One week at the COFI: our work for small-scale fisheries

From the 5th to the 9th September 2022, an IPC Delegation took part to the 35th Session of the Committee on Fisheries of the FAO in Rome.

This 35th COFI  represented a crucial moment for small scale fisher people and indigenous peoples, not just because 2022 is the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA) but because after 2 years of pandemic, the COFI delegates and observers were finally allowed to attend the sessions in Rome in presence, as it used to be before the pandemic. The COFI35 took place with an hybrid modality, allowing in presence and online participation of the delegates from all over the world. Despite the many challenges caused by the pandemic, including having to rely on connecting via online meetings, the IPC worked hard to strengthen and expand its network and maintain momentum around the implementation of the Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF Guidelines).

Four years has passed since the last in-person meeting of the IPC working group on fisheries, with the  pandemic forcing  a totally online transition of interaction and  severely impacting SSF social movements’ advocacy actions at the international level.

For COFI35, a delegation of 35 IPC delegates  representing the main 4 networks of the IPC Working Group on Fisheries (WFFP, WFF, IITC and La Via Campesina) gathered in Rome for the 35th Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries.  The two-day preparatory meetings before COFI finally provided an opportunity for the IPC delegates to re-build the internal cohesion and solidarity, damaged by the virtual work, and define the common messages and points to bring into COFI.

From the 2nd t the 4th Septemebr, the IPC Delegates contributed to the first edition of the SSF Summit, organized with the support of FAO, GFCM and SSF Hub. On this occasion, the IPC organized a full whole day dedicated solely to SSF organizations, which created a space for dialogue among SSF organizations and opened up the possibility of collaborating at the regional level to ensure the implementation of the small-scale fisheries guidelines.

During the 35th Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), the IPC Working Group on Fisheries prepared its statements on the issues it considers priorities. The sustainable development of fisheries and aquaculture in the context of a changing climate, a better use of biodiversity, ensuring equitable growth for small-scale fishers and the elimination IUU fishing, were among the major issues discussed at COFI 35.

The IPC statements reiterate the lack of recognition for small-scale fishers and Indigenous Peoples, the challenges they face and the marginalization of women working in fisheries  not enjoying equal rights in the sector. These challenges continue to be often overlooked, while small-scale fishers and Indigenous Peoples are left out of decision-making processes that directly affect our lives and livelihoods.

Moreover, small-scale fishers and Indigenous Peoples keep loosing access to fishing territories and resources, as a consequence of the increasing expropriation of fisheries resources in inland and marine territories globally. Once again, the IPC renewed its invitation to States to avoid false solutions, such as exclusionary Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), and instead take effective measures to restore the legitimate traditional, customary, or Indigenous tenure rights of fishing communities and redistribute such rights where they have been infringed upon.

Like in the previous COFI34, the discussion in the Plenary gave huge space and attention to acquaculture and its contribution to food security and sustainability, claims that  the IPC does not agree with the export oriented aquaculture as a solution to the food crisis.  The volumes of wild capture fish and plant based products, such as soy, that is needed to feed the fast growing aquaculture industry is simply not sustainable. IPC therefore called upon COFI members to work with small-scale fishers and Indigenous Peoples, to support and advance localised SSF value chains, which can provide healthy and affordable food for communities.

The very existence of our communities is also under threat due to climate change, environmental destruction and pollution. IPC called upon governments to implement plans and projects for the reparation and protection of nature. The impacts of climate change should be addressed by states based on knowledge, information and solutions as articulated by fishing communities, Indigenous Peoples and our organizations.

During the 35th COFI edition, member states discussed and agreed to proceed with the establishment of the Sub-Committee on Fisheries Management, which would include a standing agenda item on small-scale fisheries. This sub-committee will not be able to address the overarching issues related to small-scale fisheries, which are much broader in scope. Instead, COFI as the main platform for diverse actors to engage and discuss small-scale fisheries issues, must be strengthened, and enhanced. Lastly, IPC called upon states to bring back discussions on fishery subsidies to the FAO and COFI, to ensure Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing is addressed in a democratic manner, and where we have an opportunity to participate in negotiations.

IPC welcomed the governments’ decision to hold an SSF summit in the days leading up to COFI, an opportunity to have a space for discussion and strategy-building between different SSF organizations. However, IPC expressed its high disappointment with the COFI chair’s decision not to allow observers to speak during the discussions on the creation of the sub-committee on fisheries, biodiversity and climate change, justifying this choice with a lack of time. Following this decision, he only allowed 1-minute intervention, once again denying the SSF and Indigenous’ Peoples the opportunity to express themselves, thus preventing the voice of millions of small-scale fishers from being brought to the attention of Government delegations.

The IPC delegation provided its contribution to the discussion by sending via email all its statements to make sure they were uploaded on the COFI website but at present, only the IPC General statement is available.

You can find all our statements here below