Should states and international organizations adopt a human rights approach to fisheries policy?

Non-governmental organizations (ngo) and fisherfolk organizations already use human rights principles and legislation to campaign for the social, economic and cultural rights of fishing people. Yet, despite the widespread adoption of human rights principles by ngos and United Nations agencies over the last 20 years and the human rights-basis of the influential fao Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, progress with application of this approach in fisheries has lagged behind other sectors until recently. It has been overshadowed by concerns to clarify and limit fishing access and use rights to prevent ecological collapse and address economic inefficiencies. Recent attention to gender equity, child labour, fair trade and rights to decent work in the fishery sector point, however, to rising attention to human rights-based approaches. Human rights approaches fit well with wider development agendas, utilize existing legal and policy frameworks, improve accountability of donors and states to their citizens, and can have positive impacts on fisherfolk’s ability and motivation to participate in fisheries management for sustainability. They do not always require expensive and protracted legal process to implement and many have proven successful in fostering social and economic development both in fisheries and other sectors. Mindful of the risk of depoliticizing people’s struggles for rights and co-opting the rights agenda to support business-as-usual, international agencies, aid donors and states can support responsible fisheries more effectively if they adopt a more explicit human rights approach in their development programming and governance frameworks.


Allison, E.H. (2011)
Maritime Studies 10(2): 95-116