Fishermen’s Cooperatives: Double Suffering
The Egyptian Association for Collective Rights organized a series of workshops to introduce cooperatives and their importance as a foundation for economic empowerment, particularly for poor groups that suffer from economic and social marginalization. The workshops also aimed at discussing the challenges faced by Egypt’s cooperative movement. These challenges include the multiple legislations that regulate the cooperative movement, and the legal, financial and administrative restrictions they have, thus harming the independence of community-based cooperatives.
As is the case with other cooperatives, fishermen’s associations suffer from the lack of administrative and financial independence due to the dominance of the central government over the management and resources of fishermen’s cooperative societies, in violation of the constitutional principle on the protection of cooperative property and preserving their independence as prescribed in Egypt’s constitutions, including the 2014 Constitution.
Cooperatives changed from fishermen’s associations to “water wealth” cooperatives, reflecting the state’s inclination and policy to adopt privatization programs for water resources and dealing with them as an economic asset to implement projects. This also eliminates the social and developmental function of cooperatives, restricting them to becoming a mere money collecting body that serves the interests of those benefiting from the privileges provided by the cooperatives.
In the light of laws regulating fishing activities and fish farming, the economic and social conditions of poor fishermen groups have deteriorated, particularly with the increase of the price of fishing equipment and the costly and complex procedures to obtain or renew fishing licenses. Regulations and policies also reflect the central government’s orientation towards the free market and the use of natural resources exclusively as economic assets, for instance transforming the north lakes into private fish farms, providing unequal rights to practice fishing among fishermen and allowing the private sector to monopolize natural resources. This has brought losses that cannot be replaced through differences in market sale prices. For more information, see “The Conditions of Lake Fishermen in Egypt,” Land Center for Human Rights. June, 2006.
These cooperatives no longer fulfill the needs and demands of member fishermen in terms of providing fishing equipment and gear at prices they can afford. They have become engaged in profit-making projects that support privatization policies to transform the lakes into fish farms. This has led to serious negative consequences for the economic and social living standards of traditional small fishermen. These cooperatives are among the fish farm owners who control vast areas of the North lakes. The board of directors invests in these farms by selling them to major companies and other investors.
Thus, state institutions should provide proper protection for the rights of fishermen and fishing professionals, particularly those fishermen working on a small scale or those achieving minimum subsistence, and traditional craftsmen to ensure a fair and safe living standard for them, and ensure their access to better, traditional fishing locations according to their needs as well as accessing fish resources in areas under the territorial jurisdiction of the State. There should also be legislation that allows them to exercise their right to establish community cooperatives to maximize benefit and bear environmental and economic shocks, such as the lack of fishing resources, disease and climate changes. For more information, refer to The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome, 2015.