Mike Walker: 'To tackle climate change, start by ending overfishing'
The ocean is incredible: not only is it the origin of all life, it stores the most carbon, regulates the climate and provides us with every second breath. It is estimated the ocean has absorbed over 90pc of human-induced global warming; without it, the global temperature would have already increased by more than 30C. A staggering fact, given the risks associated with just a 2C increase.
The ocean provides food and livelihoods for billions of people around the world, and if it were an economy, it is estimated that it would be the seventh largest.
The value of the ocean to the Irish economy was estimated at €1.97bn in 2017, but as an island nation, the value to our culture and well-being is priceless.
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The ocean is an incredibly rich and dynamic ecosystem, about which we still know comparatively little - more people have been to the moon than to the deepest part of the ocean.
One thing we do know is that if our exploitation is carefully managed, then the ocean can sustain countless benefits. But this is not our track record: pollution, overexploitation, acidification and marine litter are just a few of the ways we have been putting the ocean under pressure.
In September 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish its 'Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate', which is expected to make explicit the critical role of the ocean with regard to climate and the pressure we are putting it under.
On Saturday, after two weeks of negotiations, COP24 - the United Nations Climate Change Conference - concluded in Katowice, Poland. Ireland, along with other states, were negotiating renewed climate pledges, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), this despite the fact Ireland is currently the worst-performing EU member state on responding to climate change. We have much to do - but our commitment to the climate and the ocean goes beyond greenhouse gas emissions.
Overfishing - catching more fish than can be naturally replaced - has the greatest single negative impact on the ocean. Some 90pc of the big fish in the ocean have gone since 1950 - we have simply eaten them. And despite EU member states agreeing to an ambitious reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013, the appetite for EU overfishing has continued.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates "33.1pc (of fish stocks globally) are being fished at biologically unsustainable levels". In 2013, during Ireland's presidency of the EU, member states committed to ending overfishing by 2015, "where possible, and by 2020 at the latest".
As the 2020 deadline approaches, there has been some reduction, but not enough. According to the New Economics Foundation's 'Landing the Blame: Overfishing in the Atlantic 2018', the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) awarded to Ireland was 17.8pc above scientific advice. In other words, it is overfishing.
Since taking over from Simon Coveney as the minister with responsibility for fisheries, Michael Creed has presided over fishing limits that have continued overfishing to Ireland's "benefit". This has typically been celebrated as a "win" for Ireland after theatrically long negotiations in Brussels.
Just two weeks ago, Mr Creed celebrated an agreement on mackerel, claiming it reflected "the scientific advice". The agreement reached is to catch 653,438 tonnes in 2019, whereas the scientific advice was to catch no more than 318,403 tonnes. This is overfishing; and it is putting unnecessary pressure on the ocean.
So while Ireland was trying to recover its reputation on climate change in Katowice, the rubber meets the road as Mr Creed is representing us at the Fisheries Council in Brussels. Any decision to continue overfishing in 2019 by ministers will not only minimise the chances of realising the 2020 Common Fisheries Policy commitment, it will be another needless assault on the health of the ocean and the long-term viability of coastal communities.
- Mike Walker is a consultant for Our Fish, which works to end overfishing and wasteful discarding in Europe