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A front facing photo of Ernesto Jardim.

Ernesto Jardim

MSC Fisheries Standards Director

Will our oceans be fixed by 2050?

April 3, 2020

A new research paper says our oceans can be fixed by 2050, but the right incentives are needed to get humans to do the right thing, says MSC Fisheries Standards Director Ernesto Jardim.

A shot of a shoreline crowded with boats.

Research published in the journal Nature suggests that the substantial recovery of marine life is achievable by 2050. Whether you’re a fishery, a seafood processor, a certifier or a consumer, it is a timely reminder that we can safeguard our oceans for future generations.

The paper acknowledges the importance of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries and sustainable seafood suppliers in achieving this, alongside the need to mitigate climate change and reduce pollution.

Despite significant improvements during the last two decades, one-third of all fish populations are still overfished. Currently about 15% of all marine wild catch is MSC certified. We tackle the problem of rebuilding our oceans by incentivising people to change behaviour: from fishers and institutions to the supply chain and consumers.

The most powerful tool we have, our science-based standards, define a set of principles which set a viable path for re-establishing the health of our oceans and protecting our seafood supply. Our assessments show that a large majority (about 90%) of certified fisheries implement improvement to their operations due to the certification process requirements.

Protecting species, harvesting wisely and reducing pollution are all essential if the ambitious recovery target of 2050 is to be met, and we can see a positive trend in fish populations in fisheries using specific management interventions. It comes as no surprise to us that fisheries that have proper harvesting strategies and scientifically assessed fish populations have a better likelihood of recovery. We’ve seen the benefits of this for partners like the MSC certified Alaska flatfish fishery.

We’re also helping to establish sustainable seaweed farming through our partnership with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council which has led to the certification of innovators like Euglena in Japan. This could be vital in supporting the restoration of seagrass meadows, seen as a critical part of the recovery because these reduce pollution and coastal acidification.

The authors’ call for a global increase in the quality and quantity of sustainable seafood is timely. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include eradication of unsustainable fishing by 2020. We need massive mobilisation to achieve this target on time, but MSC certified fisheries will continue to play a key role in delivering SDG goal 14 – the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources.

The SDGs also remind us that none of this can be achieved if it does not deliver food security for everyone on the planet. We’re driving change through our Pathways to Sustainability program, which seeks to ensure all fisheries, including small-scale fisheries and those in the Global South, are able to benefit from our program.

The recovery of our oceans makes economic sense as well as being a moral imperative. Rebuilding fish populations on a global scale is predicted to increase fishing yields by 15% and result in an extra $53 billion in profits for the global seafood industry – according to research referenced in the paper. That should provide the incentives to inspire even the most disinterested to care about marine health.

I am confident that humanity can find the will to return our oceans to their full glory, both ecologically abundant and capable of feeding the world. This research tells me that achieving it in my lifetime is a matter of choice.

The hundreds of MSC certified fisheries providing us with millions of tonnes of fresh wild seafood every year – and the consumers who look for the blue fish tick label when shopping or dining for sustainable seafood – continue to give me hope.

Duarte, C.M., Agusti, S., Barbier, E. et al. Rebuilding marine life. Nature 580, 39–51 (2020)

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