Linnea Engstrom MEPWith large numbers of different, and at times, conflicting, objectives and demands, the ocean is the theatre of many national and international treaties and agreements. It regulates our climate, we depend on it for every second breath we take, it is a source of food and energy. Most of international trade takes place via the ocean. It provides for livelihoods of an estimated three billion people and recreation for perhaps as many.

Little wonder that the demand for more comprehensive ocean governance is growing all the time, stoked as well through the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the Ocean into the Agenda 2030 of 17 integrated objectives.

COST, the European Cooperation in Science and Technology network, therefore got research teams from several European and associated countries to collaborate on this challenge. The OceanGov research consortium chaired by Prof. Anna-Katharina Hornidge of the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) convened a conference in Bremen from 6 to 8 March 2017 as a platform of exchange of research results and joint learning. In the following, we offer just a few impressions from some of the presentations and discussions from this three-day conference.

Virginie TilotIn the session on governance of the seabed, Virginie Tilot who has worked in some 50 countries and for several international organisations drew together a framework for potential monitoring and analysis informed from meta-analyses of a number of deep sea surveys and experiences from research and exploitation of resources in shallower waters in order to provide a sound scientific basis for decision making.

The question of sustainability needs to be looked at in the light of current estimates that it takes perhaps 10,000 years to add one mm to the diameter of manganese nodules and that such deposits are associated with fragile marine life.

Marta Conde highlighted the challenges in relation to even defining a generally agreed framework for dealing with the seabed and the advantages and pitfalls of extending land-based mining regulations to seabed mining in shallow seas. Definitions of the precautionary principle differed widely between countries as did governance approaches.

She cited efforts in New Zealand to consult stakeholders and ensure a degree of transparency in decision-making in relation to the seabed and enabling its exploration and exploitation. She contrasted this with processes in Namibia, where the government has put an 18 month moratorium on seabed mining in 2013 for reasons other than the precautionary principle.

Raoul BeunenThis was apparently issued after closed door deliberations and is still in force today as negative effects are feared, among others, for the important fisheries.

The deliberations of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) would also benefit from more scientific advice, public oversight and transparency.

The notion of “Common Heritage of Humankind” was an attractive concept, which was, however, difficult to operationalise so far.

The discussion underscored that with or without strong regulations seabed mining was already happening, though not as much in very deep waters, mostly because of cost and technological risks. There was still very limited public awareness, except perhaps in some Pacific countries, where the dependency on the ocean was unquestionably on the mind of the politicians and the wider population. That made it hard to get enough attention for the needs of scientific research and interpretation and to get the already available knowledge used in discursive politics and decision making.

In the session about ocean governance theory, Aletta Mondré emphasised the interconnectivity and overlap of different sources of authority and regulations.

Cristina Pita of the University of AveiroDespite this diversity, she also spotted gaps in areas that had not been important for economic or other development in the past. He cautioned that despite reams of treaties and regulations, implementation was a major challenge.

Maria Hadjimichael of the University of Cyprus discussed risks of the rise of neoliberal tendencies in some countries' ways of addressing governance. Under the influence of the Blue Growth discourse the Cyprian government was considering to declare the ocean under its jurisdiction as real estate extending land-based regulations onto the sea.

Given the connectivity of marine three-dimensional spaces and the expected unintended consequences of such a move as creating disincentives for transitions to a more circular economy she reflected whether it should rather become a strategy of Blue De-growth.

Raoul Beunen of the Dutch Open University reported that the continued emphasis on the difficulties of nature conservation at national level was turning out to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That also led to pressure for watering down European provisions.

Milena Arias Screiber highlighted the human rights-based approach adopted in the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication as a break-through to governance after an extensive bottom-up process moderated by the FAO. She did not yet spot much translation of these guidelines into participatory decision making under the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

José Pascual-FernandezA big challenge remained in how to achieve truly participatory decision making, how to realise the Voluntary Guidelines within the regionalisation of governance under the CFP with recognition of the legitimacy of different stakeholders and how to achieve an equitable distribution of fishing rights.

Cristina Pita of the University of Aveiro in Portugal reflected on the fact that 83 percent of the European fleets by number of boats were in the small-scale fisheries category. They accounted for only 10 percent of gross tonnage and 35 percent of power.

This category was characterised by boats smaller than 12 m length over all and not using towed gears. Nobody should think that was only a phenomenon in southern European countries, it was in many ways the defining character of fisheries across the European Union.

The majority of employment was created by these small-scale fisheries with many jobs upstream and downstream from fishing also for women. It was also not only a matter of jobs, but also of cultural identity and life choice.

José Pascual-Fernandez highlighted that limited access to markets was perhaps the major obstacle to these small-scale fishers and the principal driver for their decline.

A few members of the 'Ocean Philosophers' Group of DGM participated in the ConferenceThe often superior quality of their product caught with low impact gears and with less damage to the environment was in many cases unrecognised and not reflected in prices achieved on the market, where they competed e.g. with often inferior aquaculture products in terms of taste, quality and flesh texture.

One attempt at overcoming this market distortion was through a labelling scheme tried out in Tenerife. There the small-scale fishers tried to draw attention to the freshness of their legal local product. They want to give buyers the chance to distinguish the high quality local product from the mix of poached, cultured and imported fish which was sold with no distinction and little control in the Special Economic Zone Canarias.

Another challenge for small-scale fisheries was to find a constructive relationship with tourism - cooperation rather than competition for space, labour and other production factors.

Local professional fisher organisations were always important to lend credence and weight to the struggle for decent livelihoods of small-scale fishers.

Would these concerns be sufficiently reflected in the Blue Growth Initiative? The jury was still out at least as far as the group of 'Ocean Philosophers', a group under the German Society for Marine Research (DGM) was concerned.

The panel at the Overseas Museum - Lutz Möller, Chua Thia-Eng, Christoph Spehr and Kristofer Du RietzA particularly interesting outbreak of the conference from the House of Science took registered participants and the interested publics to the Overseas Museum for a public panel discussion ably moderated by Lutz Möller, Deputy Secretary General of the German Commission for UNESCO.

MEP Linnéa Engstrøm, Deputy Chair of the European Parliament's Committee of Fisheries was not able to join in person, but contributed an energetic plea for the implementation of the European Common Fisheries Policy and for strong commitments for the UN Oceans Conference intended to get and register the pledges of all governments on how to implement Sustainable Development Goal 14. The conference is co-sponsored by Sweden and Fiji and scheduled for 5 to 9 June 2017 in New York.

She expressed grave concern for climate change effects such as acidification on the ocean and warned that temperatures 20 degrees higher than normal in the Arctic this winder were wreaking havoc with polar ecosystems and were risking to strengthen dangerous feedback loops of global warming through less ice cover.

She underscored the important role of small-scale fisheries and women in fisheries for food security and overall sustainability.

She hoped that the global threat of marine litter was going to be addressed more effectively through more recycling, avoidance of litter and stronger drives towards a circular economy as discussed in the Environment Committee of the European Parliament she was also a member of.

Her vision of the Blue Growth mantra was to make it a Blue Sustainable Economy.

The other panelists were Dr. Chua Thia-Eng, Chair emeritus of the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia, PEMSEA, Mr. Christoph Spehr of Fair Oceans, and Mr. Kristofer Du Rietz, International Affairs Adviser at the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission (from left to right in the picture, Dr. Lutz Möller, the moderator is on the extreme left).

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Photos and summary text by Cornelia E Nauen.