The Ocean is finally getting some broader attention also in major policy arenas, such as the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals shortly to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September.

It is high time to get onto a recovery course that would not only help restore badly overfished resources and their ecosystems, but also help securing futures for fish lovers and fishers alike.

The opening lecture by Prof. Oran R. Young of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California (Santa Barbara) addressed "The Evolving Public Order of the Oceans: The Interplay of Interests, Ideas, and Influence."

He first underscored the importance of the Ocean by any standard, showing what he called "big ticket issues" - the estimated values are indeed justifying attention:

  • US$ 6.9 trillion - resources
  • US$ 5.2 trillion - trade and transport
  • US$ 7.8 trillion - associated activities
  • US$ 4.3 trillion - carbon capture.

What's the problem and how severe is it? What can be done about it and what do leading players advocate? What results can be expected? These were the leading questions he explored during the talk.

He cited the same three major threats Mundus maris and others have repeatedly highlighted:

  • Overharvesting: 90% of all stocks are fully exploited or overfished. This is collective action problem.
  • Pollution and expanding dead zones. This is declared an externality and a social cost problem, but has many more facets.
  • Climate change with acidification and warming. This is an Earth systems problem, not confined to the ocean.

A major scientific effort is made to construct a composit Ocean Health Index to assess the overall condition of the ocean through the lens of 10 major objectives for ocean health. The Index is developed at global and regional scales.and suggests that things could be a lot better, but are luckily not yet at global crisis stage. Keeping coasts attractive for recreation, natural products and food from the ocean are the three indicators with the lowest scores among the public goals. 

He then explored the four "strategies" pursued to address the problems. These largely coincide with preferred framing by different professions.

  1. Extend coastal state jurisdiction (economists) - neo-liberal / rights-based arrangements: examples are the Arctic seabed carve-up, huge claims of China in the South China Sea.
  2. Strengthen spatially and functionally defined regimes (political scientists) - sustain harvests: examples are regional fisheries management organisations, UNEP's Regional Seas Programme.
  3. Create a larger system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (marine ecologists) - conservation / restoration: currently less than 3% of the ocean are effectively protected, 10 to 20% are needed at least.
  4. Establish global and legally binding rules for areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJs) (lawyers) - globalised approaches: global legal norms are needed.

There are some cross-currents, e.g. some economists now support a ban on fishing in areas beyond national jurisdiction and some fisheries managers have become advocates of enlarged marine reserves. However, these remain small and incomensurate with the scale of the challenge. Mostly the different constituencies appear to talk past each other. So there may be a risk of fragmentation and few effective solutions. The institutional arrangements may also become a bigger problems when e.g. regional fisheries management organisations endorse one type of prescription which interfers with those of Regional Seas.

Climate change is definitely the "elephant in the room" that goes well beyond ocean governance, though the ocean plays a major role. For several issues it is to early to tell whether which of the preferred strategies by different groups will prevail. But during the ensuing Q&A session there was agreement that transformative change and changes in social values are certainly needed on a broader scale to move forward on such issues as unsustainable consumption.

The MARE Conference "People and the Sea VIII" was again convened at the University of Amsterdam, Roeterseiland Campus. The six themes explored through a large number of research papers presented in eight successive sessions each were: Geopolitics of the Oceans, Maritime Governance, Social Relations and Culture, Fisheries Management, Knowledge Production, and Coastal Threats and Vulnerability.

Cornelia E Nauen of Mundus maris chaired one of the sessions in the Knowledge stream titled "Networks and Learning".

Adriana Raveau introduced a conceptual approach for a comparative analysis of marine and land management instruments in order to achieve better integration. It is intended to help overcome the limitations of sectoral approaches. More comprehensive understanding is hoped to build a more robust basis for decision making.

David Florido and Inmaculada Martinez of the University of Sevilla, Spain, presented a step-by-step approach to enhance stakeholder participation. The research took the diversification of port policies as a starting point and aimed at helping to overcome the poor articulation between social agencies and the regional government and to find ways to manage different interests more effectively. The cofradias were major players both in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic ports, but bottom-up participation was not yet well anchored as the regional government was reluctant to engage.

Cornelia E Nauen presented preliminary results of field work led by Aliou Sall in Senegal which aimed at understanding perspectives of stakeholder in the artisanal sector in relation to the attempts at fisheries policy reform in the country.

As IUU fishing engenders heavy losses in fiscal income from different types of fisheries in Senegal, pressure for policy reform increases. These were recently estimated at US$300 million per year by a team led by Dyhia Belhabib. The social and economic activities based on marine living resources accounted for an estimated 4.8 % of GDP in 2011 and often unquantified, yet significant, stakes in domestic and regional food security, employment, coastal management, international commerce and balance of payment.

Over time, significant public and private investment has expanded fishing capacity beyond the domestic resource base. The artisanal fleet is estimated to take probably half of its landings in neighbouring countries as industrial catches, both legal and illegal, compete directly with its operation and led to overexploitation of most resources. The absence of a social consensus on restrictions in combination with weak law enforcement capacity poses particular challenges.

Field research has been carried out from November 2014 through February 2015 in artisanal landing sites (Guet Ndar, Kayar, Joal, Mbour, Hann, Ngaparou, Toubab Dialaw, landing places in Casamance) to get a better understanding about the perceptions of a range of economic actors associated with the fisheries about the policy reform process. More than 300 semi-structured interviews have been conducted with fishermen, including boat owners, traders, women fish micro-mongers, boat builders and different types of professional representatives.

One objective is to identify any levers on how to overcome the stalemate between officialdom and operators along the value chain of artisanal fisheries. Results were discussed against the back-drop of regional and national efforts in Senegal and neighbouring countries to capture more of the resource rent for the countries concerned in a sustainable manner. Click here for the ppt.

The ensuing discussion clarified that participation was a necessary, but insufficient condition to improve management and sustainable outcomes. In the light of experience in a wider sample of countries participants underlined that the mode of participation mattered. Leaders and individuals with particularly wide personal networks were often critical to effective participation. Continuity (time) and trust were two other major factors in successful or promising examples. These were also recurrent aspects in several other sessions in the numerous papers on small-scale fisheries in Europe and other continents. An example from Western Australia warrants perhaps more attention as a promising approach to reduce wasteful conflict: in the face of the practical impossibility to have everybody participate directly in all deliberative processes, the supporters of the participatory process conducted interviews with gate keepers / community leaders to identify values and benefits to different groups arising from the fishery. They then conducted a risk assessment in relation to the perceived values and benefits that might result from policy changes to avoid crossing any "red lines". Lots of experiences to digest and use in asking probing questions in the changing landscapes of fisheries around the world.

Photos by Cornelia E Nauen unless indicated otherwise.