Protecting the ocean: full transcript
Host [00:00:00] You are listening to the Make Change Happen podcast from IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development.
Sustainable Development Goal 14, life below water, seeks to conserve and sustainably use the ocean’s seas and marine resources. To meet the 10 targets of the goal, and to ensure the many benefits from oceans, seas and coasts are available to everyone in an inclusive blue economy, action is needed, both in the policy arena and in fishing practice.
What is the economic value of marine and coastal ecosystems and small-scale fisheries?
How can incentives be employed for sustainable fisheries management? How can we ensure future high seas governance regimes or treaties are equitable and benefit all?
To answer these and other questions, in this podcast our director of communications, Liz Carlile, talks with two expert colleagues who are leading IIED’s research in this area.
Liz Carlile [00:01:00] Hi, and welcome to IIED's new podcast: Make Change Happen. I'm your host today - I'm Liz Carlile: I'm director of communications at IIED. And I'm going to guide us through a conversation with two of my colleagues. I've got on my left Essam Yassin Mohammed, he's head of the inclusive blue economy team here and a fisheries economist. Can I call you that Essam?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:01:26] Yes, that's absolutely fine.
Liz Carlile [00:01:30] And formerly, you were head of the Fisheries Promotion Unit for the Ministry of Fisheries in Eritrea. On my right here is Laura Kelly - you are head of our sustainable markets research group and formerly I think you were with the Department for International Development as head of business engagement and the business hub. Have I got that right?
Laura Kelly [00:01:53] Yeah, that's right Liz. It's great to be here and part of this conversation. I'm very much looking forward to it.
Liz Carlile [00:01:59] Good. I think we've got a few little issues here we can tease out.
Liz Carlile [00:02:09] Essam, what got you into, kind of, fisheries? I know it's been one of your particular passions.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:02:16] So it goes back to when I was in Eritrea, a very long time ago. I have this slight unhealthy obsession with one particular fish called Orange face butterfly fish. Extremely beautiful creatures but ornamental fish in the Red Sea. And essentially I spent an awful lot of time, maybe hundreds if not thousands of hours, snorkelling and diving to understand their behaviour, when they breed and how they mate and all that, and that's what got me into fisheries in the first place. I decided to train as an economist and then end up being this very funny hybrid of marine biologist and an economist.
Liz Carlile [00:02:58] Well I'm glad you're here with us and we're going to benefit from that funny hybrid.
Liz Carlile [00:03:03] Laura, what about you? I suppose the fish in your sea are kind of businesses, supply chains, all sorts of different characters. What's the interest for you around fisheries.?
Laura Kelly [00:03:13] Well I think as Essam explained from his own personal history, oceans and fish mean a lot to people. And putting people at the centre of development is really important for success and for sustainability. And I actually think, you know, the approach that we take here at IIED is really about trying to get people at the centre of things, so we've got lots of fish and they're important, but the people are really important too.
Liz Carlile [00:03:37] And I think that leads us very nicely to what we're talking about today. And so perhaps you can kind of kick us off, Essam? I know this is a conversation but I think giving our listeners a bit of context would really help.
Liz Carlile [00:03:53] So what do we actually mean by an 'inclusive blue economy'?
Liz Carlile [00:03:59] So I would say it is an ocean-based economy that tries or aims to balance economic gains, of course, and cultural and environmental gain - so how do you strike a balance between all these three? But at the same time when we do so, making sure that the people who depend on these resources for their livelihood are not left behind.
Laura Kelly [00:04:28] I think that's really key. In business they often talk about the triple bottom line, something that's important for people, and for the environment, and for business. And I've been really struck talking to you about some of your work working with small-scale fishers. I mean it's amazing that there are... that most of the fish in the world are actually caught by small or medium enterprises - those, you know, mom and pop businesses. They're not the big international, transnational companies. And I think that that's really important to remember in this debate, that actually when we talk about business we're not just talking about big trawler ships, we're talking about small, often fisher women. It was great... I went to the blue economy conference in Nairobi back in October last year, and it was great to meet some of the fisher women there. Women from the Tanzanian fish workers' association - great stories to tell about how they're mobilising and bringing their issues into these sort of really important debates about development.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:05:28] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:05:29] And I know Essam, you've been to Bangladesh many times, I think with the hilsa fisheries community. You must have... give us an example of maybe a fisherman or fisher woman that you've met who has really struck a chord with you.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:05:43] I can give you an example in Bangladesh, since you mentioned Bangladesh Liz, where we went with this fairly well developed research proposal to work with fisheries and with the government to find a way how to maximise the benefits that these small0-scale fishers receive. And as I shared my story/my project plan with the fisher man that time, he completely dismissed our hypothesis and research questions etc.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:06:13] The greatest lesson from that was to be able to listen to those individuals and see them as a source of inspiration and knowledge/information, and factor that in our research approach.
