Illa de Arousa

There are altogether over two hundred million traditional fishermen in the world, all working on a small scale, and who depend on water ecosystems for their survival.

Traditional fishing provides food for over 1,500 million people all over the planet, incorporates women into the labour market, generates employment, keeps people in their own land, has very little impact on the ecosystem, emits very little carbon dioxide and redistributes fishing resources in a more balanced way.

Small scale traditional fishing reduces poverty and contributes to social, economic and environmental sustainability more than industrialised production systems. It is a genuine green economy, although much neglected by governments.

Marine and river ecosystems, which traditional fishermen depend on, are now under serious threat from overfishing, especially by industrial fleets, pollution etc. This situation is made even worse by the lack of attention and interest from governments, which increases traditional fishermen’s vulnerability, poverty and social exclusion and leads to the depopulation of local communities as people migrate to cities.

Despite its being sustainable, traditional fishing is losing the battle to preserve ecosystems and the rights of access to resources and human rights. It is satisfying to see that paragraph 175 in the end document from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (known as the Rio+20 Summit), held in June 2012, includes recognition of this sustainable production system; however, we  are concerned at the lack of a firm commitment to regulating the biodiversity of the deep sea. Given that this too directly affects traditional fishermen, we regret that paragraph 162 was so weakly expressed.

A new approach is needed to preserve and sustain our seas, lakes and rivers, especially if we wish to avoid the tragedy of ordinary people becoming an ecological, social and economic catastrophe. Centralised management models with the auditing and control of fisheries have failed.

We are convinced from our own experience that these lessons we have learnt form part of the solution for the sustainability of the sea. This new approach proposes the creation of jointly managed protected marine areas of fishing interest, with the main focal point on the setting up of spaces for dialogue between governments and users, i.e. the State and civil society. With this new approach both sides would share responsibility as equally as possible, with a view to the sustainable management of marine resources.

This system is successful, above all when users take part in the design. It is therefore participative, and bottom up; it is transparent and integrates traditional and ecological knowledge with scientific knowledge. Fishermen and civil society are thus no longer a problem for the government and instead become an ally, and vice versa.

This new governance of the sea is more efficient because it places users in a culture of joint responsibility for fishing resources. It can also be applied to all public assets. These experiences work on a small scale, but they could be extended to greater dimensions once the lessons learnt have been applied.

The sustainability of the oceans and their fishing resources necessarily depends on involving civil society in decision taking, above all when the resources being managed are common assets. At the end of the day we are dealing with a well-trodden pathway that gives rise to the economy of common assets and not just an economy of inequality, no matter how green we may try to make it look.