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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 106 (Suppl.-I), April 2008



AOS commitment to the fishing sector


Fr. Bruno CICERI, C.S.

AOS Regional Coordinator Asia South East Asia


“The fishing ground”

According statistics provided by ILO in 1998, an estimated 36 million people were engaged in capture fishing and aquaculture production worldwide, comprising 15 million full-time, 13 million part-time and 8 million occasional workers. In 2000, an estimated 27 million persons were working only in capture fishing worldwide (including full-time, part-time and occasional fishers). The staggering 82% of these fishers are located in Asia, and among the 12 top producing countries from marine and inland capture fisheries seven are from Asia.

At present roughly 45% of the total catch is taken by the small-scale fisheries sector and the remaining, 55%, is taken by industrial fisheries. As much as 90% of the small-scale fisheries catch is used for human consumption.

As a consequence of the increasing numbers of fishers, fishing vessels, the amount of fishing gear in use and improvements in technology, the output from capture fisheries rose steadily from 1950 to 1999 and seems have reached his  peak with little opportunity for expansion or the development.

Globalization and the interests of transnational corporations have greatly influenced the volume of the international fish trade that over the last two decades reached a peak in 1997 of US$53.5 billion.

The fishing industry is also considered one of the most dangerous professions in the world. In Japan in 2000, of the 88 fatal injuries for all workers covered by the Mariners’ Law, 55 concerned fishers. According to a study by researchers at Oxford University, fishers have by far the most dangerous jobs in the United Kingdom. In the United States, the fatality rate in the fishing industry was 160 deaths per 100,000 workers in 1995; 181 per 100,000 in 1996; 134 per 100,000 in 1997; and 179 per 100,000 in 1998. In 1996 this rate was 16 times higher for fishers than for other occupations such as fire-fighters, police and detectives and eight times higher than persons operating motor vehicles for a living. In Nordic countries, fatality rates are reported at 150 per 100,000. In Guinea from 1991-94, the rate was estimated at 500 per 100,000. Recently in South Africa, an estimated rate of 585 per 100,000 was reported. Injury rates are also high due to the nature of the marine working environment and the exposure by fishers to weather and to equipment used to catch and process fish.

Until recently the seven existing standards (five Conventions and two Recommendations), adopted in 1920, 1959 and 1966, were in need of updating in order to reflect changes in the sector which have occurred over the last 40 years, achieve more widespread ratification and reach, where possible, a greater portion of the world’s fishers, particularly those on smaller vessels. Luckily this problem has been solved with the adoption of the New Consolidated Convention on Fishers just a few weeks ago at the 96th International Labor Conference. 

The fishers

The vast majority of fishers engaged in small-scale and artisanal fishing generally belong to the poorest sector of the society, they work as individuals with antiquated method of fishing. They have to struggle against the negative forces of nature, the ecological/environmental disasters that destroy the sources of their livelihood and the economic system that exploit their hard work. You can find mostly along the costs of undeveloped countries in Asia and in Africa.

The fishers employed on board of Distant Water Vessels (DWV) are sometimes uneducated young people, unfamiliar with the advance technology used for fishing. They live on board of their vessels for extended periods of time, work long hours in all kind of weather conditions sometimes without any protection and received very little salary. You can find them in sailing the different seas and oceans of the world.  

The safe harbor 

The different AOS Centers around the world have been for long time a safe harbor for many fishers, providing all kind of services and assistance to satisfy spiritual and material needs.

The AOS chaplains and volunteers have listened countless stories of horror and abuses, acted as friends, counselors, lawyers in an attempt to provide protection against exploitation.

Moral support, guidance and encouragement have been provided to fishers and fishers’ associations to access and control fish resources by education and empowerment. 

The AOS International Fishing Committee

Throughout the years during Regional Meetings and World Congress the issue of fishers was always brought to the attention of all the members, but it was only at XXI AOS World Congress held in Rio de Janeiro in 2002 that in the final statement a resolution with a specific commitment  for fishers was inserted: “An ‘AOS Fishing Committee’ should be constituted, comprised of AOS members working pastorally with fishers and in contact with their respective organizations at local, national and international levels.”

