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Creating opportunities in the face of challenge:

A COVID-19 Job Initiative

OFI Module I supports international students during the current pandemic to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on fisheries and fishing communities of Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere.

The unprecedented situation caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic certainly has an impact on all sectors of society, but some appear to be even more vulnerable to its effects. While most are laying off employers, OFI Module I lead Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee decided to hire those who were amongst the most affected: international students who had lost their part-time jobs, were not eligible for government assistance and who, in some cases, could not return home.

Also particularly vulnerable during the health crisis are small-scale fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador and around the world, who have had their access to fisheries resources and markets restricted, their concerns about health and safety at sea and on land exacerbated, and who now, more than ever, need support for staying afloat while sailing in a sea of uncertainties. How have fishers and their communities dealt with the current situation? What can we learn from those stories and initiatives? What do they tell us about the vulnerability of coastal communities, and at the same time, about their ability to cope with change?

The COVID-19 Job Initiative brings together a need to better understand how COVID-19 has impacted small-scale fisheries and an opportunity to support international students who are in a situation of vulnerability. "We received notification from the university that all field research has been suspended but the university is encouraging us to think about innovative ways to do research using existing data", said Dr. Chuenpagdee on an interview to CBC News. The innovation came as a joint effort between OFI Module I, Too Big To Ignore, the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program and others, through which a multidisciplinary team of over 40 international students from Memorial University was hired to help unveil the various ways in which the pandemic has affected small-scale fisheries not only in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, but also in Canada and across the globe. The students also investigate the role of different fisheries organizations in providing support to fisheries communities, and their strategies in response to changes.

Before I joined this project, I was not so familiar with fisheries but over the past three weeks, I have learned a lot. From what I can tell, small-scale fishers are mostly self-employed and they tend to be firmly rooted in local communities; by learning about these industries we can help them grow.

Elahe Vaziri from Iran, Master's student in Environmental System Engineering and Management at Memorial University

The diverse group of Memorial University's international students from Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Iran, Jamaica, Morocco, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and other places around the world were mostly new to fisheries when they took on the new task, but that hasn't prevented them from diving deep into it. 


Now on their fourth week of work, the group has already made an impressive contribution to the projects they have been part of: they have put together a database with over 150 news articles on the impacts of COVID-19 to small-scale fisheries, and initiatives from almost 30 fisheries organizations in support of the sector. They have also written their own news articles, contributed case studies to our partner's Information System on Small-Scale Fisheries, gathered information on how fisheries policies have changed in response to the pandemic, and are investigating how small-scale fisheries interact with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in over 20 countries.  

However, the effects of this job initiative go beyond its tangible deliverables. In the words of one of the students who joined the initiative, "it has been it has been an eye-opening experience so far in discovering stories about the severity of the impact this pandemic has on fishing communities across different countries." The COVID-19 Job Initiative has also brought students from a variety of disciplines a new perspective on small-scale fisheries.

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OFI Module I lead Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee started the COVID-19 Job Initiative hoping to provide an opportunity to international students while increasing the knowledge about how small-scale fisheries have been impacted by the current pandemic.

I have been assigned to research about Canadian fisheries, and I have already learned a great deal about them. So far, I have seen most stories to focus on large-scale fishery plants rather than small-scale fisheries. All I can say, small-scale fisheries are a neglected group and should have a voice to reach out for help.

Marzana Monefa from Bangladesh, Master's student in Biochemistry at Memorial University

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