More often than not, when our oceans are discussed in the media it’s to highlight negative issues, such as pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, and over- or illegal-fishing. It’s an extensive and bleak list, yet while there are many challenges facing certain seas and coastal regions that should concern us as responsible citizens, there are also many positive actions taking place and optimistic results from which we can take some consolation as we head into 2018.
Unquestionably, the growing influence and effectiveness of the sustainability agenda is a major driving force for change in and on the water, with fisheries and seafood supply chains particularly benefiting from these endeavours. Indeed, the desire of stakeholders at all levels and from all sides to be sustainable has brought many progressive management and monitoring measures. Together with heightened traceability tools that can track products from boat to plate, best-practice and improved data recording systems, the seafood economy is steadily becoming healthier.
In terms of management, marine protected areas – or MPAs – are proving effective at providing protection for potentially vulnerable bodies of water. As such, there are more than 15,000 MPAs in operation globally.
Under the MPA umbrella, there are several different levels of restrictions, ranging from sustainable use or protection of only certain species to “no take zones” where all forms of exploitation are prohibited.
Collectively, there are designated expanses of oceans, seas and coasts that have been identified as important for aquatic wildlife, habitats, cultural heritage and even for fishery purposes.
The primary purpose of an MPA is to protect biodiversity through conservation, including building up the resilience of marine ecosystems to external influences. At the same time, it has been identified that well-managed MPAs can help maintain the productivity of low-impact fisheries and safeguard supplies of many seafoods that we enjoy – mainly by providing an environment in which fish and shellfish can grow in size and hopefully flourish in numbers, eventually spilling over into areas outside the MPA.
This is largely achieved by banning destructive fishing gears, as well as by strengthening monitoring, control, and surveillance to prevent such activities and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing from taking place.
ONE TOOL IN THE BOX
While MPAs should be used to protect at-risk areas, there are also valid concerns that closing more and more large ocean sections could prove very costly to fishing businesses and those dependent upon the catch sector. With commercial fishing playing a vital role in the livelihoods, culture and society of countless coastal communities, the main worry is that if MPAs are established on a too grand scale and without sufficient consultations conducted on their potential social and economic impacts, then there may be serious long-term repercussions for these areas.
Crucially, it’s also evidenced that many fish stocks – from North America to Europe to Oceania and numerous in between – are being successfully rebuilt through traditional fisheries management rather than through the conservation measure.
Most likely then, MPAs are not “the” answer to saving the oceans’ resources, but used prudently and in tandem with responsible management tools, they can certainly contribute to the increased productivity of many fisheries. This would give us the outcome that we all want – more sustainable seafood on our plates and greater protection for our marine environment.