By Dr Lyndsey Dodds, Head of UK Marine Policy, WWF

Having worked in marine conservation around the world for many years, I have seen first-hand how the oceans provide enormous benefit to coastal communities and maritime business and industry.

Healthy oceans are essential to human wellbeing and a functioning global economy.

But WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report, published this month, highlights that the average population size of marine vertebrates has nearly halved since 1970. The overwhelming conclusion is that our oceans are in crisis. Overfishing, damage to habitats, pollution and climate change are impacting significantly on marine biodiversity. And these results are pointing to major threats to food security and the livelihoods of many coastal populations, particularly those in the developing world. Reef fish populations alone have reduced in size by 34% between 1979 and 2010, not surprising when you consider that we have lost 50% of our coral reefs in the last 30 years. Some populations of tuna, bonitos and mackerel have also suffered significant declines over the last 45 years. Overusing and mismanaging our oceans is not only impacting on the bottom line and basic needs of millions, but is also affecting the ocean’s ability to recover.

We all have a role to play in reversing this trend and many solutions do exist. There is even evidence that strong management can lead to recovery. By implementing existing 2020 commitments to networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in at least 10% of our oceans, for example, we would provide opportunities for ocean habitats and species to recover. And there is strong evidence that this level of MPA coverage could also provide substantial economic benefits. But as of today, the global average cover of MPAs is only 3.4%.

Whilst governments must take action now to underpin the recovery of our oceans, businesses reliant on ocean-based products can also play a vital stewardship role. As well as complying with existing regulations, the private sector can make great strides towards achieving recovery through adopting best practice. Fisheries Improvement Plans are an important stepping stone towards achieving sustainable fisheries. And whilst examples of these exist, wider adoption is needed. Ultimately we would like to see all major commercial fisheries becoming MSC certified, a credible sustainable certification standard. MSC is already widely available, over half of commercial whitefish fisheries are now MSC certified, but some large commercial fisheries struggle to meet the criteria because of weak regulation. This is particularly the case for some tuna stocks. Whilst the fishing industry can and in some cases are adopting voluntary measures, to assure future supplies of sustainable fish, the market sector has an important role to play in advocating the need for much stronger regulations based on scientific advice, and in creating a market demand for sustainable fish. As a foodservice business serving customers every day, you have the power to help change consumer and industry behaviour – which in turn will have a hugely positive effect on our oceans.

So whilst the picture is bleak, don’t let that put you off your seafood. Solutions do exist to ensure that we can all benefit from what our magnificent oceans have to offer well into the future. But we do need to use our buying power and voices to change the tide.

SRA Note: If you don’t currently have a sustainable seafood sourcing policy and would like help developing one, or further information about sourcing sustainable seafood, please do contact your Account Manager.