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A day to remember for sustainable ocean management

“A day to remember in a year to forget”, was how Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, described Wednesday 2nd December – the day that the first Covid-19 vaccine received approval by the UK regulator. But there is another reason why this date might be remembered as a positive turning point for global health and economic recovery. Because, on Wednesday, leaders from 14 nations pledged their commitment to sustainably manage 100% of the ocean area under national jurisdiction by 2025.

Since 2018, leaders from key fishing nations, including Erna Solberg (Norway), Justin Trudeau (Canada), Tommy Remengesau, Jr. (Palau) and Joko Widodo (Indonesia), have been collaborating through the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – the ‘Ocean Panel’. Their aim was to “build a sustainable ocean economy that can provide food, empower coastal communities, power our cities, transport our people and goods and provide innovative solutions to global challenges”. The result of this work is the ‘100% Approach’, the core of which is the commitment by each of the Ocean Panel nations to sustainably manage 100% of the waters that fall within their exclusive economic zone.

Of course, the obvious question is what is meant by ‘sustainably managed’? This is described in more detail within the 100% Approach guidance principles, which covers five focal areas: wealth, health, finance, knowledge and equity. Within each focal area, a set of specific ‘priority actions’ have been identified. For example, the implementation of digital traceability is recommended to help eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The Ocean Panel therefore appears to provide a great combination of a BHAG (‘Big, Hairy Audacious Goal’) that is simple to communicate combined with practical recommendations on the specific topics that will need to be addressed to reach this goal.

Some might argue that there is a risk of ‘muddying the water’ considering that we already have the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes a goal related to ocean sustainability (Goal 14 – Life below water). However, it feels like the Ocean Panel 100% Approach is complementary, rather than a competitor, for the SDGs as it will provide some additional political impetus and engagement for ocean management and it also provides more granular guidance on where to focus attention.

Achieving the 100% Approach goal and realising the expected benefits will require significant innovation in policy, technology and way of working. Recognising this challenge, the Ocean Panel has commissioned a variety of research projects, including some interesting work on the theory of ‘systems transitions’ and how it can be applied to policy matters to support the transition to more sustainable ocean management.

Systems approach to innovation

Here at Strategic Innovation, we have been applying a similar ‘systems thinking’ approach to help support the transition to a sustainable ocean economy. In 2018, we worked with the fisheries sector in Oman to develop a National Strategic Framework for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. In the UK, we applied our ‘Strategic model of innovation’ in a recent project for Cefas and the UK Seafood Innovation Fund to identify relevant technology innovations with the potential for disruptive improvements in the sustainability of UK fishing and aquaculture activities.

The resulting SIF Baseline Review report identified over 600 recent innovations across 22 topics, including ‘ghost fishing and marine litter’, ‘pest and disease management’, ‘nutrition and feeding’ and ‘processing technologies’. Our analysis methods have also been adopted to good effect within the recent ICES report on innovative fishing gear.

So, whilst 2020 will be remembered globally for the many challenges it has presented for physical health, mental health and the economy, we are hopeful that we will look back at Wednesday 2nd December as a turning point that not only marked the beginning of the end of the Coronavirus pandemic, but also the start of a new era for sustainable ocean management.

Senior Consultant at Strategic Innovation Ltd. | LinkedIn | Other posts