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Thursday, March 23, 2023
ROME, Feb 14 2022 (IPS) - The ocean covers more than 70 percent of our planet. There is no question it is critical for our health and well-being. It provides half the earth’s oxygen supply and every organism in existence depends on it to survive.
Now this precious resource is under threat on several fronts, from unsustainable fishing and pollution to climate change and competing uses. The ecological sustainability of our ocean resources, and the future of our marine life and those who depend on it, have never been more tenuous.
This year’s One Ocean Summit celebrates the role of the ocean in our everyday lives and is an opportunity to strengthen our commitment to secure its conservation and sustainable use.
The clock is ticking.
Global marine capture fisheries production reached 80.4 million tonnes in 2019. The risk of overfishing to meet escalating demand is real. According to FAO’s assessment in its 2020 report, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, the proportion of fish stocks produced within biologically sustainable levels has fallen from 90 percent in 1974 to 65.8 percent in 2017.
Urgent action is needed to ensure all marine and ocean spaces are placed under effective management and fish stocks are restored to sustainable levels in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Mariculture, or marine aquaculture, grew to an eye-watering 32 million tonnes in 2019, but this is far below its scientifically estimated ecological limits. Policy reform, technological advancement and value chain development would enable significant expansion to help feed the world’s growing population and reduce pressure on land-based food systems.
Despite the many challenges, change is possible. Together we can create the environment for ‘blue transformation’, a new approach to the sustainable growth and management of aquatic resources that will not only feed the world’s growing population, but also ensure a sustainable future for the ocean and those who depend on it.
Aquatic foods from ocean and freshwater sources have a much lower environmental footprint than land-based animal protein and their diversity – over 2,500 species are captured and over 600 cultured – makes the sector more adaptable to climate change.
Three billion people already obtain vital nutrients and 20 percent of their animal protein from aquatic foods. With the right kind of sustainable development our marine resources can help to feed the world’s growing population which is expected to rise to 10 billion by 2050.
Blue transformation focuses on three objectives. First, it aims to promote the sustainable expansion of aquaculture to achieve a 40 percent increase in production by 2030, especially in food deficit regions, backed by appropriate policy frameworks, species and strain diversification, effective biosecurity and disease controls, training and support.
Second, fisheries management must be transformed where sustainability is failing or is unknown. While one in three fisheries is overexploited, effective fisheries management has rebuilt target species . In the US, for example, the sustainability index has increased from 38.2 percent at the turn of the century to 79.1 percent in 2021. Elsewhere populations of whales and other marine mammals are recovering from decades of exploitation, and the accidental catch of turtles and birds has been greatly reduced by changes in fishing practices.
Third, fish value chains need to be upgraded and developed so we reduce food loss and waste, add value through product development, and employ digital solutions to facilitate market access, especially for small producers. We also need to educate consumers about the importance of fish products for a healthy diet.
We cannot do it alone. Conservation and sustainable development of the ocean requires complex and negotiated action backed by scientific evidence and international collaboration. FAO is already at the forefront of change as the partner of choice to broker solutions across regions, sectors and partners.
Thankfully we are not too late. With an innovative approach, greater political will and strong partnerships and investment, we can work effectively to confront the impacts of climate change, overfishing and unsustainable practices and ensure the sustainable management of our ocean resources.
The future sustainability of our ocean depends on what we do today. We owe it to our children and to ourselves.
The One Ocean Summit took place in Brest in Brittany in the northwest of France on 9-11 February 2022.
Manuel Barange, is Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
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