Migration and fisheries

exploring the intersections

Zoe W. Brent and Thibault Josse

It was late July, off the coast of Libya during a late-night fishing session that they heard the desperate cries. Once he saw more clearly, Captain Carlo Giarratano realised quickly that the small dinghy was gaining water, and the 50 refugees aboard, with no fuel or food, had only a few hours until the precarious craft lost all of its air. ‘No human being – sailor or not – would have turned away.’ Reflecting on the situation Carlo understood that, ‘If you decide to cross the sea in those conditions, then you’re willing to die. It means that what you’re leaving behind is even worse, hell.’1

The Italian fishers gave the stranded passengers what little food and water they had aboard and set to work coordinating the rescue of their boat, which was eventually brought to port in Sicily. This gesture of humanity put Carlo at risk of a fine of up to €50,000, or even jail time, because of then Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini’s ban on bringing refugees to shore without permission.2 But in his words, ‘No seaman would ever return to port without the certainty of having saved those lives. If I had ignored those cries for help, I wouldn’t have had the courage to face the sea again.’3 This third generation fisher lives by the law of the sea: the life of another person at sea has the same value as your own.

Not all fishing boats operate by these principles however. According to investigative reporting by the Guardian, ‘exploitation of foreign labour is an open secret in the Irish seafood sector’ and, ‘illegal “black” overfishing and “modern slavery” were putting the future of the industry at risk.’4 Meanwhile the Migrant Rights Centre, Ireland found, ‘The high-risk environment is linked to exploitation: long hours and exhaustion affect a worker’s ability to react and respond to dangerous situations. The experience of verbal abuse and racism of fishers at the hands of some skippers is indicative of an unequal value for the safety and life of migrant fishers.’5

How do we make sense of the diverse realities that exist at the intersection of migration and fisheries in Europe? This brief article is an initial attempt to understand the different ways that people who migrate interact with the European fisheries sector, and to contextualise this question by providing some background about the structural changes in the European fisheries sector which may shape who migrates, who fishes and under what conditions? While this short exploration is in no way able to provide definitive answers to all of these questions, the hope is to nonetheless shed some light on the issues and political opportunities at the intersection of migration and fisheries in Europe, as a first step for future research and organising.6

Circuits of displacement and exploitation in fisheries

Changing migration flows reflect shifts in opportunities, the push of poverty and the drive towards something better for one’s family and loved ones. These changes have been conditioned by European fisheries and border policy, which has opened up western African fishing grounds for overfishing by European trawlers and at the same time, militarised ocean space by externalising border control.

By some accounts, as early as the 1970s irregular immigration from Africa to Europe took place on large fishing trawlers. Those who could pay €2500-3000 would make deals with the trawler owners to take them to Spain at the end of the fishing season, and others would seek the aid of the workers on the trawlers for a lesser fee (€500-1000) to make the passage as a stowaway.7 Others would take overland routes through the desert to Spanish protectorates Ceuta and Melilla. However migration flows have shifted over the years in response to increased border controls, and the externalisation and militarisation of EU borders led by Frontex, the EU border control and coast guard agency which was established in 2004. Further, entry into Europe via Ceuta or Melilla declined after the highly publicised 2005 brutality against migrants attempting to cross the border, and the increase of the border fence height from 3 to 6 meters. So new opportunities were identified further and further south along the West African coastline from which point boats could take people on the move across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. The Mauritanian city of Nouadhibou became a transit hub, until strengthened border controls pushed efforts further south to Saint Louis in Senegal, Mbour, Joal, Casamance and eventually Guinea-Bissau.8 According to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, some 31,678 people were stopped as they landed on the shores of the Canary Islands in 2006 alone.

