Vatican News Staff writer
The Prefect of the Dicastery of Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson, highlights the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need 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. His call comes in his message to mark World Fisheries Day which is observed on 21 November.
At the heart of Cardinal Peter Turkson’s message for World Fisheries Day is the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the fisheries sector.
The Cardinal notes that due to governments’ strategic responses to the Coronavirus, such as social distancing, the closure of fishing markets, and reduced patronage of hotels and restaurants, “this has created challenges for the sale of fresh fish and related products.”
In this current situation, he points out, “fishing, fish-processing, consumption and trade have steadily decreased.”
Cardinal Turkson also draws attention to other “chronic problems which bedevil the industry”.
Challenges to sector
These challenges, he continues, which constitute “fisheries crime”, are the problems of “Overfishing and Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing which continue around the world under different flags and by groups who dispose of powerful fleets and are better resourced.”
“This state of affairs victimizes authentic fishers and fishing communities with unfair competition and depletes fish-stocks at a rate that does not allow the fishes to recover. It is a practice that is not sustainable and that leads to decreased fish populations and to reduced future production,” says the Cardinal.
Another area highlighted by the Prefect, is that of working conditions for fishers, especially at a time of a global pandemic.
He goes on to say that fishers at sea have been affected by the closure of fishing ports and the impossibility of making crew changes. “Additionally, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment has increased the risk of transmitting the virus because fishers work in restricted and enclosed spaces,” he says.
As a direct consequence of this, the Cardinal stresses that “crew members have been infected in a number of fishing vessels, and unable to receive immediate medical assistance, they perished and were quickly buried at sea by their worried companions. Often the families know nothing about the fate of their loved one.”
In his message, Cardinal Turkson underlines that the issues of human trafficking and forced labour still remain. Furthermore, he says, “the vast majority of fishers around the world have been, for different reasons, excluded from the basic ‘social protection’ provided by some national governments and have been forced to rely upon the generosity of charitable organizations or the assistance of the local community for survival.”
In this time of pandemic, the Cardinal appeals for a greater solidarity with the most marginalized people, as it is explained in Fratelli Tutti by Pope Francis: “Solidarity finds concrete expression in service, which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others." And service in great part means “caring for vulnerability, for the vulnerable members of our families, our society, our people”.
Time to act
The Prefect describes the path to full protection of human and labour rights of all categories of fishers as “a long and winding road.” Yet again, he says, “we raise our voice to 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 and to toughen their fight against forced labour and human trafficking.”
“The time for talking is over. It is time to act!”
Fishers in difficulty
Concluding his message, Cardinal Turkson turns his thoughts on this World Fisheries Day to all the fishers around the world who are experiencing hardships and difficulties.
In particular, he mentions “the eighteen fishers of different nationalities from Mazara del Vallo - Sicily, who have been held incommunicado in Libya since 2 September.”
“Their families," he notes, " continue to wait anxiously for information about their where about and the opportunity to talk with their loved ones. Most of all they long to be reunited with them."
"For this simple, humanitarian reason, I appeal to the appropriate national governments and authorities to resolve this acute situation, and find a positive solution through open and sincere dialogue.”