By James O’Donovan
Following the success of Seaspiracy, people around the world are asking how can we protect and restore the precious ocean’s biodiversity and ecosystems. The obvious first step is go vegan, but then we also need to get involved in advocating for some of the following actions.
We need to stop Bottom Trawling Immediately
According to a March, 2021 ground-breaking study published in Nature, bottom trawling fishing boats that drag a weighted net across the ocean floor release as much carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry by disturbing the organic carbon stored in the seabed. The paper estimates that 4.9 million km2 or 1.3% of the global ocean is trawled each year. About a third of the global land area used for crop production (15.6 million km2 – using the IPCC Land Use SR figure of 12% of Ice free land). This most destructive method of fishing also destroys the seabed ecosystems and most of the organisms living there. It effectively ploughs the ocean floor and extracts the bodies of a few organisms from the debris. If any action that humans inflict on nature can be called ecocide its bottom trawling.
End Subsidies for the Fishing Industry
A 2019 Report detailed the level of subsidies for industrial fishing (see diagram below). “We estimate global fisheries subsidies at USD 35.4 billion in 2018, of which capacity-enhancing subsidies are USD 22.2 billion. The top five subsidising political entities (China, European Union, USA, Republic of Korea and Japan) contribute 58% (USD 20.5 billion) of the total estimated subsidy.” We need to move subsidies from destructive practices like fishing to ecosystem restoration but persuading the different national governments to do that will be a challenge. Perhaps the World Trade Organisation will declare them illegal due to the unfair advantage they provide to some fishers.
30-71% of the Ocean as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030
According to a March 2021 Study, MPAs—especially highly protected areas in which extractive and destructive activities like fishing and mining are banned—can be effective management tools to safeguard and restore ocean biodiversity and associated services including oxygen production and climate stabilisation. As of March 2021, only around 7% of the ocean has been designated or proposed as MPAs, and only 2.7% is actually implemented as fully or highly protected. A study published last year in the journal Science found that industrial fishing was present in 432 of the 727 MPAs in the European Union.
Since 2014 organisations have been calling for 30% of the ocean to be designated MPA’s by 2030. However the above Study comments “If society were to value marine biodiversity benefits as much as food provision benefits, the optimal conservation strategy would protect 45% of the ocean, delivering 71% of the maximum possible biodiversity benefits, 92% of food provisioning benefits and 29% of carbon benefits. Results also suggest that we could protect as much as 71% of the ocean, obtaining 91% of the biodiversity and 48% of the carbon benefits, with no change in the future yields of fisheries.”
Declare the High Seas a MPA
Coastal countries have authority over 200 nautical miles from shore called their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Everything beyond those areas is called the high seas. No country owns the high seas and they are ineffectively governed by the UN. China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Spain account for almost 80% of the fishing in the high seas. The economics are dependent on huge government subsidies, and for some countries, on human rights violations. EEZs currently provide 96% of global catch and contain most of the world’s overexploited fisheries. This protection would help protect some migrating species like tuna and sharks which are in desperate need of some protection. Enric Sala with National Geographic outlines the benefits of declaring the High Seas an MPA in this TED talk.
End Human Trafficking in the Fishing Industry
Several reports have highlighted that some sectors of the fishing industry continue to use forced labour and physical punishment, and even deliberately kill workers. Fishers can be extremely vulnerable while at sea, far out of sight of law enforcement agencies or help from friends and family. Ownership of fishing boats are hidden by countries like Panama who provide Flags of Convenience. The global epicentre of abuse is the Gulf of Thailand – the main source of prawns for European and US markets. But it has also been documented in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. The same gangs involved in people smuggling are often also involved in other criminal activities.
Invest in the Emerging Plant Based Fish Sector
There is an urgent and sizable need to fill the increasing global demand for seafood with plant based seafood. However, as the alternative protein industry continues to grow, with plant-based retail sales reaching $7 billion in 2020, alternative seafood still needs substantial public and private investment to rapidly expand this industry. You can read about the many emerging plant based seafood companies producing everything from plant based tuna and shrimp to fillet-no-fish in these Vegconomist Articles.
