Small-scale fishing communities, like other small-scale food producers, have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic . The impacts have not been limited to a purely sanitary issue – which has already highlighted the lack of adequate infrastructures. The containment measures put in place in several countries have exacerbated the deprivation of livelihoods and socio-cultural life for many communities. A sector so crucial for the local economies and the accessibility of healthy, protein-rich and culturally appropriate diets has thus been brought to its knees. Already so little recognised and protected, small-scale fisheries are now more than ever increasingly seen as potential opportunities for private property speculation, industrialisation and mass tourism, accelerating the environmental crisis with catastrophic effects such as rising sea levels, and warming, acidification and pollution of the waters.
It now seems increasingly clear that this situation can no longer be regarded as a temporary crisis, but that a structural change is irreversibly taking place. Nevertheless, even though the arrival of COVID-19 on a global scale has exposed the limitations and injustices of the current political and economic paradigm, the solutions put in place by local authorities, national governments and international organisations seems to be designed solely to safeguard an economic system ready to collapse over itself. This crisis, especially in its political and economic repercussions, leaves room for the penetration of private interests driven primarily by profit into political spaces.
The importance of small-scale fisheries has been recognised by the United Nations on many occasions, with several international instruments and programmes that have been developed to protect and promote human rights, Indigenous peoples, small-scale food producers and small-scale fisheries. However, due to the voluntary nature of many of those, their procurements are too often neglected, while the programmes and political spaces established to showcase the essential role of small-scale food systems as the only option to feed the world in a healthy and environmentally responsible manner are occupied and co-opted by private interests.
Processes such as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture of 2022 (IYAFA 2022) and the UN Decade on Family Farming (UNDFF) are unique opportunities to address the current crisis, and the leading space granted to civil society should be highlighted and defended.
For these reasons, the Working Group on Fisheries of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty demands that:
Our communities need now more than ever the institutional recognition of their contribution to our societies;
Our governments, with the support of the UN Agencies, put in place all the necessary measures to adequate national policies to the provisions of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) and implement them through a participatory and human rights-based approach.