Saving the Oceans Can Feed the World: Jackie Savitz at TEDxMidAtlantic (Transcript)

Hi everyone. Saving the oceans is more than an ecological desire, it’s more than a thing we’re doing because we want to create jobs for fishermen or preserve fishermen’ jobs. It’s more than an economic pursuit. Saving the oceans can feed the world. Let me show you how.

As you know, there’s already more than a billion hungry people on this planet. We’re expecting that problem to get worse as world population grows to 9 billion or 10 billion by mid-century. We can expect to have greater pressure on our food resources. And this is a big concern, especially considering where we are now.

Now we know that our arable land per capita is already on the decline in both developed and developing countries. We know we’re headed for climate change, which is going to change rainfall patterns making some areas dryer – as you can see in orange – and others wetter -in blue – causing droughts in our breadbaskets in places like the Midwest, in central Europe, and floods in others. It’s going to make it harder for the land to help us solve the hunger problem. And that’s why the oceans need to be the most abundant so that the oceans can provide us as much food as possible. That’s something the oceans have been doing for us for a long time.

As far back as we can go, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of food we’ve been able to harvest from our oceans. It just seemed like it was continuing to increase, until about 1980, when we started to see a decline. You’ve heard of peak oil, maybe this is peak fish, I hope not; I am going to come back to that. But you can see about an 18% decline in the amount of fish we’ve gotten in our world catch since 1980, and this is a big problem. It’s continuing, this red line is continuing to go down, but we know how to turn it around, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today. We know how to turn that curve back upwards. This doesn’t have to be peak fish.

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If we do a few simple things in targeted places, we can bring our fisheries back and use them to feed people. First, we want to know where the fish are, so let’s look where the fish are. It turns out the fish, conveniently, are located for the most part, in our coastal areas of the countries; in coastal zones. These are areas that national jurisdictions have control over, and they can manage their fisheries in these coastal areas.

Coastal countries tend to have jurisdictions that go out about 200 nautical miles in areas that are called exclusive economic zones; this is a good thing that they can control their fisheries in these areas, because the high seas, which are the darker areas on this map, are a lot harder to control things, because it has to be done internationally, you get into international agreements; and if any of you were checking the climate change agreement, you know this can be a very slow, frustrating, tedious process so controlling things nationally is a great thing to be able to do.

How many fish are actually in these coastal areas compared to the high seas? You can see here about seven times as many fish in the coastal areas than there are in the high seas. So this a perfect place for us to be focusing, because we can actually get a lot done. We can restore a lot of our fisheries if we focused in these coastal areas. But how many of these countries do we have to work in? There is something like 80 coastal countries. Do we have to fix fisheries management in all of those countries?

So we asked ourselves, “How many countries do we need to focus on?”, keeping in mind that the European Union conveniently manages its fisheries through a common fisheries policy. So, if we got good fisheries management in the European Union and say nine other countries, how much of our fisheries would we be covering? It turns out that the European Union plus nine countries cover about two-thirds of the world’s fish catch. If we took it up to 24 countries plus the European Union, we would be up to 90%; almost all of the world’s fish catch.

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So we think we can work in a limited number of places to make the fisheries come back, but what do we have to do in these places? Based on our work in the US and elsewhere, we know that there are three key things we have to do to bring fisheries back. They are: we need to set quotas or limits on how much we take; we need to reduce by-catch, which is the accidental catching and killing a fish that we’re not targeting – and it’s very wasteful – and three, we need to protect habitats, the nursery areas, the spawning areas that these fish need to grow and reproduce successfully, so that they can rebuild their populations. If we can do those three things, we know the fisheries will come back.

How do we know? We know because we’ve seen it happening in a lot of different different places. This a slide that shows the herring population in Norway that was crashing since the 1950s, it was coming down. When Norway set limits or quotas on its fishery, what happens? The fishery comes back. This is another example – also happens to be from Norway – of the Norwegian Arctic cod; same deal – the fisheries crashing; they set limits on discards, discards of these fish they weren’t targeting, that get thrown overboard wastefully. When they set the discard limit, the fishery came back. It’s not just in Norway; we’ve seen this happening in countries all over the world.

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