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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 106, April 2008



AOS International Fishing

Committee Meeting*



Introductory address



Archbishop Agostino MARCHETTO

Secretary of the Pontifical Council

for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People



I welcome you all to this fourth meeting of the AOS International Fishing Committee. I would like to express our gratitude to Mr Grimur Valdimarsson of the FAO and Mr. Danny Appave of the ILO, who have kindly accepted to be present and assist us in our efforts to better focus our pastoral outreach on the fishers and their families. I might add that both the FAO and the ILO participated to the “Ad Hoc Committee” which saw the founding of this Committee.

I would like briefly to remind those who are its new members that it was founded in 2003,  one year after the XXI AOS World Congress, which recommended its creation. It was given the mission to reach out and intensify the  pastoral care to all fishers and fishing communities, without distinction, so that “their spiritual and material welfare be addressed and their human and labour rights respected” (Ad Hoc Commission on Fishing, December, 2003. p 4). It was also decided that the AOS Regional Coordinators would be members of this Committee, that as the need arose experts would be invited to attend too and that future meetings would be held once a year in conjunction with the Coordinators one.

Today the fishing sector is battling against the more negative aspects of globalisation and is confronted with a very serious economic, social and ecological situation. The factors behind this looming crisis are well known. Our oceans which occupy 75% of the earth’s surface and which are a major provider of proteins for the population are faced with an unprecedented depletion of the fish stocks, which has been brought about by over fishing, caused by the outsized fleets, improved technology and a doubling of the demand for the sea produces in the last 40 years. Pollution and global warming are also contributing greatly to this crisis. It is estimated that 75% of  the known marine fisheries  are currently being overexploited and are under threat. With the result that, both in the developing world and in the industrialised countries, the very existence of many fishing communities is being threatened.

This situation is made even more serious by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing), which is considered by the FAO as a major factor undermining the sustainability of fisheries, estimating that in some areas it accounts for up to 30% of the total catch. It is estimated that 50% of the fish sold in the EU originates in developing nations, and much of it is caught and shipped illegally (Int. Herald Tribune, January 15, 2008). Although there are ships from rich countries who are also involved in “pirate fishing”, most of the  fishers implicated in illegal fishing are usually recruited from developing countries as they have few other employment alternatives. Fishers on IUU vessels, which often are under a flag of convenience, work for low wages and in extremely poor living and working conditions, so much so that their situation has been compared to modern slavery.

We have only to consider the following figures to realise that we are faced with a dangerous situation of  global proportion if  steps are not taken now  to redress the situation :

  • More than 1 billon people rely on fish as their main or even only source of protein;

  • an estimated 41 million people are engaged in capture fishing and aquaculture production worldwide;

  • 95% of fish workers live in developing countries. Many of these are among the poorest people and earn less than $1 per day.

The next decades will be decisive if we want the ocean to live.

There are however signs of hope and, among them, one in particular, stands out. It is the adoption by the ILO, on the 15th June 2007, of the new labour standards for the world’s fishing sector, which is known as the Work in Fishing  Convention, 2007.  This convention has been hailed as a defining moment and a great opportunity to change for the better the living and working conditions of 90 % of the world’s estimated 41 million fishers, since these new standards  are designed to ensure that:

  • occupational safety, health and medical care at sea are improved;

  •  sufficient rest be given;

  •  work agreements are respected;

  •  the same social  security protection as for other workers are made available for fishers.

This convention has also put into place a mechanism, through the  inspections of vessels, which will hopefully remove from the oceans the boats with unacceptable working and living conditions.

Our recent World Congress by reflecting on the Hope that makes us live, has enriched our spirituality and reaffirmed the commitment of  the AOS towards the fishing sector. This meeting today will enable us to reflect further in order to develop a common vision and an AOS international perspective, in the context of the existing AOS International Committee on Fishing.

In spite of the many difficulties, let us forge ahead and proceed with confidence and Hope. In the words of the Pope Benedict XVI in his recent encyclical Spe Salvi (no. 1): “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is]the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.”

Once more thank you for your presence and cooperation and may our Lord bless you and the Virgin Mary, the Stella Maris, preside over our deliberations.



* Rome, 2nd February 2008.