Guest post by Dr. Tony Charles, Saint Mary’s University.
It seems that one of the least-known facts in fisheries is that over ninety percent of them are small-scale, made up of people around the world going out fishing in small boats that stay close to shore, or even harvesting along the shore, people with close ties to their coastal communities and for whom fishing is both a livelihood and a way of life. That’s not to say that 90% of the fish caught in the world is from small-scale fisheries, because there are too many large factory-style boats out there, but if you count up the fisheries and the people in them, the vast majority are small scale.
There are many reasons why that fact may be little known. The lobbyists that influence fishery policy tend to be from industrial fisheries. The scientific methods that are developed to study fisheries tend to be oriented toward large scales. Internationally, organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fisheries as ‘sustainable’, have tended to favour large scale. And here in Canada, the federal government seems to place little value on small-scale fisheries, indeed hardly even recognizing some of them.
There is a need to better recognize and support small-scale fisheries, and happily there are some positive signs. This SmallScales.ca blog is a great initiative to put the focus back where it belongs. Not far from here, in New England, a meeting took place just a couple of weeks ago to plan better support for small-boat coastal fisheries, from conservation, livelihood and community perspectives. And on a global level, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which is responsible for tackling food and poverty issues, is increasing the attention it pays to small-scale fisheries, after years of neglect.
In fact, the FAO is working right now to develop a new approach to support small-scale fisheries around the world. This is responding to pressure from a growing presence of fishery organizations, such as the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP). These groups developed a statement in 2008 describing the ways that small-scale fisheries and fisherfolk need to be supported worldwide, and are now working at the UN to have their goals implemented.
That initiative internationally is good news for the many small-scale fisheries in Canada – from the longstanding lobster fishery and the newer Off the Hook CSF, to clammers along the coast, to aboriginal food fisheries right across the country. Fishermen here in Canada are connecting with their counterparts elsewhere in the world right now, contributing to the important efforts through the UN and FAO to support small-scale fisheries.
These connections are especially important now, because the Canadian government is posing a big threat to our small- scale fisheries. Not only has it failed to properly enforce the owner-operator policy that helps to maintain small-boat fishing, in a display of remarkable ignorance it essentially denies the existence of small-scale fisheries within Canada, or at best sees them as out-of-date and in need of ‘phasing out’. Of course, that defies common sense – this blog site is evidence of the big role of small-scale fisheries, especially as sustainable economic engines of coastal communities and as the heart of the social fabric of the coast.
So how can Ottawa better support our small-scale fisheries? This will be the topic on October 18, when we have the rare opportunity to hear WFFP fishery representatives from around the world together with those from the small-scale fisheries movement across Canada. This will take place in a public meeting at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (7:30pm) – a forum to discuss and publicize progress on the international scene and the challenges faced in Canada by our small-scale fisheries. You’re welcome to come and join the discussion.