'Sea blind' government must act now to save oceans: MPs

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The Environmental Audit Committee report also called for a review of the MSC

The government’s ’out of sight, out of mind’ treatment of the oceans has been condemned by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee and is ’putting marine resources at great risk’.

’We are treating our seas as a sewer,’ warned EAC chair Mary Creagh MP in the committee’s report into its Sustainable Seas inquiry, published today, as she slammed the government’s ‘sea blindness’.

The committee urged the government to take urgent action to help create a legally binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’ to protect the world’s oceans, as part of a raft of recommendations that also included bringing forward the 2042 target date for achieving avoidable plastic waste.

It is also calling on the government to expedite its planned deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, and to ban packaging that is difficult or impossible to recycle.

‘Around 70% of all the litter in the oceans is made of plastic. If no action is taken, it will treble within the next 10 years,’ the report warned.

‘There is much more the government can be doing to prevent waste reaching the ocean, both domestically and by stopping exports of waste to countries with poor recycling infrastructure.’

MSC criticism

The committee also noted the criticism recently directed toward the Marine Stewardship Council, which has come under fire over the past year-and-a-half over how and which fisheries are certified as sustainable.

It pointed to comments from one witness, who described it as “a force for good that had lost its way”.

MPs also highlighted comments by the WWF’s head of blue economy Louise Heaps, who noted consumers were “now expecting a lot more in terms of governance for the whole ecosystem and not just on the target species”. She also explained that WWF had concerns on the independence of the certifying bodies.

Tipping point: fish category report 2018

This followed complaints by campaign group On the Hook over the issue of ‘compartmentalisation’, whereby fisheries can be certified as sustainable for certain portions of their catch, even if crews also catch non-certified fish using unsustainable practices on the same trip.

In order to ’ensure consumer confidence’ in MSC certification, the committee recommended the NGO ’addresses specific criticisms’ into the upcoming five-year review into its standards, and strengthen them accordingly. The review should be ’transparent and independently evaluated’, it warned.

’These criticisms include its unit of assessment, the need to factor in carbon from ships into its standard, concerns about shark finning, and barriers to entry for small-scale fisheries,’ the report said.

On the Hook welcomed calls for an independent review, particularly over the issue of shark finning, after MSC CEO Rupert Howes told the committee its most recent data on the practice in the PNA Pacific Fishery was from 2015.

Independent review

“It is vital the MSC deals with incidences of shark finning in certified fisheries,” said committee member and On the Hook supporter Zac Goldsmith MP.

“They must provide up-to-date evidence that finning is not taking place and, when isolated incidents do occur, make appropriate sanctions. In line with the report’s recommendations, I look forward to the publication of data verifying the reduction of this practice in 2019.”

In response, the MSC welcomed the report, with UK programme director Erin Priddle noting the importance of tackling the issue of ocean plastics.

The report reflected the “complex, often polarised views” around seafood certification, she added, while stressing the MSC acknowledged “there are some who have concerns about aspects of the MSC programme, or doubts about individual certifications”.

The NGO took these concerns seriously, Priddle said, while adding she hoped the review would reassure critics of the programme’s rigour.

“While some claim the bar is too low, others warn that it is ‘becoming too high even for world leading fisheries’. This illustrates the challenge of a global standard: if the bar is raised too high, it risks preventing fisheries – such as small-scale and developing world fisheries – from ever reaching that bar.”

Marine Stewardship Council promises improvements to its assurance scheme

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