A prayer to God to protect fishermen who suffer threats and intimidation, forced to work endless shifts in sometimes inhumane conditions; to convert owners of fishing vessels who practice illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, human trafficking, slavery and smuggling of drugs and weapons; to enlighten institutions, international organisations, NGOs and civil society to join forces to stop human rights violations at sea and create a fishing industry that puts the dignity and rights of fishermen and their families at the centre. This was the beginning of the International Conference "Stemming the tide: Together we can stop Human Rights violations at sea!" held today on World Fisheries Day - which falls on 21 November - and promoted by Stella Maris, at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, together with FAO and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to FAO, IFAD and WFP.
It was an occasion to renew the joint commitment of the Holy See and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to stop human rights violations at sea and to promote actions in support of workers engaged in the fishing sector.
In his introductory remarks, Card. Peter K. A. Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery, recalled the words of Pope Francis on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when He launched an appeal to institutions "asking them to place human rights at the centre of all policies, including those of development cooperation" (10 December 2018).
In his World Fisheries Day Message, citing the Encyclical "Fratelli tutti", Card. Turkson recalled that respect for human rights "is a prerequisite for the very social and economic development of a country. When the dignity of a person is respected and his rights are recognised and guaranteed, creativity and enterprise flourish and the human personality can deploy its many initiatives in favour of the common good".
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu noted that developing countries are key players in the global fish market, accounting for 54 percent of the world's seafood trade in 2019, and that the fisheries sector offers significant opportunities in developing countries "to create remunerative employment, build strong coastal communities, and provide food security and nutritional values that are essential to the diets of vulnerable populations". While the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the sector," he said, "fishers have shown great resilience, using the web to market their products, and technological innovation has enabled greater digitisation of processes".
"And while the challenges are ambitious", he added, "there is no shortage of means to meet them: the new tools in place and the commitments made by international players can "ensure that the seafood that reaches our tables has been harvested and grown not only in an environmentally sustainable way, but also in a way that supports the socio-economic well-being of those who harvest, grow and process it".
In order to make a significant impact on the numbers of violations of fishers' rights, Msgr. Fernando Chica Arellano, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO, IFAD and WFP, said in his closing remarks, it is necessary to go a step further and "renounce the logic of greed and the compulsive and unscrupulous pursuit of economic profit". Rather, it is important to "row together to create a renewed fishing industry that respects people's human dignity and the common home in which we must all live as brothers and sisters", and to work for authentic development that combines the progress of science and technology with moral and social progress and respect for human rights.
A final mention goes to the "precious and daily commitment" of the chaplains and volunteers of Catholic organisations "who are not indifferent to the misery, the weeping or the difficulties of those who endure the affronts in the harsh world of fishing": in the face of this pain - concludes Msgr. Chica Arellano quoting Pope Francis - "the only way out is to be like the Good Samaritan". Every other option ends up either on the side of the thieves or on the side of those who pass by without compassion for the pain of the wounded on the road" (Enc. Fratelli tutti, n. 67).