At virtual meeting, 7 Pacific countries discuss how legislation can better protect the rights of small-scale fishers

Noumea

This week, the Pacific Community (SPC) led online consultative discussions with representatives from seven Pacific Island countries  (Cook Islands, Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga) around the key findings of a recently conducted legal study on human rights in coastal fisheries and aquaculture, which complements the gender assessments undertaken by SPC 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 in 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 – 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.

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 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.

The virtual discussions were intended to provide a consultative platform for countries to explore and validate the key findings and recommendations of the study, while helping the participants enhance their understanding of human rights and gender concepts, and their relevance in the coastal fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

Over three days, the 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 (SPREP), WorldFish, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Fiji, the University of the South Pacific (USP), the Wildlife Conservation Society as well as Regional representatives of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“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 Adviser.  “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, SPC Senior Human Rights Adviser 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.”

This online event is a joint initiative of the New Zealand-funded Effective Coastal Fisheries Management Project and the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) programme – both operating under the SPC Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems Division (FAME) – in close collaboration with the SPC Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), the SPC Social Development Programme (SDP) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Media contacts:
Toky Rasoloarimanana, Communications Officer, FAME, Pacific Community [email protected], Mob: +687  89 93 94
Ariella D’Andrea, Legal Adviser (Coastal Fisheries and Aquaculture), FAME, Pacific Community (SPC)  [email protected]
Natalie Makhoul, Gender and Human Rights Specialist, PEUMP Project, Pacific Community [email protected]

About Us:
The Pacific Community has been supporting sustainable development in the Pacific, through science, knowledge and innovation since 1947. It is the principal intergovernmental organization in the region, owned and governed by its 26 member countries and territories.

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