Now is the time for a Marine Stewardship Fund

The 2019 State of Nature report and the IPCC’s : ‘The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ add to the growing amount of evidence on the concerning state of our environment, and the subsequent impact on society.

The message is stark and if we are to reverse the observed decline in environmental health, it is clear fundamental changes in how we use and manage the environment are required. Our concerns over environmental health extend into our oceans, where decades of intensive exploitation have left the marine world in a poor and denuded state.

The recent declaration of a climate emergency and growing recognition of the link between climate change and biodiversity loss, further emphasise the extent to which humans have damaged the environment.

Salmon © Charlie Phillips
Salmon © Charlie Phillips

Indeed, the UK is set to fail to meet 11 of the 15 indicators of Good Environmental Status by 2020, as set out in the UK Marine Strategy Report. It is clear that without a drastic change in how we use and manage the marine environment, the health of our seas will continue to decline.

With marine activity expected to increase significantly over the coming decades (e.g. aquaculture, renewable energy, marine tourism), the Scottish Wildlife Trust believes now is the time for the industries that benefit from the marine environment to contribute towards improving its health through the establishment of a Marine Stewardship Fund.

Scotland’s productive seas

Scotland is a maritime nation and the productive seas around its coasts have played a fundamental role in shaping its history, culture, and economy. Indeed, in 2016 Scotland’s marine industries contributed £3.8bn to Scotland’s economy.

The seemingly endless wealth of resources (e.g. food and energy) that Scotland’s seas provide have allowed marine industries to grow, intensify and diversify, resulting in the highly active marine environment we have today. We now know, however, that marine resources are not limitless and that the increasing activity of marine industries has reduced the environment’s ability to replenish and maintain the very resources that both industry and society depend on.

Fish farm in Loch Ainort © Richard Dorrell
Fish farm in Loch Ainort © Richard Dorrell

If we focus on improving the health of the marine environment, we can begin to address both the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, whilst simultaneously enhancing the marine resources that industries and society benefit from. Therefore, it is essential that we place the health of the environment at the core of decision making as it will determine the future of marine industries in Scotland.

To achieve any meaningful action and ensure environmental recovery and enhancement is successful, it is imperative that management efforts are sufficiently resourced (i.e. money, skills, technology and people). Funding opportunities for marine conservation are already scarce, and with the potential loss of EU funding that support sustainable practices (such as the European Maritime Fisheries Fund) it seems the financial resources required to support this necessary work are just not there. Therefore, the establishment of a Marine Stewardship Fund becomes all the more important.

How would a Marine Stewardship Fund work?

The Marine Stewardship Fund concept is pretty simple – all industries that operate within the marine environment that benefit from and/or have an impact on its health, pay into a joint fund that supports environmental recovery and enhancement. Similar approaches have been adopted in Norway (Norwegian Seafood Research Fund) and the USA (Rigs-to-Reefs programme). It seems logical that those industries that contribute to the decline in environmental health should be required to contribute towards reversing the situation.

“The concept is simple – all industries that operate within the marine environment that benefit from and / or have an impact on its health, pay into a joint fund that supports environmental recovery and enhancement.”

Dr Sam Collin

The planning process already includes an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which was designed to identify and minimise the environmental impact of a proposed activity. Although EIAs have been successful when applied to individual activities, they do not consider the cumulative impact of multiple activities or identify the broader impact these activities will have on environmental health. Additionally, some marine activities have not been required to go through the same process (such as commercial fishing) and their impact on the environment has not been accounted for.

An independently managed Marine Stewardship Fund would enable environmental concerns to be addressed at a national as well as a local scale. This would allow assessing the cumulative impact of multiple activities, prioritising areas that require additional support, and addressing broader issues such as habitat loss, carbon sequestration and marine planning.

Other potential uses of the fund could include:

  • Increasing education on marine environmental management
  • Trialling innovative management approaches
  • Supporting the transition to less environmentally damaging practices
  • Supporting innovative and new marine industries
  • Identifying ‘blue carbon’ solutions to tackle climate change
  • Supporting research to fill key data gaps
  • Improved monitoring, surveillance and enforcement

Without a radical rethink on how we use the marine environment and how we support management aimed at improving its health, we will see a continued decline in environmental health and could begin to see a subsequent impact in marine industries and communities that depend on healthy seas.

The establishment of a Marine Stewardship Fund could prove to be a vital addition to existing efforts to reversing environmental degradation and ensuring long-term, sustainable productivity of Scotland’s marine industries.

Dr Sam Collin, Marine Planning Manager

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Preface

The 2019 State of Nature report and the IPCC’s : ‘The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ add to the growing amount of evidence on the concerning state of our environment, …

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