From 2006 onwards, coordinated by Frontex, the EU effectively began to subcontract its border security tasks to West African countries, via operations like Hera I, II, and III, in hopes of catching people in the first steps of their migration journey. ‘Through this cooperation, European member states such as Portugal, Italy and Spain supplied 2 helicopters, 2 ships and around 10 patrol boats to Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia and Cape Verde.9 As controls were ramped up, the Atlantic sea route to Spain dwindled in importance and in 2012 only 173 new arrivals were arrested. Of course this number excludes, the many hundreds, if not thousands who did not survive the journey.10 After this point, however, Mediterranean sea routes saw renewed importance, and once more diversified and expanded rapidly.11

‘By September 2015, UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] was estimating more than 487,000 arrivals [to Europe] by sea, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had published a similar figure of 590,000. Frontex figures were much higher, at 710,000, possibly because the agency counts all detections of ‘illegal border crossings’ as an indicator of the number of people arriving irregularly in Europe. This means that an individual migrant may be counted more than once, since many make more than one crossing between EU and non-EU countries in order to reach their preferred destination.’12

Border security is not the only thing that the EU has externalised. A collapse of fish stocks due to overfishing by European vessels has also been exported to West African coastlines. European fisheries agreements have given highly industrialised European fishing boats access to foreign waters, notably those of West African countries, thus putting extreme pressure on local fishers in those places. This has made it impossible for many small-scale fishers to compete, as trawlers overfish and fish stocks decline. The collapse of West African fisheries is a key ‘push’ factor for migration. Many who embark on treacherous journeys across the Atlantic or the Mediterranean in search of work and opportunities to support their families do not make it.

‘The exact death toll will probably never be known, as some flimsy vessels disappear without [a] trace’. According to United for Intercultural Action around 17,000 people have died from 1993-2012 in the sea. Gabriele del Grande’s blog Fortress Europe documented 21,439 drowned people since 1998. The Migrants’ Files database counts more than 28,000 migrants who died on their way to Europe since 2000.’13

For those who do make it, upon arrival they face institutional racism, xenophobia and the threat of deportation limiting their ability to make a decent life. Industrial fishing is one of the sectors in Europe that increasingly employs migrant labour. This tragically ironic circuit, in which European trawlers generate the conditions that force people to migrate and benefit from their precarious position upon arrival by hiring them in exploitative labour arrangements, is one of the central processes shaping the way migration intersects with fisheries in Europe today. One fisher describes how he was brought to tears when he had to return to Senegalese waters on an industrial fishing boat, unable to set foot on land to visit his family, and continuing the pillage of his native coastal fishery which caused him to migrate in the first place.14

Of course, not all West African fishers migrate, people from a range of different backgrounds migrate to Europe, and not all non-local people who end up working in the European fisheries sector are former fishers. We pay special attention to the case of Senegalese migration to explore the multiple ways that people are pushed and pulled into this circuit and how strategies of social reproduction, including food provisioning, are being reshaped in the process.

Fuelling Senegalese migration

Amidst inequality, war and conflict, human rights violations and multiple threats to human survival, for thousands of people, especially in the Global South, migration to Europe is seen as the best, or only, option. Among the push factors driving this migratory flow are the EU’s own fisheries policies. Unjust bilateral fishing agreements included in the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), essentially allow the EU to pay large sums to convince non-EU countries to open up their sovereign waters to European boats whose capacity has outpaced fish stocks in European seas. ‘In 2009, 14 countries in the Global South were collectively paid nearly €150 million for signing SFPAs [Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements], making the EU’s financial contributions substantial – and often the main source of revenue for national fisheries ministries.’15

In Senegal, for example, nearly 20% of the national workforce is employed in fisheries, but fish stocks and income in this sector have suffered as a result of agreements with foreign fishing fleets including EU fisheries agreements.16 Formal bilateral agreements between the EU and Senegal weren’t renewed after 2006 because of the devastation of fish resources. ‘However since then a number of European-based companies have settled in Senegal as joint ventures. They are officially Senegalese, count as Senegalese fishing companies, and at the same time are an opportunity for European fleets to informally fish in Senegalese waters and reserve their catches for export to the European market.’17

The number of small, locally owned boats dropped by 48% between 1998 and 2008 as international fleets overfished and squeezed out artisanal fishers.18

‘Having seen their control over their households diminish with diminishing fish catches, migration and its facilitation becomes the preferred strategy for fishers to retain, regain, or aspire to positions as household heads, providers and local political leaders. The sea, then, remains imagined as a space of possibility and potential that will solve the land-based problems of fishermen in the Senegalese Atlantic.’19

After increased border security was implemented in Ceuta and Melilla in 2005, new routes departing from the Senegalese coast were seen as less dangerous alternatives.

