fishing boats

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee is launching an inquiry into the future of the world’s oceans, focusing on how to protect them from climate change, acidification, overfishing and pollution.

The Sustainable Seas inquiry, which launches today (23 April), will also probe how effective the Marine Stewardship Council’s eco-label and fishery certification scheme is at ensuring fisheries are sustainable. It will look at how government policy can protect the seas, and how it can create a sustainable “blue economy”.

Other key areas investigated by the Committee’s MPs will include the levels of pollution in the oceans, the impact of climate change on oceans, where the government sits against international targets, and whether it adequately protects marine life and regulates against industry.

The inquiry also planned to look at whether aquaculture in the UK was adequately regulated, and what the UK is doing to promote sustainable marine ecosystems in its overseas territories. These territories represented some 6.8 million sq km of ocean - almost 30 times the size of the UK itself, the Committee said.

The launch of the inquiry, and its focus on the MSC, among other topics, comes three months after the NGO agreed to strengthen rules around its certification of fisheries following a campaign by the On the Hook pressure group over the controversial practice of ‘compartmentalisation’.

The practice allows fisheries to 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. But after pressure from On the Hook and UK retailers, the MSC announced in January it would close the loophole in its certification process.

“We have only one ocean, and we all have a duty to care for it,” said Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh MP.

“Our inquiry will shine a spotlight on the threats to our ocean, and ask what more the government could be doing to protect it. We will look at emerging marine industries, and how the government can build a sustainable blue economy.”

It follows the announcement of a £61.4m war chest to fight against the rising tide of plastic pollution in the oceans last week by prime minister Theresa May.

Speaking before a meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government in London, May described plastic pollution as the scourge of the world’s oceans.

“As one of the most significant environmental challenges facing the world today, it is vital we tackle this issue so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.”