For the past six years delegates from 98 countries have hammered away at a document with the catchy title ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries’. Sponsored by the FAO, it is in its final draft, heading toward presentation to the FAO Fisheries Committee next month.
Canadian delegates have participated throughout, helping to create what is surely one of the more idealistic and humane documents of international cooperation. Now, suddenly, Canada has withdrawn its support for the document, jeopardizing its future.
Ninety percent of fisheries are small-boat, family-owned operations, landing about 2/3 of all fish caught, and providing protein for billions of people. However, over the past decades, nations have increasingly supported industrial fishing and aquaculture at the expense of small-scale fisheries.
The Guidelines try to rectify this imbalance. They focus on human rights, cultural concerns, and Indigenous rights, and they emphasize the need for gender equity and equality. They invoke the need for the precautionary approach, ecosystem-based management, community-based co-management, and the rule of law. They emphasize that priority should be given to small-scale fisheries communities, and that with recognition of such tenure rights come responsibilities.
They also recognize that the real world has become one too often characterized by poverty, violence, corruption, crime, and economic abuse of women, and that coastal communities also face the accumulating stresses of climate change, pollution, coastal erosion, and destruction of coastal habitats.
That is what makes this document so valuable to the world. It is a model of what could be, and of what should be. It is, in the face of all that is wrong and threatening, a defense of the sustainability of small-scale fisheries and fishing communities, a defense of the poor and the marginalized, and a defense of women’s rights.
It is worth reading.
So what now, at the last minute, is the problem that Canada’s Harper Government has with the document? It seems that the most recent draft includes wording, proposed by Mauritania, that calls for the protection of fishermen “in situations of occupation“. The Harper Government apparently views this is as a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli intrusion, and Harper’s pro-Israeli political stance trumps any support he might have for improving global human rights and sustaining small-scale fisheries and communities.
In recent years the Harper Government has made clear its contempt for the UN, for other global agreements such as on fire arms and climate change, and within Canada for environmental protection and even for democratic processes. But this one is really beyond the pale.
The Canadian delegates are of course deeply embarrassed, and hope for a resolution. A number of Canadian fisheries scientists have written a concerned ‘Open Letter to the Government’. But we in Canada need a bigger solution. We need a government that recognizes we are part of a troubled world beset by human injustice and environmental threats. We need a government that believes in social justice and sustainability.
Canada should be a model to the world, not a pariah.
We need a new government, as soon as possible.