Portugal: Alternative ocean conference a few metres from UN stage

Fishermen from Latin America and fish sellers from the African coast meet a few dozen meters from the UN Oceans Conference, in Lisbon, with civil society organisations that intend to write a white paper to deliver to the world leaders.

 The ‘Ocean Base Camp’, installed next to the Parque das Nações marina, is a kind of alternative summit, in which organisations from various parts of the world share concerns about the state of the oceans and the daily difficulties of those who live off the sea, around the globe.

 “Our intention is to be a home away from home, not just for NGOs. [The Ocean Base Camp] Has its own NGO-led programming, but the people who have been coming here, who we invite, are not just people from non-governmental organisations. We invite everyone to participate and to know the work that we have been doing regarding the marine conservation theme”, Ana Matias, from Sciaena, one of the entities that organized the initiative in partnership with the Blue Ocean Foundation, told Lusa.

 Today’s morning was dedicated to testimonies from several origins, which a plastic artist illustrated on the walls.

 In an informal space, which does not require accreditation to enter, any citizen can contact the various topics under discussion and leave a message for the world leaders gathered until Friday at the Altice Arena pavilion.

 The organisations are providing a white paper, which after being filled in they would like to hand to the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres.

 “There are several threats to the ocean right now that are influencing or impacting its ability to resist climate change,” said Ana Matias, highlighting the need to create a moratorium, by governments, to stop the intentions of deep-sea mining.

 In a session dedicated to small-scale fishing led by fishermen, Antónia Djaló, a fish seller from Guinea-Bissau and Alfonso Simon, a fisherman from an indigenous community in Panama, were present.

 Antónia represents an artisanal fishing organisation that includes 22 countries on the west coast of Africa and also the women who draw their livelihood from the sea.

 “We have many women vendors and processors,” she said.

  The association leader has been involved in this activity for 30 years. She is a wholesaler who sells, processes and exports fish to Senegal. She also sends goods to more distant regions within Guinea-Bissau.

  Climate change, she said, is affecting the sea, but not only that: “Right now, there are no fish. That already brings a disaster for women. Women at the moment are not selling at 100 per cent.”

  The problem is worsening in a community where half of the women live by selling fish. “There is no other service. There is not much capacity to do another business of benefit to them. They usually sell fish,” the entrepreneur assured, calling for action from governments.

  “Everything we are talking about is a problem of the governments, of the rulers, of governance,” she stressed.

  She said that the conflicts between fishermen and the inspectors in the reserve zones are another problem, lamenting the fines in unmarked zones.

  On the other side of the Atlantic, in Panama, fishermen face similar problems, with the scarcity of resources and lack of government support, according to the testimony of Alfonso Simon, a fisherman from the Ngobe-Buglé comarca.

  “We have been fishing for many years. The problem we have had for decades is that the government does not consult us, does not count us as people, humans, in need,” he lamented.

  “The government decides what it wants. All programmes and projects go over the heads of the fishing community,” Alfonso said, recalling that the government is elected with the popular vote.

  Recalling the words of an African colleague, he said that small fishermen “bring food to the world” and are not responsible for the destruction of ecosystems.

  In the opinion of the fisherman, governments and multinational companies will have this responsibility for whom the fishing areas are increasingly limited.

  Without the fishermen’s opinion being heard, the construction of thermoelectric power plants was one of the criticisms he left to the Lusa report.

  “I want to ask for respect for my sector, for my indigenous people, for the fishing community, that they respect us as humans”, Alfonso declared at the end of a morning in which he heard testimonies from other areas of the globe, not significantly different.