Coastal State governments with clear, public pledges to sustainable fisheries and the environment are being held to task by the global marketplace for seafood. What will it take for the Coastal States to work for the common good – and meet their own sustainability commitments?
The EU released a voluntary stock-take of progress in their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last month. Adopted by the United Nations in 2015, the SDGs are a collection of seventeen interlinked objectives designed to serve as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”
Commitments to sustainable fishing have been made by all seven Coastal States engaged in Northeast Atlantic pelagic fisheries through the adoption of the SDGs, in particular SDG 14 ‘Life Below Water’:
By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting, and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.
The EU noted in its recent communications that: “Significant progress [has been] achieved under the Common Fisheries Policy, but sustainability levels have yet to be reached for all fisheries” and “Progress is being made towards sustainable fishing in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean.” Virginius Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, also quoted: “The EU is committed to achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. It’s all interlinked. We need a healthy ocean for a healthy planet and healthy people.”3
The North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA) is holding the EU and other Coastal States to account over these statements and public-facing commitments.
“NAPA represents the unified voice of the marketplace for sustainable seafood” noted NAPA Project Lead, Neil Auchterlonie. “Created to advocate for long-term, sustainable management of Northeast Atlantic pelagic fisheries, NAPA has grown into an unprecedented coalition of more than 60 leading retailers and supply-chain businesses from across the world. We welcomed four new partner organisations just last month, signalling that NAPA’s voice is growing ever louder.”
Against the backdrop of the EU’s conclusions that positive progress has been attained for ‘life below water’, overfishing still remains a protracted issue in the Northeast Atlantic. The Coastal States (the EU included) who are responsible for the shared management of prized pelagic fish stocks in the region – Northeast Atlantic mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting – have fished these species above sustainable limits for more than a decade. As a result, in 2019 and 2020, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification was suspended for all three stocks due to poor governance and inadequate management. Blue whiting also latterly lost its MarinTrust certification, which is conditional upon the MSC standard.
“NAPA Partners have SDG related targets and objectives, and fisheries certification offers a credible, impartial tool to demonstrate we meet our ambitions to contribute to a healthy planet for future generations. Loss of certification is impacting on our progress against the SDGs, as well as casting doubts as to how we can source sustainably from European fisheries.” explained Dr Dave Robb, Sustainability Program Lead at Cargill (NAPA Partner).
NAPA is calling on the Coastal States to step up to the plate and take concrete action to rectify the fundamental management flaws that are fuelling overfishing in the Northeast Atlantic – in step with their own pledges to deliver the SDGs.
Dr Robb added: “Fisheries around the world are under pressure and we should be able to look to the Coastal States for leadership on responsible and sustainable management of shared fisheries resources, such as mackerel, herring and blue whiting – especially when three of the States are represented in the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. These politicians need to put their words into action, or their commitments to ocean stewardship and the broader SDGs are hollow.”
 European Union, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom
 Life below water: how far is the EU in implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals? European Commission, 2023. https://oceans-and-fisheries.ec.europa.eu/news/life-below-water-how-far-eu-implementing-un-sustainable-development-goals-2023-07-19_en
 EU Voluntary Review on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. European Union, 2023. Pg. 162. https://commission.europa.eu/system/files/2023-06/SDG-Report-WEB.pdf
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