Liz Carlile [00:06:25] So these are the people experiencing that catch, every day, its ups and downs?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:06:31] Absolutely.
Liz Carlile [00:06:32] When it's working, when it's not, when they can make enough money, when they can't. And so on...
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:06:38] Absolutely indeed. And if I were to pick up on what Laura just said about the significance of small-scale fisheries, as we call them. Essentially small-scale fishers: of course what this means is people who've got small capacity boats, maybe some of them have very small powered engines, some of them don't have any engine etc. And globally speaking, they contribute up to more than 50% of the seafood supply globally. And guess what? They employ more than 95% of the global fisheries as well. So we're talking about a large economy labelled as 'small scale'.
Laura Kelly [00:07:14] But the other thing is those 95% don't get 95% of the benefits of global fish stocks. They also only go out what, a couple of miles, from the coastline. What about the big oceans? Because that's where a lot of those fish come from. They go to spawn - we really need to think about the ocean in its entirety, even though we're focusing on small-scale fishers.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:07:44] So the best way to put it into perspective is, so when you look at the planet, of course you know about some 70/75% I believe is covered by water - a significant portion of it being the ocean. And in terms of how we manage it, 50% of that planet's surface area - at this point in time as we speak - we don't have any legal instrument of any sort to govern 50% of the planet.
Liz Carlile [00:08:15] So this means that whoever's got the best resources, and whoever can go out and do what they want with the ocean for their own interests, they can do that.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:08:25] That's exactly what's happening as we speak now. So whoever has got the financial and technical means to go out there and exploit the ocean resources is able to do so.
Laura Kelly [00:08:42] But Essam there's a new international negotiation that's sort of just been going on for about a year or so, that's actually trying to redress that imbalance and it's a negotiation between national governments. What's your sort of perspective on that as a way to try to regulate a bit, or to better distribute the benefits from that deep sea?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:09:08] So, if you're a coastal state or nation you can claim up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline as your national sovereignty. Anything beyond that doesn't belong to anyone. That's what I was referring to as what's commonly called the international waters, or the high seas. Now the positive side of the story is member states of the United Nations that have agreed to come together to negotiate and strike a deal in developing a legal instrument to govern this portion of the high seas. And it's exactly to redress that point that you mentioned about, Liz, earlier which is now, anyone who's got the financial and technical means can go and exploit it. But now it's saying no, this one, this almost half or 50% of the planet, belongs to everyone. What we in legal terms call the common heritage of mankind, this belongs to me, you, our children, grandchildren and the future generation as well. So therefore, how do we make sure there is a fair and just and sustainable way of managing this resource? And whatever benefits extracted from that part of the world is shared fairly and equitably.
Liz Carlile [00:10:25] These are the areas beyond national jurisdiction?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:10:28] That's correct.
Liz Carlile [00:10:28] That this new process run by UNCLOS is looking at.
Laura Kelly [00:10:34] UNCLOS, Liz? What's that?
Liz Carlile [00:10:35] That's the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, I heard.
Laura Kelly [00:10:43] I'm just getting my head around some of these terms. It is a very technical area and there's another agreement around biodiversity. There's just been this report showing that, you know, we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate - millions of species, some we don't even know yet. But they seem to focus quite a lot on land. I imagine there's also a water-based and marine aspect to that in terms of biodiversity loss.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:11:12] There is an intergovernmental body that was set up that has thousands of experts in it.
