"While fishing's role in helping people in the world's poorest communities feed themselves and stave off destitution cannot be understated, our studies reveal that despite the food and income that fishing provides many fisherfolk still live in poverty, while social ills and health problems are disturbingly prevalent in their communities," said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.
"Stronger efforts to tackle the diverse factors underlying this reality are needed, or else these communities will simply continue to tread water, surviving from day to day, living in poverty, and not managing local fish stocks as well as they might," he added.
Poverty undermines good management
The profile of poverty in fishing communities changes from place to place, but there are certain commonalities in the way it plays out.
Fishing communities are frequently characterized by overcrowded and sub-standard living conditions, low levels of education, and lack access to services like schools and health care and infrastructure such as roads or markets. Access to fishing grounds may or may not be secure, and alternative employment opportunities are few. Poor land tenure is also a problem; many fishers do not have the rights to the property where they live.
At the same time, fishing is one of the world's most hazardous occupations, meaning that what few assets families possess -- their boats and equipment -- are at constant risk. The loss of a working family member due to illness or injury can spell disaster.
Poverty and vulnerability in fishing communities, combined with other factors, such as their high level of mobility, also expose them to a number of other problems. FAO studies show that rates of HIV infection in fishing communities in many developing countries in Africa, Asia and Central America can run 5 to 14 times higher than those in the general population. (See report linked at right.)
In addition to the human toll it exacts, poverty in fishing communities also helps weaken management of the coastal and inland fish stocks upon which small-scale fishers depend.
"Management of local fish stocks in many of these areas will not improve until more is done to combat poverty among fisherfolk," cautions Nomura. "Poor people can rarely afford to defend their long-term interests of securing access to healthy fish stocks."
Social development is key
Stronger efforts to deal with education, income, and health issues in fishing communities would not only help fight poverty and social problems, according to FAO, but would have the additional benefit of making it easier for them to solve their fishery-related ones.
At the same time, granting small-scale fisheries clear legal access to fishing grounds and giving them greater responsibility in managing local fisheries would directly help deal with the problems of poor management and stock degradation. This needs to be complemented by training efforts aimed at building their capacity to do so.
Responding more effectively to poverty and social problems in small-scale fishing communities was discussed recently by 131 countries participating in the 27th meeting of FAO's Committee on Fisheries (5-9 March 2007). Calling for the “adoption of human rights principles” in social development and a “rights-based approach to managing small scale fisheries”, the countries flagged a number of considerations related to poverty in fishing communities for FAO's attention and called on the Organization to help organize a major international conference on the subject.
George Kourous, Media Relations - FAO
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