Governance: Strengthening Caribbean fisherfolk participation

The small-scale fisheries sector in the Caribbean plays a vital role in the region’s food security but is overshadowed by marine industries including shipping, tourism, and oil and gas extraction. An EU-funded initiative is providing a stronger voice to fisherfolk to advocate their needs.

Caribbean fisherfolk organisations are being strengthened to increased their involvement in national and regional governance and management issues © robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo

The contribution of the small-scale fisheries sector to food security in the Caribbean has been strengthened through a 4-year EU funded initiative that has been building the capacity of regional and national fisherfolk organisations to actively participate in governance issues. The EuropeAid programme, which ended in December 2016, has been implemented by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute and partners working with the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organization and national fisherfolk organisations in 17 Caribbean states.

With more than 35 coastal and small island economies, the Caribbean Sea is vital to sustaining the small-scale fisheries sector in the region. According to a 2016 World Bank report, Toward a Blue Economy: A Promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean, the annual gross value from regional fishery activities in 2012 was €4 billion, and aquaculture contributed a further €1.68 billion, figures that will have undoubtedly increased in recent years. However, the region’s fisheries are seriously depleted; nearly 60% of commercial fish stocks are overexploited or have collapsed. Lack of equipment, poor security, climate change threats and inadequate government support are also serious challenges for the small-scale fisheries sector.

To address the fact that Caribbean fisherfolk have had little or no involvement in national and regional governance and management issues, small grants have been issued under the Fisherfolk Strengthening Fund. The grants are intended to help enhance internal governance, leadership, strategic and business planning, and communication and advocacy among fisherfolk, as well as create awareness about the benefits of fisherfolk organisations.

One recipient organisation of a small grant of around €10,000 is the Trinidad and Tobago United Fisherfolk (TTUF). Joslyn Lee Quay, TTUF president, stated that the money has been used to strengthen the organisational structure and develop a communications plan for improved governance. “We undertook a committee-driven approach and divided the country into segments, with a local representative responsible for the mobilisation of fisherfolk in different areas. We also engaged a local organisation to strategically review our executive structure to put forward recommendations, which we are currently implementing. These include regular elections and bringing 'new blood' into the association.” However, Lee Quay acknowledged, “One of the challenges we have faced was achieving full participation in the training workshops; as fisherfolk are self-employed, there were constraints on their time." Around 100 people from 22 fisher organisations have participated in the TTUF training.

As a direct result of the project, TTUF have been able to better prepare and develop their positions in order to influence decision-making at the annual meetings of the Caribbean Ministers of Agriculture on matters that affect them, such as trawling and piracy, amongst other issues. Within Trinidad and Tobago, TTUF are using new media engagement and social media skills to better communicate key messages to policymakers. “We have to stand up and let governments know that they have to get their act together with respect to trawling, piracy, seismic surveys and the prevention of oil spills, which are destroying marine life and our livelihoods,” states Lee Quay. “We will continue to work with the fisherfolk within our national network to share information and forge consensus on these governance issues." 

Natalie Dookie

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.