A Global Ocean Treaty ties in with the Climate Emergency

Sally Campbell, Arran resident and marine scientist, reports on the progress of the work of Greenpeace in developing a Global Ocean Treaty with countries across the world.

My privilege this last two years has been to represent a major funding donor by participating in progress reporting and discussion within the Greenpeace team in one of their primary objectives to protect the resource diversity of our oceans. This is equally important closer to home too and I will explain why later.

Greenpeace is urging governments at the UN to create a strong Global Ocean Treaty which could pave the way for the protection of at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 via a network of ocean sanctuaries. Over 12 months, the campaigning group is sailing from the Arctic to the Antarctic, undertaking ground-breaking research and investigations, and using what they find to inspire millions around the world to join in supporting healthy oceans and a strong Global Ocean Treaty by 2020.

Greenpeace’s pole to pole journey to witness the magnificence of and also, I have to say, the destruction of our wonderful marine environment is salutary for us all. Spectacular biodiversity has been seen but also, documentation of depletion and destruction by high seas fishing fleets, and unique video footage from deep dives. At the same time the teams in Andino (countries bordering the Andes of western South America) and East Asia are finalising materials for the other leg of the trip that starts soon. Both legs will be challenging the corporate powers that are plundering our international waters; this is so important for the future of all living things, including ourselves.

Winning a strong Global Ocean Treaty that sets environmental protection over short term economic interests is a hard fight, and at times feels overwhelming. These are the times when it is comforting to remember that “it always seems impossible until it is done”. Many of us working in the inshore seas of Scotland sometimes feel the same way although on a smaller scale, it feels large to us! Salmon aquaculture companies continue demanding more new farms (5 in the Clyde) or increased biomass stocking, despite evidence of waste accumulation, disease, high salmon mortality in the pens and use of biocides and pharmaceuticals. Salmon fed on a mixture of fish parts, fish oils, soya, palm oil, much of which we know are produced unsustainably threatening other ecosystems besides the oceans, in other parts of the world, with destruction of rain forests and local communities. The corporate power of the multi-national salmon aquaculture farmers, their political influence, with their narrow economics that doesn’t value ecosystem services are concerning many of us in Scotland and wider afield. In addition the value to communities in economic and social terms of sustainable inshore creel and dive shellfish fisheries is hardly mentioned or else discounted by this industry. Yet local fisheries are the backbone of many small communities in the west of Scotland. The Crown Estate whose job it is to lease the marine space must protect the Commons, those inshore waters that are in effect owned by us, the public. They must not commodify our waters by their silence, or grant salmon aquaculture leases in perpetuity without regard to responsible practices and operating performance. It is not just the deep oceans that are at risk. It is our seas around Scotland.

Our inshore waters have been heavily overfished. The trawl closure within three nautical miles of the coast was repealed in 1984 under pressure from the industry. Thereafter, bottom fish landings went into terminal decline, with all species collapsing to zero or near zero landings by the early 21st century due to short term overfishing. The three mile limit had protected spawning and nursery grounds. The Clyde was particularly badly hit. It was always said the Clyde was one part water and two parts fish, and of course the silver darlings (herrings ) made Loch Fyne famous. Just today, 29 November a report is published by Open Seas https://www.openseas.org.uk/news/report-highlights-illegal-discarding-in-scampi-industry/ presenting evidence of ongoing illegal discarding in the West Coast Nephrops trawl fishery. They found that the landings to the top 20 most important nephrops (prawn or scampi) ports included no or few landings of cod, haddock or whiting, all species expected to be bycaught and which are part of the EU Landings Obligation to protect stock. The report also presents images showing fish and juvenile fish specifically being thrown overboard.

Scotland needs a new Inshore Fisheries Bill, promised in 2016, but still put aside for another day. Bottom dredging, razor fishing and bottom trawling in inshore waters needs to be contained now before it is too late. It is said that “The Tragedy of the Commons is all around us”. This is as important for our inshore ecosystems as a Global Ocean Treaty is to the high seas.

In late August, nearly 200 governments came together to discuss a draft text of the Global Ocean Treaty for the first time, in the Third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Conference (IPCC) in New York. At the negotiations for an ocean treaty, the various industries that exploit our oceans geared up to protect their financial interests, so putting their profits ahead of all life that call our oceans home. They are showing up to meetings in larger numbers, threatened by those in the growing movement from around the world calling for a strong treaty. Now is the opportunity to offset the power of these industries through the use of greater knowledge and data gathering thereby influencing negotiations, and that includes governments who choose to speak on these various industries behalf.

We are all facing a situation where our political leaders are shying away from their responsibilities. How clearly Greta Thunberg spoke to this hierarchy at the UN. Our young people are demanding action for the Climate Emergency and our oceans. In these last months it was not the opposition from the usual suspects that society has come to expect. It was the countries and politicians who want to look like they care about the future wellbeing of our planet, who tweet about how concerned they are when the IPCC of the United Nations shares a new report, and yet in these negotiations offer only a deafening silence and lack of a position. It was disappointing to see that the pace and ambition in this meeting did not match the level of urgency required to save our oceans and protect our planet against the climate emergency and massive biodiversity loss we are facing.