‘The Senegalese fishermen involved in these journeys were either the long-distance fishermen who had spread their fishing routes all over the ocean and could use their navigation skills for these maritime crossings or the local small-scale fishermen who saw in these migration journeys a strategy to cope with the decrease in fish resources in their local waters.’20

Fishers also undertook these journeys hoping to migrate themselves to Europe via the Canary Islands. Some 38% of passengers were fishers.21
‘Migration is a collective action.’22 It has been part of human interaction for centuries. ‘It arises out of social change and affects the whole society. Boat migration thrives on networking: networks of migrants, families and organizers, as well as networks of settled migrants in the country of destination.’23 Indeed, ‘it is often the women and their families who make the men’s journeys possible by funding their trips, helping them find jobs and housing when they arrive, and taking on the added burdens they leave behind.’24 The undermining of fisher livelihoods and ever-evolving patterns of migration impact not just men, but entire families and family structures. For example, after Senegalese fisher Omar settled in Europe, his and his partner Aida’s families planned their wedding ceremony. But since he still had not obtained legal status permitting him to travel, he was not physically present at his own wedding — something increasingly common among Senegalese families.

‘When he became a documented worker in 2008, Omar started working as a fisherman in European waters and sending remittances on a regular basis. Since then, he has been coming back for a month once a year. Aida used to work as a hairdresser in the neighbourhood, but as soon as the couple’s situation got better and she had a child, Omar asked her to stop working and stay at home to take care of the family. On average, he sends 30 euros a month to his wife.’25

Producing precarity in European fisheries

When asked what it feels like to arrive in Europe as a Black African woman, Nicole Ngongala of Asociación Karibu responded: ‘It’s raining, you have an umbrella in your hand, but you are getting wet.’26 The promise of opportunity and the ability to find work and send some support home to family who stayed behind is the umbrella that inspires thousands to risk their lives to make the journey in search of a little more shelter and protection in tumultuous times. However upon arrival, many find that the umbrella they are able to find is in fact riddled with holes by racism and exploitation, providing little protection at all.

Many European nationals find the protection against risk and precarity offered by the fisheries sector insufficient. Increased pressure and uncertainty among fishers, compounded by high levels of risks and accidents at sea, mean that European youth are choosing not to continue fishing in the family tradition. Increased regulatory and financial barriers impede access to boats and necessary qualifications, making entry into fishing challenging. Strictly regulated or limited fishing periods drive fishers to stay out longer hours or in bad weather in order to catch enough to earn a living.27 European nationals generally have more educational and professional opportunities than their parents, thus causing, ‘recruitment through a father-to-son pathway to become less common.’28 At the same time,

‘the image of employment in the fisheries sector has deteriorated due to the following aspects: overexploitation of stocks; difficulties in building new boats; security at sea; hardly any progress with regard to quality of life; increase of international competition through imports; and lack of young recruits. Such negative elements dissuade young people from considering a career in fishing.’29

As one young Belgian apprentice fisher explains, ‘It’s unpredictable how much you can earn sometimes. That’s why a lot of people are uncertain if they really want to do it. And also because it’s really hard work. And a lot of people have kids and stuff, and they don’t want to leave them behind.’30 Indeed, ‘it is fishers who are paying the price for the growing economic and environmental pressures in today’s fishing industry. Over the past three decades liberalization, unfair competition and inadequate regulation have led to a squeeze on the wages and working conditions of fishers.’31

Indeed the number of fishers in Europe has steadily declined in recent decades. Data varies but,

‘[o]ne source finds that in the 1996–1998 period there were around 258,000 fishermen in the EU, falling to around 209,000 by 2002-2003. Another finds a variable level of between 112,000 and 189,000 fishermen over the 2002–2009 period. The impact of falling revenues on employment in the EU27 over the last twenty years has been partly offset by subsidies.’32

In France recruitment is most difficult on medium and larger vessels.33 Declining fish stocks combined with rising consumer demand for fish products especially incentivises industrial trawlers to cut costs on wages in order to compensate for decreases in catch and maximise profits.

‘Given that the cost of vessels, technology and insurance continues to rise, the drive to achieve economies has focused on labour. Especially in deep-sea fishing, large conglomerates recruit fishers from some of the poorest countries in the world, which has led to the growth of a migrant workforce often earning low wages with vague or non-existent contracts.’34

On larger vessels that stay out at sea for days on end fishing distant waters, boat owners hire workers as employees rather than as independent contractors. While on many smaller boats, fishers are paid an equivalent to a portion of the catch. According to Seafarers’ Rights International it is this large-scale part of the industry that is primarily turning to non-local labour.35 ‘Migrants – including those from non-EU countries – are often viewed as the solution to difficulties in recruiting from the local population who sometimes regard fishing or fish processing jobs as low wage work with unpleasant working conditions.’36

Fishing has always been a dangerous profession.

‘Fishers are more likely to lose their lives at work than those in other occupations, including dangerous jobs such as mining and construction. Information from fisheries’ administrations and fishers’ organizations indicates that fatality rates are on the rise. In the UK, where safety rules are very tight, fatal accidents among fishers were 115 times greater than for the overall workforce in the period 1996-2005. While death rates in other sectors fell in the UK during the period, this was not the case in fishing. In the United States in 2000, the rate of fatalities at work among fishers was 25-30 times the national average.’37

However, fishers not working in their country of origin face even higher levels of risk and injury. ‘For example, 75 per cent of deaths on UK fishing vessels in 2008 were migrant fishers from either Eastern Europe or the Philippines. The Filipino death rate of 350 per 100,000 was more than three times the UK death rate of 102 per 100,000.’38

Photo credit: Thibault Josse

Of course, those who end up working in the Western European fisheries sector face very diverse circumstances and challenges. Many non-local fishers are highly sought after for their excellent skills at sea. Some migrant fishers, who work for companies that are sensitive to migration issues, can achieve comfortable working and living conditions, even if fishing is still hard and dangerous work. But unfortunately, many end up in fishing jobs that take advantage of their immigration status, particularly when they are in an irregular administrative situation. A variety of exploitative labour arrangements and mechanisms enable boat owners to pass losses on to workers.

Human trafficking and near or actual slavery conditions are a reality today in Western European fisheries. According to an investigation by the Guardian, ‘some boat owners and crewing agencies are smuggling African and Filipino workers into Ireland through entry points at London Heathrow and Belfast airports, and then arranging for them to cross from Northern Ireland into the Republic by road, bypassing Irish immigration controls.’ Fishers interviewed by the Guardian indicate that crewing agents set up deals in advance in the fisher’s country of origin, lending money for the passage and charging for the visa, which ultimately doesn’t exist. Though not explicitly told they would end up working without papers when promised by recruiters that a job awaited them in Europe, upon arrival fishers are shouldered with debt to hiring agents and, ‘[m]any workers describe subsequently living in fear of deportation and being told to stay on their boats in port because the owners would be fined if they were spotted and stopped by the authorities.’40

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), which has spearheaded the campaign for regulatory change in Ireland41, has also denounced similar practices in Galicia, Spain.42 Our fieldwork found that in Brittany, one boat owner is well known for confiscating the papers of migrant workers, in order to put pressure on them to accept low salaries. These situations trap non-local fishers in exploitative work arrangements, where they suffer from psychological pressure, lack of sleep, dangerous work conditions and limited time on land, all of which limit the extent to which they are able to organise collectively or even make contacts that could help them to escape or push for better working conditions.

People migrating within the EU may also face unjust and irregular employment conditions. The system of posted workers makes it possible for European companies to hire workers without following all the regulations of the country in which they work. Typically workers are subject to the labour law of the country where their work is carried out. However, in the EU there are a few exceptions:

‘1) employed persons who are employed by an employer which normally carr[ies] out its activities in a Member State and who are posted by that employer to another Member State to perform work on its behalf (Article 12(1) of the Basic Regulation), 2) persons who normally pursue an activity as a self employed person in a Member State who go to pursue a similar activity in another Member State (Article 12(2) of the Basic Regulation); and 3) persons who pursue an activity as an employed/self-employed person in two or more Member States (Article 13 of the Basic Regulation).’43

