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“A rising tide lifts all boats”

If you’ve been following our blogs about the threats facing our marine ecosystems and sea life (from cod to coral, whales to sharks)  as well as the increased demands for seafood created by a growing population, you know there is a lot of work yet to be done to protect and restore our oceans.

But what you may not know are the many players that determine the future of our oceans. From you the consumer purchasing Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fish and thereby creating market demand for fish sourced sustainably, to the fisheries whose livelihood depends on how their industry respects and protects the marine environment.

© Barrett&MacKay / WWF-Canada

But what about behind the scenes? How are decisions made that determine how our marine ecosystems and fishing industry can not only coexist but prosper in a new “blue economy”. This is where NAFO comes in.

NAFO is a governing body, made up of 12 member countries from North America, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean and their role is to oversee the management of fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic. Decisions by NAFO affect the health of important ocean ecosystems such as the Grand Banks by setting total allowable catches of commercial species and by managing impacts of fishing gear.

WWF has been involved with NAFO since 2005 with the goal of recovering the Grand Banks ecosystem (the site of the notorious Atlantic cod collapse). Each year WWF undertakes scientific, policy and management analyses, we consult broadly with experts and with contracting parties to NAFO and then we make recommendations towards progress in our annual “Measures of Success” which is released in advance of the NAFO meeting each September. This is a week-long and intense period of decision-making by NAFO and WWF is out in force as an official (and very active) “observer”.

So starting next week my colleagues and I are traveling to the NAFO annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia where big decisions are being made to impact the future of the Grand Banks.

We will praise NAFO for the meaningful progress made towards recovery of the Grand Banks, most recently in improving governance and transparency of fisheries management. And we will hold NAFO accountable for its faults – most notably providing its own scientists with unreliable catch data (amount and location of fish catch). Flawed data is a major issue that undermines NAFO’s ability to make sound governing decisions and jeopardizes the recovery of the Grand Banks ecosystem and the lucrative fishing industry it once did – and once again could – support.

But what is important to note is that there is no silver bullet. Protecting our oceans is complex work that takes place on many fronts.  Only a concerted effort by consumers, industry and government alike can make a difference.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” When NAFO aspires to better governance, it raises the bar. When a cod fishery strives for MSC certified status, it raises the bar. When you as a consumer choose sustainably sourced fish, you raise the bar.

At WWF, we are working across the board to raise the bar so all boats can rise, restoring the ecological integrity of the Grand Banks and building a thriving sustainable seafood industry for future generations.

Next week we turn to NAFO to play its part in making that happen.