Fisheries associations declare IUCN 30 percent MPA goal “arbitrary”

A movement to designate 30 percent of the world’s oceans as marine protected areas (MPAs) is being criticized by a number of groups representing various segments of the global fishing industry.

The fishing sector agrees on the premise of creating MPAs, but seeking to protect 30 percent of all the world’s ocean is “arbitrary,” according to Javier Garat, secretary general of Spanish fishing confederation Cepesca, president of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations (ICFA), and president of European Union fishing sector representative Europêche.

According to a joint release from the Latin American Alliance for Sustainable Fisheries (ALPESCAS) and the Spanish fishing trade group Cepesca, MPAs can be a useful maritime sustainability tool, “provided they are based on scientific data and can be managed and controlled.”

“The fishing sector is opposed, however, to the use of this tool as a propaganda flag of environmental movements that seek the protection of an arbitrary percentage of the surface of the oceans: 30 percent in 2030,” the groups said.

Garat, speaking during the fourth annual ALPESCAS meeting, taking place this week in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata, was referring to the decision taken by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to recommend closing off 30 percent of all marine areas to fishing activities by 2030.

In no case should MPAs be considered the sole instrument to guarantee sustainability and its triple bottom line focus – environmental, social and economic, he added. 

“MPAs should be considered as another management tool, together with TACs and quotas, fishing effort management, closures or other technical measures, to ensure coexistence between more efficiently managed fishing activity and sustainable development of the oceans and their resources,” Garat said.

During the fourth annual ALPESCAS meeting, the fishing alliance, which brings together associations and fishing chambers of Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, and Colombia, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with ICFA, which represents the fishing sectors of 13 countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Spain, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

Under the MoU, both organizations agreed to join forces in promoting sustainable fishing and related activities while also undertaking a number of actions within the framework of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with special attention to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources.

However, MPAs should not be a central part of that strategy if they are not created on a case-by-case basis, with specific conservation goals in mind, the fishing groups said. In their statement, they cited the usefulness of MPAs in protecting specific coastal habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and vulnerable marine ecosystems, but found fault in the argument that MPAS help to solve the most pressing threats to the world’s oceans, which they named as climate change, ocean acidification, and pollutants. On the contrary, according to ICFA, MPAs can actually contribute to climate change and ocean acidification by restricting the amount of low-carbon-footprint protein available for consumption.

Recommendations from a recently released report by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP) included establishing incentives to encourage people to switch from high-carbon, land-based sources of protein such as meat  to low-carbon ocean-based sources such as fish and seaweed. The report also recommended that incentives should be created to improve fishery management and encourage lower trophic-level aquaculture, and that new finance mechanisms be devised to help small-scale fisheries transition to more sustainable methods.  

Analysis conducted by the HLP found ocean-based activities have much greater potential in helping to reach the 1.5-degree Celsius cap mandated by the Paris Climate Accord by 2050.

But in forming policies to create MPAs, ALPESCAS called for “prudence, coordination, and rationality.”

"We cannot forget that fishing activity is fundamental to feed a growing world population and, under that premise, it makes little sense" that areas be closed to fishing and subsequently opened to activities much more harmful to oceans and marine resources such as marine mining, ICFA’s Garat said.

In response to the statement issued by the fishing groups, WWF Chile Conservation Director Rodrigo Catalán told SeafoodSource his organization agrees that a number of measures must be employed to help guarantee sustainable fishing, including closed seasons and bans, quotas and management.

“But MPAs protect the ecosystem, allowing for marine life to recover and flourish. There is no such contradiction between fishing and MPAs. In a more integrated approach to the ocean, marine areas and economic activity are perfectly compatible, as long as they are well planned out, based on science. There has to be good governance, with the stakeholders’ participation – interested parties, science, conservation organizations, government – for spatial maritime planning to harmonize economic activity with MPAs,” Catalán said.

Catalán rejected the notion that the 30 percent goal for MPAs is arbitrary.

“There’s a scientific base that talks about the need for different levels of protection. Some talk about the need to protect up to 50 percent of the earth by 2050, as we’re losing a lot of our natural resources,” he said. “But in the more middle-term, various organizations such as WWF, National Geographic, etcetera, are promoting 30 percent by 2030. It is being discussed by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with several experts in science and in conservation that have arrived at this number, defined as needed to maintain the functioning of the oceans and their ecosystems.”

It is expected by the next biological diversity summit, to be held next year in China, that the biodiversity goals will be updated, Catalán said.

“Currently it is at 15 percent of the ocean, and there will probably be a scientific and political agreement to raise this to 30 percent,” he said.

Catalán said economic development and conservation are not mutually exclusive.

“Both can happen, with good planning,” Catalán said.

Catalán pointed to one area of recent development where a number of protected areas are managed by local communities.

“They understand the need to protect resources in order to remain sustainable over time, in the context of climate change,” he said. “There are a number of communities that already have multiple-use areas, as well as other local conservation measures.”

Photo courtesy of ALPESCAS


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