Instead of striving for a set-up that would truly address the weaknesses and gaps in the current ocean governance, most delegations prefer to let those organizations that manage sectoral activities, like fisheries or seabed exploration lead. They come up with what actions are needed and this then easily leads to the creation of “paper parks”, glossy reports, we have all seen them, but there is no effective way to ensure that these bodies have the power to act. Even worse, many governments have been arguing that when there is no relevant body in place, one should be created. This has the effect of making the governance of global oceans even patchier and more cumbersome than it is today, also delaying the urgent and necessary action to protect marine life. I and many others hope to see a higher level of ambition reflected in the revised Treaty text from the UN that will be circulated.

10 countries – Belize, Costa Rica, Finland, Gabon, Kenya, Seychelles, Vanuatu, Portugal, Palau and Belgium – have joined Global Ocean Alliance, an initiative led by the UK, that “will push for the trebling of existing globally-agreed targets so at least a third of the ocean is safeguarded in Marine Protected Areas over the next decade”. So some progress but not yet enough ! The next round of negotiations, which may or may not be the last, will be at the end of March and before then we must shift the dynamics, and the mandate of those attending to act in that room.

Greenpeace is raising the profile of the negotiations to make people (politicians, global companies, banks) realise that their role is in deciding what Global Ocean Treaty will be left to our children and grandchildren and will be their political legacy. Because “if they do not stand for something strong in conservation, they will fall for anything”.

As part of this effort, Greenpeace has throughout this year continued the work to secure protection for the Antarctic Ocean by keeping up the pressure on CCAMLR (Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources), which is part of the Antarctic Treaty System; also worked to ensure the Weddell Sea Sanctuary proposal was firmly on the table at the Commission’s meeting in October. Research and monitoring plans for existing marine protected areas (MPAs), as well as proposals to establish three new MPAs – in East Antarctica, the Weddell Sea, and the Western Antarctic Peninsula – were the subject of much discussion. Sadly these new MPAs were not agreed at this year’s meeting in Hobart, but Members will continue to work inter-sessionally on proposals for these MPAs before they are again considered at next year’s meeting. There was the usual dragging of feet to these important MPA proposals, just like we see in Scotland with a new Inshore Marine Planning Bill.

But there were some important issues related to Antarctica discussed apart from the MPAs:

• This was the second year in which there were no reports of illegal fishing in the Convention Area.
• The Commission agreed to new prohibition of the discharge of plastics and dumping and discharging of oil or fuel products from fishing vessels in the entire Convention Area.
• A new survey has estimated that the size of the krill stock in the South Atlantic is 62.6 million tonnes. This is very similar to the krill stock size of 60 million tonnes determined by the last survey in 2000.
• A major new research program will run over the next few years to provide a new approach to managing krill fisheries. The programme will focus on regular determination of krill population size in different areas, utilising scientific and fishing vessel-based studies, and will take into account predators and the krill life cycle to ensure that catches remain sustainable.
• The Commission agreed precautionary catch limits for all toothfish fisheries in the Convention Area.

We can all celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty which will take place on 1 December. This treaty signed in 1959 and currently has 54 parties. The treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation, and bans military activity on the continent.

But there are concerns ahead for the Antarctic and southern oceans. Tharos, is a Chile-based contractor that has worked in the South Antarctic krill fishery for more than 25 years and known for developing a process to produce krill oil on board vessels at sea that was said to be less harmful to the environment, and also solvent-free krill oil extraction. It estimates Chinese demand for krill can potentially reach 4.5 times current global krill oil production and four times current krill meal production. The country’s “vast internal market” has become a prime target for Tharos products, but it is now competing directly with Chinese companies fishing for krill in the Antarctic. Krill has become a strategic target in recent years for Chinese companies like Shen Len, which recently launched the world’s largest purpose-built vessel for fishing Antarctic krill. Norway, also has a presence in the fishery, seeking to develop high-value food destined partly for salmon aquaculture and medicinal products from Antarctic krill. It provides krill products for salmon aquaculture in Scotland

But in a recent interview with SeafoodSource (27 November 2019), Tharos believes demand from China will ultimately steer the world’s most-populous country into throwing its weight behind a change in the Antarctic krill stock management system, which is currently controlled by CCAMLR. China is a member of CCAMLR, as are Norway and Chile, and 23 other nations. But with China vowing to double its krill-fishing activity over the next four years, and its efforts to source high-quality krill oil at the lowest possible price, it is believed it could lead the country to prefer and work toward a management system that more openly prioritizes the economic development of the fishery. I think we have heard this chant about economics, economics, economics, over environment and sustainability before, from The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs about salmon aquaculture in Scotland. The powers coming forward to exploit the Antarctic and indeed the Arctic as the seas warm are very disturbing, just on a grander scale to the detriment of the natural world, than Scottish inshore waters.

My interest is in complexity. Everything affects everything. Cut down bio diverse forests for more and cheaper soya and palm oil monoculture, fish out more krill, use all for cheaper salmon feed, to cheapen salmon in the supermarket, a customer driven choice. Also export chilled farmed salmon to China, Japan and USA by air freight in nonrecyclable polystyrene boxes. Krill production simply cannot meet demand, iconic species such as penguins etc are having problems feeding as food is less. Countries refuse to join forces to create MPAs because it affects their perceived rights to exploit. More air freight, more global warming and back home more damage to our Scottish inshore waters. All of us must work to change the systems, at international, country, and local level. We can, so get ready! As Greta Thunberg said so passionately at the UN,
‘We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you!”

As we hit the mass consumerism that has transformed Christmas in recent years to a mass spending splurge maybe we need to reflect on her words. There are some encouraging signs before it is too late !

Sally Campbell
November 2019

Campaigners outside the IPCC SROCC press conference in Monaco in September 2019