Oceans Tribunal to highlight the plight of indigenous small-scale fishers
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Cape Town - Environmental group Green Connection’s first virtual oceans tribunal, which offers a platform to small-scale fishers and coastal communities to voice their concerns about the impact of the oil and gas industry, got under way on Tuesday.
At the end of the two-day event their comments will considered by a jury panel, who will then make recommendations for a sustainable and inclusive way forward. These will be shared with government.
Opening the event, environmentalist Liz McDaid said it formed part of the organisation’s Who Stole Our Oceans campaign.
She said small-scale fishers would give presentations on the impacts of oil and gas operations on their livelihoods, while a panel of experts would provide context on the importance of standing up for environmental justice.
“Oceans have been used for many years as a dumping ground for sewerage, and seen as the sink for carbon emissions, and right now they are at their ecological boundaries.
“What we are finding is that the people who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods, are being undermined in this run up to take nature and commodify it,” said McDaid.
The first panel discussion yesterday focused on the blue economy and sustainable ocean-based governance, while a second looked at government’s Operation Phakisa, what the blue economy has meant for local communities, the role of indigenous knowledge and governance systems in the oceans, and gender justice within the blue economy.
Among those speaking at the event were attorney Wilmien Wicomb (specialising in local fishing knowledge and rights), Masifundise Director Naseegh Jafffer, scholar and social justice activist Bernedette Muthien and environmental justice activist Anabel Lemos.
Wicomb told the tribunal: “In order to give effect and meaning to customary and localised fishing rights, fishing laws and indigenous knowledge, you need a state that has the capacity to understand these rights, with eyes and ears on the ground to understand what is happening at a local level.”
Wicomb said it appeared government did not trust fishing communities, and would continue to micro-manage them instead of giving them the opportunity to employ the governance systems built and used by indigenous, traditional, small-scale communities over decades.