Worldwatch Report 174: Preface

Oceans in Peril Cover Image

Oceans in Peril: Protecting Marine Biodiversity

Authors: Michelle Allsopp, Richard Page, Paul Johnston, David Santillo

ISBN: 978-1-878071-81-1
Publication Date: Sept. 2007
Paperback
56 pages

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Preface

crab on sponge
© Greenpeace/Marco Care

Anyone familiar with the state of the world’s oceans would have a hard time feeling optimistic. From coral reefs overwhelmed by coastal runoff to tiny but ecologically vital plankton that are suffering from climate change, the diversity of sea life is fading. Just as nutritionists are discovering how healthy and beneficial seafood really is, we face a growing shortage of this once-bountiful food source.

Yet we continue to invest in wasteful and shortsighted fishing techniques. Destructive bottom trawling not only catches tons of unwanted species, it also destroys deep-water coral reefs and other rich habitats that nurture the fish we do want to catch. Fishing subsidies are so bloated that roughly a third of the global fleet is considered unnecessary. And as nearshore fish populations collapse, fleets are forced to probe farther and deeper to find their targets.

The good news is that there is a way out of this predicament. By treating the oceans with more respect and by using them more wisely, we can obtain more from these life-supporting waters while also maintaining healthy and diverse marine ecosystems. This is a key message of this latest Worldwatch report, Oceans in Peril: Protecting Marine Biodiversity.

This surprising conclusion, reached by the report’s authors—a team of scientists with Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the United Kingdom—complements work that Worldwatch’s own food and agriculture team has undertaken over the last decade. Through our research and analysis, most recently in Catch of the Day(2006) and Happier Meals (2005), we have sought to illustrate that feeding ourselves doesn’t have to come at the expense of a healthy environment.

“Current presumptions that favor freedom to fish and freedom of the seas will need to be replaced with the new concept of freedom for the seas.”

Just as meat that originates in a factory farm is different from meat that comes from animals raised on pasture, the differences between “good” and “bad” seafood are many. For example, fish farming that focuses on large, carnivorous species like salmon and tuna consumes many times more fish in the form of feed than it yields for human consumption. Alternatively, raising fish that is low in the food chain, such as clams, scallops, and other mollusks, can provide healthy seafood without any feeds.

As this paper demonstrates, scientists, activists, and the fishing industry itself are already showing what a shift in perspective—and in governmental policies—can mean for the oceans. Consider marine reserves, just one element of a new “ecosystem approach” to managing the seas that is critical to protecting the oceans for future generations. These reserves, which make swaths of the oceans off-limits to damaging human activities, can protect whole ecosystems and enable fish and other species to recover and flourish. But currently, only about 0.1 percent of the oceans is fully protected.

“Current presumptions that favor freedom to fish and freedom of the seas will need to be replaced with the new concept of freedom for the seas,” write the authors of Oceans in Peril. The freedom they speak of is essentially freedom from human exploitation—from nets, dredges, trawlers, hooks, and knives—and the freedom to heal from past overuses. It’s a simple change in perception, but the ramifications couldn’t be more important.

Brian Halweil, Worldwatch Institute

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