Greenpeace speech "Oceans Aspirations"

at the SeaViews conference, 22-23 Feb 1998

by Stephanie Mills

Dear all,

Here's a copy of the speech I gave at the SeaViews conference. It draws on the ideas of Herman Daly, Greenpeace policy material on ecological fishing, stuff on integrated environmental management (of terrestrial environments) I've been reading, and also refers to "Troubled Waters: A call to action" which was recently released in the US to mark the Year of the Oceans by more than 1600 scientists, including Paul Dayton.

Cheers Stephanie

Oceans Aspirations

When I was asked to speak of my aspirations for the future of the marine environment, two very different images flashed through my mind. One was a pleasant memory of a recent snorkel around the Poor Knights marine reserve, rich in colour, life and biodiversity. The other was a distopian image - that of eating a genetically engineered fish from a fish farm in the year 2000 and something, and swimming in a cloudy ocean ravaged by over-fishing and impacted by global warming, with reduced productivity, increased new diseases and with all non-commercial species eliminated as pests.

The reason I work in the environmental movement is because I find living with that second image unbearable unless I act. I do not want to wax nostalgic to my grandchildren about the oceans as they once were: I want them to experience the full vitality of the sea that is their right.

So my aspirations for the marine environment involve eliminating, or at least reducing, five key threats: over-exploitation, the physical alteration of ecosystems, pollution, the introduction of alien species, and global climate change. 1600 marine scientists from around the world recently launched a call for action in these areas and identified five key steps to reverse these trends.

They were: 1. To provide effective protection to all porpulations of marine species that are significantly depleted or declining, take all measures necessary to allow their recovery, minimise bycatch, end all subsidies that encourage overfishing and ensure that the use of marine species is sustainable in perpetuity. 2. Increase the number and effectiveness of marine protected areas so that 20 percent of Exclusive Economic Zones and the High Seas are protected from threats by the year 2020. 3. Stop fishing methods that undermine sustainability by harming the habitats of economically valuble marine species and the species they use for food and shelter. 4. Stop physical alteration of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems that harms the sea, minimise pollution discharged at sea or entering the sea from the land, curtail the introduction of alien marine species, and prevent further atmospheric changes that threaten marine speices and ecosystems. 5. Provide sufficient resources to encourage natural and social scientists to undertake marine conservation biology research needed to protect, restore and sustainably use life in the sea.

Translated into practical objectives that I would like to see achieved in New Zealand, and the global marine environment by early next century, I would include: - agreement on a goal of zero bycatch in all fisheries, and the itnroduction of sanctuaries and other area closures in fisheries such as the squid fishery in the Auckland Islands and the Southern bluefin tuna fishery in high albatross bycatch areas - environmental impact assessments for all new or expanding fisheries that involve full public participaton - suspension of fisheries that are below sustainable yield levels, such as the Southern bluefin tuna fishery, until sustainable populations are regained - fisheries management based on a genuinely precautionary approach and science that is explicit about the consequences of making errors in assessment - marine management that is based on the reverse burden of proof - so that protection of valuable resources does not depend on environmentalists having to wait until they can prove actual harm, but rather those seeking to exploit the resource must prove that they do not cause damage - at least twenty percent of NZ's coastline in marine reserves - a phase-out of all discharges into the marine environmentment of toxic and persistent chemicals by 2005, in line with programmes in the North Sea and Mediterranean. This would mean the introduction of closed loop industrial processes that reduce effluents to zero - increased funding of independent fisheries research. I read the other day that in the US, more money is spent studying the oceans of Mars than on the oceans of the Earth. We are currently causing widespread damage to ecosystems that we don't even know about. - an assumption of not just rights, but also responsibilities by all users of the marine environment. This means full liability being taken by individual fishers and fisheries decision makers for their actions so that they put their money where their mouth is. - a global enforcement body for fisheries law. If its good enough for the UN to have international weapons inspectors, it should be good enough to have international fisheries patrols.

