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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Freedom from the fortress : the role of human rights in marine conservation Singleton, Rebecca Louise


Globally, marine resources are in decline, and urgent action is required. However, conservation measures must account for the needs of small-scale fishers, who depend on the sea for food and employment, or else be beset by conflict, resistance and international censure. Yet, attempts by international environmental NGOs (“ENGOs”) to provide conservation and development benefits simultaneously have had limited success. As the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (“SSF-Guidelines”) shine a spotlight on small-scale fishers’ human rights, I explore the role of human rights in improving outcomes of marine conservation for fishers and fish. To date, high-level commitments to human rights by ENGOs have made little real difference to their work. To address this, I define the elements of a human rights-based approach to marine conservation, including practical guidelines for implementation by ENGOs. I then review the economic basis for the approach, distinguishing it from the more familiar property rights-based fisheries management. I describe how the two approaches may complement each other, by reducing the vulnerability and discount rates of many small-scale fishers whilst limiting profit-seeking, non-cooperative behaviour. I also contribute empirical evidence on the relationship between human rights and conservation/ development outcomes by evaluating the initiatives of an ENGO, Blue Ventures, in south-west Madagascar. I show that respect for and fulfilment of select human rights can enhance ENGO-community relations and improve socioeconomic conditions, but also increase fishing pressure in the short term. To reduce vulnerability and enhance resource stewardship, a comprehensive and systematic human rights-based approach is required. Attention to overriding principles, especially equality, highlights how schemes to incentivize conservation could be more effective if ENGOs were proactive in protecting small-scale fishers’ human rights against powerful corporate and state interests. This thesis begins to address the critical need for evidence to determine if, and how, realisation of human rights can enable sustainable small-scale fisheries. In doing so, it describes a role for ENGOs in implementing the SSF-Guidelines. By critically evaluating their own impact on small-scale fishers’ human rights, and influencing other key players to do the same, they can advance marine conservation that is genuinely supportive of small-scale fishers.

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