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Celebrating World Fisheries Day

15 12.7.17_world.fisheries.day PAGEThe author, Pietro Parravano, is pictured at far right in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, last October during the World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea. Also pictured, from left: Sebastian Matthew, International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, India; Albert Napier, Apostleship of the Sea, Seychelles; Alain LeSann, Apostleship of the Sea, France. (Courtesy photo)

December 7, 2017
Pietro Parravano

It seems like yesterday that World Fisheries day was established in New Delhi, India. It seems like yesterday that I shared the excitement with fishermen from around the world in forming our organization – The World Forum of Fish Workers and Fish Harvesters. It seems like yesterday that the world started an annual event that celebrated the profession of commercial fishing.

On Nov. 21, 1997, fishermen from 18 countries left their boats and traveled to New Delhi, Strangers, bonded by the oceans, met to establish a new organization. The forum was founded on the common principles of sustaining the fisheries; sustaining the fishing communities; advocating for social justice and preserving the cultural history of fish harvesters and fish workers. Fishing representatives from 18 countries signed a declaration advocating for a global mandate of sustainable fishing practices and policies. The representatives from the United States that participated in this milestone were Angela Sanfilippo from Gloucester, Massachusetts; Barbara Stickel from Morro Bay; and myself.

“Yesterday” was 20 years ago. Each one of us can reflect on what the last 20 years have meant for us in our professional and personal lives. There have been lots of ups and downs, lots of happiness and sadness, and lots of successes and failures. As fishermen, we look back with a perspective based on economic, ecological and social values. We measure our profession with unique indicators and principles. Our workplace is the oceans and lakes which cover about 75 percent of Earth. This workplace has many challenges which are based on natural systems. Skills and knowledge are needed to harvest food that is constantly changing location and abundance. Equally important is the vulnerability to changing conditions.

Fishing has been around for a very long time – thousands of years. So, 20 years is a small amount of time relative to the chronicles of fishing in world history. We know that the Bible has several references to Gospels which describe the importance of fish and fishermen. Nowadays, fishing is the focal point of many policies, regulations and nutritional interest. Many times we take for granted that food will be always available and plentiful. Many times we do not understand the source of food and how food travels through a supply chain. Commercial fishermen bring you a variety of seafood which is unique to the region. They do this with pride using skills that they have learned working on the back deck of fishing boats. Often catching fish is a spiritual way of life and serves as a symbol of culture and heritage. World Fisheries Day illustrates the importance of fish as food and the role of the fishermen in providing us with this nourishment. This pride continues today.

Unfortunately, 20 years has brought us calamities and losses. Many fishermen have died working or pursuing their quest of teaching others the economic, ecological and social importance of sustaining the fisheries. Disasters – natural and man-made – have taken a severe toll on the fisheries and fishermen. The inhumane treatment of fishermen held captive on boats has become prevalent in the last 20 years.

Fortunately, the past 20 years have brought much more awareness of fishermen, fisheries and coastal communities. On Oct. 1-7, the Vatican, through its maritime ministry the Apostleship of the Sea, organized a World Congress in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The conference, “Caught In The Net,” gave an overview of abuse onboard fishing vessels. Many organizations gave presentations on how they are addressing the human rights violations. I am very grateful that Pope Francis is addressing these human rights issues on fishing boats. It is in alignment with his goal of equality and reinforces the meaning of World Fisheries Day to advocate for social justice and fair labor conditions in fishing. Ocean health and fishing comes with a price which is recognized on World Fisheries Day. This day helps us understand the vulnerability of the fisheries to disasters and water quality.

World Fisheries Day welcomes us into the livelihood and experiences of fishermen, a union held together by the circle created by the oceans. It gives us an insight into their culture, their lives and their knowledge. Twenty years ago in New Delhi, this bond established solidarity. Solidarity between fishermen replaces hopelessness and loneliness. It overcomes despair and fear.

Each year on Nov. 21 we return to where it all started 20 years ago. Our path, 20 years in the making, has brought us closer to the bounty of the oceans. Looking forward, this path will bring a heightened awareness to the plight of the oceans’ resources and of those who spend their lives bringing us seafood.

Pietro Parravano is chair of the Fishing Committee of the Apostleship of the Sea. He lives in Half Moon Bay.

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