12 / 1997
Coastal areas support most of the world’s fisheries and fishing communities.Consequently the future and health of the fishery sector is inextricably linked to the health of the coastal ecosystem. Concern over coastal degradation and its impact on fisheries has long been expressed by fishworkers the world over.
To discuss these concerns a four-day Workshop followed by a two-day Symposium on Fisheries and Coastal Area Management was organised by ICSF in Madras in late 1996. This brought together social activists, representatives of fishworker and other people’s organisations from India, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka, as well as representatives of international organisations like the FAO. The Symposium was attended, apart from the Workshop participants, also by representatives of the governments of Sri Lanka, Maldives and India.
The Workshop was structured to facilitate the best possible participation and interaction. Since the group was diverse, and participants were knowledgeable on different issues, every effort was made to draw upon the resources within the group. The primary emphasis was on providing the space for participants to share their experiences, and to discuss their views on the conceptual and practical dimensions of Coastal Area Management (CAM)from the perspective of the fishery sector.
There were eight main sessions. In addition there was adequate space for participants to meet and discuss regional linkages and strategies on issues of common concern. At the start of the workshop, a representative from each country present provided an overview of coastal area issues within that country’s context. This was followed by presentations from fishworker representatives describing problems in their specific coastal areas. This session, in a sense, set the agenda for the rest of the programme.
In the session on fisheries-coastal zone interactions, participants split into groups to discuss and explore, among other things, the complexity and fragility of the coastal ecosystem, the threats to the coastal environment, the need for initiatives in CAM, the form of such initiatives, and the possible role fishworker organisations can play in this process. The plenary that followed tried to evolve a framework that reflected the issues raised in this session.
The next session stressed the importance of viewing natural resource issues in conjunction with those of property rights. Most countries accord greater sanctity to private property. Common property regimes are rarely recognised by the state, though they remain viable to manage natural resources.
Also discussed was fisheries management in the context of CAM. Management issues that stem from within the fishery sector have traditionally been addressed by fishery management institutions. However, some coastal area problems affecting fishery resources are generated outside the sector, as, for instance, industrial pollution. CAM programmes can potentially provide the space for fishery departments to play a role in their management.
A panel discussion on aquaculture brought out the disastrous environmental, social and economic consequences of the spread of export-oriented shrimp aquaculture in South Asia, despite which governments of the region continue to promote it. The session also highlighted the strong links between aquaculture and industrial fisheries. In another panel discussion, representatives from among the Workshop participants presented their views on the
institutional, legal and policy dimensions of CAM.
The final session of the Workshop provided information on international instruments of relevance to fisheries and CAM, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The Symposium that followed was a more public affair, with participation from several local persons representing the state government and organisations within Madras. Government representatives from Sri Lanka, India and Maldives provided information on CAM initiatives in their countries. The Symposium facilitated a dialogue between Workshop participants and representatives of governments in the South Asian region. It provided an opportunity to appraise policymakers about the concerns of the artisanal fisheries sector on issues related to
habitat degradation and CAM.
With the rapid degradation of the coastal environment in most parts of the world, fishworkers and coastal communities can no longer afford to be passive observers.
Their very livelihood, employment and way of life is at stake. Fishworker organisations must play an active role in drawing attention towards issues of coastal degradation. They must push for better management of coastal areas, and of activities in inland and offshore areas that impinge on the health of the coastal environment. For this fishworkers have to liase at the national and regional level, since often problems of coastal degradation can be tackled best on a regional basis. Workshops, such as the above, need to be organised in different regions to
enable fishworkers to become an effective lobbying group and to play a role in steering their own future.
Articles and files
SHARMA, Chandrika, Building on a new concept in. Samudra Report, 1996/11, 16