Meet Brian O’Riordan, our new Deputy Director!
30 September 2015
As Deputy Director, Brian O’Riordan will be based in LIFE’s Brussels Office, where he will represent the interests of LIFE’s members in the European institutions – the DG Mare of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and other public European bodies. His role will also be to raise the profile of low impact small scale fisheries in Europe, and to help position LIFE amongst the various groups lobbying the European institutions for particular fisheries interest groups.
You have been appointed as Deputy Director of the LIFE Platform. What is your background and what will be your role?
Prior to taking up this post, I was employed as Secretary of the Belgium Office of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). My work involved liaising with small scale fishers and the organizations supporting them from around the world, to help provide a coordinated engagement with them in international policy processes in fisheries, and to advocate for policy reforms that recognize and promote the important contribution made by small scale fisheries to providing livelihoods, producing food, and to the social and economic development of their communities. This included the 2000 and 2013 reforms of the CFP, the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention, and the 2014 Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the context of food security and poverty elimination.
Under the previous CFP (2002 to 2012) I represented Environmental and Development NGOs in the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (ACFA). I also worked with small-scale fishers from across Europe during the consultation on the 2013 reform of the CFP towards getting their voices heard in the CFP reform. Many of the small-scale fishers who took part in that consultation are now members of LIFE.
What motivated you in joining the LIFE Platform?
When I left University, the first job I took up was in fishing. This not only gave me a great respect for the men and women who work in the fisheries sector, but it also made me realize that earning your living from fishing requires much more than just fishing. Aside from weather and natural environmental cycles that affect when, where and what you can fish, other factors over which fishers have no control – like policies and laws – can be equally important. Over the years I have seen how policies and laws get influenced by more powerful interests, often to the detriment of small scale fishers’ interests. I feel that the following the reform of the CFP, there is now a real opportunity for an organization like the LIFE platform to redress this power imbalance in the decision taking processes in favour of the silent majority of those working in the fisheries sector – the smaller scale fishers and fishery workers. How could I refuse such an opportunity?
You have extensive experience in the sector, both at international and European level. According to you, are there common challenges small-scale fishers share worldwide?
The common challenges facing small-scale fishers around the world hinge on getting their rights to their traditional livelihoods, and to access fishery resources and to fishing grounds recognized, respected and protected. In the past, the activities of small scale fishers were invariably overlooked and ignored as being of marginal importance. Rights were given to larger scale fishery and other interests, which were seen as being more modern and of greater economic importance. This old fashioned outmoded view and practice still prevails in many quarters, but increasingly policy makers are waking up to the fact that in the postmodern context of economic and social uncertainty, overfishing, environmental degradation, and climate change, that smaller scale fishery operations can be of greater social, economic and environmental worth than larger scale operations.
There is also a disturbing trend in fisheries management towards privatization of access through the allocation of tradable rights. This creates a market for fishing rights with the inevitable concentration of these rights by more powerful and richer interests. In parallel large foundations, multinational investment funds and large international environmental NGOs are proposing to privatize large areas of the ocean under protected area regimes in which fishing will be banned. They see a financial return to be made from fisheries if they are packaged as investable propositions, with potential conservation benefits; a kind of derivative trading scheme based on marine protected areas.
Then there is the challenge of “blue growth”, which perceives the oceans as the engine to drive the next great economic leap forward – in terms of transport, energy generation, mineral extraction, source of biochemical and pharmaceutical products, mass tourism, generating wealth and jobs. Competing in the blue economy and maintaining their fishing spaces will be a huge challenge for all fishers, whether large or small, the world over.
Last but not least are the challenges of making a living in a context of increasing competition for a limited and dwindling resource base, where the impacts of climate change and impacts of a growing world population threaten to destabilize fishery production systems the world over.
You know well the Brussels setting. As Deputy Director, what will be your priorities for the LIFE Platform in the next year, for instance with regards to European Institutions?
It is important that LIFE is seen and heard in all the policy debates and decision taking processes on the implementation of the new CFP, and the debates take on board a small scale fisheries perspective. In practical terms this means ensuring that LIFE Members take up the available seats and are effectively represented on the Advisory Councils; that when decisions are taken on such matters as long term management plans, on the implementation of the landing obligation, on regulating the use of fishing gears, on fishery closures and so on, that LIFE is present, and seen to be present. One of the key policy priorities for LIFE is to ensure the effective implementation of Article 17 of the Basic Regulation on the use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature to allocate fishing opportunities. Such a measure, if properly implemented, could provide huge potential benefits for small scale fishers, their communities and the environment.
Today small-scale fishers from different European countries feel more and more the need to join and exchange views and best practices. According to you, what is the key to ensure a successful pan-European cooperation?
To paraphrase Tony Blair on education… “Organization, organization, organization”, and good communication. Exchanges of views and best practices between individual fishers can be fruitful but limited in scope and impact. But if individual fishers get organized, then such exchanges are more likely to bear fruit in terms of the views getting acted upon and good practices being taken up more widely. In a union of 28 countries and cultures, and 24 languages, good and effective communication is essential to a successful pan European cooperation. That provides the twin challenges of simplifying messages, whilst keeping the richness of the local diversities.
For a long time small-scale fishers lacked dedicated representation in Brussels. What is going to change with LIFE?
LIFE is a new organization, so nothing fundamental is likely to change immediately. Both at the grass roots level and at the decision taking level, LIFE must be seen as a serious and credible initiative. At the grass roots level the challenge is for LIFE Members to bring scattered, diverse, and individualistic fishers together, to get organized and to agree on a common set of priorities. At EU level, LIFE will have to carve a niche for itself in an already crowded pond of fishery sector lobbyists. LIFE’s chosen niche, of representing low impact smaller scale fishers, is already claimed by other actors. The difference between them and LIFE is that they are not focused just on smaller scale fisheries. LIFE will need to prove that such a focus is needed, and that we are the organization to meet that need. Once that is achieved, LIFE will then need to ensure that it is more than just another voice, but that it is a voice rooted in the everyday realities of low impact fishers, a voice with a message, and a voice for change.
What I hope to see happening is more small scale fishers taking part in the decision taking processes that affect them. Initially this will mean more small scale fishers in the Advisory Councils, which I hope will translate in the medium to longer term into greater recognition of the social, economic and environmental advantages of sector in European, regional and national policies.