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Compelling Counsel for World Fisheries Day--The Holy See Leads with Guidance on Needed Ocean Actions

Around the world, the quality of life and opportunities for coastal peoples are deteriorating because marine wildlife and ocean environments are being over-harvested, poisoned, or destroyed, and slavery in the seafood industry continues.

Marking this World Fisheries Day, November 21, 2019, Pope Francis and Cardinal Peter Turkson issued two addresses of how two face the ongoing damage to our oceans, peoples, and wildlife. The first by the Holy See to the International Maritime Organization at the United Nations and the second from the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to the world community at large.

These two documents lay out an excellent ethical blueprint for the world in moving forward to protect the oceans and the most vulnerable people involved with them.

In the former, Cardinal Turkson praises the shipping and sea transportation industry for making efforts to cut down fossil fuel emissions, to slow the acidification of ocean waters, but he recognized that the actions do not go far enough, fast enough. We also need to limit the cleaning agents and chemical draining or washing from our coasts, drilling, rivers, and streams into our seas. So much damage is happening now, harming coastal fisheries people and wildlife.

Cardinal Turkson provides the core questions to guide our actions and policies: “What kind of oceans and seas do we want to leave to future generations? What quality of water do we want flowing into our and their beaches, into our cities, villages and fields, into our sinks and showers? We can and must reverse the degradation of our oceans and seas?

He set out principles of guidance that he elaborated upon in his letter:

  • that responsible action is not optional, but a moral imperative based on our recognition that what we presently encounter in the oceans is all gift, and we have a responsibility to the poor and future generations to pass it all on in as good of quality of abundance and diversity and integrity to future generations. We must implement effective regulatory safeguards and policies.

  • that all elements of society, economics, spirituality, and nature are interwoven and affect each other, and we must act with this recognition of "integral ecology": We must not regard the environment as something separate from us or as a mere setting in which we live. "We are part of it, included in it, and thus in constant symbiotic interaction with it. A crisis of the environment necessarily means a crisis for humanity. A crisis of our oceans and seas necessarily means a crisis for us, especially, the people of the sea and local fishers." So our actions must be guided by understanding the consequences to those least affluent and most vulnerable in our society and in the oceans.

  • that all scientific, technological, and economic solutions MUST integrate ethical consideration of the effects on society--"leaving no one behind."

  • that education is a key tool that must be implemented worldwide at every level. Cardinal Turkson mentions a commitment to use the worldwide Catholic education system and its maritime social agencies for educational outreach for care of the oceans and understanding of an integral ecology.

  • .that everyone and every organization must be involved throughout society in collaborative and participatory, practical efforts together -- such as different faith communities building bridges through shared work; scientists and people of faith; government and corporations with nonprofits; volunteer groups with government agencies. Dialog and working together must be fostered rather than looking for one single big solution. These combined efforts, then, help to knit society back together at the same time. For instance, schools and communities could collect plastic, metal, glass and other waste materials that otherwise would end up in our oceans and rivers. Grassroots organizations could work with farming and mining industries to prevent industrial waste from polluting the water systems. Non-governmental organizations and public authorities could fruitfully collaborate to help poor fishing villages fight the degradation of coastal ecosystems affecting their livelihood. If all of us really care for our environment, then there should be collaboration rather than opposition."

  • that those enslaved in seafood industries and those refugees using the oceans to reach new worlds must be recognized in their dignity and worth-- new regulations and policies must free the captives and assist those seeking asylum, and aid them in creating sustainable lives for themselves and their families.

For as Pope Francis observes, “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice ... so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Complimenting the IMO address, the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, also under the directives of Pope Francis and Cardinal Turkson, issued its own statement for World Fisheries Day.

A key observation was that fishing is considered "one of the most perilous jobs in the world, and every year, over 32,000 fishermen lose their life with tragic repercussions for their families and communities." There is a little assistance available, and many are caught into human trafficking or slavery in the seafood industry on the high seas.

The Dicastery calls for establishment of international labor regulations for safety and to safeguard worker rights and mechanisms of transparency and accountability of all seafood industry vendors. In addition, regulations need to stop overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices and equipment.

It outlined key principles to guide policies, regulations, actions, and thought:

  • integrate social responsibility in decisions, demonstrating concern for the fisher and family--safety, training, legal contract, proper equipment, etc. anything other professions take for granted.

  • listen to the voices of the fishers and their families, supporting their needs to organize and have self-determination

  • create synergy for these ends among all levels of government, business, and societal organizations working with the fishers and their families

  • raise awareness among consumers to demand such levels of social responsibility among all seafood providers at every level

  • prioritize human rights and environment/ecological and public health implications in all decisions, policies, regulations, policies, and corporate actions

"It is therefore urgent and indispensable that Governments address concretely -- through in collaboration with international and regional organizations and civil society-- the issue of social responsibility in the fishing sector, and more generally in all sectors regarding the relationship between oceans and humanity."

Cardinal Turkson also asked all to be vigilant in facilitating and encouraging the most praiseworthy situations, such as those that involve "marginalized communities, people with disabilities, or that use fishing techniques that are particularly respectful of the environment and human health."

Let us hope the world hears and heeds these wise words.

©2017 by Interfaith Oceans. Designed by Nadja Mataya

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