Liz Carlile [00:11:19] And this is IPBES, is it? This is the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:11:28] Exactly. In short, IPBES or IPBES as people call it. So these experts came together just to assess the magnitude of the threat that the planet is facing; or biodiversity or nature is facing. And what's very striking, in relation to the conversation that we're having today, is that they identify overfishing as one of the major threats to marine biodiversity. Now, let's link that up to what we've just been discussing about these high seas negotiations. Within the high seas negotiations, there is no mandate or scope to discuss fishing in the high seas because that's better dealt, according to some, in the U.S. Fish Stocks Agreement or regional bodies.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:12:18] But what we're saying is we cannot talk about biodiversity first in the high seas without tackling this biggest threat that marine biodiversity is facing, which is fishing.
Laura Kelly [00:12:30] Exactly, there's a huge threat because a lot of that large-scale fishing is heavily subsidised through a number of large-scale fishing fleets from Europe, from other parts of the world. And it's really difficult to address the issue of subsidies. I think the negotiations have been going on in the World Trade Organization now for about five years. I think there's an opportunity potentially at the end of this year. Ggovernments have committed to reach an agreement on reducing subsidies. I think we also have to remember that sometimes some kind of financial support to the small-scale fishers is really important, because if you want to protect fish stocks and you have a closed season or a marine-protected area, if you're a small-scale fisherman who relies on that resource, you've got no other source of livelihood. So. Essam, you've been doing some work looking at how to actually use subsidies - we do call it subsidies - in a way to support better fish stock conservation.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:13:31] If a fishing fleet was to go hundreds of miles from the coast and do fishing there and come back, that would be economically not feasible. The only way it can be economically feasible is when governments provide an offer of subsidy to reduce the costs. It could be the fuel subsidy for instance - don't worry by the cost of fuel, we'll give you this much money to subsidise that. And that's what's enhancing the capacity of these fleets to go out there and Hoover the sea essentially. So what we are calling for is we need to bring an end to that, and hopefully governments have agreed to hopefully strike a deal to eliminate, quote unquote, harmful subsidies. We must make it clear that at IIED we're not necessarily against subsidies. We have against harmful subsidies. What we say is that there needs to be a transition from bad to good. One may ask 'what's a good subsidy?'. And that goes back to exactly the point that Laura was mentioning about, for instance, impose a no-take season in Mauritania or Bangladesh or elsewhere. How do you expect and survive throughout that closed season? That's when you bring in subsidy, providing subsidy to survive during the closed season, allow the fish stocks to recover, for their fish to breed and produce more fish, and then that would sustain this sector and the economy. So, yes again, I can't emphasise more but I think we need to work with governments to support them and put pressure on them to strike a balance by the end of the year to eliminate harmful subsidy. And this is a target within the Sustainable Development Goals that need to be met by 2020.
Laura Kelly [00:15:32] Ah, that one's 2020. But the goals overall are 2030. So we've got, you know, we've got another 12 years. But those are 17 goals and goal 14 is on life below water, so it's a really important part of the Sustainable Development Goals. But there are other things that obviously... Marine life can contribute to biodiversity, as we've already talked about. But also tourism: small-scale fishers are obviously one part of the coastal economy but tourism - we've got many beautiful parts of the ocean, the reefs, and they're all under threat as well from overuse. So finding sustainable ways to use the oceans as a whole, I think's really important. I've been quite interested recently looking at things like marine protected areas for tourism but many developing country governments just don't have the resources to set those reserves up and then to actually pay for their upkeep or to pay for them actually being properly monitored. So we've done some work looking at the role of private finance to support that. There's a really growing movement now of impact investors - people who want to see really positive social and environmental outcomes for their investments - and they're prepared to sort of accept a slightly lower rate of return. But they're the kind of people who you could attract to invest in to a coastal reserve off of Mozambique or around Lamu in Kenya or in places in the Caribbean. But it's really important to have a really good system by which you can demonstrate to those investors that there's really been the impact that they hoped to invest in. And sometimes those communities can be part of that kind of monitoring. But again the SDGs can provide a framework. It's, yeah, a lot of targets within a goal 14, but that is a way at least that everybody is judged by the same principles in terms of producing fishing or conserving the environment. So that's an area where I think the private sector again can play a role.
