World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers (WFF)

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World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers

On October 4-8th, 1999, the International Steering Committee of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers (WFF) convened for the first time in North America since its formation by commercial fishermen in New Delhi, India, in 1997. Currently there are 23 countries that have commercial fishing associations as members, including (in the U.S.) the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association (GFWA).

The Steering Committee is comprised of one representative of a commercial fishing association from each continent. Representatives from around the world attended the meeting. This meeting, the first of its kind in the U.S., also provided a wonderful opportunity for commercial fishermen from North America to meet their colleagues from other countries and to share in their mutual efforts to survive and assure a sustainable world fishery for the new millennium.

The full WWF meets only every three years. The function of the Steering Committee is to facilitate the formation and work of Regional Councils, contact potential new member organizations, draft a permanent organizational Constitution, and coordinate events leading to the world meeting in Brittany.

This was the first time a meeting of this profile of fishing associations from each continent had ever been held in North America. The meeting was a showcase for the comittment and diversity of fishing families around the world whose bonds include a common struggle for sustainable fisheries and a deep love for the oceans.

The following are excepts from an article published by Fishermen’s News (September, 1999 issue), authored by PCFFA’s President, Peitro Parravano, about WFF and its efforts worldwide.


The World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fishworkers

by Pietro Parravano, President

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

Nearly two years ago in New Delhi, India, fishing men and women from around the world came together with the mission of giving a voice to fishing families, a voice for small and medium-scale commercial fishermen owning and operating their own vessels, a voice for traditional and artisanal fishermen, and a voice to crew and shoreside workers in the fishing industry. As more and more decisions about global fishery resources and the lives of fishing men and women are made by aloof government bureaucrats and/or agents of large or multi-national corporations, the time had finally come for those of us who depend on fishing, those who care about fisheries and those who want to pass along this treasured profession to future generations to speak out and organize.

The World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fishworkers (WFF) was established at that meeting to uphold human rights and social justice for fishermen, who in some parts of the Earth are still beaten and killed for questioning the give-away of their fishing quotas to foreign fleets, or for opposing the establishment of aquaculture operations that destroy native fisheries, or for just protesting against ITQ schemes to privatize fisheries. But even for those of us living in first-world nations, where government and corporate actions are a little more subtle, the need to organize across national boundaries was apparent to protect against pollution, habitat destruction and fishing practices that are destructive. And, organization was needed to foster sustainable fishing on a global scale.

In its short existence, WFF has already been successful in spreading the word about abuses of fishermen (and fishery abuses) around the world, and in bringing international attention to some of the more egregious actions against fish, fishermen and fishing communities. Just this year, WFF’s network help publicize the killing of four Indian fishermen who had protested an illegal shrimp aquaculture operation. WFF also brought international attention to the beating by Chilean police of Humberto Milla, head of the Chilean fishermen’s organization, CONAPACH, for demonstrating against a government ITQ project. WFF is providing a forum for improving fisheries, such as proposals for standards of professionalism for fishermen. And, in its first year, WFF established November 21 as “World Fisheries Day” which was recognized by many national leaders, including President Clinton in a Presidential Proclamation.

WFF has set out 17 draft objectives that it will work for. Those are:

1. Protect, defend and strengthen the communities that depend on the fishery for their livelihoods.

2. Assist member organizations to secure and improve the economic viability and quality of life of fish harvesters, fishworkers and their communities.

3. Recognize, protect and enhance the role of women in the fishing economy and in the sustenance of the community.

4. Create an understanding of the resource as a common heritage of humanity to ensure, through sustainable fishing practices, conservation and regeneration of the marine and inland resources and ecosystems, that is passed on to future generations.

5. Protect fishing communities, fish resources and fish habitats, such as mangroves, from both land-based and sea-based threats — including displacement by tourism, pollution (especially the use of the sea as a dumping ground for toxic waste), destructive industrial aquaculture, overfishing and destructive fishing practices.

6. Establish and promote the rights of fishing communities to their customary territories, under their national jurisdiction in the coastal zone, for fishing and habitation.

7. Promote a legal regime that will ensure the traditional and customary rights of fishing communities to the fishery under their national jurisdiction.

8. Promote the primary role of fish harvesters and fishworker’s organizations in managing fisheries and oceans, nationally and internationally.

9. Promote food security both locally and worldwide through sustaining fish stocks for the future, and by reserving fish for human food.

10. Promote equitable representation of fish-harvesters and fishworkers’ organizations in all appropriate international and regional fora, and advocate for their recognition.

11. Play a monitoring role to ensure compliance by states and transnational corporations with relevant international agreements; oppose any trade agreements that threaten the livelihoods of fishermen.

12. Prevent the export of crises of resource collapse and of technologies and practices that lead to these crises.

13. Provide support for national and international struggles that are consistent with the objectives of the World Forum.

14. Encourage, assist and support fish-harvesters and fishworkers to organize where they are not organized.

15. Promote the right to social security, safe working conditions, fair income and safety-at-sea for fish-harvesters and fishworkers, including recognition for them as seafarers.

16. Improve the communication between fish-harvesters and the scientific community through exchange of knowledge and science.

17. Acknowledge and enhance the unique culture of fishing communities.

Membership in this global organization is open to fishing groups that comply with the WFF objectives, provided they are democratically constituted; this may include, but not be limited to, trade unions, associations, federations of cooperatives and aboriginal nations dependent on the fishery for their livelihood. They must represent one of the following types of groups:

1. Fish Harvesters, including: a) subsistence fishermen; b) artisanal fishermen; c) aboriginal or indigenous peoples who are fish-harvesters; d) traditional coastal fishermen; e) independent owner-operators of small and medium sized boats who hire their own crew; and f) crew members in this sector.

