Honoring Fisheries Activist and Malaysian Airlines Passenger Chandrika Sharma

This post comes to us from Brett Tolley, NAMA’s community organizer. 

At NAMA we were greatly disheartened last week to hear that Chandrika Sharma, a tireless advocate for the human rights of small scale fisheries and gender equity, was one of the 239 passengers on the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared while crossing the South China Sea.


Before hearing the tragic news I was unfamiliar with the full depth of Dr. Sharma’s work, although I did know of her role as the Executive Secretary for the International Collective in Support of Fish Workers (ICSF). I also knew the ICSF’s organizational values and vision as something we at NAMA share and aspire toward.

As someone humbly involved in the world of community activists who are working toward healthier oceans, better conditions for fishing communities, and a just seafood system, learning of Dr. Sharma’s vision and passion has been incredibly uplifting and inspiring, despite a heavy heart as the investigation for the missing plane continues for nearly two weeks. Sharma is a true Revol-oceanary.

The unresolved crisis surely keeps family, friends, and concerned people around the world offering prayers of hope and peace. Amidst a dark time I wanted to pause for a moment to honor Dr. Sharma and offer some light on many of the inspiring ideas she champions and works towards.

Human Rights

A human rights framework ought to be the foundation of fisheries management because it is key toward creating the basis for individuals and collective action, which we need to achieve positive change.

A set of values and principals for human rights already exists! We can look to many United Nations charters like the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights where it states that we must secure the freedom, wellbeing and dignity of all people; and protect, promote, and fulfill the rights to life and health, food and water, housing and property, a healthy environment, and culture for everyone.

Everyone, including disadvantaged groups, have these legally mandated and recognized rights, and the basis to claim them, not as charity, but as a human right.

Community Access

Small-scale fisheries play a BIG role around the world and account for over half of the globe’s wild caught seafood. Small-scale fishing communities continue to be threatened by both industrial fisheries and the gentrification of coastal communities caused by tourism and industrial development.

Chandrika Sharma (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) (English) from Simone Ciani on Vimeo.

We must collectively emphasize that fisheries are primarily about a model of food production and we must ask ourselves, what kind of food production model do we want?

Its clear that small-scale fishers and farmers are best poised to produce food most sustainably now and into the future.

Women Fishers

Women account for over half of the global workers involved in small-scale fisheries. If we are to care for small-scale fisheries we must strengthen and protect women’s rights to secure access to lands and to fish resources for processing, trading, and food.

We must also look at the social barriers that discriminate against women and prevent us from achieving gender equality.

This pause for reflection during a difficult time helps me to reaffirm my own commitment in this work, which as Dr. Sharma knows very well, is bigger than fishing communities and health of the ocean. It’s about promoting a world with more peace, justice, and human rights for all – something to keep in our minds and hearts especially now.

To offer your support to Dr. Sharma’s family, her colleague, Ramya Rajagopalan, has kindly offered to pass on messages to her family [ramya.rajagopalan@gmail.com].