Monday, 18 February 2013

Signs of life in the fight to save our oceans

Anyone who knows anything about our oceans knows that we're over-exploiting them. On a global scale. We fish too much; we take out the wrong things, at the wrong times; we scour the ocean beds; we pay developing countries to do our dirty work for us; we are warming the planet, to dangerous levels that threaten the very existence of some types of marine life. 

So anything that's designed to raise public consciousness about these facts, and that might help change these depressing facts, is very welcome indeed.

That's why the creation of a Global Ocean Commission, on which will sit a former UK Foreign Secretary - David Miliband (above) - is so welcome. And so, on a different plane, is the second series of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Channel 4 series Fish Fight.

You can never over-estimate the importance of media impact and publicity. The Global Ocean Commission contains some quite big names, and it will hopefully produce a report that will be highly influential inside the European Union and the United Nations - increasingly the forums in which world governance of fisheries is conducted. It will report in three years, though such is the emergency before us that one or two years might have been better: its interim reports will have to be insightful and populist at one and the same time, while still containing concrete proposals that governments can actually act upon. It's quite a tall order: but it's better than nothing.

The power of TV is probably great. Jacques Cousteau made such an impact all those years ago by showing viewers around the world just how multitudinous and how beautiful life in our seas really was. So did David Attenborough's Blue Planet in 2001. It can be done. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's original Fish Fight series recently helped to have the disgraceful and disgusting practice of by-catch banned from EU waters. So fishermen will no longer be forced to throw perfectly good fish over the side. But we can go further. We need to extend British-style Marine Conservation Zones to the high seas, or they're going to end up raked up like a suburban garden. We need to declare whole areas of the ocean off-limits to fishing. We need mixed judicial commissions to manage that process. And we need them now.

In the long run, what's required is a much more rigorous, structured, integrated and above all tough-minded approach to oceanic and seabed regulation outside of states' territorial waters. In their very different ways, Mr Miliband and Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall are saying exactly that. And they're contributing their time and efforts to fighting for those ends.

More power to them.

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