10 / 1997
The artisanal and small-scale fisheries sector contributes up to 25 per cent of the world marine fish production. Almost the entire catch is taken from the coastal waters. In addition, two-thirds of marine fish production come from stocks which pass their first and most vulnerable stages of their life cycle in coastal areas. The health of the coastal marine environment, therefore, is inextricably linked to the livelihood of over 120 million people who are directly or indirectly dependent on this sector.
Fishworker organizations the world over are concerned about the degradation of coastal habitats vital to fishery resources. The main causes of coastal pollution includes sewage and industrial wastes, residues of pesticides, herbicides, and organic fertilisers as well as feed and prophylactic matter in agriculture and aquaculture. Siltation occurs from discharge of mud into the coastal waters as a result of deforestation and excavation of sand and coral reefs. Turbidity of the waters from suspended silt dwindles fish. Destruction of mangroves and coral reefs destroys fish habitats and exposes vulnerable coastal communities to the fury of cyclones. Construction of upstream dams, for example, could prevent the migration of fish and could also reduce the freshwater discharge and nutrients into the coastal areas, indispensable for replenishing the feeding grounds of young fish.
Increasing competition for coastal tracks from activities such as tourism, aquaculture, agriculture, military use, human settlement, and industrial establishments threatens easy access to the fishing ground from land. There are instances of fishing communities getting evicted or relocated from their traditional bases as a result of competition from these activities. Forced relocation of fishing communities from villages with high demographic pressure also disrupts the subsistence fishing economies in some countries.
Environmental degradation of land can also add to the conflicts in the coastal waters. In countries prone to drought, for example, coastal fisheries provide seasonal employment to peasants and agricultural labourers. When droughts persist and land become uncultivable, those who come to the fishery continue to stay, and it adds to the pressure on coastal fisheries.
Permanent rigs and oil and gas related activities at sea and on land could block access to the fishing grounds. About 47 sq km of fishing grounds have been lost in the North Atlantic as a result of these activities. Oil installations also constitute hazards for fishing vessels and oil spills have tainted fish catches in several parts of the Mediterranean. Oil spills and bilge discharge from ship and fishing trawlers can be damaging to the fish stocks as demonstrated in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India.
Excessive fishing effort, and destructive fishing methods can lead to less fish at sea, which in turn could adversely affect the life and livelihood of coastal communities. Bottom trawling, for example, used in the shrimp adversely affects biodiversity of the coastal waters with adverse implications for the fishworkers. The use of dynamite and other explosives as well as the use chemicals like cyanide can devastate large tracts of coral reefs and also result in indiscriminate killing of marine life.
The advancement of the market economy is contributing to the indiscriminate abuse of nature with severe consequences especially for communities dependent upon natural resources. Being at the receiving-end of many sources of pollution the impact of coastal degradation are felt far more strongly by the fishing communities. These adverse impacts can not be addressed unless there are joint initiatives of peasants, small farmers, artisanal and small fishers and forest communities.
ICSF=International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, The Cebu Conference: Proceedings