Sunday, 13 March 2022

Does the exclusion of fishermen from decision-making places on the future of the oceans prefigure the end of fishing?

Read this excellent article from Alain Le San in the Breton magazine, Chasse Maree, devoted to all things at sea, especially fishing. Doauarnenze based, the magazine and organisation that spawned from it have done an incredible job to raise awareness and celebrate both the rich, diverse history and importance of maritime occupations in French life - as anyone who has ever been lucky enough to attend the unparralleled festivals organsed by them since 1988 every two years in Douarnenez and jointly in Brest every four-once attended, never forgotten for the strength and diversity in thinking on show.

If only we had the same courage here.


At the Brest summit, where hundreds of people spoke to discuss the future of the oceans, no fisherman's representative was invited, even as an auditor; it took a last minute request for a representative to be allowed to attend. This has been the case for 40 years in most international forums (with the exception of the FAO) where decisions on the future of fisheries and oceans are made. In fact, fishermen are excluded from the blue economy presented as the condition for the sustainability of our common future.



Fishermen face terrible challenges, energy transition and decarbonisation, generational renewal; they have to adapt, but how to do it when they feel that they are no longer wanted, that fishing is a threat to sustainability? They can however be the best guarantors if we refer to a democratic and political vision of sustainability.

Sustainable fishing is based on democracy.

Anil Agarwal [1] , founder of the Center for Science and the Environment (CSE), trained with the women of the Chipko movement for the defense of forests, defined sustainability in June 1992, on the occasion of the Rio summit:

Sustainability can never be absolute. A society that quickly learns from its mistakes and changes its behavior will surely be more sustainable than another that takes longer to do so. Learning from mistakes is crucial in the process of sustainable development, because no society can claim to be so confident that it will always be able to manage and use its resources in a perfectly healthy and ecological way. .. Sustainable development is the outcome of a political order in which a society is structured in such a way that it learns from its mistakes in the way it uses its natural resources and rapidly rectifies its human-nature relationships by accord with the knowledge she has acquired... 

It is obvious that such a society will be one where decision-making will first be the prerogative of those who will be directly affected by the consequences of these decisions. If decisions are made by a distant national bureaucracy or by a multinational corporation to use a given resource and a local community living near that resource suffers from this process, decision makers are unlikely to quickly reverse their decisions. But if the resource is overexploited or misexploited by a local community that depends on it for its survival and cannot easily move to another environment, the decline in resource productivity would force the community to change its practices. 

Sustainability therefore does not depend on vague concepts such as the future of future generations, but rather on fundamental political choices such as first the models of resource control and then the levels of democracy within the decision-making bodies. Sustainability requires the creation of a political order in which, first, the control of natural resources depends, to the greatest extent possible, on the communities that depend on them and, second, decision-making within the community is also participatory. , open and democratic as possible .

Elinor Ostrom, Nobel laureate in economics, validated this vision of sustainable and democratic management of the living and common resources of the oceans by recognising the capacities and responsibilities of fishing communities and societies. [2]


But authoritarian decisions and market policies are dominant 

However, on the other hand, for 30 years, very powerful forces, outside the world of fishermen, have called into question these democratic processes of control and management of resources and have implemented "market policies": multinationals, banks , insurance companies, associated with liberal foundations and ENGOs, themselves supported by well-known and widely funded scientists. Tom Wathen of the Pew Foundation wrote in 1993: "For huge sums of money it is possible to shape public opinion, mobilise voters, research issues and pressure public officials, all in a symphonic arrangement.

This explains the wave of authoritarian decisions, from the ban on drift nets, the ban on seal hunting, to the current and future threats of a ban on fishing on 30% and then 50% of the oceans, the demands a general ban on towed gear (trawls and dredges), seasonal bans, elimination of fishing subsidies, including fuel tax refunds. Very influential scientists like Callum Roberts call for a ban on nets and longlines because they are not selective.

But the same are silent when it comes to questioning land-based pollution, responsible for the degradation of the base of marine life, plankton. Even better, Callum Roberts prefers the chemical industrialists who finance him to fishermen. A beautiful illustration of Blue Colonialism.

At best are tolerated, in the authorised areas, boats of less than 12 m without dragging gear, any other boat being considered as a hated industrialist. (European definition of artisanal fishing). We can defend small-scale fishing and a more equitable sharing of resources without being in this angelic and restrictive vision that calls into question some of the greatest management successes. 

Under these conditions, how can fishing be presented to young people as a way of the future?

Recognize and respect the rights and responsibilities of fishers To do this, it is necessary to show that the fishermen have demonstrated real capacities to collectively assume their responsibilities for the management and protection of resources and the environment, when they have the possibility, confirming in this the analyses of Elinor Ostrom. In 1972, the fishermen of Houat proposed the establishment of a blue belt [3], creating a hatchery, under the sarcasm of well-meaning scientists. Since then, scallop hatcheries have proven their effectiveness as well as the management of scallop deposits, seaweed and shellfish for shore fishing. It is also the langoustine fishermen who have made progress in the management of the large mudflat. When scientists and fishers work together on a basis of trust, they can make truly collaborative management decisions. 

Authoritarian decisions are rejected because they are misunderstood. The fishermen know that the resources vary and are sometimes threatened and they know how to adapt by directing their fishing towards more abundant species (when the quotas do not prevent them from doing so). We must recognise their expertise and their knowledge to be compared with that of scientists, probably too focused on management by species more than by fleet. Associative NGOs can play a spurring role but without seeking to take power. If the rights and responsibilities of fishermen are respected, democratic management of the marine space is possible, as shown by the example of the Iroise National Marine Park, managed by a Parliament of the sea, wanted and supported by fishermen after long debates. Unfortunately this does not please everyone because fishing is not called into question.

Lean on the power of the fishermen of the South

Faced with the thurifers of the blue economy and the demands of the energy transition, fishermen are very weak and often divided to defend their future. What do 15,000 fishermen today who are accused of massacring dolphins, of causing fish suffering, weigh in the face of public opinion and decision-makers whose imagination is shaped by propaganda paid for millions of dollars and supported by figures of Hollywood like Leonardo di Caprio? For these people the future is artificial fish, raised in vitro.

In fact, the defence of fishermen in the North must be built in alliance with the fishermen of the South. There are tens of millions of them and they play a major role in the employment and basic food supply of billions of people. They can also participate in the renewal of our crews. We also note that the questioning of the large MPAs promoted by environmentalist lobbies comes from fishermen from the Pacific Islands who oppose blue colonialism and want to promote MGAs (Marine Managed Areas). The 30 x 30 objective of the IUCN and the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) is contested by an association for the defense of indigenous peoples (Survival). The resistance to the WTO proposals comes from India, where millions of fishermen can sway the powers that be, as the peasants did recently.

All is not lost, but the most difficult thing is to fight an idealized vision of nature imposed by people who are totally cut off from it but often dream of making it a new El Dorado. Thank you Au Chasse-Marée, which has been working for 40 years to highlight the intelligence, knowledge and culture of sailors. We need media like this more than ever.

Alain le Sann, Le Croisic, March 10, 2022

Full story translated from Peche Dev, Intervention during meetings for the 40th anniversary of the Chasse-Marée