In the heart of the Pacific, the bustling halls of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Noumea, New Caledonia echoed with the vibrant voices of coastal fisheries and aquaculture experts. Representatives from the 20 Pacific Island countries and territories gathered on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, creating a rich tapestry of diverse experiences and perspectives.
The Pacific Community’s main room itself is a powerful symbol, representing a reversed traditional canoe from the Pacific. In this shared space, it was as if everyone was on the same canoe, navigating the currents of challenges and opportunities together.
Amidst this gathering, Ms Tarusila Veibi, a passionate advocate for Community-Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) from Fiji, took the stage.
“Being a woman doesn’t stop us from talking and sharing our ideas about our coastal fisheries. But we must always use our own channel because we can’t have direct access to the conversation. We are always left behind; we are not part of the decision-making,” expressed Ms Tarusila, her words echoing the sentiments of many.
The room seemed to hold its breath, enveloped in the palpable emotion of her words. With courage and determination, she shared the difficulties and challenges she faced as a woman fisher, striving to make her voice heard. Her struggles mirrored the broader challenges women in her community encountered on their journey toward meaningful participation in CBFM.
Meanwhile, a profound moment unfolded as the Vanuatu ladies Ms. Rose Gere and Ms Leisavi Daisy Kenneth, laid down their traditional mat on the conference room floor. In this simple yet powerful gesture. They shared stories that transcended words, stories woven into the fabric of their identity, shaped by the ebb and flow of Pacific waters.
As the session unfolded, Wallis and Futuna representative, Mr Mikaele Neti, vocalised his support, "Continue what you do, please. It's invaluable. We truly need that kind of commitment and dedication here in the Pacific."
In this vibrant atmosphere, the session became more than a discussion. It evolved into a collective narrative of resilience, shared challenges, and the unwavering spirit of those dedicated to shaping a more inclusive and sustainable future for coastal fisheries across the Pacific.
This session was part of the broader Community-Based Fisheries Dialogue (CBFD), a two-day meeting held independently within the SPC Regional Technical Meeting on Coastal Fisheries and Aquaculture in the Pacific. The CBFD serves as a crucial regional platform for civil society organisations (CSOs) and other non-state actors (NSAs) to advise on key needs and issues related to coastal fisheries resources across the Pacific.
The dialogue facilitates the exchange of experience and lessons learnt from community-based initiatives and fosters dialogue with the government, contributing to a more inclusive and informed approach to coastal fisheries management. It underscores the commitment to Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) in the Pacific as one of the key outcomes of the Pacific Framework for Action on CBFM, ensuring that the voices of women and marginalised groups are central to the dialogue on the sustainable future of Pacific fisheries.
Meanwhile, continuing the commitment to fostering collaboration, the 3rd Community-Based Fisheries Dialogue (CBFD3) unfolded during the Sixth SPC Regional Technical Meeting on Coastal Fisheries and Aquaculture. With robust participation of at least 37 representatives from Civil Society Organisations/Non-State Actors groups actively involved in community-based fisheries, including representatives from fisheries agencies and other observers, the dialogue was characterised by engaging formats such as plenary sessions, talanoa discussions, and breakout group interactions.
This was to build on the momentum from CBFD2, CBFD3 predominantly centred on actively engaging and amplifying the voices of CSO/NSA groups.
Additionally, some of the key issues for the 2024 Small Scale Fisheries Summit have been identified, including the imperative to share lessons learnt, address challenges of inclusion within traditional governance systems, combat destructive fishing practices, enhance post-harvest processes, promote gender equality and social inclusion, and align global policies with regional and community-level initiatives.
This comprehensive agenda underscores SPC’s commitment to sustainable fisheries management and community well-being.
Ms. Melesila Welert, a proud Tongan woman, provided a compelling conclusion to the session: "A bird needs two wings to fly, and that is woman and man. As a grandmother and a mother, I can see it makes a difference when you think and do things that way." Her words resonated, emphasising the importance of gender equity and social inclusion in the fisheries space.
The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme addresses some of the most serious challenges faced by the region. Among these are the increasing depletion of coastal fisheries resources; the threats to marine biodiversity, including negative impacts of climate change and natural disasters; the uneven contribution of oceanic fisheries to national economic development; the need for improved education and training in the fisheries sector; and the need to mainstream a rights-based approach and to promote greater recognition of gender issues within the sector. This seven-year programme is funded by the European Union (EUR 35 million) and the government of Sweden (EUR 10 million). The programme provides direct assistance to regional organisations to support regional and national level activities in the Pacific.