2. Crew members of fishing units other than those listed above.

3. Broadly-based organizations of fishing community women engaged in work in support of the fishery.

4. Fish workers who are engaged in activities related to the processing, sale or transport of fish.

The WFF’s roots trace back to an organizational meeting held in Ottawa in 1995. Following the actual establishment of the global organization in November 1997, the WFF’s Coordinating Committee met last autumn in Brussels and this October 1999, the Committee held its first meeting in the U.S. at Pt. Montara, in California.

The Coordinating Committee includes representatives from the commercial fisheries in Iceland, Mexico, Senegal, the Philippines, Chile, India, Canada and the U.S. In all, some 23 nations are currently represented on the WFF. PCFFA formally joined the WFF in October, 1997.

I serve as one of the two U.S. delegates to the WFF; the other is Angela Sanfilipo of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association (GFWA).

The meeting of the WFF Coordinating Committee could not be more timely; it comes not only on the heels of the killings in India and the beatings in Chile but with news of even more threats to global fisheries. From Scotland is news of the recent outbreak of amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) in the scallop fishery, blamed on toxins emanating from nearby salmon aquaculture operations. The influx of aquaculture operations around the world continues to threaten native fish populations the escape of Atlantic salmon, for example, from BC fish farms. And, even now in the U.S. our own National Marine Fisheries Service, oblivious to the impacts of improperly placed fish farms, is proposing in a new aquaculture policy paper massive taxpayer subsidies to promote that industry.

From Russia is news that environmental and fishery groups there have filed suit to stop proposed oil drilling by Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell in the Sea of Okhotsk, a pristine fishing ground in the Russian Far East where even some U.S. crab vessels fish. Last year, PCFFA presented a paper in the Russian fisheries publication, Northern Pacific No.2(6)/98, on U.S. fisheries experience with offshore oil drilling. It is likely Russian fishermen and conservationists will now be asking for international help to convince their government of the need to protect fishing grounds in the Sea of Okhotsk and areas off Sakhalin. The international oil companies have been aggressively lobbying to have Russia’s environmental legislation weakened for the past several years. In 1988, for example, with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Russian Ministry of Fuel & Energy, these multi-national corporations participated in a session in Moscow to generate regulations that would roll back the strict, zero waste discharge of the Russian Federal Water Code. (These requirements were adopted after the near collapse of the Caspian Sea fishery due to oil pollution).

On the east coast of North America are the recent reports of widespread fish kills at Prince Edward Island resulting from agricultural pesticides, and there were again outbreaks of pfisteria fish kills along the mid-Atlantic states, albeit less than last year. The latter kills have been associated with pollution emanating from the huge pig farms located in those states.

Finally, here in the U.S. all is not well, obviously, with our own fisheries. The recent lawsuit against NMFS and the regional fishery councils for failure to obey our own Sustainable Fisheries Act and, in particular, failure to protect essential fishery habitat is an indication that the world leader, too, has its problems.

Helping to bring a global focus to local and regional fishery problems may be the most effective way of resolving them. We have witnessed the positive aspects of international public opinion on human rights violations, child labor conditions, and environmental threats. Apartheid would still exist in South Africa were it not for international public opinion and outrage forcing governments, including the U.S., to change their policies against Pretoria’s abhorrent past practices. Moreover, much of the outpouring of support and private donations to Turkey’s earthquake victims would not have materialized without worldwide coverage of that tragedy. The WFF not only provides fishing organizations committed to sustainable fishing practices a support mechanism, it also provides them a means for spotlighting global attention on their local fishery problems.

You may wonder what the hell something going on in West Bengal or the Horn of Africa or Valpariso or Kamachatka has to do with squid fishing in Ventura or salmon trolling off Bodega or longlining blackcod out of Astoria or gillnetting in Bristol Bay. But fishing is now part of the global economy. I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s quip to John Hancock, “We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” And to paraphrase John Donne, our fishery here in the eastern North Pacific is not “an island entire of itself.”

The discussions of the WFF Coordinating Committee at Point Montara both were meaty and yeasty. It was both a learning session and an opportunity for participation. Part of it, too, was aimed at planning for the next full WFF meeting (the whole membership of the WFF meets every three years) scheduled for the Port of Loctudy, France on October 2-6, 2000. That meeting on the coast of Brittany will be hosted by the French fishermen members of WFF.

A second part of the planning revolved around the upcoming 2nd annual “World Fisheries Day,” which is to be held on November 21st. Last year, despite short notice, there were events held in a number of nations around this day. In the U.S. from Seattle to Gloucester there were, among other events, donations of fish by fishermen’s organizations to food banks in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday demand on those institutions. There was also a proclamation from the President of the United States.

In his 1998 “World Fisheries Day” statement President Clinton said, “As a coastal Nation, America has a proud fishing heritage, and we have long benefitted from the bounty of the oceans. Generations of our people have made their living from the sea, fishing cod off the rocky coast of New England, shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico, or Pacific salmon along the West Coast and Alaska.” In proclaiming November 21st as World Fisheries Day, he went on to say, “I call upon Government officials, fishing industry professionals, scientists, environmental experts and the people of the United States to observe this day and to recognize the importance of conserving the world’s fisheries, sustaining the health of the oceans and protecting their precious and abundant variety of life.”

With more time now for planning this year, it is hoped that more nations will participate in World Fisheries Day and, here in the U.S., that more events can be scheduled to bring public attention to the rich tradition, the positive contributions and the problems befalling our fishing families and communities.

Last updated 1/5/05