Monday, March 9, 2009

Asian fisherwomen dare to speak out

Philippine Daily Inquirer/News/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo


Yes there are such women. And they have voices to denounce the state of the fishing industry, particularly the unregulated fishing practices that have marginalized the small fisherfolk and caused their sources of livelihood to perish.

And, of course, like their male counterparts, many fisherwomen go out to sea to fish or do significant work related to fishing.

Fisherwomen from the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia gathered here recently to train and do cross-visitation of fishing areas.

This was part of their advocacy to promote and project the “Hanoi Declaration of Women Fishers” that they signed in December last year in Vietnam.

Among the issues the fisherwomen raised were “the socio-environmental costs of intensive aquaculture, especially industrial shrimp farming and marine aquaculture.

These costs included the destruction of mangrove habitats, dislocation of artisanal fishers from their fishing grounds and exhaustion and salination of ground water.”

In the Hanoi Declaration, the artisanal fisherwomen defined themselves as “those who directly engage in the preparatory and actual fishing or fish culture and post-harvest phases of fishery production. This covers coastal and inland capture fishers, household fish processing and aquaculture.”

These women, the declaration said, had limited alternative economic opportunities and their contribution in the fisheries sector was often unrecognized. They received very small wages or shares in sales.

“Our issues and problems are the same,” Iza Gonzales, spokesperson of the Kilusan ng Kababaihang Mangingisda (KKM) said, referring to the fisherwomen from ASEAN countries.

Gonzales explained that fisherwomen would do a lot of work prior to the actual fishing itself and after. They would mend nets, sort out the fish, and market and process the fish for fish products.

“The cost of labor is now high, so instead of hiring someone who could go out to sea with them, the fishermen take along their wives,” she said.

Bibik Nurudijja of Indonesia said the fisherwomen in her country had little access to resources. They also had problems with the shrimp industry that had taken over mangroves.

She also blamed palm oil plants in fishing areas, as well as the flushing out of tailings into the sea by mining companies.

Cambodia’s Rasmey Ouk bewailed the construction by a Chinese corporation of a hydroelectric plant by the Mekong River which runs through several countries.

The famous Mekong is a rich source of livelihood for many farmers and the construction of a dam will greatly affect fishing in the river.

Vietnam’s Than Thi Hien pointed to the privatization of resources and the degradation of coastal and mangrove areas. “Vietnam has a long coastline which needs protection,” she said.

Cheap imported fish
Ruperto Aleroza, chair of the Kilusang Mangingisda (KM), said the government was not paying much attention to the fisherfolk.

“A lot of attention is given to farmers but not to the fisherfolk. During lean times, farmers can always fish, while the fisherfolk cannot farm because we have no land,” Aleroza said.

Filipino fisherfolk also had to contend with cheap imported fish.

“The imported galunggong (mackerel scad) is much cheaper,” KKM’s Gonzales said. “Many come from Japan so we call them Japayuki. A lot go to the canneries.”

KM’s Aleroza noted: “And unlike big fishing vessels that just come and go, we, the small fishers do not only catch fish … we also manage resources and rehabilitate our areas. The big fishers don’t.”

Among the principles carried by the Hanoi Declaration were technologically sound practices, equitable access to resources, social and workers’ rights, community participation and women’s rights.

The declaration would push for community-based coastal resources management (CBCRM) which would involve fisherwomen.

World Ocean Conference
Fisherfolk from Asean countries—fisherwomen included—are preparing for the World Ocean Conference that will be held in Indonesia this year.

The KM estimates that 20 to 35 million people in Southeast Asia engage in fisheries as a livelihood. A minimum of 365 million people depend on fishery products for their dietary intake.

Approximately 55 percent of the coral reefs in the region are seriously damaged or virtually dead, and 75 percent of mangrove habitats have disappeared.

According to the KM, the fish sector provides 5 to 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) for each Southeast Asian country and almost $8 billion in export earnings for the region.