Education, Legal Protection and Enforcement
Organise a screening of Seaspiracy or End of the Line or Racing Extinction in your community and begin the process to recognise all animals as sentient beings with protection of their lives enshrined in law. You can find a brilliant list of fishing industry research on this Seaspiracy Facts page.
What kind of benefits could be expected from these measures – well, it turns out the WWF have produced a detailed report outlining the benefits of 30% MPAs. The more the better.
The Benefits of Restoring the Seas
The WWF 2021 Report, The Value of Restored UK Seas explores the economic, employment, biodiversity and climate benefits of restoring just 30% of the UK’s waters to strictly protected MPAs. The following are a few extracts from the report.
“Today, UK MPAs cover about a quarter of UK seas, but many are little more than “paper parks”, allowing even the most destructive types of fishing like bottom trawling. Extending full protection to 30% of our seas would yield multiple benefits, yielding net gains estimated at £10.5 billion and supporting up to 12,000 jobs in the tourism and recreation sector alone. Reduced trawling in these areas would also allow habitats to recover and capture carbon emissions worth an additional £459 million by 2050. Growing the populations of large marine mammals also supports carbon capture.”
“Marine habitats capture up to 20 times more carbon per hectare than forests on land. Fully restored, our coastal ecosystems could capture a third of the UK’s emissions from 2018. Restoring and stopping deterioration of coastal ecosystems – tripling the area of seagrass and increasing the area of other habitats by 15% – could prevent the loss of almost 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) and store a further 137 MtCO2e by 2050, equivalent to the emissions from 86,000 long-haul flights. This would have a net economic benefit of £10.1 billion by 2050 – which would increase further in the future as the protected and restored habitats continue to accumulate more carbon. Protecting and restoring these habitats could save an estimated £6.2 billion in spending on artificial flood defenses by 2050.
Increasing offshore wind capacity by 40GW by 2030 and 75GW by 2050, in line with net-zero commitments, would deliver savings in carbon emissions valued at £26 billion compared with a business-as-usual scenario. This level of offshore wind generation could also create 67,000 jobs along with 16,200 jobs in tidal power and 12,000 jobs in wave power.
Shipping is another area where we need to increase ambition to achieve net zero. In 2017, greenhouse gas emissions from UK shipping were 13.8 Mt CO2e – about 3% of total UK emissions. Halving emissions by 2050 through increased efficiency and alternative fuels would deliver carbon savings worth £9.8 billion.”
Based on this information it seems reasonable to assume that protecting 100% of the UK seas and moving to a plant based food system, could yield net gains of £31.5 billion and 36,000 jobs and a further £1.4 Billion in carbon sequestration benefits. By comparison, the UK fishing industry has an estimated value of £989 million and supports around just 12,000 full- and part-time fishers.
Total Benefits and Savings by 2050
- Coastal Ecosystem Restoration economic benefit of – £10.1 Billion.
- Reduced spending on Artificial Flood Defences – £6.2 Billion.
- Reduced Shipping Emissions – £9.8 Billion.
- 100% No Take Marine Protected Areas economic benefit – £31.5 Billion plus carbon savings of £1.4 Billion and 36,000 jobs.
- Offshore Wind Savings in Carbon Emissions – £26 Billion and 95,000 jobs.
- Vegan Sustainability Magazine estimate that ending fishing in UK Waters could lead to a total of £41.6 billion in benefits, Reduced Spending of £6.2 Billion and £37.2 billion in savings due to reduced carbon emissions and 131,000 jobs in energy, tourism and recreations sectors.
Today the UK fishing industry is worth less than £1 Billion and supports 12,000 jobs. These workers could be employed by the wind energy industry and receive much higher wages in much safer working environments. You can read the full WWF Report here.