Across the globe, World Fisheries Day will be celebrated on Tuesday, 21 November 2023, under the theme, “Investing in social protection to secure equitable Blue Transformation in the fisheries sector; an opportunity to recognise and celebrate fisherfolks as “Food Heroes”.
According to “Food Systems and Covid-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean 2020,” a joint publication from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and other UN partner agencies, the fisheries sector supports the livelihoods of millions of people globally in rural and coastal communities. At a global level, there is increasing recognition of the role that fisheries policies and social protection can jointly play in combating poverty and hunger. Despite its importance, the industry continues to face challenges in the region of pressure of unsustainable fisheries practices.
Recognising the importance of the fisheries sector, FAO continues to work assiduously with several partners in the region, including The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and The Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC) to effectively tackle the threats to sustainable and socially responsible fisheries in the region, including overfishing and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Strengthening data collection and management information systems to underpin evidence-based fisheries policies, strategies and programmes, and measures to combatting IUU fishing constituted a large component of this FAO assistance. For its impacts on labour standards given the linkage of some IUU vessels with indecent working conditions of workers on board and other labour and human rights abuses, drug trafficking, IUU fishing does threaten social responsibility along the value chains and have dire implications for millions of peoples’ livelihoods.
FAO’s partnership with WECAFC on the European Union-funded project, resulted in the development in 2019 of a 10-year Regional Plan of Action to Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing in the Western Central Atlantic (WECAFC RPOA-IUU) which aims to stop, discourage, and outlaw IUU fishing in its member states. In Caricom, nations like the Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago have benefited directly with assistance in their battle against IUU fishing under the Global Capacity Development Programme.
Meanwhile, other Caribbean countries, such as Guyana, Dominica, Grenada, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and St Lucia were on the receiving end of technical assistance and readiness in capacity development and investment in modern data and information systems.
In speaking about the importance of statistics and data in the fisheries sector, Yvette Diei Ouadi, FAO’s Fishery and Aquaculture Officer and Secretary of WECAFC, stated, “Data collection and information systems were at the core of our work in the Climate Change Adaptation of the Eastern Caribbean Fisheries Sector Project (CC4Fish) and other Global Environmental Facility projects given the potential for effective assessment of the impacts, estimate comprehensive damages and losses of extreme events or gauge progress on the fisheries value when climate change adaptation measures are implemented.”
Across the WECAFC region, the Data Collection Reference Framework which is a capacity-building tool used as a reference standard to set up national data collection and information systems for all aquatic marine species is available for use. This important instrument can support the scientific mandate and priorities of the 2 subregional organisations (CRFM and Organisation for Fisheries and Aquaculture of Central America (OSPESCA).
Die Ouadi outlined numerous other FAO initiatives implemented across the region in the fisheries sector. These include measures to address occupational, safety and health and social nets, such as third-party liability insurance for fishing vessels and Health and Safety in the Dive Fisheries of key species in the WECAFC Region. Also included is the Shock responsive social protection strategy and action plan, like the one developed for small-scale fisheries under StewardFish (Developing Organisational Capacity for Ecosystem Stewardship and Livelihoods in Caribbean Small-Scale Fisheries) project, as a contribution to the Post 2021 Volcanic Eruption Livelihood Recovery Assistance for Fisherfolk in St Vincent and the Grenadines and safety-at-sea training for small-scale fishers in the OECS countries.
She stressed that accurate, relevant, and timely data compiled in a standard format facilitates status and trend monitoring, comparison, and analysis were all essential for promoting resource sustainability and the ethical growth of the aquaculture and fisheries sectors in the Caribbean. She added, “We are indebted to our fisherfolk and all the players in the fishing industry for the roles they play in reducing hunger. We recognise their invaluable contributions every day, but especially on World Fisheries Day. They are indeed our Food Heroes.”