Nils E. Stolpe/FishNet USA
© 2021 Nils E. Stolpe
Has everyone conveniently forgotten the precautionary principle?
Seemingly all of the self-professed significant actors (both personal and organizational) with self-professed interest and expertise in how potential threats to the oceans and the critters in them should be handled has been synopsized for us rather conveniently-in the Antarctic Ocean Alliance Briefing #2: Applying the Precautionary Principle to Marine Reserves and Marine Protected Areas.*
Borrowing from said briefing, we have:
The foundation of the precautionary principle
The precautionary principle has deep roots finding expression in sayings such as ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ or ‘better safe than sorry’. As the need to address environmental issues was increasingly recognized in the late 20th century, the precautionary principle became more widely used in national and international legislative contexts.
The precautionary principle was enshrined in International Law through Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration, 1992. The concept is now central to law making on a large range of issues, including climate change, toxic chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), forests, wildlife protection and oceans.
The use of the precautionary principle in ecosystem management is especially important in the case of the marine environment where scientific uncertainties abound. Repeated failures of management highlighted by the collapse of northern cod off Canada, the California sardine fishery, and herring, sandeels, blue whiting and capelin stocks in the North Sea have demonstrated the need for this approach in order to help address scientific uncertainty.
With the precautionary principle as a foundation many international agreements and bodies have sought to apply a precautionary approach specific to their particular challenges. In its essence the precautionary principle re-quires taking action in the form of protective conservation and management actions to reduce the risk of serious and/or irreversible harm from an activity before negative consequences become apparent. The establishment of MRs and MPAs is thus a precautionary act.
Precaution in regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs):
Many international institutions and RFMOs have endorsed the use of the precautionary principle and precautionary approach in conserving marine ecosystems and protecting biodiversity.10 For example, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s Conference of the Parties (COP) links the precautionary principle to the development of MPAs, noting that the COP “has a key role in supporting the work of the [UN] General Assembly with regard to marine protected areas beyond national jurisdiction, by focusing on provision of scientific and as appropriate, technical information and advice relating to marine biological diversity, the application of the ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach.”11 MRs and MPAs are thus increasingly recognized as an important application of the precautionary principle in the marine environment. Improving traditional fisheries management, data and modelling cannot always ensure the long-term sustainability of marine life.
Scientists note that “MPAs can serve to hedge against inevitable uncertainties, errors and biases in fisheries management. Marine Protected Areas (or as we have called them, simply, protected reserves) may well be the simplest and best approach to implementing the precautionary principle.”
The Antarctic Ocean Alliance is a coalition of more than 30 leading environmental organizations and high-profile individuals working together to achieve large-scale protection for key Antarctic ocean ecosystems.
Alliance members include the Pew Environment Group, Greenpeace, WWF, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Humane Society International, Mission Blue (US), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Oceans 5 (US), Deep Wave (Germany), The Last Ocean, Green-ovation Hub (China), the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM), Forest & Bird (NZ), ECO (NZ) and associate partners the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Oceana, TerraMar Project, the In-ternational Polar Foundation (UK), Plant a Fish, the International Programme on the State of the Oceans (IPSO), the Ocean Project, Bloom Association (France), OceanCare (Switzerland), Eco-Sys Action, Ocean Planet (Aus-tralia) and Corail Vivant (New Caledonia). AOA Ambassadors include actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Nor-ton, Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, Chinese entrepreneur and explorer Wang Jing and Korean actor Yoo Ji-Tae.(https://www.asoc.org/storage/documents/resources/aoa-briefing-2-applying-precautionary-approach.pdf, undated.)
All of the above enumerated anti-fishing activists and their organizations (and then some) have been using their so-called precautionary principle as a reason to oppose just about any fishing industry originated or accepted proposal or management proposal for any action which might actually result in helping fishermen and fishing because the radical environmental “rightness” of any outcome can’t be assured.
Yet, when it comes to protecting huge swaths of ocean-and huge numbers of the critters in them or dependent on them-from a seemingly endless list of actual or potential threats brought about by envisioned unprecedented offshore developments, these same self-styled activists/ocean saviors have all conveniently forgotten that anything vaguely similar to their revered precautionary principle has ever existed or should be applied to anything but fishing.
Clog our near shore and offshore waters with hulking (approaching 1,000 feet tall today, who knows what’s in store for tomorrow?) structures supporting huge rotors with tips moving through the air at velocities approaching 200 miles per hour? So what? Festoon our seabeds with electrical cables carrying huge amounts of electricity, the passage of which will generate electro-magnetic fields that will almost certainly have some effect on some of the species of critters that will be influenced at some level by those fields daily, monthly or annually? Who cares? Influence wave/current/tidal scouring and associated turbidity in undetermined-and very likely undeterminable-ways on the fish, marine mammals, birds, phyto- and zooplankton, and other sea life? What’s the difference?
And what of undersea server farms (see David Myers’ Microsoft hails success of its undersea data center experiment—and says it could have implications on dry land, too in the 9/15/2020 issue of Fortune magazine at https://fortune.com/2020/09/15/microsoft-project-natick-undersea-datacenter-scotland/), tidal generators (see Jake Dean’s The Scots Are Unlocking the Ocean’s Energy Potential posted to Slate’s website last month at https://slate.com/technology/2021/06/orbital-marine-power-scotland-ocean-energy.html), and telecom cables (see Adam Satariano’s People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not. It’s in the ocean in the 03/10/2018 NY Times at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/10/technology/internet-cables-oceans.html)?
