While traditional and customary fishing practices are paramount to the sustainable management of vulnerable coastal fisheries in the Pacific island countries, challenges may still exist in protecting the rights of small-scale fishers in the region, according to a recent study by the Pacific Community (SPC).
This week, SPC led online consultations with representatives from Cook Islands, Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga to discuss the key findings from the legal study on human rights in coastal fisheries and aquaculture.
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.
The study compares national legislation with gender and human rights commitments made by each country in their coastal fisheries and aquaculture sector. 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 – including the right to food; the right to participate in decision making by all stakeholders; the right to a healthy environment; the right to non-discrimination and gender equality; and the right to safe and decent work, including market access, social security and safety at sea for fish workers. ADVERTISEMENT
In most countries, there is formal recognition of several human rights principles in the constitution, but their actual implementation and contextualization might sometimes 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. “SPC acknowledges that member countries are making progress in securing the rights of small-scale fishers with extensive constitutional recognition and implementing legislation,” said Ariella D’Andrea, SPC Coastal Fisheries and Aquaculture Legal advisor. “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.”
Josephine Kalsuak, SPC senior human rights advisor, recognized 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 fisher’s 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.”
The three-day virtual meeting brought together senior fisheries officers, legal officers, representatives from the national gender agencies and SPC's human rights focal points, as well as partners such as 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 as well as Regional representatives of World Wildlife Fund and Food and Agriculture Organization.