Back to FISH Vol 29 4
PUBLISHED 30 Nov 2021

From global initiatives to fishery-based strategies, two speakers at the World Fisheries Congress outlined action needed for healthy oceans and to help fisheries adapt to climate change

By Catherine Norwood

Warming temperatures and ocean acidification are already causing significant problems for the world’s oceans. In his keynote presentation at the World Fisheries Congress in September 2021, Ambassador Peter Thomson, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, outlined the dire scenario playing out.

“There is no healthy planet without a healthy ocean, and ocean health is measurably in decline,” he told delegates in the opening session of the virtual event.

“The oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate in history, accompanied by accelerating deoxygenation and warming. With a warming atmosphere and ocean, the level of the ocean is on the rise, already threatening low-lying coastal lands, coral atolls and alluvial deltas.”

photo of reef
Photo: 123rf

Positive steps

Despite a bleak summary, Thomson remained positive that it was still possible to “heal much of the harm”, and a series of major international policy decisions being discussed over the coming year could help.

These included the November 2021 UN global climate summit in Glasgow, a proposed international treaty to prevent marine plastic pollution, the UN Global Oceans Conference in 2022 and World Trade Organization talks to end harmful fishing subsidies.

Thomson said ending the subsidies would make a major contribution towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 by 2030, which is to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

Other actions he said will make a difference include greater investment in a sustainable blue economy for energy production from offshore winds, currents and tides, and increasing marine protected areas from the existing target of 10 per cent to 30 per cent (with multiple uses permitted). The current protected area totals eight per cent of oceans globally.

More countries signing the Agreement on Port State Measures would help end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The agreement prevents IUU fishers from landing their catch at ports in participating countries. Australia is one of 69 countries that are parties to the agreement.

Thomson also said the conservation and management measures that regional fisheries management authorities suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic needed to be restored, and increased surveillance of transhipping (transferring goods from one ship to another), which increased during the pandemic, is required.

He warned it was “dangerously negligent” not to consider the impacts of climate change on marine life and flow-on effects to the nutrition of billions of people. The next decade is seen as critical in limiting global warming to 1.5°C, a tipping point beyond which many ecosystems will no longer be able to adapt and survive, including marine environments.

For example, a 2018 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed with a high degree of confidence that 70 to 90 per cent of tropical coral reefs will be lost at 1.5°C of global warming, with virtually all being lost at 2.0°C. 


More information
World Fisheries Congress 2021


The World Fisheries Congress was hosted on the lands of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide region.