In addition (though it doesn’t generate electro-magnetic fields), we certainly shouldn’t ignore the biological and oceanographic impacts of seafloor mining (see Olive Heffernan’s Seabed mining is coming — bringing mineral riches and fears of epic extinctions in the 7/24/2019 issue of Nature at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02242-y ).
All of these (and very probably other) activities come with potentially huge though for the most part unidentified downsides, but it’s very doubtful that the well-entrenched and well-funded activists and organizations that are so anxious to employ the precautionary principle to protect the Antarctic and other oceans from fishing will most probably be “out to lunch” when it comes to those considerations.
If (as?) it becomes apparent that that is the case, the major question is going to be why? With potential negative im-pacts that might easily prove to be worse than even poorly regulated fishing could ever be, energy-, telecom- or mining-developments, are the members of the fishing industry going to be capable of surviving with what’s just around the corner? Back in the 70s the fishing industry worked with other (primarily environmental?) interests to regain control of the fisheries resources of what was to become our Exclusive Economic Zone. Is that possible now?
Of course the answer is yes, but is it likely? It’s definitely not happening with wind power today. Evidently, according to the enviro-orgs that have never failed to invoke the precautionary principle when it comes to reducing restrictions on fishing, wind farm developers are on the side of the angels. The enviro orgs are apparently of the mind that windfarms and other proposed ocean uses-and misuses- are incapable of significantly harming the onshore, inshore or offshore en-vironment.
For an idea of where the anti-fishing activists might be going with this, take a look at A new home for fish: how offshore wind turbines create artificial reefs by Nicole DiPaolo in the National Wildlife Federation blog from 09/26/2019 (https://blog.nwf.org/2019/09/a-new-home-for-fish-how-offshore-wind-turbines-create-artificial-reefs/). This is the argument that got recreational fishing groups firmly behind the Gulf of Mexico oil industry before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Since that catastrophe, perhaps not so much.
But with the antifishing activists the beat is going on. Enric Sala, former Pew (Trusts) Fellow in Marine Conservation who is presently National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence and a dozen or so of his cronies-including ex-NOAA head Jane Lubchenco, who should long be remembered for her controversial use of the dispersant Corexit in the Gulf oil fiasco) published Protecting the global ocean for biodiversity, food and climate (in the March 17 issue of Nature).
In essence Sala and his coauthors argue that one of the solutions for the imminent climate crisis is the coordinated establishment of fully protected (that is, protected from commercial fishing, of course!) marine reserves.
According to a review of the article in the March 17 issue of The Guardian (McVeigh, Karen/Bottom trawling releases as much carbon as air travel, landmark study finds), “the analysis shows that the world must protect a minimum of 30% of the ocean in order to provide multiple benefits. The scientists say their results lend credence to the ambition of protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030, which is part of the target adopted by a coalition of 50 countries this year to slow the destruction of the natural world.” According to the authors, bottom trawling releases roughly as much CO2 to the earth’s atmosphere each year as does global aviation. And (coincidently, because it’s right in line with the anti-fishing activists’ unrealistic and unnecessary “dream” of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans from fishermen) this could be reduced by establishing a corresponding network of marine protected (from fishing, not anything else) areas.
So evidently, in the view of a handful of marine scientists, most (we’ve been here before.See my February 2003 FishNet article The Pew Commission – a basis for national ocean policy? athttps://www.fishingnj.org/netusa23.htm.) with direct or indirect connections to the Pew Charitable Trusts and all with the media influence that those connections afford them and who are willing to ignore actual and potential activities with massive negative impacts on our inshore and offshore ocean environments, this is one of the top priorities. They are still maintaining their campaign to continue persecuting commercial fishing and commercial fishermen needlessly.* And all of this in spite of their oft professed-though not so much lately-adherence to the precautionary principle and their blatant disregard of other stressors.
Their tunnel vision and short-sightedness seem staggering.
*In a response to Sala et al (above), Jan Geert Hiddink, S. van de Velde, R.A. McConnaughey, E. de Borger, F.G. O’Neill, J. Tiano, M.J. Kaiser, A. Sweetman and M. Sciberras wrote “Sala, et al. suggest that seafloor disturbance by industrial trawlers and dredgers results in 0.58 to 1.47 Pg of aqueous CO 2 emissions annually, owing to increased organic carbon (OC) remineralization in sediments after trawling. We agree that bottom trawling disrupts natural carbon flows in seabed ecosystems due to sediment mixing, resuspension and changes in the bio-logical community and that it is important to estimate the magnitude of this effect. We disagree however that their assessment represents a ‘best estimate’. Firstly, the assumption that OC in undisturbed sediment is inert and is remineralised only after disturbance by trawling is at odds with decades of geochemical research on natural processing of OC in marine sediments 2 . Secondly, the volume of sediment where carbon is mineralised after trawling is greatly overestimated. Thirdly, secondary effects, such as the removal of bioturbating benthic fauna and sedimentary nutrient release, which could lead to the preservation and production of OC in sediments, are ignored. Together these issues result in an upward bias in the estimated CO 2 emissions by one or more orders of magnitude.”