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Alex Webb

MSC Oceania Senior Marketing & Communications Manager

Six practical solutions to tackle overfishing

May 29, 2019

Banskia Ignite SDG 14 Panel Discussion

Alex Webb and film producer Sarah Beard speaking on the Bankia Ignite SDG 14 panel at Vivid Sydney © Carla Orsatti/Banksia Foundation

I was recently part of Banksia Ignite during Vivid Sydney, festival of light, music and ideas. The event was all about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – a framework to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. I was so inspired to see and hear from many passionate people, such as my co-panelist Sarah Beard, one of the producers of Blue the film, and organisations on how they’re making a difference. I had the pleasure of presenting the MSC’s work on SDG14: Life Below Water – which, according to our latest report Accelerating Progress on Healthy and Productive Oceans, is unfortunately one of the least known and understood SDGs – a case of out of sight, out of mind. 

What exactly is the overfishing challenge? 

Overfishing is a major global challenge which threatens ocean wildlife, livelihoods and food security. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) Report, a downward trend continues. A third (33.1%) of all fish populations are overfished, 59.9% are fully fished, and just 7% underfished. These statistics should be alarming. We need urgent action to end overfishing. But the situation isn’t hopeless. There’s an ocean awakening happening with people and organisations making steps toward a brighter future. 

Almost 15% of all wild caught fish worldwide is now certified sustainable to the MSC Fisheries Standard – an internationally recognised standard based on scientific best practice. Fisheries are independently assessed against three principles: healthy fish populations, minimised ecosystem impacts and effective management. What’s more, more than 1,200 improvements have been made by fisheries around the world as a condition of gaining and maintaining certification, leading to real, lasting and positive change.  

While 15% may sound small, when you consider just 1.4% of the world’s farmland is estimated to be organic, and the vastness of the world’s oceans – covering 70% of the planet - it’s an impressive effort. Unfortunately, it’s not yet enough to buck the trend. So, what more can we do? 

One of the resounding messages from Banksia Ignite, enshrined in SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals, is that collectively we have the power to make a really big difference just by making small changes. With that in mind, here’s our top six action recommendations. 

1. Choose certified sustainable seafood 

Seafood with the blue fish tick can be traced back to a sustainable fishery. With a third of all traded fish mislabelled or misdescribed, we even conduct DNA testing to prove that in over 99% of cases, our chain of custody system works
Choose sustainable seafood with the blue fish tick
By purchasing MSC certified seafood for home or your organisation, you’re helping to incentivise sustainable fishing practices as well as ensuring seafood forever. More reasons to choose the blue fish tick.

2. Reduce food waste and learn better ways to cook and store seafood 

If our Banksia Ignite host and TEDx Sydney speaker Craig Reucassel and his TV series War on Waste has taught us anything, it’s that we throw away a lot of food! In fact, a lot is chucked away before we even get the chance to buy it. As David Attenborough recently said, one of the solutions to tackling the climate crisis is simply: ‘consume less’. By being mindful and planning our meals for the week, lowering portion sizes, being creative with our cooking and storing and labelling our food in the fridge or freezer, we can cut down on our waste. Perhaps even set yourself a target and see how much you can save. 

3. Share real news  

While it has never been easier to click the share button on graphic images and statistics to draw attention to the issue, the risk of sharing sensationalised stories has also never been higher. Before sharing, ask yourself: Is this based on science? Is the source credible and independent? Is it really that simple, or is there more to it?   

4. Encourage the next generation to think and act sustainably 

We can only hope to modify our own behaviour and the behaviour of other adults. But if we can instil positive values in to the next generation and our future leaders, then we’re securing their future as well as our own. We have professionally made teacher resources designed for students 11+. Sharing our ocean sustainability teacher resources can give teachers the confidence to talk about oceans and sustainable fishing in an interactive and engaging way that will really get young minds thinking. 

5. Donate to help fund our work in under-resourced regions  

The Marine Stewardship Council in on a mission to end overfishing and ensure fish forever. We’re more than just a certification and labelling scheme. While you might recognise the MSC’s blue fish tick as seen on John West products among others, this is just one tool in our toolbox for change. We have many other tools, which we call a Pathway to Sustainability. These allow small-scale fisheries and fisheries in the developing world to improve their ecological performance in a step wise approach. By donating to the MSC either at an individual or corporate level, you can help us further our mission and engage more fisheries around the world. 

6. Commission or draw from existing research to improve ocean understanding 

The MSC Fisheries Standard is built on science, and we have many marine scientists working for us as well as engaged in our mission. We commission our own research, peer review, and support the research of others through our scholarship program. But we can also be doing more with the existing research of ourselves and others to create meaningful insights and action plans. 

Think you can help? Get in touch 
Whichever way you’d like to get involved, do let us know. We’d love to hear from you and see how we can work together to help tackle overfishing and ensure seafood supplies forever. 
Fisher standing in a boat throwing a net with the sun shining in the background

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