Originating from Garrett Hardin’s work, the concept “tragedy of the commons” refers to the idea of a major natural resource being used in a way which is guided by one’s self interests but not by the greater good. Acting in the best interest of all, ensuring the sustainability of people’s livelihoods, preserving the ecosystem for future generations is a must if we are serious about meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But is this what we see happening? That several measures have been taken over the years to improve the welfare of the fishing community cannot be denied but the way that our oceans are currently managed, without the fishing community being given ‘voice’, raises several questions.
The silence of the authorities on the recent catch of sharks in our waters is astounding. The implications of this beastly presence on the tourism industry, the fishing community and Mauritians in search of some leisure activities are huge. They cannot remain unaddressed.
I am not an expert in the field of oceanography nor in ‘shark movements’ but anyone with some common sense would agree that a single shark attack can lead to bad publicity and an ensuing collapse of our tourism industry. A tumbling tourism industry means thousands of livelihoods going down the drain. What happened in Reunion island as a result of shark attacks, in the not so distant past, is public knowledge and yet authorities in Mauritius are not prepared to let go of their ‘denial mode’. Whenever there is a problem, they seek to camouflage it and/or refuse to accept the truth rather than take the bull by the horn.
Given the scale of economic activities and livelihoods associated with oceanic resources, the governance and management of fisheries operations become most pertinent. For many years now, fishing has been a major source of food for humanity and a provider of employment and economic benefits to those engaged in this activity.
Some experts as well as fishermen of longstanding experience have argued that the ‘aquacols’ set up in various spots in our ocean is a major attractor of ‘bouledogue’ sharks. The latter constitute a major threat and yet there seems to be no effort on the part of policy makers to engage with relevant stakeholders in search of solutions. Instead, the argument that has been put forward in defence of the ‘aquacols’ is that they contribute to food security.
Let us be clear, no Mauritian is against food security. In fact, they are so concerned with food security for all that they would much prefer engaging in a cost benefit analysis of the ‘aquacols’ in order to find better and more effective ways of promoting ‘aquaculture’ than the existing one.
Other recent issues which affect the fishing community’s livelihoods and our ecosystem include the proposed ‘croisière at St-Brandon’ as well as the move by the government to further open our EEZ to foreign powers to fish in our waters. All that the Tourism minister had to say in relation to the proposed cruise is measures “…pour ne pas fragiliser l’écosystème de l’archipel sont à l’étude… ‘ When will the population get to know about these measures, let alone their implementation? Perhaps when it is too late.
The emerging scenario merits revisiting existing regulatory framework and the functioning of our institutions. Regulations in fishing have been practised by many early civilizations but a significant milestone in global fisheries regulation was the launch of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement that was the culmination of a series of earlier deliberations. Though UNCLOS dealt with a wide range of subjects such as international maritime boundaries, oceanic pollution and control, scientific research in the oceans, management of marine natural resources, settlement of disputes, and so on, one of its key focus was fisheries management.
The FAO too has played a significant role in ensuring sustainable management and regulation of fisheries through the formulation of the FAO Code of Conduct for responsible fisheries, 1995 (CCRF) and the FAO compliance agreement. The CCRF promotes a ‘precautionary approach’ in fisheries management and is voluntary rather than mandatory. It consists of a collection of principles, goals and elements for action, and expects governments to translate them into national fishery policies and legislations. To what extent is the Mauritian state abiding by the FAO Code of Conduct is a question worth posing. Governance is shrouded in such opacity that it is very difficult to get a full grasp of what is happening. More worrying is that meanwhile people’s livelihoods are being destroyed on a daily basis, with very little possibility, if at all, for them to get out of the poverty trap in which they are quickly falling.
Given the complexity associated with the governance of our EEZ, it is important to promote marine spatial planning(MSP). UNESCO defines the latter as ‘a practical way to create and establish a more rational organization of the use of the marine space and the interactions between its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect marine ecosystems and to achieve social and economic objectives in an open, participatory and planned way.’ But the government seems to ignore the importance of participatory planning in decision-making. Instead we hear:“Government is government. Government decides” . Sadly, this regime’s decisions and policies in many spheres of society have caused a lot of harm to the nation. We therefore call on the citizens of Mauritius to wake up and together with the fishing community, let us save Our Commons as well as the livelihoods of fellow citizens. A nation without jobs for its people is one without dignity!