The World Ocean day, marked on June 8 every year, should be an avenue to rally support and build solidarity to protect world oceans, their biodiversity and ultimately save lives on earth. The theme of the 2021 commemoration is “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods.” The theme serves as a declaration of intention to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 14 which reads “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”, by 2030. This intention should translate to real actions! 

World Ocean Day should not be allowed to become an annual ritual just to acknowledge that the oceans are there, but should be a day for the recovery of memories on the importance of the world oceans to our collective existence. 

On World Ocean Day, we are expected to stand in solidarity in defense and protection of the supplier of more than half the quantity of oxygen needed on the planet. Oceans cover about 70% of the Earth surface and are responsible for about 50% of the oxygen in the planet while helping mop up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually. They are home to several millions of different forms of life and play key supportive and sustaining roles to other lives on the planet. Freshwater and ocean fish provide food and nutritional security to over 200 million Africans and provide income for over 10 million.

More than half the ocean is now plundered through industrial fishing – a trade responsible for overfishing, unregulated fishing, by-catches and prime contributor to extinction of sea animals. 

It is reported that 90% of big fish populations have been depleted, and 50% of coral reefs destroyed. This clearly buttresses the fact that we are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished!

Industrial trawlers are the drivers of the depletion and destruction of the ocean animals. They scoop every sea animal on their path and are reputable for destroying coral reefs and sea floor. They are involved in by-catch and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. 

As the quest to expand business empires and profit intensify, more attention is turning to oceans and other water bodies. New terms have been developed to mask corporate greed for amassing profit through unrestricted exploitation of resources in the ocean. 

One of such terms is the ‘blue economy’ which promotes more rapacious exploitation of aquatic resources and is based on an economic model perceiving nature, especially the ocean, as an inexhaustible source of materials. In the name of blue economy, South Africa has leased 95% of its oceans for oil and gas drilling and deep-sea mining.

In a publication titled: Blue Economy Blues, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) posited that blue economy is a top-down concept that claims to enhance the living standards and livelihoods of the people. The push for a blue economy is not what it claims to be. It is rather a push for deriving of economic gains from our freshwater and marine ecosystems. It means a fundamental shift in the way streams, rivers, lakes and the oceans are perceived. 

Concepts such as sustainability are now used as corporate green-washing, a cliché and a metaphor for the maneuvering of different components of Mother Earth for profiteering and for presenting untrustworthy claims. 

We shift from the popular sustainability concept to our preferred terminology “Sustain-Ability” defined as “our ability to sustain what we know is right.” 

Ocean sustain-ability is then defined as the ability for the world oceans to function and regulate their natural life cycles while also continuously supporting their other components and lives that depend on them. 

There is a need to place a ban on activities that impede the sustain-ability of the world oceans and to support local artisanal fishers whose livelihoods have been destroyed too.

Profits should not be put before nature, environment and peoples! 

Our actions must work for the collective good of oceans, their biodiversity and the wellbeing of peoples. These are reasons backing the creation of the FishNet Alliance.

The FishNet Alliance

The FishNet Alliance officially launched in 2017, is a network of fishers engaged in and promoting sustainable fishing in line with ecosystem limits. The aim is to unite fishers across the coast of Africa. 

The Alliance has her roots in Africa with members from Nigeria, South Africa, Togo, Cameroon, DRC, and Ghana. FishNet cherishes diversities and knowledge exchange. Hence, though the network has roots in Africa and the Global South, the Alliance is open to admit members from all over the world. 

The Problem

Offshore explorative and extractive activities pollute the ocean, threaten its biodiversity and cause ocean warming and acidification. More than 90% of the warming that has happened on Earth over the past 50 years has occurred in the ocean. 

Business models have been built around the ocean and other water bodies and they are now being seen as the new frontier for development.

For example, there are plans to exploit for oil in the Kavango Basin which is between northeastern Namibia and northwestern Botswana. Okavango River is an important source of water for people in that area. ReconAfrica (a Canadian firm) has been licensed to drill for oil in an area that is home to the Kavango people known primarily for fishing and hunting. There are fears that the region could someday suffer pollution, degradation, livelihood stress, human rights abuses and all such impacts witnessed in the “oil-rich” Niger Delta region of Nigeria today.

From Nigeria to South Africa and to other African countries, fishers are increasingly faced with challenges to their rights to a livelihood in fishing. These challenges, over the years, have manifested in the form of pollution, sea grabbing, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by trawlers, seabed mining and a host of other challenges.  

The Sierra Leone’s government has reportedly secured a $55 million deal with China to build an “industrial fishing harbor” on 250 acres of beach and protected rainforest in the Black Johnson Beach off the Atlantic Coast – a move seen as a misfit, misplaced priority and bound to spell doom for fisheries in the country. This is going to displace a lot of fishers who depend on the beach for livelihood and also impact seriously on the country’s food security.

The INGA III project in DRC is a project to build a large hydroelectric dam that will produce up to 11,000 MW, constituting a first phase of the Grand Inga project which aims to produce up to 45,000 MW in 8 phases, and become the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. There has been outcry from communities living around the site as the project will displace more than 37,000 communities who originally occupy the Inga site which will inevitably lead to the uprooting of identity of the affected populations. Communities there depend on farming and fishing and will lose their livelihoods and cultural heritage. 

The floods which would result from the dam on the Congo River could affect, in particular, the city of Luozi (by causing the disappearance of the city) upstream of the site of Inga and Congo-Brazzaville. It will also have an impact on the aquatic ecosystems of the Congo River estuary which constitutes a breeding ground for local populations living mainly from fishing. Other risks include: risk of the Congo River being drained due to reduction in the flow of the river and rise of sea water on the river.

Why FishNet Alliance?

With the plethora of extractive activities offshore and near shore, and the devastating levels of impacts, it became clear that nothing is going to change unless community people are equipped with the knowledge of how to track changes in their environment and report same as well as stand up against neocolonial extractive activities offshore. This requires training on what to watch out for and also on how to organise to speak up.

We have been facilitating campaigns, knowledge exchanges and dialogues at community level to interrogate the state of the environment, evaluate various exploration and exploitation activities offshore or near shore.

One cardinal aim of the Alliance is to train fishers on how to monitor their environment, report, organise themselves (while also networking with relevant CBOs and CSOs for advocacy) and speak up against extractive activities (causing pollution, breeding crisis, driving climate change, degrading the environment, destroying livelihood of artisanal fishers etc.) in their littoral communities. We promote knowledge exchanges between fishers in different communities, countries and regions. 

The FishNet Alliance is led by a steering committee with membership from South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Togo and the network’s secretariat is coordinated by HOMEF.

For more information please contact: 

Stephen Oduware at [email protected]

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