A lot of people don’t appreciate that fishing is the most dangerous occupation globally at this point in time,” he said.
He noted that because human rights abuses take place at sea and far from law enforcement, the challenge is for everyone, including Stella Maris is to be “more effective advocates for the rights of fishers.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chaplains have had to respond to the needs of fishers in more creative ways, which has included a greater emphasis on social media.
Speaking about the issue of access to those working onboard ships, Mr. Foley commented that due to the easing of pandemic restrictions in some ports around the world, Chaplains have been able to access fishers onboard their ships. However, he also pointed out that despite the easing of restrictions, some vessels, for understandable reasons, are still reluctant to allow Chaplains to visit those on board.
Another way of communicating with seafarers, he said, is talking and chatting to them at the bottom of gangways or shoreside, which, he added, was a way of addressing human rights violations that fishers are experiencing.
For fishers, being able to get access to a COVID-19 vaccine over the course of the pandemic has greatly depended on each individual country.
Asked if this situation had improved, the Stella Maris CEO said it had, but stressed that the “fishing industry lags behind,” and there was still a lot of work to be done especially in the fishing sector. He also highlighted there was much to be done in “enabling fishermen to evidence proof of vaccinations in different jurisdictions.”
World Fisheries Day
As people around the world observe World Fisheries Day on 21 November, Mr. Foley said it was “providential” that this year it falls on a Sunday, adding, “it is a wonderful opportunity for those attending Church, attending Mass to pray for fishers and their families because they do need our prayers.”
This day is important, he pointed out, because it acknowledges “our dependence on fishers; because it constitutes the core diet for much of the world’s population.”
He also said, as consumers of fish, we need to “scrutinize the products to ensure that the fish has been caught in a way that both upholds the human rights of the fishers and is also caught in a sustainable fashion.”