World’s largest ocean sustainability initiative agreed

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What’s happening? The leaders of 14 countries, whose governments are responsible for 40% of global coastlines, have committed to end overfishing, while also restoring falling fish populations and ending the movement of plastic pollution into the sea over the next 10 years. The pledges, which were outlined on 2 December, constitute the world’s largest ocean sustainability initiative. The countries involved will end subsidies contributing to overfishing, enforce measures designed to end illegal fishing, and commit to managing oceans within their own jurisdictions sustainably by 2025.

Why does this matter? As pressures on the world’s seas increase due to overfishing, climate change and plastic pollution, it’s becoming imperative to effect change to improve the sustainability of the ocean.

The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy was set up to help do just that, with its latest initiative to “Give it 100%” – to sustainably manage 100% of national waters by 2025 – signed by Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal. Its agenda is framed around ocean health, wealth, knowledge, equity and finance, and the aim is to push nations to develop sustainable ocean plans so all waters under national jurisdiction are sustainably managed by 2030.

The initiative’s launch was accompanied by a report from the panel’s expert group and SYSTEMIQ on sustainable ocean solutions, containing a roadmap to reach the aims. This outlines how measures – such as setting up national ocean task forces to coordinate efforts – can produce six times more sustainable seafood by 2050, create 40 times more renewable energy by the same date, create 12 million jobs by 2030, and result in $15.5tn in net benefits.

Stakeholders responded positively, including Canada’s aquaculture industry which lauded country’s pledge to protect its coastline – the world’s largest – and the 30 million square kilometres of national waters covered globally. Meanwhile, south of Canada’s border, the US seafood sector has instead been vocal against similar measures. The industry has written a letter to US government representatives opposing the creation of Marine Protected Areas to prevent fishing in 30% of the US’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

On a broader level, overfishing remains a difficult subject to address. The World Trade Organization this week failed to reach a deal to reduce subsidies contributing to the problem. There is, however, optimism progress has been made to reach a deal next year to reduce aid from heavy subsidisers including China, the EU, the US, South Korea and Japan. The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated a deal could increase fish biomass globally by 12.5% over the next 20 years.

Meanwhile, while certain retailers have taken action to stop sourcing tuna from stocks under pressure, another recent failure to reach a consensus – in this instance from the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission – means tropical tuna fisheries are set to lack any form of management on quotas or gear types from 1 January. While individual nations can implement their own regulations, this marks the first time in the commission’s 70-year history it has been without regional oversight.

The EU also has some work to do, with the European Court of Auditors finding action from the bloc since 2008 to reduce fishing to sustainable levels and restore European seas’ environmental status has not been strong enough. The High Level Panel earlier this year outlined the net economic benefits of taking action on overfishing, which would amount to around $6.7tn over the next 30 years according to its analysis. It also said, under a “blue recovery” from Covid-19, coastal states could generate $17 for every $1 spent on offshore wind, and $3 for every $1 spent on mangrove restoration.

Source: The Guardian