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Director-General  José Graziano da Silva
An opinion article by FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva

Humanity owes much to the oceans in many aspects of life. In fact, oceans are essential to provide invaluable ecosystems and climate regulation services, as well as highly-valued cultural services to the millions of people that live near the sea.

It’s time for us to reciprocate and halt treating our oceans as a wastage pool. Today our oceans are under threat, from many forms of pollution to climate change and unsustainable fishing practices – all of these are hallmarks of human activity.

This is why the international community, in approving the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically established SDG14 charging us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

This is essential for sustainability. And there is a lot to be done.

Delivering on the SDG14 requires teamwork and a spirit of partnership among many stakeholders from many nations and sectors.

Prospects for Blue Growth

The same components and objectives in SDG14 are embodied in the “Blue Growth” strategy that FAO is promoting to reconcile ocean-related economic growth with improved livelihoods and social equity.

As three 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 will become even more urgent and more encompassing.

The oceans cover almost three-quarters of the earth’s surface, storing one third of all the carbon emissions humans have created. They are part of the solution, and we must make them a prominent arena for efforts to cope with and mitigate climate change.

We have a lot of work to do, and must shoulder the responsibility of alleviating the negative legacy that humans have left having so far treated the oceans as a dumping ground.

Researchers have discovered that plankton, fish and marine mammals can confuse plastic material as food, and found that now-banned pollutants abound in organisms more than 10 kilometers below the ocean surface. Acidified waters – which have increased by a quarter since the industrial evolution 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 on the same boat.

That implies tapping potential partnerships extending well beyond industry and those engaged in production, in particular engaging communities and consumers. Let us not forget that SDG14, and the entire Sustainable Development Agenda, is a response to the demands of people. 

Public demand 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 output that is caught in an illegal, unreported or unregulated way.

Momentum building with 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 endeavor 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 worth $23 billion – from entering markets. The PSMA, which entered into force in 2016, goes well beyond previous flag-and port-state rules and, by requiring all ships to submit to inspections wherever they dock, even for refueling, marks a new dawn.

It is especially important as one of SDG14’s specific targets is to effectively end IUU fishing by 2020, which is just three years away, 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 the 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 tonnes of rubbish pushed 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 that, even when lost or dumped overboard, continues to entangle fish.

International cooperation

FAO participates in the implementation of many programmes aimed at promoting sustainable fisheries and preserving marine resources. One of them is carried out in partnership with the Government of Norway. It is called the Nansen Programme.

Over the last 40 years, vessels funded by Norway that operate under the UN flag have conducted research activities that have vastly deepened our understanding of underwater ecosystems -- in particular, of the life-sustaining fisheries that so many people around the globe depend on, especially in developing countries of Africa and Asia.

It 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 on aquatic ecosystems, such as pollution.

This is crucial to enable developing countries to increase the resilience of ecosystems and coastal communities, especially regarding small-scale fisheries. 

Include the people of the sea

In fact, the way forward must assure that the shift to sustainability produces benefits that are made available to the people who rely on the sea most of all - 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 more able to shoulder the task, recognizes 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 to help fish products enter global trade markets are all essential.

Nowadays, about 120 million people depend on commercial fisheries for their livelihoods. And nearly 90% of them work in small-scale fisheries in developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa. They are among the poorest communities in the world. And they risk to be further marginalized if we fail to recognize the importance of small-scale fisheries.

So sustainable fisheries and aquaculture are crucial in our quest to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Not only to achieve the SDG 14 but also to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, the Sustainable Development Goals number 1 and 2.

This article was originally published in the UN Chronicle. 

 

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