As for many ocean advocates around the world, Sir David Attenborough is one of my childhood heroes and a continued source of inspiration for my work. In the most recent Blue Planet documentary, A Life on Our Planet, his quote, “If we take care of our ocean, the ocean will take care of us,” resonated strongly with me as it is the mission of my work with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI).
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The GGGI is the largest and only global alliance solely dedicated to tackling the threat of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, or “ghost gear”, worldwide. Alongside 117 members, including 17 national governments, the GGGI builds evidence, informs policy, shares best practices and scales up tangible solutions to the ghost gear problem.
And it’s a major problem. According to Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 threat rank report, ghost gear is the single deadliest form of ocean plastic to marine life. It also harms fish stocks and fisher livelihoods and has major food security implications.
The recently launched High Level Panel (HLP) for a Sustainable Ocean Report highlighted that 3 billion people rely on food from the ocean as a source of protein and nutrition. It also highlighted the economic impact of our ocean: a healthy ocean contributes $1.5 trillion to the global economy annually and is the source of millions of jobs. Declining ocean health could cost the global economy more than $400 billion annually in the next 30 years. The report indicated that a strong investment in our ocean benefits our communities and our blue planet: for every $1 invested in healthy ocean action, there is a $5 return in benefits.
We know that the public is eager for such investment in our ocean. Recent research by GlobeScan for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) reveals that U.S. seafood consumers are increasingly concerned about our ocean and the impact of pollution, a reduction in fish populations and climate change. Choosing sustainably sourced seafood has risen in importance to seafood shoppers since 2018, with 55% of U.S. seafood lovers agreeing that we have to consume fish and shellfish only from sustainable sources to protect our ocean.
The desire for more action to protect what we love and the recognition that the status quo is no longer enough is driving bold pledges from international fora like the HLP.
Coinciding with the HLP report, the Ocean Panel launched the “Give It 100%” campaign, in which member states held events declaring their commitment to the goal to manage 100% of the ocean under their care sustainably by 2025, with the aim of galvanizing the political will to carry out an actionable agenda. The Ocean Panel also pledged action on a range of sustainability issues including eliminating the discard of fishing gear which turns it into ghost gear. The Ocean Panel is made up of leaders from 14 counties which combined make up 40% of the world’s coastlines, 30% of offshore exclusive economic zones, 20% of the world’s fisheries and 20% of the world’s shipping fleet.
However, if we want to see real change for our ocean, we need to make sure that actions at key bodies, including regional fishery management organizations like the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), actually reflect these pledges.
Already, we are seeing worrying signs: a recent Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission meeting failed to extend conservation measures into 2021, putting the health of tuna populations at risk and stalling progress on promoting responsible use of fishing gears like fish aggregating devices, or FADS.
The GGGI encourages countries to put their words into deeds by adopting and implementing best practices for the management of fishing gear, including the UN FAO Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear (VGMFG) and the GGGI Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear (BPF). The BPF calls for clear limits on the amount of gear, including FADs, in use by a given vessel at a given time; and real-time reporting of fishing gear loss, including discontinued FADs, to ensure we have an accurate picture of the ghost gear problem and that retrieval of gear can be facilitated.
We hope that the countries who pledged to give their 100% for our ocean health will continue to do so across the board for our ecosystems, fish populations, coastal communities, our economy and our blue planet at large. Because, as David Attenborough says, “if we care for our ocean, the ocean will care for us.”