The new Argonauts and the future of the oceans

09 June 2021

The first Slow Fish webinar, The Future of the Oceans, held on World Ocean Day in the first year of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

In this meeting we focused on our largest and most important common good. The seas cover 70% of our planet, regulate its climate, provide 50% of its oxygen and are home to the greatest portion of global biodiversity, guaranteeing innumerable ecosystem services.

Yet the future of the oceans is threatened. What changes are needed on the political level in order to contain these threats?

The numbers

climate change
Photo: Unsplash | Borna Bevanda

According to the latest FAO report on the State of World Fishers and Aquaculture, in 2030 world fish production will reach 204 million tons, an increase of 15% compared to 2018. Global consumption of fish as food increased at an average of 3.1% annually from 1961 to 2017, a figure that’s almost double the annual growth of the world population (1.6%) in the same period, and superior to the growth in the consumption in all other animal-origin products (meat, dairy, etc.), which increased by 2.1% annually. The most-fished seas globally are the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, where 62.5% of fish stocks are over-exploited, the Southeast Pacific, where the figure 54.5%, and the Southwest Atlantic, at 53.3%.

Slow Food aims to highlight how these processes are rapidly impoverishing our seas. The loss of biodiversity is not just an environmental problem. Globally, one in ten people depends on fishing for to survive and feed their family. There are 59.5 million people in fishing and aquaculture worldwide, 14% of which are women.

For this reason, Slow Food holds that a change of mentality is needed. We shouldn’t think of marine ecosystems as an infinite resource, but a complex system that needs to be safeguarded, studied and managed in within an environmentally-, socially- and economically-sustainable framework. The seas are a common good where fishers, above all those of the small-scale, artisanal variety, must be involved in responsible systems of management of marine and coastal ecosystems.

One single ocean

In a reflection on the future of the oceans we invited four members of the new Slow Fish Advisory Board: Antonio Garcia-Allut of Spain has carried out projects to strengthen the role of small-scale fishers in the market, society and the sustainable management of marine resources. “The ocean is a single entity that unites all coasts. It’s our mother ecosystem: it produces oxygen, regulates the climate, provides food and ecosystem services. We need it; it’s ecosystem most in need of protection. This conviction should be a common part of global culture, yet the ocean is full of pollution and continuously impoverished by human action.”

Garcia-Allut continues: “We must see ourselves as the new Argonauts, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a ceaseless desire to find the best possible future for our oceans. The oceans must be considered, at the planetary level, as a common good belonging to everyone: not just governments of large economic projects. We should all have a say in their governance, and be responsible for their management, starting with the small-scale fishers who are the first to suffer from ocean-grabbing practices, the first to be denied their own source of sustenance. A possible solution is a co-governance strategy across different levels, from the local up to the international, based on reciprocal trust.”

End exploitation, rebuild equilibrium

Photo: Alexis Fossi, Prud’homie Presidium

Didier Ranc is a retired fisher and the first prud’homme of the eponymous fishing community in Seyne sur Mer and St Mandier, France; he is also the President of Union Intersyndicale des petits métiers de la Pêche, an organization representing small-scale fishers, and coordinator of the Mediterranean Prud’homies Slow Food Presidium. “The Mediterranean Sea, as we once knew it, was a free space which linked peoples and species. Today there are lots of zones where resources are over-exploited: the Gulf of Lion, the Spanish coast, southern Italy, the Tunisian coast: there are lots of examples.”

How we can reverse these trends and secure a better future for the oceans? As Ranc sees it, “It’s important not to over-exploit species, avoid creating ecological imbalances, and manage everything from the base upwards. We need to decentralize this system of fisheries management, and put an end to the politics of privatization. We need to take a step back, to the fishing of 40-50 years ago, to recover an idea of sustainability. But we need the politicians to listen to us first; they need to hear our voices.”

Dialog with fishers and among fishers

Yassine Skandrani of Tunisia tells us about the experience of the Tunisian Association for the development of sustainable fisheries and Club Bleu Artisanal. From Italy, Marco Dadamo shares the experiences of three Puglian Presidia: Torre Guaceto Small-Scale Fishing, Porto Cesareo Small-Scale Fishing and Secche di Ugento Traditional Fishery. Three different areas in terms of the area used for fishing and for their impact, but with similar roadmaps for the future, based on awareness-raising and self-management. The success of these projects has brought support from the regional government, and the creation of a Blue Oasis.

We can shape the future of the oceans if we all do our bit

Governments and fishers. Models of cooperative management. But what role can consumers play in shaping the future of the oceans? Garcia-Allut concludes: “We must guarantee wide participation, including from consumers, in decision-making processes. We must restore a sense of individual responsibility in order to do this. This means ensuring the general public are informed about the fish they’re buying. We need a system of information-sharing in place even in supermarkets, one that describes fishing methods, telling consumers about the environmental, economic and social benefits of artisanal fishing. The fact that artisanal fishing products are more sustainable than industrial products, even those with certifications, must be communicated.”

Help ensure the future of the oceans at Slow Fish

The Slow Fish webinars are for everyone who cares about the future of our waters. They aim to show how this world is relevant to all our lives, and not just those who live in close contact with the sea. Understanding these fundamental interconnections is vital for the future of our planet. Check out the calendar of forthcoming events!

by Silvia Ceriani,

Cover image Photo by Paolo Chiabrando on Unsplash