This essentially allows a worker employed in one EU member state to be posted to work temporarily in a different member state. This means that the worker is subject to the employment conditions of the ‘sending’ country, where they remain formally employed. In 2017, a total of 2.8 million posted worker agreements were issued. Workers in agriculture, hunting and fishing only make up some 0.8% of total posted workers, but this nonetheless represents some 10,972 workers in that year alone. Notably, 6,911 (63% of posted workers in agriculture, hunting and fisheries) came from Poland.44 And, in the case of French fisheries, our field work indicates that such workers are hired by industrial boats in order to cut costs and pay wages lower than French fishers expect. In this case, we also found some Spanish boat owners who had bought old French trawlers to access French fishing quotas, and who rely on lower wages of posted workers to recoup the cost of the investment. Taken together these practices reveal the ways that some boat owners leverage the mobility of capital and labour within the EU to increase profits. The European Commission has described this as ‘social dumping,’ a situation ‘where foreign service providers can undercut local service providers because their labour standards are lower.’45

Although reliable data for legally employed migrant labour in fisheries across EU members states doesn’t exist, a 2016 European Commission study attempts to compile existing data sources. Authors claim that:

‘a total of 19,000 non-local workers [are] legally employed in the EU fisheries sector, representing 5.6% of all employment. At Member State level, non-local labour was concentrated in the UK, France and Spain – 49.9% of all non-locals in the fisheries sector in the EU are employed in these three Member States alone. Nonlocal labour is almost non-existent in many of the Eastern European member states (Poland, Bulgaria and Romania).’46

Much of this labour comes from workers moving between EU countries, as is the case for 86.1% of non-local workers in France, for example. However, countries like Spain and Portugal rely much more heavily on non-local workers coming from outside of the EU, as the table below demonstrates.

Source: MRAG Ltd, Coffey and AND International, 2016: 19

In many cases the diversity within the European fishing fleet is an opportunity for cultural exchange on board and generational renewal in a sector which many local young people have preferred not to work in. However, our fieldwork suggests that on some boats racialised workers, despite having work permits, face ongoing racism and discrimination at sea, which can make already tough working conditions unbearable. Senegalese fishers working on big trawlers in Brittany explained they face harassment at sea because of the racism of some white crew members. This can lead to depression or to tensions among the crew. Some of those interviewed explained that this can be a motive for leaving a boat or an enterprise, to find a place where they feel more accepted, even though finding another job may be very difficult.

Finding ways to survive in Europe

For many people who migrate to Europe, continuing to fish may not be an option. One striking example of this trajectory is the case of Barcelona’s street vendors, known as ‘Manteros’. Given the impact of European fisheries policy on Senegalese coastal areas, an important portion of the people engaged in street vending to make a living – selling clothes, bags, shoes, etc. in the touristic parts and next to the recently gentrified Port Vell of Barcelona– are former Senegalese fisher people. However, they are often criminalised both by the police and sometimes by local people for selling informally on the street. The Barcelona Municipality has been trying to improve the situation of street vendors and to better welcome refugees, but so far there has not been any real solution to the issue.

However, as a way of combatting the precariousness and social stigma that they face in Barcelona, the primarily Senegalese community of street vendors formed a cooperative in 2015 called the ‘Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes,’ commonly known as the ‘Sindicato de Manteros’ (Union of Manteros). A year later they created their own brand, ‘Top Manta’ and began to sell their own t-shirts and sweat-shirts under the brand of the cooperative in an old shop in the Raval neighborhood. After the establishment of the cooperative, many social movements took notice of the struggle and began looking for ways to collaborate. The Sindicato de Manteros has thus participated in many assemblies, events, and cooking workshops in order to explain their stories and their struggle, opening the way for further collaborations with other collectives and movements. In one such encounter former fishers and members of the collective participated in the ‘Food Sovereignty and Small Scale Fisheries encounter’ organised in Barcelona in June 2019. This was an important opportunity for people from different food sovereignty movements to understand their struggle, and helped to make their case more visible and establish bridges of solidarity. In the context of the Coronavirus crisis, the collective has organised the collection of food and donations to distribute among families in need. Still, they continue to face harassment from police threatening to fine them up to €60,000 for ensuring the basic food security of over 300 of the city’s most vulnerable families.47

