Fishing and aquaculture

Document | 31 January 2012

There is no global data on the prevalence and concentration of child labour in fishing and aquaculture. Case studies indicate that child labour in the sector is most common in informal and small-scale operations of capture fisheries, aquaculture and post-harvest fish processing, distribution and marketing. Small-scale fisheries provide over 90 percent of the 120 million livelihoods derived directly and indirectly from fisheries and support more than 500 million people – about 8 percent of the world population1.

Child labourers engage in a wide range of activities in capture fisheries, aquaculture, post-harvest and processing. They work as unpaid family labour or under contract for an employer. In some cases children are victims of trafficking or forced labour.

Child labourers in fishing can be found:

  • On board: fishing; diving for fish or to free snagged nets; draining boats; handling and repairing nets; herding fish into nets; crewing on fishing vessels; shovelling ice; cooking; working as porters.
  • On shore: guarding fishing vessels in docks, piers and harbours; loading and unloading fish; sorting fish; cleaning and salting fish; smoking/drying fish; shovelling ice; painting; fish marketing; harvesting shellfish.
  • Offshore on fishing platforms: lifting heavy nets of fish using hand cranes; sorting, boiling and drying fish.
  • In fish processing factories: peeling shrimp; drying, boiling and shelling various types of seafood.

Division of tasks is often along gender lines, for children as for adults: girls tend to work in post harvest activities while boys are often involved in capturing fish.

The ILO considers fishing a potentially hazardous occupation2 (ILO 2007), because it is physically demanding work often carried out for long working hours in precarious conditions. Child labourers fishing at sea face bad weather, extreme temperatures and conditions, and spend long periods of time far away from home. For children who work on off-shore fishing and processing sites, little distinction exists between work and personal time: in many cases they live in cramped conditions, with low levels of hygiene and facilities. These types of work activities can make it difficult for children in this sector to enrol and regularly attend school.

Some of the injuries and health impacts of hazardous child labour in fisheries include: hypothermia, wounds, swelling, pain, amputation, sprains, fractures, burns, chemical exposure and poisoning, and smoke inhalation.

International labour standards specifically covering young workers in fishing include:

Aquaculture refers to the cultivation and farming of aquatic organisms in a controlled environment. Particular kinds of aquaculture include fish farming, shrimp farming, oyster farming, and aquatic plant (algae) farming. The tasks that children undertake in this sector include planting fish and shrimp seeds, distributing feed and applying chemicals and fertilizers, and harvesting aquatic organisms. Children may be exposed to many hazards such as carrying heavy loads, extreme temperatures, chemicals and contaminated water, animal bites and stings, and cuts and wounds from use of sharp tools.

Additional information

1 FAO: Workshop on child labour in fisheries and aquaculture in cooperation with ILO – Report No. 944 (Rome, 2010).

2 ILO Wok in Fishing Convention No. 188 (2007).