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Slow Fish - Le poisson bon, propre et juste

Slow Fish @ Terra Madre 2012: Zero Draft of the FAO


Author: Tanya Gervasi, journalist, graduate of the University of the Studies in Gastronomic Sciences (


"Small scale fishing" has caught the attention of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) which has decided to write up a set of "Guidelines to ensure sustainable small scale fishing" to be presented in 2014 to the governments of 191 countries. Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre (Turin, 25 - 29 October) was the occasion to present the Zero Draft to the Slow Fish network and to discuss some of the more important points together with those who are directly interested.


The most consistent expectation is that the governments take these guidelines into consideration and change at least a part of their domestic policies to take into account the margins of society, or the fishing communities that nobody talks about and who nobody truly helps. "There is a need to instruct the public on the importance of small scale fishermen, and not only on a socio-economic level. These people are not represented, much less protected", according to Lena Westlund, consultant for the FAO. Unfortunately it often happens that the governments say that they're on the side of the little guy, that these people are included in their development policies, but the facts almost never line up with the promises and, as Dutch fisherwoman Barbara Rodenburg attests, "every year land is taken from the small fishing communities and new sanctions are introduced".


A fundamental point of the guidelines is the execution of instructive policies aimed at respect for the environment that will help give value to the traditional techniques and practices of the area, in such a way as to allow a healthy development of the community. In this light Seynabou Ndoye, who works with women in the production of fish products in Senegal, recounts that in his country the fishermen are for the most part illiterate and they usually follow the traditions of their families. The biggest problem is that since they are not educated, due to the lack of an adequate infrastructure, they are easily exploited by the large corporations. Furthermore the creation of places where they can leave their children during working hours would ease the daily lives of women, who in some zones are forced to work from a very young age.


Seth Macinko, professor at the University of Rhode Island, underlined the importance of the correct terminology in these kinds of documents. When one talks about rights it is important to specify what rights are in question.


Another point touched on by the guidelines is that of the chain of value; distribution is, in fact, a common problem for the small fishing communities. Not only do they have difficulty in selling their products directly, but they don't even see their work recognized in any way : neither the labels nor the certificates show the true provenance of the fish. The guidelines must recognize the importance of everyone in the value chain. If we want to improve the marine situation it is fundamental that the small fishing communities acquire direct control of their products along the entire production chain and that their rights are recognized locally.


As regards the aspect of community development, Alain le Sann has noted that when there are environmental problems it is often the least powerful who are given all of the responsibility. In the case of small scale fishing, it is vital to consider all of the elements, including those tied to land development, that have a direct impact on the oceans. It is also important to keep in mind that fishing does not only affect fishermen, but also ship builders, net makers, the fishermen's families and many others.


On the other hand, Lidér Gongora Farias of Ecuador, who works on a community project tied to the reintroduction of the mangroves in the North of the country, says that the language of these documents is not adapted to the public that he is trying to involve because it is too technical and conceptual. Rather than starting from the top, Lidér would like to see the fishermen and the collectors (of mollusks and crabs) organize themselves to come up with requests directly without the mediation of large institutions that don't have the ability to truly guarantee the participation of the base.


It is always very difficult to talk about rights, justice and values with such different partners and on a topic that transcends national borders, according to Nicole Franz, secretary for the program on the guidelines for small scale fishing. In this light the FAO has put together a general document that tries to include everything that the national governments need to take into account when they form their political reforms. Unfortunately these are only suggestions that are subject to each State. In any case it is a definite step forward and the hope is that they will be taken into consideration as the commitment to change is ever more constant.


Click here to download the complete workshop summary











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