We’ve got a narrow window of opportunity but I’m optimistic. We have a clear strategy addressing specific targets on sensitive areas, climate change and vulnerable species; we’re working with partners like UN Environment and IUCN who’ve got conservation expertise; and we’ve managed to attract the funding we need to make progress.
All proposals welcome
Longlines, trawls and set nets all pose a bycatch threat to non-target species like seabirds, sharks, rays, sea turtles and dolphins. Stopping it happening is a priority for GFCM whose unique approach to governance helps broker consensus and marshal solutions.
“In many fisheries organisations, NGOs only have observer status. GFCM is different. We allow any expert, including NGOs, to table proposals on conservation measures. As long as they’re scientifically robust, we’ll submit them for member consideration. It’s an open door.”
A key focus is gaining a better understanding of the interaction between fisheries and ecosystems. Together with a number of partners like ACCOBAMS and WWF, GFCM is identifying what types of fishing activity impact which species, where and when.
We’ve set a common methodology for data collection so NGOs with field expertise can do the research. We’re looking at spatial, temporal and technical dimensions. Our 2020 status report should offer a very clear picture of what’s happening so that we can propose science-based practical solutions, whether modifying gear or protecting nurseries.
Finding common ground
A major challenge is building trust. Fishers are often wary of conservationists and any changes can be a source of conflict, which makes finding common ground vital.
“It can be tricky persuading a captain that putting an observer on his boat to report on fishing impacts is something positive! But productive fisheries depend on healthy ecosystems, so conservationists and fishers actually have a lot in common.”
Over the last decade, a confluence of science, environmentalism and public opinion has put the plight of highly sought-after top predators like swordfish and tuna as well as the conservation of vulnerable species like dolphins and sea turtles on the political radar.
Our members’ mindsets have changed – which is down to NGOs and funders like MAVA. Coming from Vigo in Galicia, the sea is part of my identity. I want to see good science shaping good decisions so my own children can feel the excitement of seeing an octopus and enjoy eating fresh fish from the market knowing it’s not destroying the environment.