In my last post, I highlighted the sustainable seafood efforts of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list and the Marine Stewardship Council’s MSC and ASC ecolabel certifications. These consumer-driven sustainability schemes have been active for over twenty years, but fish stocks continue to be overexploited and marine habitats destroyed. Today, 36% of sharks and rays, 33% of coral reefs, and 28% of crustaceans are threatened with extinction. While significant, the certification schemes and watch lists have been largely unsuccessful at protecting marine wildlife because they have not been paired with robust marine public policy.
2021 could prove to be a pivotal year in global food, climate, and ecosystem governance. That’s because this year, the UN Food Systems Summit, the UN Biodiversity Summit, and the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP26) are all taking place. Coming in on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic and facing increasing climate and ecological crises, these meetings offer a unique opportunity to pair environmental policy with unprecedented fiscal stimulus.
Now is the time for bold governance measures to safeguard life on earth from climate and ecological collapse. In this post, I will highlight the top three policy actions that can be implemented this year to protect marine life and the livelihoods of millions living in coastal communities. These measures are 1) thoroughly protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, 2) end harmful fishing subsidies, and 3) fight IUU fishing (illegal, unregulated, and unreported).
The easiest of these three measures to tackle is number 2, eliminating harmful fishing subsidies. As perverse as it may sound, governments worldwide spend $22 billion every year on subsidies that encourage overfishing. This public money is used to build more and bigger industrial fishing vessels and pay for their fuel so that these ships can scour the open ocean, chasing down the last fish. The good news is, these subsidies are close to being eliminated this year in the drawn-out conclusion to the World Trade Organization negotiations. Overfishing is ecologically unsustainable, and by removing harmful subsidies, it can also become economically unfeasible.
Action number 3, fighting IUU fishing, is notoriously tricky, especially in the open ocean. However, a nifty policy measure already exists to disincentivize it, the UN’s Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA). Countries that sign on are required to check foreign fishing vessels requesting to dock in their ports against a set of environmental standards about where and how their goods were caught (standards on labor conditions onboard are notably absent). If fishing vessels fail this check, they are denied entry, and international organizations are notified of the incident. Meaning IUU fish can be blocked from reaching markets, and vessels can be publicly named and shamed. However, only 40% of nations have signed on to the PSMA and many vessels caught are reflagged and renamed through seamless Flags of Convenience online registration. New tracking methods and initiatives are emerging to tackle IUU fishing but broadly implementing the PSMA is the most cost-effective means we have available today to curb IUU fishing.
The boldest solution to conserve and restore marine life, one scientists agree is crucial to safeguard life below water, is to place 30% of the ocean under strict protection by 2030. Also known as the 30×30 campaign. Again, a policy instrument already exists to protect marine areas; this is done through the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). MPAs are defined as marine regions where human activity is regulated to conserve biodiversity or cultural heritage. In the open ocean or coastal areas, MPAs can act as safe havens where marine species (many highly migratory) can rest, recover, and thrive. Interestingly, the size of an MPA is not the strongest predictor of conservation impact; effective and equitable management of MPAs is.
We know that robust MPAs are a vital instrument for marine protection, so how much of the ocean is protected by MPAs, and how well are they managed? In 2010, the international community, via the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, pledged to “effectively and equitably” protect 10% of the world’s ocean through MPAs by 2020. We failed to meet this target. The latest research shows that only 7.7% of the ocean is protected. To make matters worse, much of that area is carelessly managed, if at all. Scientists found that many Marine Protected Areas are, in fact, “paper parks” designated as MPAs but lacking management or enforcement plans. Even when management plans do exist, sometimes they are so weak as to undermine conservation goals. Today, only 2.7% of the ocean is highly protected.
Direct human interference in ocean ecosystems has left life below water near a breaking point. Some human activities in the ocean are incredibly destructive, like deep-sea mining and drilling for oil and gas; these should be banned outright (certainly within MPAs). But not all human activity is destructive. Closing off 30% of the ocean from all human contact will not save marine life. Some marine ecosystems are so degraded as to required active restoration efforts. Restoration ecology, marine restoration, in particular, is a nascent science, but it may well become one of the most important fields of research this century.
Fishing, too, is not inherently destructive. As I wrote in my last post, fisheries can be managed sustainably to protect biodiversity and fish stocks, even in MPAs. There are many pathways to establishing controlled access to MPAs, allowing fish stocks and biodiversity to recover while boosting fisheries. The UN estimates that if fisheries were appropriately managed, 98% of currently overfished stocks could recover by the middle of this century. Scientists estimate that through strategic placement of MPAs, global seafood catch could increase by 8 million tons. However, successfully implementing robust MPAs in 30% of the ocean requires international coordination.
We have the power to repair and restore the ocean, the birthplace of life on earth. Beyond providing food, healthy marine ecosystems purify water, capture and store carbon, protect shorelines from storm surges, and hold incalculable value as sites of sacred cultural heritage. This year, policymakers must take bold action on ocean governance during the global food, climate, and biodiversity conferences. They must end harmful fishing subsidies, fight IUU fishing, and commit to thoroughly protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030. We citizens must push for these actions and accept nothing less.
Empanada Gallega, Galician Fish Pie
This recipe is one I learned from my Argentine grandmother. Galician immigrants to Argentina brought it over from their home country, though I’m unsure how authentic this Argentine version is. You can use either canned mackerel or tuna (or a mix of both), depending on what is available and affordable for you. It takes some time to prepare the filling, but I take a shortcut for the dough using store-bought pizza dough. Empanada gallega can be eaten warm or at room temperature and is best accompanied by a fresh salad or roasted vegetables.
Makes 6 servings
- 300 gr (10 ounces) mackerel or tuna packed in oil (preferably olive oil)
- 1 large onion
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1 large or 2 small red bell peppers
- 4 garlic cloves
- 3 tomatoes, chopped, or ½ can of tomatoes
- 1 tsp ground sweet paprika
- 1 package store-bought pizza dough
- Chopped green olives (optional)
- Saffron or “Paellero” seasoning (optional)
- Heat your oven to 190°C (375°F).
- Chop the onion, the whites of the green onions, and the red bell pepper, set aside. Chop the greens of the green onions and the garlic, set aside. Lastly, chop the tomatoes.
- Heat a large saucepan, open one of the cans of fish and pour in some olive oil. Toss in the onion and pepper mix and sauté until the onions turn golden and start to stick and burn to the bottom of the pan. Now add the green onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and vigorously stir the juices to scrape up any toasted onions. Cook for a few minutes or until the tomatoes break down.
- Turn off the heat. Drain the canned fish and add it to the pan along with the paprika (and the “Paellero” seasoning, saffron, or olives if using). Add salt to taste.
- On a floured surface, roll out the pizza dough to about 0.5 cm thickness. Carefully cut some edge pieces off the dough if you want to decorate the top of the empanada. Transfer the dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- Pour the filling onto half of the dough, leaving about 2 cm of dough along the perimeter. Dampen that perimeter of the dough with a little water, fold the remaining half of the dough over the filling and press to seal.
- Decorate the empanada as you like. You can crimp the edges with your fingers or use a fork. I like to fold over the edges to create a repulgue like an Argentine empanada. Use the strips of dough to decorate the top. Poke the top of the empanada all over with a fork.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden.