Conference of the Ocean People
A Public Online Event 26, 28 & 30June 2022
Oceans are fundamental to life on our planet. It is a delicate ecology that includes not only the resources of the ocean but the people who have been living with it historically, traditionally engaging with it as their way of life. The ancestral knowledge and culture of these people contribute to the development of this ‘way of life’, sourcing their identity that is inherent and indivisible in nature, prospering into an oceaning civilization. This identity goes beyond categorising the oceanic people as fishers only (which might be their source of livelihood), but rather as the custodians of the ocean, historically and collectively belonging to the ecology, asserting collective sovereignty over the ocean (no individuals can own the ecology). While the policy discourse agreed the river valley and cultivation-based civilization to be mainstream, the concept of “food for survival” became dominant over other civilizations. This alienated other ecology-based civilizations like the ocean civilization.
The commitment of nation states towards sustainable development of the ocean has been largely through the ‘blue growth’ initiatives to extract and exploit resources of the ocean for the nation’s prosperity by devising the Sustainable Development Goal 14 (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development). This understanding of the ocean economy has excluded the ocean people out of their nation’s growth model. The life below the ocean gained primacy for the sake of the economy, over the lives above the water, consisting of the oceanic people.
The oceanic communities have been living historically in harmony within the ocean ecology, whereby their ways of life incorporate the custody of the ocean, through traditional and sustainable systems of capture/ wild fishing. The corporate mindset, on the other hand, has narrowed the ocean ecology down to natural capital, as grounding spaces for production, economy, market and development, whereby the ownership of the oceanic resources are sought to be transferred from the hands of the people who have historically lived on the coast, to the private entities.
This approach of ‘exploration, expansion and exploitation’ is explicit in the upcoming United Nations Ocean Conference 2022 (27 June – 1 July, 2022). It does not come as a surprise that the UNOC is organised by international corporations that seek to extract resources from the ocean along with elite conservationist groups – who view the ocean as the source of petrodollars, and the ocean people as encroachers on this ambition. In addition, the revised draft political declaration failed drastically to address the Voluntary Guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries (VGSSF) in the context of food security and poverty eradication. This amounts to a war on the occupation of ocean people across the world.
By organising the Conference of the Ocean Peoples, we take on the responsibility to assert our historical and customary rights to secure the sovereignty of the oceans and protect the coastal land for our future generations.
We are the Ocean, We are the People!
The 7th General Assembly of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP GA-7) jointly hosted by WFFP and the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) in New Delhi, India in 2017 gave the clarion call “We Are the Ocean, We Are the People”. The New Delhi Declaration condemned the application of false mitigation solutions such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Blue Carbon Initiatives, which often lead to land, water and ocean grabbing. It also vehemently opposed the justification of resource grabbing framed as ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Blue Growth’ or the ‘beautification’ of our ocean, land and water territories. However, our voices have not been heeded to by the governments and policy-makers.
In 2021, the WFFP and NFF jointly hosted an International Conference on ‘Impacts of Blue Economy: Response of the Affected Peoples’, with the Indian Ocean people (Five WFFP Countries – Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Thailand). The verdicts of the tribunal juries unearthed the scale of havoc unleashed in the name of the Blue Economy, for the first time in living history. It also unconditionally exposed Blue Economy as ‘Blue Myth’. The testimonies expressed the angst of the communities who have been made vulnerable to capital and climate by the Blue Economy projects, dispossessing the fisher people including coastal poor from their traditional homelands. The statement affirmed that small-scale fishers remain excluded from decisions affecting our lives and territories. When we protest, we are increasingly met with militarised state repression. When we exercise our traditional practices and human rights, we are pushed back by the greed of capitalist development projects. Gender inequality is exacerbated under the blue development paradigm, while the climate crisis is deepening. However, nation states have been systematically and rapidly moving ahead with their ocean grabbing scheme while ingraining the blue development paradigm into the mainstream national development agenda. This is particularly so in the small island developing states and the least developing coastal countries.
Unfortunately, even in the post COVID National Economic Recovery Framework, exploitation of the oceans has been prioritised, using the Blue Economy projects. The nation states are making “Blue Deal”, an ocean-based trade arrangement, to ease blue businesses for this national economic recovery, with oceans as frontiers. They are being synchronised with the satellite-based Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) for oceans, Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan for coastal shore lands and ecosystem based Marine Conservation Sites, in order to ‘scientifically and sustainably’ harness the potential of the ocean economy, by indulging in ocean grabbing. Even the democratically elected nation states are acting as “rentier states”, leasing out the ocean ecology for the augmentation of capital for corporations. The global corporations are not only exploiting our customary commons/resources, but also annihilating our sovereign rights over and identities from the ocean. The recent process to change the World Fisheries Day to World Fisheries and Aquaculture Day is one among the many manifestations of the historical injustice on the ocean people.
Today, the ocean people have become one of the most vulnerable frontline victims of the unfolding climate disaster, facing near extinction. We, the oceans people, assert and reiterate our primary stake in the regulation and management of oceanic economies. We negate the approach by global majors to relinquish us to the space of ‘beneficiaries’ from the fisheries resources. We have been, we are, and we will be the ocean people- representing the thousands of years of the oceanic civilisation. We invite the UN, its member countries, and many of its agencies/ organisations, to join the ocean people and the civil society, in scripting a new future for the world. It takes genuine and honest introspection to ‘build back better’.
Conference of the Ocean Peoples (C-OP)
The National Fishworkers Forum is honoured to collaborate with the World Forum of Fisher Peoples and other civil society organisations in giving this call for the Conference of the Ocean Peoples (C- OP). We have decided to organise this simultaneous to the United Nations Ocean Conference to be held between 26, 28 and 30 June, 2022. This is our way to dissent against the historical injustice meted to the ocean people. We believe this is a battle of survival not just for our people but also for every community and living being on earth.