Besides those who leave or enter formal employment in fisheries, many refugees use recreational fishing as a way to meet part of their household/community protein needs. In France, for example, recreational fishing is legal and important for many families who suffer from racist immigration policies, as well as social and economic exclusion. In Douarnenez, in Brittany, recreational fishing is a widely used community subsistence activity among immigrant populations from nearby cities. The, so-called ‘pier of shame’ attracts locals, Africans, Asians and Roma people en masse to fish mackerel or squid. Especially in summer and autumn when these fish are in season, the dock is shoulder to shoulder, filled with hundreds of people fishing. Fishing gear ranges from professional poles to a simple hook and line thrown by hand. Recently, conflicts between these ‘recreational fishers’ and the professional fishers working in Douarnenez have arisen, and the municipality wants to prohibit all recreational access to avoid conflicts. This criminalisation of recreational fishing would significantly impact the families who count on it for subsistence. Fishing on this pier is a lively social activity, seen as a way for communities to meet and support each other. If this prohibition goes through, the intercultural value of this dock in Douarnenez would be lost. This type of prohibition could also fuel divisions and scapegoating of immigrants for supposedly triggering the closure of the pier. Realising this, local people organised a movement to defend ‘the right to fish for everyone,’ demanding universal access to the pier.
Artisanal fishers on the French Atlantic coast are also working to create access to fishing for migrant youth with a focus on decent working conditions, and support for acquiring necessary training certificates. In Saint Jean de Luz, in the French Basque Country, one ex-fisherwoman involved in small-scale fisher movements is now retired and involved in organisations supporting refugees. When one young man showed interest in the fisheries sector, she decided to ask her former colleagues to take him on board so that he could discover what fisheries are about. In this French fisher’s words, ‘When he told us about his story and the way he had to cross the Mediterranean Sea while seeing his friends dying, we realized how lucky we were. It is clear that we should help these people to get saved at sea and have proper living conditions afterwards.’ This young man is now studying in the fisheries school of Ciboure, in order to go to sea as soon as possible, which would provide him a decent livelihood.

Emerging solidarity and collective action within the fisheries sector?

As explained in the introduction, Sicilian fisher people are currently helping refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. But these fishers and the NGOs organising rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea are constantly criminalised by the repressive arm of the European Union, often referred to as ‘Fortress Europe’. The EU funds and trains Libyan Coastal Guards or local militias to prevent refugees from entering European territory by returning them to Libya. ‘Today solidarity with migrants is a crime. Save people from drowning in cold waters and you are a human trafficker.’48

Because of this political climate and their precarious living conditions, refugees often struggle to organise politically and many are trapped in the paternalism of some charity organisations. However, 2019 saw the creation of the collective ‘Les Gilets Noirs’ (‘Black vests’, in reference to the yellow vests, another French social movement). This collective has organised massive actions in Paris to defend the rights of refugees seeking asylum, with the slogan ‘rights and papers for all’.

In parallel, fishers often struggle to organise collectively, as we can see from the declining membership in small-scale and artisanal fishers’ organisations. Generational renewal and recruitment into the sector is a key issue. Thus the refugee crisis and the support that fishers want to give to people who migrate could be an opportunity for fishers and refugees to learn from each other and strengthen political mobilisation in each area—something that will be increasingly necessary to counter policies that undermine small-scale fishing and criminalise refugees.

As the space for saving people at sea is currently shrinking because of a broad far right discourse in the European Union, the role of fishers in these moments is crucial. And despite widespread measures to criminalise rescue and solidarity efforts, collective autonomous action is emerging and winning nonetheless. ‘When the migrants were safely aboard the coastguard ship, they all turned to us in a gesture of gratitude, hands on their hearts. That’s the image I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, which will allow me to face the sea every day without regret.’49

Photo credit: Joanna Chichelnitzky (Fotomovimiento)

Zoe W. Brent

Zoe W. Brent is a researcher with the Agrarian Justice team at TNI, where she works on issues related to food, land and water politics. She holds an MA in International Relations from the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And currently she is pursuing her PhD at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague where her research focuses on land access, the commons and food sovereignty in the global north. She is also a fellow at Food First, Institute for Food & Development Policy in Oakland, California where she coordinates educational delegations exploring food sovereignty in the Basque Country, and she coordinates the Land and Sovereignty in the Americas Collective.

Thibault Josse

Thibault is working at Association Pleine Mer, a collective of fisher people and fish eaters working together for local, equitable and sustainable fisheries, through the development and strengthening of Community Supported Fisheries. Fisheries engineer, he works with coastal communities in France and in the Global South for social and environmental justice.


1 Lorenzo Tondo, “Sicilian Fishermen Risk Prison to Rescue Migrants: ‘No Human Would Turn Away,’” The Guardian, August 3, 2019, sec. World news, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/03/sicilian-fishermen-risk-prison-to-rescue-migrants-off-libya-italy-salvini.

