On 2 December 2020  it was announced that the governments of 14 countries, who between them were responsible for around 40% of the worlds coastlines, had signed an initiative that would help to stop overfishing, restore ocean habitats and ecosystems, and reduce the harmful impacts of human activities  on the ocean.

The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) was established in 2018. Their aim is to work together with numerous stakeholders including the scientific community, governments and financial institutions in order to pursue an agenda for transitioning to a sustainable ocean economy.

The members of the panel include Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau, and Portugal. They have all signed the agreement and while there are some significant big hitters missing from the list, it has to be seen as a positive step forward.  We have always been of the opinion that there are three main threats to the continuation of a healthy ocean; habitat destruction through climate change, over fishing and plastic pollution. With regards to overfishing we have commented in the past on numerous concerning issues, such as the relaxation of tuna fishing regulation and the inability of regional fisheries management organisations to act with a precautionary approach when they are faced with significant political and economic pressure. In our view it is unacceptable and criminal that that some fish stocks are still being fished even though they are currently below their maximum sustainable yield.

These problems are exacerbated when you look at the issue of policing and fisheries management in ABNJs and the issues associated with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. How does the international community, with all its conflicting economic, social and environmental priorities, address the issue effectively and manage ocean resources sustainably? Without an holistic and strategic marine spatial planning (MSP) framework at international level we will continue to work within a structure of divided, priority driven, single sector system and the ocean will continue to suffer as a result.

The panel have produced an in depth report titled “Ocean Solutions That Benefit People, Nature and the Economy” that describes how a sustainable ocean economy can result in a healthy ocean. Amongst other things they have committed to a global to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 and the introduction of technology to improve the monitoring of fishing fleets, although the IUU issue could slip under this particular net (excuse the pun). They have also committed to address the issue of ghost fishing nets, discarded equipment that continues to fish even after it has been lost by fishing vessels.  As previously mentioned some of the major fishing nations are not party to this initiative. In fact, out of the top ten fishing nations in the world, only Japan and Chile are part of the agreement. However, the fact that the countries who have signed are responsible for such a large amount of the worlds coastlines and, therefore, have jurisdiction under UNCLOS for the 200 mile exclusive economic zone beyond their land boundaries (accounting for 30% of the worlds total), means that this announcement is significant. It is also the first agreement that looks at requirements of ocean sustainability in an holistic way, rather than as a number of unrelated, segregated issues.

Ultimately we need a healthy ocean if we are to continue to survive on this planet, it really is that simple. The ocean provides half of the oxygen we breathe, it absorbs a third of all the carbon we produce through human activities, it regulates our weather systems and it provides food for around 3 billion people. While the ocean is an incredible resource, it is also a fragile, delicately balanced ecosystem that needs to be treated with care and respect. We have an obligation to ensure that we use its resources responsibly and this initiative is a good place to start. Let’s hope that in the not too distant future many more countries realise the importance of resolving these issues and sign up to this agreement …. before it’s too late.

bluefin shoal swirling

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