The AOS International Fishing Committee met almost one year later with the vision of: ”A maritime world in which the rights of fishers and fisher folks are respected, guaranteed and promoted according to the Social Teaching of the Church and the regulations and conventions of international agencies members of United Nations, such as: ILO, FAO and others” and the mission: “…to reach out and provide pastoral care to all fishers and fisher folks. While being respectful of local, national, cultural specificity, the AOS mission is directed towards people of all religion, race and ethnic background so that their spiritual and material welfare be addressed and their human and labor rights respected”.

As Archbishop Marchetto mentioned on February 2, 2005 on the occasion of the 2nd Meeting of the AOS International Fishing Committee:”…our International Committee has yet to find its “cruising speed” and its specific identity”. But most of all, I would add, has not yet found enough funds to support and implement new initiatives for the benefit of fishers.

In the intentions of the PCMI, while AOS International Fishing Committee is an integral part of the AOS International network and maritime apostolate, it cannot be a separate entity or independent organization.  

Sailing ahead

We can say that AOS Lives out the theme of the Congress: “In Solidarity with the People of the Sea as Witnesses of Hope, through Proclamation of the Word, Liturgy and Diakonia” for fishers and their families when:

  1. We are not interested in fish, we care about fishers! Within the maritime world there are several international agencies (ILO, IMO, FAO, etc.) interested in the fishing industry but while these agencies are concerned with the technical aspect of the industry, AOS is interested on the on the human aspect: fishers, their families.

We will provide spiritual assistance to fishers and their families whenever possible with special liturgical celebrations (blessing the fishing fleet and for safe voyage, thanksgiving service after they return, etc.), catechetical instructions and the administration of sacraments.

We will provide religious materials (rosaries on tape, prayer books, and sacred images), that the fishers could bring with them in the vessels and use it during the long time that will spend at sea.

We will consider fishers and their families’ integral part of the local Christian community; they should be given the chance to express themselves and their needs without isolating them.

We will offer to fishers our friendship and smile, a clean and nice place to relax and communicate with the family, a quite corner to write a letter or send a postcard, a room to be alone with God.


  1. We unite our voice to the voices of fishers! Fishers tend to work and act as individuals, their voices in the international organizations and forum are very weak and often are not heard.

We will request a special yearly message for fishers or if it is not possible, a specific mention to fishers within the Sea Sunday Message.

We will continue to promote fishers’ welfare and dignity availing ourselves of the Holy See’s status as a permanent observer in the UN agencies and other international organizations.


  1. We lobby and advocate for the rights of fishers! National Governments play a crucial role in developing laws and regulations for fishers. AOS can sensitize the different national governments "as to the importance of artisanal and small-scale fisheries to develop standards which will ensure decent and productive work for fishers employment, income and food security"( FAO Code of conduct for responsible fisheries, 6.18)”.

We wish to establish a Center for Fishers’ Rights in Asia, possibly in the Philippines. This new Center should collect data, information and do research on the situation of fishers to provide first hand information, to develop new forms of interventions to improve the life and working conditions of fishers and their families. To provide legal and paralegal assistance in the many salary related disputes that they are facing.

We should use the website AOS International as a new good and efficient tool to enlarge the network among AOS Centers throughout the world to provide immediate information in situation of emergency, on fishers’ whereabouts and especially on cases of vessels detention.

We will continue to campaign at the regional and national level for the ratification of the New ILO Consolidated Convention on fishers that for sure will bring additional protection and benefits. Meetings, seminars or workshops should be organized to present, explain and inform government officials, fishers and fishers’ organizations the structure and contents of the New Convention.

We will dedicate special attention to establish “Fishers Wives Association or Group”, within the AOS Centers providing moral, spiritual support and guidance on the part of the Chaplains and volunteers.

To be in solidarity with fishers and their families is like sailing in to the seas and oceans, wide and deep as the one in which fishing vessels of different size and shapes and fishers of all races, nationalities are endlessly sailing, trying to fill their nets with catches to satisfy the insatiable appetite of our world.

We might not be able to reach out to all of them, we might not answer to all their needs, we might not solve all their problems but wherever they are in the world fishers and their families know that the AOS Centers are an anchor of safety in the middle of the tempest, a beacon of light in the darkness of the night, a safe harbor to rest and recover.