Seabed mining 'too risky'

The fisheries minister says the ocean is also in danger from loss of biodiversity caused by illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and overfishing.

07 October 2019 | Environment

Fisheries minister Bernard Esau says the ocean is in enough trouble with climate change and pollution, and should not be further destabilised by deep-sea mining without carrying out comprehensive environmental assessments.

Esau was speaking at the Marine Regions Forum held in Germany from 30 September to 2 October.

The forum considered options for enhancing a regional approach to ocean governance, with a view to achieving a healthy ocean.

“Our ocean is in danger – from the effects of climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, leading to acidification, a rise in sea surface temperatures, an increase in dead zones, loss of biodiversity, migrations of fish and other marine life, and rising sea levels,” said Esau.

He said the ocean is also in danger from loss of biodiversity caused by illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and overfishing. Other dangers to the ocean include pollution with plastics and other toxic substances. “We must work together if we are to avoid the dire global impacts of climate change on oceans,” said Esau.

He said one of the reasons why there are not many concrete actions to save the ocean is because politicians and the average person on the street do not understand the message coming from the scientists on the ocean's dire situation.

According to him scientists therefore should talk less with each other and more with policymakers and politicians about these issues.

“Let us go beyond the concepts of 'migration of fish and dead zones in the ocean', and talk about food security, how much economic value will be lost, and how many livelihoods will be affected by the changes in the ocean.”

According to Esau, Namibia is one of the few countries in the world whose constitution contains provisions on maintenance of ecosystems, biological diversity and utilisation of living natural resources on a sustainable basis. “We have a rights-based fisheries management, which involves annual stock assessment, using our research vessels, of all commercial marine species before setting total allowable catches (TAC) and allocation of fishing quotas.”

He said to control IUU fishing the ministry has patrol planes, patrol boats and fishing vessel monitoring systems (VMS). He added that these measures are backed by an independent Fisheries Observer Programme which ensures on-board monitoring of fishing activities. “These research and Marine Control Service activities are sustainably financed from the fisheries itself, with no subsidies from other sectors of the economy. This year alone we are committing additional US$5 million towards ocean research and protection.” He stressed that Namibia is keen to give meaning to its commitment to responsible management of 100% of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“Namibia believes that ocean sustainability issues are regional and global, and are hence best solved through international collaboration.”

He said with regard to the current negotiations under Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), the world has a unique opportunity to address the biodiversity challenges in the high seas, and hence fix the missing link to sustainability of ocean biodiversity. “As the name of the negotiation indicates, all biodiversity, including fisheries, should be on the table. No biodiversity should be off-limits in the negotiations.

“Let us come up with a legally binding instrument to tame IUU and overfishing, overexploitation and disruption of biodiversity in the high seas.

“In this regard, I urge that we all agree to eliminate capacity-enhancing fishing subsidies being currently negotiated at the World Trade Organisation.” Esau added that it would be difficult to sustain ocean biodiversity in the EEZs only, no matter how well they are managed, without enforceable biodiversity measures in international waters.

“Let us stop this scramble for high seas resources. As is the case with climate change, loss in biodiversity in the high seas will affect most the developing coastal and island states, whose livelihoods depend on the ocean, even though they have little or no capacity to participate in the high seas scramble,” he urged.

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