Not alone: Supporting and building solutions with small-scale fishers
by Bruna Brito and Vanessa Eyng
By working together, small-scale fishers, their associations, unions or supportive organizations can organize and provide assistance to their members and their communities. When fishers' organizations are strong, they are vital to protect the interests of this valuable but often vulnerable sector.
Beach seining ©TBTI
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small-scale fisheries around the world has been overwhelming. In such an unprecedented time, individuals do not usually have access to resources or tools to cope with the situation. In many cases, individuals also do not have political power to fight for or to demand better assistance.
Collective actions and collaborative solutions are usually more successful in dealing with crisis. By working together, small-scale fishers, their associations, unions or supportive organizations can organize and provide assistance to their members and their communities. When fishers' organizations are strong, they are vital to protect the interests of this valuable but often vulnerable sector. Globally, there are many organizations working across the entire fish supply chain, from scientists and researchers to chefs and consumers, to seek specific solutions for the sector, key to food security, employment and livelihood.
During the COVID-19 crisis, many organizations and fishers’ groups rose early to respond to the challenges brought to the fishing sector. Some of them are helping to rearrange markets or promote online sales, as a practical way to ensure the continuity of an essential service. Others are making use of their networks to share critical information about prevention, health protocols, as well as gather data and document the impact of COVID-19 on small-scale fisheries. Many development agencies and donors are also financing initiatives to overcome the impacts of COVID-19 in different levels. Below, some examples of these efforts taking place around the world.
On an international level, there are good news coming from the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). In the statement made on April 20th, “The Rural Poor Stimulus Facility will provide input for the production of crops, livestock and fisheries to small-scale producers so that they can weather the immediate effects of the economic crisis, [and] facilitate access to markets to support small-scale farmers to sell their products in conditions where restricted movement is interrupting the functioning of markets, including providing logistics and storage support.” This serves as an important opportunity for small-scale food producers, including fishers, to have timely access to benefits, information, markets and assets.
FAO is sharing a collection of policy briefs, released on a day-to-day basis, to evaluate the pandemic's impact on different sectors across the food system. With a qualitative and quantitative assessment, these briefs could be helpful to provide information to policymakers and other organizations looking to help small-scale fisheries. The documents How is COVID-19 Affecting the Fisheries and Aquaculture Food Systems and The impact of COVID-19 on Fisheries and Aquaculture - A global assessment from the perspective of regional fishery bodies: Initial assessment - May 2020 are specific for the fishing sector.
The International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) is an international non-governmental organization working towards the establishment of socially equitable and environmentally sustainable fisheries. They are producing the Fish-COV, a website with information and resources to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fisheries and fishing communities
Regional efforts and country initiatives
The Artisanal Fishing in the Maghreb (Plateforme Maghrébine de la Pêche Artisanale) was created to support artisanal fishers in the Maghreb countries (Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia). In order to safeguard the health of artisan fishers during the COVID-19 pandemic, committees have been appointed to help inspect and prepare the boats for safe fishing practices, ensuring the health of fishers and the community.
The European Union has approved emergency measures to help farmers and fishers affected by the coronavirus pandemic so that they can guarantee the food supply. Country-level efforts are also observed. For instance, in Cyprus, the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research offers financial support to artisanal fishers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. The money is an essential asset to help this vulnerable portion of society. In Spain, the Spanish Fisheries Confederation has decided to create a crisis committee to monitor the situation of the fishing activity of the Spanish fleet, looking to ensure the supply of fisheries products to the population.
In Brazil, fishers from all over the country, scientists and supporters of small-scale fishers created an observatory group. They post daily updates on the scenario of contamination and impact. As a strategy of knowledge mobilization, they also produce podcasts answering questions from fishers.
Government agencies, such as Instituto Pesca in São Paulo, are also promoting safe fishing practices. Besides offering up-to-date information on their website, Instituto Pesca has created a channel on the app Telegram to inform and promote awareness about fake news regarding the COVID-19. In the state of Bahia, the agency Bahia Pesca produced guidelines to protect artisanal fishers, distributing it through the app WhatsApp. The initiative also seeks to encourage the consumer to buy from local fishers.
In Canada, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, is gathering and distributing up-to-date information about the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to keep valuable content in a centralized channel, providing relevant information to the fishing community. They also highlight concerns from the fishery communities and try to convey their message to the federal and provincial governments. The Newfoundland and Labrador Fish Harvesting Safety Association (NL-FHSA), in collaboration with other institutions, have just released a COVID-19 Safe Work Practices protocol.
In British Columbia, a group of active fishers prepared safety protocols, focusing on rural coastal communities, First Nations, and fish harvesters. “The protocols offer practical instructions covering everything from quarantine time and pre-season preparations to best practices while at sea. They include guidelines for safely offloading the catch and re-supplying with fuel and food, instructions on dealing with non-COVID health issues while at sea, and recommendations to communities on how they can safely support fishermen.”
In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, similar initiatives are happening. The Maritime Fishermen's Union, an organization that represents over 1,200 independent inshore owner-operator fishers, releases essential information regarding the COVID-19, such as safety practices and government actions.
In Prince Edward Island, the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, an organization representing core fishers, opened a survey to its members. Their goal is to promote a democratic debate regarding the issues fishers are experiencing due to COVID-19, taking those concerns to the government.
Coastal Routes Radio, based in Guelph, Ontario, started a new podcast series: Social FISHtancing. They are sharing stories about the impacts of COVID-19 on North America’s coastal fisheries and fishing communities, in an open space to other fishers across Canada and the U.S. to connect and share their concerns.
Similar actions are happening in the United States. The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance is gathering all essential information and resources to help small-scale fishers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In their website, there is information on a range of assistance programs, such as housing assistance, grants for job creation and retention or economic assistance.
Women of Fishing Families are offering emergencial assistance funding, to cover utility bills, business expenses, or other household costs up to $250 per household. In addition, they have grocery and gas gift cards available for any family that needs food or gas to get to work. In the same way, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Holy Redeemer Conference, and short term financial assistance from the Shaw Fund for Mariner's Children.
The Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund is a community-wide project providing assistance in covering vital household expenses (mortgage, rent, utilities, for example) to year-round Chatham residents. The town has historically been a fishing community.
Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association is gathering critical information for small-scale fishers during the pandemic, in health and in financial terms. They are also collecting donations to support those in need.
On a national level, the National Fishermen is promoting small scale fishers from across the US. Because of the restrictions of physical distancing, their initiatives are trying to connect consumers and fishers, helping those affected with reduced market demand and loss in revenue, using marketing strategies.
Local Catch, as an already established network, has the goal to connect buyers and fishers in North America. They recently organized webinars, gathering key actors to share experiences, potential solutions and information on how to access governmental support and funds.
Written by Bruna Brito and Vanessa Eyng
Bruna Brito is a Memorial University international student who has been hired as part of the COVID-19 Job Initiative, a joint effort between OFI Module I, Too Big To Ignore, and the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program. Vanessa Eyng has acted as a supervisor to the group of students throughout the writing process.