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(From left) Johnson Jament, Lisba Yesudas and Robert Panipilla


Speech by representatives of indigenous fisher folk at the first UN conference on oceans

Friends of Marine Life (FML), is a Kerala-based organisation that specialises in seabed ecosystem studies and also helps promote sustainable fishing. Three of it’s members, who hail from the state’s indigenous fishing community, the Mukkuva, were recently invited the first UN conference on the world’s oceans. The text of speeches they delivered at the conference.

Speech by Dr. Johnson Jament (Friends of Marine Life), at the UN Oceans Conference

Excellencies, co-chairs, panellists and sisters and brothers of planet ocean;

This is a voice from India, but not an official one, but one which might be different, an indigenous coastal fishing community – Mukkuvar voice – from South India, Kerala.

I am very proud to say that Mukkuvar – my community – has been undertaking sustainable fishing practices over centuries with the indigenous and traditional knowledge of seabed ecosystems and coastal and marine biodiversity using different nets and hook and line fishing for varied fishes according to their level of maturity and seasonality. However, these are changing. Our traditional livelihoods and critical habitats are seriously threatened by mega projects, some forms of over-fishing and destructive practices are emerging.

Here representing a coastal community organization, I shall present what we do, what we can do, and what we will do voluntarily to promote sustainable fishing practices in India.

Our voluntary commitments are centered around education, research, capacity building, policy interventions.

First, through education, we hope to bring awareness about both sustainable and destructive fishing practices into the academic programs, youth development and community welfare activities, discouraging consumption of unsustainable fish production, at the same time creating facilities for acknowledging and appreciating sustainable practices. We are also committed to educate all stakeholders through creating awareness about six biggest threats to ocean sustainability in our experience:

a) bottom trawling
b) harbor dredging
c) breakwater construction
d) pollution
e) deep sea and sand mining
f) over-fishing, particularly by large fishing vessels with the support of commercial and business lobbies.

All these negatively impact upon the fish stocks and other marine resources. However, I represent a community which is not encouraging most of these practices, and, in fact, are fighting against these.

Second, we would like to continue and expand our ocean floor and seabed ecosystem studies to identify and conserve marine protected areas as well as improving ocean productivity through artificial reef constructions using natural resources with coastal community monitoring. At the moment, there is no data, and not much information is available in India. So we need to document and disseminate this.

Third, in order to encourage sustainability of fish stocks, we believe it is important to capacitate fisher folks and other related people. Coastal youths will be given training and skill base to monitor fish catches.

Fourth, we will take necessary steps to develop and implement local, regional and national policies on sustainable fishing practices and developing integrated marine and coastal ecosystem management services.

In all these above commitments, indigenous fisher folk, coastal youth and others will be included and empowered. Shared modality approach will be entertained and followed in all these engagements.

As a last point, I would like to recommend imposing a green tax for destructive fishing and green benefits for sustainable fishing practices instead of giving subsidies for over-fishing.

Thank you for listening; it is a great privilege to be here.

Speech by Lisba Yesudas (Friends of Marine Life), at the UN General Assembly Plenary Meeting in Ocean Conference 5-9 June, 2017
Your Excellencies, Member State representatives, and stakeholders,

I am really proud to be here as a daughter of a fisherman and a member of a fishing community in India.

Friends of Marine Life (FML) is an indigenous coastal community voluntary organisation that aims to safeguard the marine biodiversity and coastal ecosystem services in South India. For some years FML has been undertaking seabed ecosystem studies with a team led by experienced scientists, citizen researches and scuba divers, together with the support of indigenous fishermen.

We have so far covered, around 3000 sq km area of near inshore and up to 43 m depth of the sea area in South India (the Gulf of Mannar, Kanyakumari, Trivandrum and Quilon).

Currently, India’s marine biodiversity assessment studies are not giving much attention to the livelihood areas of the fisher folks. With limited understanding of the seabed ecosystems, application of the new technologies, commercialisation of fish industries are introduced in the country. This has encouraged illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and destructive practices.

Another worthwhile point is that only about 1% of the marine protected areas have been identified in India, in contrast, more than 10% of the land area have been located. In this context, it is our responsibility as formally educated individuals within the coastal community to postulate that seabed ecosystem studies are important and essential to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: ‘Conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources’.

The fisher folk here have tremendous traditional knowledge about seabed ecosystems, coastal and marine biodiversity, and have been using the marine resources sustainably over centuries. However, very recently, they are compelled to follow the path of “modern developers” who have little concern for conservation and protection of critical marine habitats.

We are documenting the indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) of coastal community about the seabed, underwater cultural heritage sites and “blue” ecosystem services, which are preserved in their language. Therefore, documenting the language has become an important and essential tool to assess and conserve marine and coastal biodiversity. We have been working with UNESCO-IPBES Asia Pacific region to document and disseminate biocultural diversity of coastal fishing communities.

In order to encourage sustainable fisheries, control measures should be undertaken from the angle of marine policy and blue economy. At the same time there should be encouragement for indigenous fishermen who do little damage to the fish stock and other marine resources through their sustainable practices.

Therefore we believe, here I emphasise, solutions to sustainable fisheries and conservation of blue planet lies not only with modern scientific advancement but also with Indigenous and local knowledge of fishing communities such as the Mukkuva.

Thank you for your attention.

Dr Johnson Jament and Lisba Yesudas are associated with Friends of Marine Life, an organisation that specialises in seabed ecosystem studies and helps promote sustainable fishing.

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