Laura Kelly [00:17:37] We've talked a lot about small-scale fishers, but we're talking also about the deep seas. I mea, to what extent Essam do you think things like deep sea mining are really going to take off?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:17:47] If there was any positive development in the way we govern the oceans and the marine environment it's the setting up of marine protected areas.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:17:59] A number of experts and others who work in this space would agree with me in saying that that's the only aspect that we are on track to achieving because there's a debate about quality versus quantity, as Laura was mentioning earlier. O course we talked about the effectiveness in the way they're implemented, the way they're financed etc. We can raise so many questions, but least if we look at the surface area that's being put aside as marine reserve, there's a very encouraging development. Now the second question with respect to the deep sea mining is a very interesting development as well.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:18:39] When the law of the sea was codified in 1982 it became an international treaty. In 1982 we didn't really anticipate as much prospect for deep sea mining, but suddenly technology allowed us to do more of that, hence why people take it very seriously. Therefore that's where now the International Seabed Authority and other partners are working together to strike a fine balance between, yes, allowing human prosperity from an economic point of view, but also making sure that activity doesn't harm or doesn't pose a threat to marine life.
Liz Carlile [00:19:24] So as a layperson, this sounds overwhelmingly complex. We've got the bad things that are going on, the dumping, we all know about the plastics that's been raised and people are very much behind that. We've got overfishing, we've got big vested interests, we've got small-scale fishers trying to make a livelihood - I think you said earlier nearly 50% of this resource of our world is oceans, and that is something that we need to get better at governing, understanding and sharing as a kind of common heritage of man: equal benefit. So this sounds a little bit like a free for all to me, it sounds sort of complex and disorganised, and I'm assuming that this process around the ABNJ, the areas beyond national jurisdiction, is a way that we're trying to get that organised. So why is this an issue now? Why is it important now? And also between us, you know, does everyone agree it's important now?
Laura Kelly [00:20:30] I think, to come back to the lovely David Attenborough and the blue planet, and now his series on Netflix: my daughters have just been blown away by watching that. I mean the technology enables the most incredible photographs to be taken. But just to see the scale of these shoals of fish and to see the dolphins in the oceans, it brings it home to people in a way that I think - it's a really timely moment to act. It's almost like the sort of the tipping point that more people are concerned about this. So it is taking advantage of that public interest and pushing governments across the world to seize the opportunity of the ABNJ in negotiations. But I think business is also realising that a more sustainable use of high seas resources is in their interests as well. Businesses employ people, even the large-scale businesses, and many of them have committed to the SDGs frameworks. But, as I think I said earlier, the key thing is how do we demonstrate - or how do they demonstrate and how do we hold them to account - for delivering on these things?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:21:50] So Essam, we haven't mentioned BBNJ, which is biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. So that's clearly important and, from an IIED perspective, important to people. So can you tell us a bit about that?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:22:04] Indeed. Yes. So, BBNJ - we referred to earlier as the high seas. There was a sort of common, but wrong, perception about the high seas that they are too remote too matter. Coastal communities, they don't go beyond three to six or 12 miles - so why are we bothered for something that's 200-plus miles away from the coast? And this is exactly what we did very recently at IIED in partnership with the National Oceangraphic Center, is we tried to look at the fact that you know the high seas, and of course the waters, are highly interconnected systems. And the best way to explain this is using rubber ducks - that famous story about, you know, the container...
Liz Carlile [00:22:57] In 1992...
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:22:57] Precisely, that was abandoned in 1992 with thousands of rubber ducks. And that's what changed our perception when these rubber decks were being found a number of thousands or hundreds of miles away from where they were dumped. And this is due to the high interconnected system of the ocean.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:23:19] So what we've done is we tried to look at the reliance of coastal developing countries, particularly the poorest of the poor of the countries: how those coastal communities or their coastal systems or waters were interconnected with areas that were hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. And therefore that sort of information becomes very important for two reasons. One is to emphasise that the health of the high seas is extremely important for the livelihoods of coastal communities, particularly in those poorer countries. And the second reason being the government's measures that we take for the prediction of the high seas need to take into account how they may benefit these coastal communities.
Laura Kelly [00:24:09] I loved your rubber duck story Essam. I mean, it's like... is that the origins of the plastic pollution problem we have now?
Liz Carlile [00:24:16] 28,000 Laura, 28,000...
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:24:16] Interestingly people refer to them as friendly rubber ducks...
Liz Carlile [00:24:25] Friendly floatees, or something?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:24:27] Friendly floatees is right, exactly. There is a huge following globally so, you know, people are very enthusiastic about and pictures when they've identified or found one, and they post them on this website. And this is almost like the, what is it called, the Pokemon Go, game of that sort.
