By José Graziano Da Silva
Humanity owes much to the oceans in many aspects of life. In fact, oceans are essential in providing invaluable ecosystems and climate regulation, as well as important cultural support to the millions of people who live near the sea.
It is time for us to reciprocate and stop treating our oceans as waste pools. Today, our oceans are threatened by a range of factors, from many forms of pollution to climate change and unsustainable fishing practices, all of which are results of human activity. This is why the international community, in approving the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically established SDG 14, charging us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. This is essential for sustainability, and there is a lot to be done. Delivering on SDG 14 requires teamwork and a spirit of partnership among diverse stakeholders from many nations and sectors.
PROSPECTS FOR BLUE GROWTH
The same components and objectives set out under SDG 14 are embodied in the Blue Growth Initiative promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to reconcile ocean-related economic growth with improved livelihoods and social equity.
As 3 billion people ultimately depend on marine and coastal biodiversity, all nations agree on the need to step up efforts to protect oceans and seas, especially in the era of climate change, when transformational interventions are becoming even more urgent and encompassing. The oceans cover almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface, storing one third of all the carbon emissions stemming from human activity. They are part of the solution, and we must make them a key focus of our efforts to cope with and mitigate climate change.
Researchers have discovered that plankton, fish and marine mammals can mistake plastic material for food, and have found that banned pollutants abound in organisms more than 10 kilometres below the ocean surface. Acidified waters, which have increased by 25 per cent since the Industrial Revolution and are the tell-tale symptom of excessive greenhouse gas emissions, can impact the growth and reproductive patterns of fish and invertebrates.
The protection and responsible use of our oceans is a joint task. We are all in the same boat. This means tapping potential partnerships extending well beyond industrial production, and engaging communities and consumers in particular. Let us not forget that SDG 14 and the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are a response to the demands of people. The public’s call for action and accountability is strong. Indeed, since 2003, there has been a 40-fold increase in the amount of seafood production certified under global sustainability initiatives. This accounts for more than one seventh of all seafood output and is, in fact, rapidly catching up—and I hope and trust will soon surpass—the one sixth of all seafood that is caught in illegal, unreported or unregulated ways.
BUILDING MOMENTUM WITH THE PORT STATE MEASURES AGREEMENT
FAO is leading campaigns to enforce fair rules in an international sector where worldwide net export revenues for developing countries are worth more than those for trade in any agricultural commodity. Both human livelihoods and the sustainability of fish stocks are harder to support when laws are defied.
A very important step in this endeavour is the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. FAO drafted and brokered agreements to this treaty, which is designed to crack down on all rogue fishing vessels and prevent their catch—estimated to be up to 26 million tons each year and worth $23 billion—from entering markets. PSMA, which entered into force in 2016, marks a new dawn, going well beyond previous flag and port State rules and requiring all ships to submit to inspections wherever they dock, even for refuelling.
The Agreement is especially important, as one of the specific targets included in SDG 14 is to effectively end IUU fishing by 2020—just three years from now—in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yields. Achieving the target date for ending IUU will require an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach. Robust implementation of PSMA and compliance with fishery management protocols are obviously essential. So, too, are initiatives aimed at reducing and recovering fishing gear lost at sea, which is estimated to account for as much as 640,000 tons of rubbish put into the oceans each year, around one tenth of the total. FAO is actively promoting stronger rules for marking fishing gear, which industry participants recognize would strike a blow to IUU fishing activities as well as facilitate recovery of nets and other equipment which, when lost or dumped overboard, continue to entangle fish.
FAO participates in the implementation of many programmes aimed at promoting sustainable fisheries and preserving marine resources. One of them, the Nansen Programme, is carried out in partnership with the Government of Norway. Over the last 40 years, vessels funded by Norway and operating under the United Nations flag have conducted research activities that have vastly deepened our understanding of underwater ecosystems and the lifesustaining fisheries that so many people around the globe depend on, especially those living in developing countries in Africa and Asia. The Programme has allowed us to improve research and activities where marine observations are extremely limited, and better understand the impacts of climate change and other external drivers, such as pollution, on aquatic ecosystems. This is crucial to enabling developing countries to increase the resilience of ecosystems and coastal communities, especially with regard to small-scale fisheries.
INCLUDE THE PEOPLE OF THE SEA
The way forward must ensure that the shift to sustainability produces benefits for the people who rely on the sea the most: the residents of small island developing States and small-scale artisanal fishers, especially in developing countries. These States and communities lack the scale and capacity to carry out all the needed transformations on their own. While FAO offers help and advice, it is crucial that everyone, especially those better able to shoulder the task, recognize the responsibility to increase efforts by making even more ambitious commitments of their own. Responsible fishing in national as well as international waters, adequate knowledge and technology transfers, and collaborations enabling fish products to enter global trade markets are all essential.
Nowadays, about 120 million people depend on commercial fisheries for their livelihoods, and nearly 90 per cent of them work in small-scale fisheries in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia. They are among the poorest communities in the world, and they risk being further marginalized if we fail to recognize the importance of small-scale fisheries.
Thus, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture are crucial in our quest to implement the 2030 Agenda, and not only to achieve SDG 14 but also to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, as stipulated in Goals 1 and 2.
Author bio: José Graziano Da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.