Coastal fishers caught between custom and individual rights

Tuesday July 21, 2020 Written by RNZ Published in Environment
Fishing at the reef, near the Fishing Club. 20041702/ MELINA ETCHES Fishing at the reef, near the Fishing Club. 20041702/ MELINA ETCHES

Talks on protecting the rights of small-scale Pacific fishers have revealed conflicts between customary and statutory laws.

A virtual meeting hosted by the Pacific Community exposed how constitutional rights of the individual could be at odds with indigenous practices.

The meeting included the Ministry of Marine Resources representatives from the Cook Islands, and other fisheries representatives from Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

A new legal study on human rights in coastal fisheries and aquaculture compares national legislation with gender and human rights commitments made by each country in their coastal fisheries and aquaculture sector.

It shows that traditional and customary practices are paramount to the sustainable management of vulnerable coastal fisheries, but challenges still exist in protecting the rights of small-scale fishers in the Pacific.

These include the right to secure tenure, access to natural resources and the right to an adequate standard of living – including the right to food; the right to participate in decision making by all stakeholders; the right to a healthy environment; the right to non-discrimination and gender equality; and the right to safe and decent work, including market access, social security and safety at sea for fish workers.

The Pacific Community’s legal adviser Ariella D’Andrea said member countries were making progress in recognising small-scale fishers’ rights.

But there were more opportunities to adopt legislation that enabled both individual and community rights.

The Community’s rights specialist Josephine Kalsuak added: “A human rights-based approach to coastal fisheries and aquaculture is crucial to promote the participation of fishers in decision-making.” 

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