Before she joined The Nature Conservancy as our global managing director for oceans, Maria Damanaki served as the European Union’s Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Today 27 European stocks are fished sustainably—up from just 4 when Maria started in 2010. If projections hold for the next five years, there could be 15 million more tons of fish in the sea generating 30% more jobs and at least $2 billion in additional revenue.
With offshore investments rapidly increasing, the decisions we make today—to either pursue ad hoc, unregulated growth or thoughtful, science-based growth—will be the difference between a world with polluted waters, damaged habitats and depleted fisheries or one like the EU’s where healthy oceans are sustaining thriving communities and growing economies.
Through our Blue Growth by Design strategy and emerging priorities such as the Global Tuna Action Plan, The Nature Conservancy aims to make conservation’s voice more prominent in ocean and coastal development. To do this, we’ll apply and adapt our existing conservation toolkit—habitat restoration, sustainable fishing practices, protected areas—while seeking out new allies, creating innovative financial solutions and pushing beyond our work in coastal waters to the open ocean. Solutions such as Mapping Ocean Wealth and marine spatial planning will provide ocean users with a better understanding of where and how nature generates essential benefits for people and economies as we work to rapidly advance Blue Growth by Design’s core pillars:
- Invest in Natural Infrastructure: Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually to build coastal infrastructure to protect against, or rebuild from, natural disasters. Transitioning just 10% of that funding to nature-based defenses would increase investment in coastal conservation more than tenfold. Countries like Mexico are already exploring the potential. Their federal water agency, CONAGUA, is using The Nature Conservancy’s award-winning Coastal Resilience decision-making tool to inform development planning in all of the country’s coastal and freshwater areas.
- Manage Ocean Resources Sustainably: Coastal livelihoods and our seafood supplies are threatened by overfishing and poor fisheries management, which costs the fishing sector $50 billion a year in lost revenue. The market for sustainably caught seafood is growing steadily and, by empowering fishermen as the agents of change in fisheries reform and recovery efforts, we can achieve a triple bottom line of sustainable seafood supplies, thriving local industries and marine conservation.
- Build Effective Governance: While The Nature Conservancy has worked on governance at state and national scales, we are just beginning to explore how we might engage around global issues, such as illegal fishing. We believe that coordinated action by key governments and industry—with TNC filling a critical niche as convener and pragmatic problem-solver—could reduce or eliminate illegal fishing worldwide and serve as a model for tackling other challenges facing our oceans today.
Through our Global Tuna Action Plan two of our three Blue Growth pillars—sustainable management and governance—come into play. As one of the top fish commodities traded globally, tuna generates more than $10 billion annually and is an important source of income in both developed and developing nations. Growing demand is placing tuna fisheries around the world at risk, which would be bad for our oceans and also bad for business.
With so much at stake, people are taking note and looking for new solutions. Building on existing work and relationships in Indonesia and other parts of Asia-Pacific, our Global Tuna Action Plan will first focus on Pacific fisheries and later Indian Ocean fisheries, which together represent roughly 80% of the global tuna harvest. Many companies and nations working in these areas are connected in some way to nearly all of the globe’s substantial tuna fisheries, which puts us in a strong position to rapidly replicate successes and lessons learned—and perhaps on a path toward a sustainable global solution.
The sustainable seafood market serves as a powerful incentive and technology that traces seafood from “bait to plate” allows us to certify and reward sustainable management efforts. Pacific Island and other governments are already making strides to better regulate fisheries and in places like Indonesia’s Timor Sea we’re seeing positive changes. With The Nature Conservancy’s help, 30 commercial fishing boats are now tracing their fishing locations and the weight and specific contents of their catches. This information can not only stop illegal fishing—enforcement officials and consumers now know where, when and by whom seafood was caught—but it also reveals how processing operations can be improved to save the industry time and money, helping good industry players to pressure other processors, governments and fishers to move towards sustainable fishing practices.
Working with our partners around the world, I am confident that The Nature Conservancy can advance our global oceans agenda with the urgency that is needed and chart a sustainable course for our oceans and ensure a future where people and nature thrive.
Brian McPeek is the Chief Conservation Officer of The Nature Conservancy. You can follow Brian on Twitter @bcmcpeek. Learn more about our work at nature.org/global.