March 31, 2017: Ugly fish, science engagement, and the indigenous basket
Speaker: Dyhia Belhabib


We will look at the impacts of “convenient” management of fisheries, or the lack of it, on local communities and indigenous values through the scope of illegal fishing and fishing agreements, and we discuss the changes that engaging science can bring therein. It was estimated that over 26 million tonnes of fish, that is up to 23 billion USD are lost every year due to illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). We know for a fact that West Africa is one of the most heavily affected regions in the world. Illegal fishing affects both the socio-economics and the traditional and cultural fabrics of local communities. Over 600,000 Jobs are lost every year in West Africa alone, traditional diets shift, culture transforms to be more or less resilient, and the memories of people adapt to a harsh reality. Sometimes, illegal fishing becomes a “normal business” and ways around it are developed. Some indigenous communities become so accustomed to the presence of these big foreign fishing vessels that they develop trade mechanisms with them, and countries are expected to develop policies, to regulate what was illegal at the first place! To handle this issue, a new era of sanctioning was born, the EU’s approach to reducing IUU fishing has been faced with major successes thanks to the yellow card, red card, and in some cases, the blacklisting of countries. As we zoom into the EU practices, we will look at how the EU exercises a certain right to fish in waters where there is a “surplus”, however inconvenient this may be for the coastal communities, and sometimes indigenous communities in those countries. We discuss food security implications, and the change in the culture of these indigenous communities. Finally, we will conclude with some key lessons on how to squeeze out some real change out of our science, how to engage policy makers, beyond the discourse of doom and gloom, and beyond our expected ideals.


Dr. Dyhia Belhabib is a Program Manager at Ecotrust Canada, where she joined a vibrant and innovative team of managers and practitioners to learn more about aboriginal fisheries. She is also an Advisor to the Sea Around Us where she used to be a Research Associate and Fisheries Scientist at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Dr. Belhabib works on fisheries equity and food security, community engagement, fishing rights, and First Nation Fisheries and issues that affect them. Her recent work focuses greatly on adding transparency and insight through thorough research on fisheries in Canada and abroad, and looking at economic and social solutions to environmental problems related directly or indirectly to fisheries. As the Lead engagement for Africa for the Sea Around Us, she works closely with national and regional bodies, government, non-government and professional organizations. She builds local capacity and strong collaborations between the Sea Around Us and many partners in the region by conducting numerous training activities from Vancouver and in Africa.

Dr. Belhabib completed her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Pauly in Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the Fisheries Centre, UBC, in 2014, just hours before she had my baby. As a researcher that focuses on one of the most problematic fisheries regions in the world [Yes, yes, that includes British Columbia, the “golden child of fisheries management”], she reconstructed fisheries catches of all sectors for 22 countries of West Africa, assessed the economic and societal importance of small-scale fisheries in the region and how their resilience and performance were affected by illegal fisheries, climate change and lack of adequate data. Her research and engagement work translated in major policy changes in countries of West Africa. Dr. Belhabib is also on the board of the National Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Research of Algeria, and the FishTracker initiative, and was designated as a strategic planner for the MAVA Foundation. She recently made it to BuzzFeed as a “badass Muslim woman”.



Photo credit: Ana Ulin from flickr/Creative Commons.