2 Lorenzo Tondo, “Italy Adopts Decree That Could Fine Migrant Rescuers up to €50,000,” The Guardian, June 15, 2019, sec. World news, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/15/italy-adopts-decree-that-could-fine-migrant-rescue-ngo-aid-up-to-50000.

3 Tondo, “Sicilian Fishermen Risk Prison to Rescue Migrants.”

Felicity Lawrence et al., “Revealed: Trafficked Migrant Workers Abused in Irish Fishing Industry,” The Guardian, November 2, 2015, sec. Global development, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/nov/02/revealed-trafficked-migrant-workers-abused-in-irish-fishing-industry.

5 MRCI, “Left High and Dry. The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Irish Fishing Industry” (Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, 2017), 10, https://www.mrci.ie/app/uploads/2020/01/MRCI-FISHER-REPORT-Dec-2017-2KB.pdf.

6 In addition to drawing on secondary literature on the topic, this short article is based on fieldwork in which we carried out interviews with fishers, refugees and people who work in public institutions engaging in ocean governance in Spain, France and Greece throughout 2018 and 2019. Reflections are also drawn from periods of work on fishing boats, both industrial and small-scale with local and non-local fishers as well as through engagement with organisations providing support for refugees in Paris and Athens.

7 H. Nyamnjoh, “We Get Nothing from Fishing”: Fishing for Boat Opportunities amongst Senegalese Fisher Migrants (Cameroon and The Netherlands: African Studies Centre and Langaa Publishers, 2010), 29–30, https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/22174.

8 Nyamnjoh, 2010 cited in Juliette Hallaire, “Constructing Maritime Geographies: The Pragmatic Mobility of Senegalese Fishermen” (PhD, Keele University, 2015), 181.

9 Hallaire, 183.

10 Hallaire, 182.

11 Clare Cummings et al., “Why People Move: Understanding the Drivers and Trends of Migration to Europe,” Working Paper (London: Overseas Development Institute, 2015), 18.

12 Cummings et al., 18.

13 Heidrun Friese, “Thalassographies of Departure, Disaster and Rescue: Fishermen and Undocumented Mobility,” Etnofoor 27, no. 1 (2015): 21.

14 Field notes, June 21, 2019, Barcelona.

15 Elyse Mills et al., “EU Fisheries Agreements: Cheap Fish for a High Price,” Policy Brief (Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Cape Town: Masifundise, Afrika Kontakt, Transnational Institute (TNI), November 2017), 5.

16 Mills et al., 9; see also: https://www.worldfishing.net/news101/regional-focus/senegal#:~:text=Employment%20in%20fisheries%20provides%20income,protein%20consumed%20in%20the%20country.

17 Julliete Hallaire, “Maritime Migration from Senegal to Spain: Fishermen’s Experiences,” in EurAfrican Borders and MIgration Management. Political Cultures, Contested Spaces and Ordinary Lives, ed. Paolo Gaibazzi, Stephan Dunnwald, and Alice Bellagamba, Palgrave Series in African Borderlands Studies (Palgrave Macmillan US, 2017), 228.

18 Mills et al., “EU Fisheries Agreements: Cheap Fish for a High Price,” 9.

19 Juliette Hallaire and Deirdre McKay, “Sustaining Livelihoods: Mobility and Governance in the Senegalese Atlantic,” in Water Worlds: Human Geographies of the Ocean, ed. Kimberley Peters and Jon Anderson (London: Routledge, 2014), 136, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Deirdre_Mckay/publication/289810727_Sustaining_livelihoods_Mobility_and_governance_in_the_Senegalese_Atlantic/links/57e8343208aed7fe466bd1b4/Sustaining-livelihoods-Mobility-and-governance-in-the-Senegalese-Atlantic.pdf.

20 Hallaire, “Constructing Maritime Geographies: The Pragmatic Mobility of Senegalese Fishermen,” 178.

21 Hallaire, 179.

22 Nyamnjoh, We Get Nothing from Fishing, 4–5.

23 Nyamnjoh, We Get Nothing from Fishing, 4–5.

24 Laura Dean, “For Women Left behind in Senegal, the Exodus to Europe Brings Rewards, Risk and Regret,” The Globe and Mail, May 28, 2017, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/senegal-women-migrants-europe/article35111369/.

