Fishing vessels arriving at Fiumicino, Italy, where the fishermen will offload the day’s catch. ©FAO/Napolitano

Organised in Rome by one of the Italian fish workers’ unions, UILA pesca, and with the support of Italy’s Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies and Tourism, a conference dedicated to the promotion of sustainable fisheries and decent work in the fisheries sector took place in FAO’s host country of Italy.

This event brought together Italian government officials, labour unions and fisherfolk alongside staff from FAO, FAO’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO).

Mediterranean fish for sale at a market in Italy. ©FAO/Napolitano

Opening the event, Uila pesca’s National Secretary, Fabrizio De Pascale, spoke about the important momentum growing behind ensuring sustainable fisheries while also focusing on decent work in the sector. He spoke about the important discussions that have taken place at FAO for World Fisheries Day, and hosted jointly by FAO and the Holy See. He reminded the audience about Pope Francis’ message to the fishermen and women – calling decent work in the fisheries sector a human right.

FAO’s Audun Lem and General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean Abdellah Srour spoke at the Promoting sustainable fisheries and decent work in Italy Conference. ©FAO/Sullivan

Fabrizio De Pascale praised Italy’s adhesion to FAO’s Port State Measures Agreement, which aims to end illegal fishing, through its EU membership but called for stepped up efforts to ratify the ILO’s Convention 188 that ensures decent work onboard fishing vessels.

Gianni Rosas, ILO Director for Italy and San Marino welcomed this call for Italy to ratify Convention 188. He stressed that FAO’s Port State Measures Agreement and ILO’s Convention 188 offer strong opportunities to strengthen the entire fisheries sector, by ending illegal fishing and ensuring better working and living conditions aboard fishing vessels. He reminded the audience that the ILO celebrates its centennial this year. It was set up in 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, and has a long history of collaborating with labour unions. It continues with this approach as it works to strengthen decent work in the fisheries sector.

Fish workers offloading the day’s catch in Italy’s port of Fiumicino. ©FAO/Napolitano

Speaking on behalf of FAO, Audun Lem, Deputy-Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, noting that there has been increased media attention on ‘abusive conditions of modern slavery, which includes forced or even slave labour conditions in processing plants and aboard fishing vessels.’

‘These aren’t isolated cases in developing countries. There have been several cases uncovered of such abuses happening in developed countries as well, something that is completely unacceptable in the 21st century. FAO renews its support to the ILO in our joint work to improve international labour standards in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. We will continue to increase our collaboration in this area of work,’ he said.

This joint collaboration between FAO and ILO includes a series of regional workshops on decent work in the fisheries sector. The first meeting was held last year for Asia, which was held in the Philippines. Additional regional meetings are under planning for later this year. Further collaboration is occurring through the joint Ad-hoc International Maritime (IMO)-FAO Joint Working Group on IUU fishing and related matters. These meetings are increasingly addressing labour-related issues.

The day’s catch is auctioned to restaurants and wholesalers near the port of Italy’s Fiumicino. ©FAO/Napolitano

Audun Lem also announced FAO work being undertaken, through a mandate from FAO’s Committee on Fisheries, to develop a guidance document for social responsibility along the fisheries value chain. This guidance will be negotiated by member countries at the FAO Subcommittee on Fish Trade to be held in Vigo, Spain in November.

In preparing the document, FAO is organising a number of stakeholder consultations with the various stakeholders – government officials, fisherfolk organisations, non-governmental organisations, labour unions, private sector and retailers. The next international consultation will be at the Seafood Expo Global on 8 May in Brussels, where participants are welcome to join the discussion. An online tool will also be made available to allow for interested stakeholders to share their ideas for moving forward on this crucial issue.

At the Italian Coastguard control center at Civitavecchia, officers use technology to inspect fishing activities in Italy’s Lazio region. ©FAO/Minichiello

The Deputy Secretary for Fisheries of Italy’s Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, Franco Manzato, spoke about the vision for the fisheries sector in Italy. This includes a strengthening of the “Made in Italy” branding for seafood. Consumers are requesting more transparency for their purchases, and the sector must work to guarantee not only a good quality product, but one that ensures that the product has been harvested sustainably and has respected the dignity of its workers along its entire value chain.

The interesting discussion provided background to the growing interest in promoting decent work in the fisheries sector and its support to the FAO Port State Measures Agreement and the attempts to end illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The Italian labour unions and fisherfolk taking part in the discussions will be important partners moving forward in the Guidance document for social responsibility along the fisheries value chain and to joint FAO and ILO activities supporting decent work in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.