Conference tackles human rights and fisheries

Samoa this week took part in an online discussion with representatives from other Pacific Island countries about the key findings of studies conducted on human rights in coastal fisheries and aquaculture. 

The Pacific Community (S.P.C.) announced the consultations in a statement this week that confirmed other participating countries included Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

The virtual discussions were intended to provide a platform for the countries to explore and validate the key findings and recommendations of the research. 

Over three days, the meeting brought together senior fisheries officers, legal officers, representatives from national gender agencies and the S.P.C.'s human rights focal points. 

The representatives discussed matters relating to the key findings of a recently conducted legal study on human rights in coastal fisheries and aquaculture, which complements gender assessments undertaken by S.P.C. and partners since 2017.

This study compares national legislation with gender and human rights commitments made by each country in their coastal fisheries and aquaculture sector.

Its conclusions show that, while traditional and customary practices are paramount to the sustainable management of vulnerable coastal fisheries, challenges may still exist in protecting the rights of small-scale fishers across the Pacific.

Five main areas were addressed in the study: the right to secure tenure, access to natural resources and the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to participate in decision making; the right to a healthy environment; the right to non-discrimination; and the right to a safe and decent work, including market access, and safety at sea for fish workers.

The study reveals that most countries reviewed have a dual legal system, which combines customary law and formal, statutory law. 

This approach allows for the protection of both indigenous culture and the human rights of every individual.

In most countries, there is a formal recognition of several human rights principles in the constitution, but their actual implementation and placement in context can be a challenge.

Suggested solutions include the development of training and awareness-raising programmes as well as the inclusion of a formal requirement that traditional practices respect the rights contained in the constitution.

The S.P.C. Coastal Fisheries and Aquaculture Legal Adviser, Ariella D’Andrea, spoke on behalf of S.P.C., acknowledging progress in securing the rights of small-scale fishers with extensive constitutional recognition.

“The study identifies additional opportunities for countries to adopt enabling legislation for the full enjoyment of fundamental rights by small-scale fishers and local communities,” she added.

Josephine Kalsuak, S.P.C. Senior Human Rights Adviser recognised that “a human rights-based approach to coastal fisheries and aquaculture is crucial to promote the participation of fishers in decision-making.”

She added that rights-based approaches also ensure services are tailored to fishers’ needs and are provided in partnership with them. It means that fishers, their families and communities are respected, informed, engaged, supported and treated with dignity and compassion.

This online event is a joint initiative of the New Zealand-funded Effective Coastal Fisheries Management Project and the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership programme. Both are operating under the S.P.C. Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems Division and other areas of the organisation. 

Partners included the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, WorldFish, the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Fiji, the University of the South Pacific, the Wildlife Conservation Society and regional representatives of the World Wildlife Fund and Food and Agriculture Organisation. 

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