Article | 23 Juin, 2022

The other ocean conference: an invitation to listen and join the plight of the Ocean Peoples

CEESP News: Paula Satizábal1 & Philippe Le Billon2
Ocean peoples are resisting the criminalization, dispossession and exclusion of small-scale fisheries. Join and listen to the plight of Ocean Peoples at the Conference of the Ocean People, on the 26th, 28th, 30th June, at 4:00pm CET, as a counter parallel event to the United Nations Ocean Conference 2022.

We stand in solidarity with the World forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) who are resisting the expansion of a blue economy anchored on the dispossession, ocean grabbing and exclusion of ocean peoples via coastal development, extractive industries, exclusionary conservation and the criminalization of small-scale fisheries. 

Such a blue economy is not only threatening biodiversity and marine ecosystems, but our societies. Our oceans are deeply social and political spaces, central to the lives and worlds of communities and groups of people, including Indigenous, black and ethnic minorities as well as women, children and elders that engage and relate with the sea as their home and in other meaningful ways. The WFFP and the NFF, have been sharing their concerns and raising their voices against the existential dangers of progressing a blue growth agenda that violently excludes and violates the rights of ocean peoples (see, for example, report on Ocean Grabbing and International Tribunal on the Impacts of the Blue Economy).

Driven by a growth agenda, many governments have pursued coastal and fisheries management policies that are hurting small-scale fishers and their communities. Fishery policies prioritizing industrial catch, license earnings, and foreign investments such as fishmeal factories are plagued by top-down approaches deepening inequalities. Biased or ineffective enforcement practices disproportionately hurt small-scale fishers compared to industrial operators using evasion techniques, fraudulent schemes, corruption or outright political pressure.

Major fishing countries, especially those with large distant waters fishing fleets, have also been criticized for not doing enough to punish fisheries-related offenses by their own vessels and companies and hold beneficial owners accountable. In contrast, overly stringent fisheries regulations are frequently enforced on small-scale fishers with little formal education and financial means to secure legal licenses. This further deepens the injustices that small-scale fishers suffer from, including the impacts of industrial scale illegal fishing and coastal development schemes on historically marginalized groups. 

Internationally, some measures such as carding and seafood certification, support for drastic conservation schemes, and top-down assistance in militarized enforcement have also targeted small-scale fishing communities already made more vulnerable by industrial-scale fishing.

The UN Ocean Conference should listen to and work in solidarity with small-scale fishing communities seeking to assert their rights and improve their livelihoods. For this, member states need to consider the ways through which their regulations and enforcement practices exacerbate inequalities in fisheries, criminalize small-scale fishers, and contribute to human rights abuses against small-scale fishing communities.

We must ask who is benefiting and who is being excluded from the United Nations Ocean Conference 2022, in other words, whose Ocean Conference is it, if the stories and voices of ocean peoples remain in the background, while placing the economic interests of private actors at the center? 

We invite everyone working on marine governance, small-scale fisheries, biodiversity conservation, social and environmental justice, and everyone that cares about the ocean to support the 3-days Conference of the Ocean People, which will take place online on the 26th, 28th, 30th June, at 4:00pm CET, as a counter parallel event to the United Nations Ocean Conference 2022. This will provide not only an opportunity to more forcefully bring the voices of ocean peoples, but also to recognize their crucial role as ocean defenders.

There is no blue or environmental justice without people, there should not be an Ocean Conference that is not centered on Ocean Peoples.

For conference updates and further information on twitter, follow: @C_OP2022.


1Postdoctoral Researcher at the Alfred-Wegener-Institut Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung (AWI) / Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg (HIFMB), Germany.

2Professor at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, Canada and CEESP member