So how do we get there? I think we need both vision and good management. There are a number of key words that I think of when I look into the future of marine management. One word is justice. The distribution of the risks and benefits - whether they be economic, social or environmental -- from our oceans must be considered transparently and with the involvement of all stakeholders.

Another word is time: We must make the leap into taking genuine inter-generational responsibility, and we must make the time to take decisions carefully, ensuring that competing values and ideas are given full weighting.

Integration: We have no macro management mechanism for our oceans that integrates the many aspects of marine management. Without some kind of "one stop shop" for marine management we lose not only efficiency, but more importantly, a common vision of superior protection for our oceans. Without such an overview, we lack an organisation that is suficiently comprehensive to deal with the many problems facing our marine environment. We lack an agency to coordinate all the related efforts that are required.

Public Process: Government's role in providing that one stop shop is and will remain critical. Meaningful public participation in decision making is equally important to produce robust public policy and superior environmental protection.

Transparency: Ensuring there is more data, and that access to that information is open to the public is good public policy.

Scale: We must account for and monitor the myriad matter and energy flows of our oceans. However we must never use a lack of information as an excuse for continuing with bad behaviour.

Caution: We must act with caution, acknowledging the predictive limits of science.

Culture: Maori values, spiritual values, must inform management and policy.

A New Economics: Fundamentally, my aspirations for fisheries rest on a sea change in economic management in the industry. The economic theory that dominates fisheries management has become removed from any real idea of scale -- the actual physical volume - of the marine ecosystem. There is an assumption that nature is just one more sector, like industry or agriculture that can produce constant growth and flow. The neoclassical economic paradigm we work in demands continual growth in capacity and income, when in fact we live in a finite world where this is impossible. We consistently and over-optimistically over-estimate the magnitude of the ecological resource and underestimate the effect of human activities on it. Added to this is the prevailing attitude that, "If I don't catch that fish, someone else will."

This dynamic has been exarcebated by open and more hidden subsidies from governments. On a global scale, this has resulted in a situation where the UN FAO estimated that in 1989, there were 1 million industrial fishing vessels fishing, who collectively lost about US $50 billion. We may have cut our own subsidies to fishers in NZ, but we are still content to go into joint ventures with countries like Japan, which extend credit to their industry to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

I would like to propose an economics of scarcity, or perhaps, rarity. One which sees the act of fishing or using the ocean's resources as a priviledge, not merely a right. Let's face it, the problem of the oceans is managing people, not fish. We need a values management system, not a quota management system, that can reconcile the narrow property rights of individuals with legal and customary rights, larger moral and spiritual rights and the rights of nature.

A sea change is needed. We cannot continue to put into the oceans more than they can absorb, while taking out more than they can sustain. We cannot shape natural systems to suit our economic purposes - the full value of marine wilderness cannot be privatised and monopolised by the highest bidders, given a monetary value and "rationally managed" by the most economically efficient operators. Equally, we cannot continue to consume the fruits of the ocean at the rate we have, and as consumers we all have to question our own consumption. Banks and financiers must question investment in high risk enterprises which cause systemtatic destruction through bigger ships and increased fish catching technologies. Political leaders and officials must have the courage to make risk averse decisions to sustain the oceans, even when they face strong short term economic pressures. Fishers themselves must ask whether they can continue to risk their own livelihoods and the Earth's vital oceanic life support system by over fishing.

Greenpeace has developed a set of principles for ecological fishing globally. We would like more debate about them from you all. They call for a new philosophy for the ocean, which prioritises the wider public concern for the welfare of the marine environment, meeting local nutritional needs, and preserving ecological and social stability for present and future generations of both human and marine life. We call not for the freedom of the seas, but freedom FOR the seas -- liberation from the abuse of pollution, nuclear transports, global climate change and over-exploitation. Only such a paradigm shift will ensure that future generations of people will be able to fufil their own aspirations and expectations from the oceans.

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See the Seafriends library for the following works of Herman Daly: