Sustainable Seas Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Threats to the Ocean

1.Meeting the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement is critical for the future health of the oceans. A two-degree temperature rise will significantly harm biodiversity and fish stocks and destroy 99 per cent of global coral reefs. We welcome the Government’s updated actions and milestones for the Clean Growth Strategy and its request for advice on meeting the Paris Agreement. The Government must not delay in implementing the Committee on Climate Change’s advice on how to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement whether through legislative means or otherwise. It should set out its plans in the first half of 2019. This should include setting a net-zero target by 2050 at the very latest. (Paragraph 18)

2.Human induced carbon dioxide emissions are causing ocean acidification, warming and deoxygenation. This will have major implications for fisheries and biodiversity around the UK and some of the UK Overseas Territories which are reliant on coral reefs for their livelihoods and resilience to extreme weather events. We heard that there is limited knowledge of how these dangers are affecting the biodiversity of our waters and, we are disappointed that monitoring of ocean acidification is no longer being funded by the Government. In line with the Science Advisory Council’s advice to Defra on future ocean acidification monitoring, the existing UK time series for ocean acidification should be maintained on a long-term basis and additional UK sites for ocean acidification monitoring should be established to cover other important habitats. The Government must also use its expertise internationally to help Overseas Territories and Commonwealth countries understand and assess, including through monitoring, their vulnerabilities to ocean acidification, warming and deoxygenation particularly with regards to the impact to biodiversity and fisheries. (Paragraph 19)

3.Many of the chemical pollutants found in the ocean are from land-based sources. It is worrying that the UK is lagging behind other countries in the EU with regards to nitrate pollution, and much greater progress must be made to reducing land-based sources of chemical pollution. The Government should, as part of its Environment Bill, produce legally binding targets on water quality in-line with or exceeding those set out in the EU Water Framework Directive. These targets should be underpinned by clear milestones. (Paragraph 26)

4.Once in the marine environment, Persistent Organic Pollutants can travel across the globe. They therefore require global commitments and coordination to eliminate, restrict or reduce their use. Although Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have been banned in the UK for over 30 years, they remain high in estuarine and coastal environments. This highlights the importance of the precautionary approach to chemical regulation and use. In addition to meeting its obligations under the Stockholm Convention, the Government should to use its expertise and influence in the international community to pressure non-ratifying states to eliminate the use of Persistent Organic Pollutants and ensure that those which have signed the Treaty are complying with its requirements. (Paragraph 27)

5.Around 70 per cent of all the litter in the oceans is made of plastic and, if no action is taken, it will treble within the next ten years. There are a wide range of risks associated with marine litter and plastic pollution including direct entanglement or ingestion by seabirds and marine life and the suffocation of coral reefs and life on the seabed. Plastics break down to form microplastics which have the potential to enter the food chain and act as vectors for toxins. There is a lack of data on their serious long-term harm and the health implications of these plastic particles entering the food chain. (Paragraph 34)

6.There is much more that the Government could do to prevent waste reaching the ocean, both domestically and by not exporting waste to countries with poor recycling infrastructure. Supporting Indonesia and Malaysia to reduce plastic while simultaneously exporting contaminated plastics to them shows the lack of a lined-up approach at the heart of the Government’s strategy. We welcome the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy which puts more onus on producers to pay for the costs of recycling and disposal of waste. Yet much of the strategy remains subject to consultation and will not be implemented for several years. We are disappointed that the plastic bottle deposit return scheme promised in 2017 will not be ready until 2023. Action needs to be taken much sooner to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds by 2025.

We recommend that the Government should:

Sustainable Fisheries

7.The Marine Stewardship Council standard is the market leader and the most rigorous certification in the seafood sector. We heard evidence that it is driving incremental change towards sustainable fish stocks through improvements in fishing practices, but there were concerns with the holistic assessment of fisheries and the inclusion of small scale fisheries. To ensure continued consumer confidence in the Marine Stewardship Council certification, we recommend the MSC addresses specific criticisms raised by WWF, Prof Callum Roberts and others into its five-year review and strengthens its standard accordingly. These criticisms include its unit of assessment, the need to factor in carbon from ships into its standard, concerns about shark finning (where we look forward to the publication of data verifying the reduction of this practice in 2019) and barriers to entry for small scale fisheries. The review should be transparent and ideally independently evaluated. Ultimately voluntary, market-based schemes will never be applicable or relevant to every fishery. The responsibility for managing and overseeing fisheries and ensuring their sustainability lies with policymakers both at the national and international level, whether it be individual governments or regional bodies such as the European Union. (Paragraph 46)

8.By 2030 as much as 63 per cent of fish for human consumption could come from aquaculture. Salmon is a net producer of protein and can be a sustainable source of food provided that its feed is sustainably sourced, and its environmental impacts are mitigated. We welcome and support the precautionary approach of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee suggesting that independent assessments are needed on the environmental sustainability of the predicted growth of the sector and a full cost-benefit analysis of closed containment systems. We also welcome the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals for a revised regulatory regime, including the sustainable siting of fish farms and tighter standards for the release of organic waste. The Government has recognised that aquaculture and marine conservation are interconnected economic and environmental issues and we look forward to this being reflected in its International Oceans Strategy to help ensure that wild fish stocks recover from overfishing. (Paragraph 55)

Deep sea mining

9.Deep sea mining would have catastrophic impacts on the seafloor site and its inhabitants. We heard that Environmental Impact Assessments are very difficult to undertake for the deep sea and that there was little evidence that mitigation measures such as setting aside areas of the seafloor will mitigate the damage and allow for the recolonisation of habitats and species recovery. Licences have been granted by the International Seabed Authority to permit exploration in unique habitats, but we consider the exploitation of resources must be prohibited in unique ocean environments, such as hydrothermal vents, until it can be determined that adequate mitigation techniques are available. We are concerned that the ISA, the licensing body for seabed exploration, also stands to benefit from revenues, which is a clear conflict of interest. The Government must commit not to pursue licences for polymetallic sulfides/ seafloor massive sulfides found at active hydrothermal vents within its own jurisdiction and internationally. The UK should utilise its substantial experience in regulating marine industries and its influence with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to impose a moratorium on exploitation licences in these areas as ISA develops its exploitation guidelines. Outside of these unique areas, the Government should proactively work with ISA to ensure Environmental Impact Assessments are robust, based on the precautionary principle and use the best available scientific evidence. (Paragraph 70)

10.The case for deep sea mining has not yet been made. We welcome the Government’s review on the economic case for extracting minerals from the seabed. This should include a full review into the necessity for deep sea mining for rare earth metals, based on the availability of these materials in old and discarded products. (Paragraph 71)

Marine Conservation

11.The Government claims to have met its targets for marine conservation in the UK, but its approach to marine protection is not working, with too many harmful activities such as bottom trawling occurring across too wide an area. Fisheries are not adequately incorporated into marine planning and few Marine Protected Areas have management plans in place. Monitoring of the success of protected areas is also inadequate. The Government is complacent: its goal should not only be to designate protected areas, but to ensure they are achieving the desired effect to improve ecological status. We heard that an adaptive management approach could tackle the multiple stressors which threaten the marine system. We welcome Defra’s review of ecological status of UK seas and recommend that in response to this report, it sets out how its new strategy will deliver more integrated marine planning, restoration and adaptive management to achieve ecologically diverse, healthy and productive seas. It should also set out its timetable for when all marine protected areas will have management plans and monitoring in place. (Paragraph 80)

12.Not all Marine Protected Areas established by the Blue Belt programme are meeting international best practice guidelines by the IUCN. We are concerned that the UK’s MPAs are missing key components to meet protected area demarcation, and that the UK missed its OSPAR commitment to establish a network of well-established MPAs by 2016. Whilst designating Marine Protected Areas is important, their benefits will only be realised if they are effectively managed. They must be monitored to deter illegal activity and to establish if species and habitats are recovering, to inform future designations and adaptive management decisions. The Government must, as a matter of urgency, guarantee sustainable levels of funding for the Blue Belt Programme post 2020, to ensure monitoring, management and enforcement of marine protected areas. We recommend the Government should work in collaboration with all Overseas Territories with MPAs to set up a fully integrated monitoring and surveillance regime for satellite tracking of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In particular, the UK Government should support the Ascension Island Government in designating 100 per cent of its Exclusive Economic Zone as an MPA as the Secretary of State for DEFRA told us he is considering. (Paragraph 88)

13.The South Sandwich Islands present an opportunity to protect one of the most biodiverse areas in the UK’s jurisdiction. Adding this area as a ‘no take’ designation would add half a million square kilometres to the Blue Belt. We welcome the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Government’s announcement on 12 December 2018 to extend the ‘no-take zones’ to cover 23 per cent of the MPA, while also implementing additional measures to enhance marine protection around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. This will extend the MPA and close around 170,000 square kilometres to commercial fishing. The Government should continue to work with the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Government to work towards designating 100 per cent of the South Sandwich Islands MPA as a ‘no take’ area for commercial fishing while recognising the need to licence very limited fishing for scientific purposes. This would help to realise the Government’s ambitions to protect four million square kilometres of ocean. (Paragraph 89)

International Leadership

14.The Government’s ambition to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030 will only be meaningful if it commits to an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas and commits to government-backed monitoring and enforcement. Given what we have heard about the monitoring and enforcement of existing marine protected areas we are yet to be convinced that the Government’s plans will result in more than just lines on a map. While we welcome the Government’s clarification that the 30 per cent target will be included in its International Oceans Strategy, it must also set out how it will identify priority areas for protection and what levels of funding it will commit to international enforcement. In advance of the next conference of parties of the Convention on Biodiversity in Beijing 2020, the UK should use the highest levels of Government, including the Foreign Secretary, to mobilise its diplomatic network and use its position as Chair of the Commonwealth to advocate for its targets for marine protection. (Paragraph 100)

15.The failure of the negotiations to protect the Weddell Sea highlight the importance of protecting and managing the seas within the UK’s jurisdiction, particularly the opportunity to create MPAs in the Southern Ocean without multi-lateral negotiations. The difficulty of protecting the Weddell Sea also shows the scale of the challenge to negotiate the Government’s target to achieve 30 per cent of the ocean in marine protected areas by 2030. To tackle the threats to the ocean and overcome conflicts of interest between different nations and their commercial interests will require high level ministerial diplomacy. We welcome the Minister’s commitment to pursue bi-lateral diplomacy with Norway. Ministers must also commit to diplomacy with Russia and China to reinvigorate the negotiations to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. (Paragraph 101)

16.The UN High Seas treaty presents a huge opportunity for global ocean protection. The Government should work to increase ambition within the EU for the High Seas treaty and clarify the UK’s negotiating position should the UK begin to negotiate outside of the EU. The Government should call for the creation of a legally-binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’, including a conference of parties, that meets annually with a review conference every five years, to designate marine protected areas. The Government should also support the establishment of a new body to oversee Environmental Impact Assessments by other competent authorities including species specific management organisations, regional fisheries management organisations, the International Seabed Authority and the International Maritime Organisation. The Government should use its International Oceans Strategy to set out this position. (Paragraph 102)

Published: 17 January 2019