25 Hallaire, “Constructing Maritime Geographies: The Pragmatic Mobility of Senegalese Fishermen,” 215–16.

26 Nicole Ngongala’s presentation during panel at conference: “Vidas que Cruzan fronteras”, Bilbao, Oct. 3-4, 2019.

27 M Kaplan and H. L Kite-Powell, “Safety at Sea and Fisheries Management:: Fishermen’s Attitudes and the Need for Co-Management,” Marine Policy 24, no. 6 (November 1, 2000): 495, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0308-597X(00)00026-9.

28 Cornwall Rural Community Charity and Rose Regeneration, “Fishing for a Future. An Analysis of Need, Challenges and Opportunities in UK Fishing Communities” (UK: Seafarers UK, 2018), 27, https://www.seafarers.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Seafarers-UK-Fishing-For-a-Future-Report.pdf.

29 Patrick Franklin, “Innovative Recruitment Strategies in the Fisheries Sector” (UK: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2007), 21, https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_files/pubdocs/2007/531/en/1/ef07531en.pdf.

30 Denis Loctier, “Family-Run Fisheries Struggle as New Generation Casts Net Wider,” Euronews, January 21, 2020, In partnership with the European Commission edition, sec. knowledge_science_technology, https://www.euronews.com/2020/01/21/family-run-fisheries-struggle-as-new-generation-casts-net-wider.

31 https://seafarersrights.org/seafarers-subjects/fishers-and-plunders/accident-statistics/

32 Rupert Crilly and Aniol Esteban, “Jobs Lost at Sea” (London: New Economics Foundation, 2012), 2, https://b.3cdn.net/nefoundation/e966d4ce355b7485c1_a7m6brn5t.pdf.

33 Franklin, “Innovative Recruitment Strategies in the Fisheries Sector,” 21.

34 https://seafarersrights.org/seafarers-subjects/fishers-and-plunders/why-are-fishers-such-a-vulnerable-workforce/

35 Lawrence et al., “Revealed” ; https://seafarersrights.org/seafarers-subjects/fishers-and-plunders/accident-statistics/

36 Cornwall Rural Community Charity and Rose Regeneration, “Fishing for a Future. An Analysis of Need, Challenges and Opportunities in UK Fishing Communities,” 27.

37 https://seafarersrights.org/seafarers-subjects/fishers-and-plunders/accident-statistics/

38 https://seafarersrights.org/seafarers-subjects/fishers-and-plunders/accident-statistics/

39 Lawrence et al., “Revealed.”

40 Lawrence et al.

41 See: https://justiceforfishers.org/ireland/

42 Natalia Valiño, “Marineros de bajo coste,” El País, October 2, 2007, sec. Galicia, https://elpais.com/diario/2007/10/02/galicia/1191320305_850215.html.

43 Frederic De Wispelaere and Jozef Pacolet, “Posting of Workers. Report on A1 Portable Documents Issued in 2017,” Network Statistics FMSSFE (Brussels: European Commission and HIVA KU Leuven, 2018), 8, https://www.etk.fi/wp-content/uploads/Komissio-tilastoraportti-Posting-of-workers-2017.pdf.

44 De Wispelaere and Pacolet, 51–52.

45 Monika Kiss, “Understanding Social Dumping in the European Union,” EPRS: European Parliamentary Research Service (European Parliament, March 2017), 2, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2017/599353/EPRS_BRI(2017)599353_EN.pdf.

46 MRAG Ltd, Coffey and AND International, Study on the Employment of Non-Local Labour in the Fisheries Sector (Luxembourg: European Commission, 2016), xv.

47 https://www.elsaltodiario.com/coronavirus/multan-60.000-euros-red-apoyo-mutuo-antirracista-reparte-comida-migrantes-barcelona

48 Yasha Maccanico et al., “The Shrinking Space for Solidarity with Migrants and Refugees: How the European Union and Member States Target and Criminalize Defenders of the Rights of People on the Move” (Amsterdam: Transnational Institute (TNI), 2018), 6, https://www.tni.org/files/publication-downloads/web_theshrinkingspace.pdf.

49 Tondo, “Sicilian Fishermen Risk Prison to Rescue Migrants.”