Liz Carlile [00:24:49] Well I think that's brought us to a very nice place, because all of this was looking a little bit high level, but I think we're sort of drawing to a close now.
Liz Carlile [00:25:00] So I'd like to ask, how can we get this down to, you know, what can the person in the street do? Is it any good, for example, buying fish with a sustainable sticker? What's the message here for those of us who are not deep in the process?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:25:13] I guess, I think, the public awareness through this excellent documentary of David Attenborough, for instance, is that raised the awareness of the public. So, you know, making sure that whatever is on their table is sustainably sourced - sustainably in a sense that it's ecologically sustainable, but also making sure that no one was harmed when that fish was caught - this industry has got an awful lot of stories about, you know, modern day slavery, so that's something that we need to be aware of. Of course we can discuss that, but I think people making a conscious decision in terms of demanding a sustainable seafood for instance, and obviously the business will be able to react or to respond to that demand.
Liz Carlile [00:26:01] And presumably, with the growing interest that, you know, we've got a climate crisis or a climate emergency rather than just climate change, this must have a relationship? This must be something that people can be interested in and understand.
Laura Kelly [00:26:16] The oceans are a huge carbon sink. So if we start overfishing we start destroying natural habitats - more CO2 is going to be released into the atmosphere and that's going to make climate change even worse. Sea level rise. And of course it's going to be those poor coastal communities that are going to be hurt. But those of us who live quite near the Thames in London, we might think it's quite nice now but when we're six feet under water we're not going to think it's so good. So it really is about changing our behaviours more broadly, and you know turning off our lights, not driving so much. All of these things are really interconnected and the public interest in things like plastics and the oceans, and the response to - as you say - the climate crisis, feels that now's a really good point to be acting and to be talking about how important these things are and what it is, as you say Liz,, the ordinary person in the street can do.
Liz Carlile [00:27:09] So, to finish then, Essam, I'm going to ask you what change do you think can happen quite soon in the work you're doing that would make a difference?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:27:20] I guess the most important thing that needs to happen, or that can happen, is - as we started off this conversation - is bringing people at the heart, at the core, of this blue economy discourse.
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:27:36] So for me it's about making sure the integrity of our blue economy, or our ocean and marine resources, is not compromised, and we're not compromising the livelihoods of those people who rely on this resource to survive. And that can be done on hundreds of shores so long as there is a political will to end harmful subsidies and making sure that those systemic constraints that stop people from maximising their benefit from the ocean in a sustainable way are eliminated.
Liz Carlile [00:28:12] So this is possible?
Essam Yassin Mohammed [00:28:14] I genuinely believe so.
Liz Carlile [00:28:16] Good. Laura, what about a change that should happen, but you're perhaps less convinced that we can do it quick enough?
Laura Kelly [00:28:23] Well, I think we should be able to reach agreement in these ABNJ negotiations, but as we've seen in other international negotiations like the World Trade Organization or on climate, it takes a long time and there are lots of competing interests around the table. But at IIED, we are working with the poorest countries in those negotiations to ensure that their concerns are taken forward. So I think their concerns should be part of the negotiation and we're working to try to support that.
Liz Carlile [00:28:56] Excellent. Thank you.
Liz Carlile [00:28:58] I hope it's OK to give a little plug before I say thank you. We've got three animations that I think your team was responsible for, Essam. One is called 'No hidden catch'. The other is about fiscal policy tools, going back to your point about, I think, not having subsidies that support bad practice but thinking of them as incentives to support good practice. And then we have something that explains governing the high seas. Short animations to be found on www.iied.org if you'd like to know more, but can I finish by thanking Laura Kelly and Essam Yassin Mohammed for a very interesting conversation.
Host [00:29:45] And for more about Laura and Essam's work and the issues discussed today, visit the fisheries and sustainable markets sections of our website. You'll find them under the 'Our work' menu on the home page. You'll discover related projects, articles, news and multimedia, along with many freely downloadable research publications.
Host [00:30:13] You've been listening to the 'Make Change Happen' podcast from IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development. The podcast has been produced by our in-house communications team. For more information about IIED and our work, please visit our website at www.iied.org.