Talking Fisheries Activism with Naseegh Jaffer

Dateline: Cape Town, South Africa

Author: Paul Molyneaux

The International Planning Committee (IPC) comprised of representatives from grassroots organizations around the world, brings the voices of small scale food producers, including fishermen, to the highest levels of global policy making. The committee meets every two years and this year was unique in that representatives from the United States, including this reporter, joined those from the officially recognized regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, South Pacific, and Latin America.

As a fisheries focused delegate from the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, I spoke with Naseegh Jaffer who is secretary of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and a member of the IPC working group on fisheries, about how U.S. fishermen can participate in global policy making that will affect them whether they realize it or not.

The first issue that needs to be settled as U.S. and Canadian organizations join this global policy making process through the IPC, is whether they will form a new officially recognized region of North America, or join with Latin America as The Americas.

“The first consideration is who will be join the IPC,” said Naseegh, a native of South Africa. “Organizations that work globally like the WFFP, should be the first to become members. Other organizations that work regionally need to consider whether it is important for them to have a global voice, and if it is, they too should join.”

Once U.S. and Canadian organizations decide they want to participate they will need to think about how they want to organize regionally.

“This is a political discussion that they will need to have,” said Naseegh. North America is better resourced and more deeply rooted in the neo-liberal agenda. The North Americans could join with Latin America and as one region, but I think it would be good as its own region. It would be proving to the world that there are progressive organizations in North America, and this is something we need to acknowledge, support and encourage.”

The WFFP that Naseegh leads represents many small scale fishing people around the world, many of whom have seen their livelihoods threatened by things like pollution from oil drilling, privatization and consolidation of fishing rights, and a host of other ills often driven by multinational corporations based in the United States.

“You are living in the heart of the beast,” says Naseegh. “You need to speak out.”

At present two umbrella organizations represent small-scale fishing people on the world stage, the WFFP and its sister organization, the World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fish Workers (WFF) lead in part by Arthur Bogason of Iceland. Both organizations sprang from one that was formed in Delhi, India in 1997.

“It’s okay that we are two movements,” says Naseegh. “That way we get more seats. We’re not competing. We work together. Of course it wasn’t always like that. There was a lot of animosity when we first split, and some people didn’t talk for a long time.”

There are two stories to the split, and they belong to leaders: Pedro Avendaño and the late Thomas Kocherry. According to the story I received from Arthur Bogason it was over the very issue of regions. Arthur and Pedro’s contingent felt that North and South America should each get a vote in the original organization, but Arthur felt that Thomas Kocherry and his contingent from the developing world, wanted to weaken the power of the developed world by giving North and South only one vote, as “the Americas.” When the organization voted in favor of Kocherry, Avendaño and his group walked out.

Naseegh heard a different story from Kocherry, who said that the split was over the matter of scale. “What Thomas said was that he and Pedro Avendaño of Chile got into an argument over what was small-scale. Thomas felt that if your boat had an inboard engine and could go far out, it was not small-scale. He said only your small boats with outboards and rowing were truly small-scale. They could not agree, so they split.”

Avendaño and Bogason went on to lead the WFF, and Kocherry’s group formed the WFFP. “That’s in the past,” says Naseegh, who believes both groups have always been fighting the same fight.

“The point is we have to look at who has been using a resource for hundreds or thousands of years and protect their right to continue to do so.” Naseegh argues that the large extractive industries, industrial trawlers, oil rigs and other extractive industries must be controlled in ways that protect the ability of small scale fishing people to harvest resources close to shore. “You can’t have extractive industries without pollution, habitat degradation,” he says, noting the social and cultural degradation that small scale fishing communities experience when they lose their resources. “The big extractive industries, the big boat, these guys are killing us,” says Naseegh. “And because they take control of the resource and have the money, they are elevated and we are nothing.”

Naseegh was surprised to hear that Maine fishermen face challenges such as encroachment by aquaculture and wind farms, habitat degradation, and a challenges to local control of the intertidal zone and working waterfront. “This is the same as us, you need to join us,” he says. “It’s not hard.”

According to Naseegh an organization that wants to join the WFFP must be composed primarily of fishermen. “And the organization to be nominated by a member organization, which is easy. Then they must write a letter of motivation that tells how they hope to benefit from being part of a global organization and what they bring to us. Also they must have a constitution consistent with our values and mission to protect small scale fisheries.”

Many fishermen don’t realize that policy formulated at the UN often influences national and regional policies, which can sometimes lead to conflict on the water. By being part of the WFFP—or WFF—Naseegh believes, even the smallest scale fishermen—clammers, wrinkle pickers and wormers for example—can gain a voice at international forums. “And when you fight your local fights, you will have solidarity. We will support you and voice that support. If an organization is community based and supports democratic principles, we would welcome them,” says Naseegh.

This piece was originally featured in the April 2018 issue of Fisherman’s Voice.

Learn more about the World Forum of Fisher Peoples by checking out their website here.