Ladies and Gentlemen, I just wanted to say how grateful I am for your appearance here really to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Marine Stewardship Council, which is a splendid event because I know how incredibly hard they’ve been working over all these years and have clearly succeeded if I may so because I can see so many of you here who have signed up in one way or another. It is enormously encouraging and I think Rupert Howes and his team deserve enormous congratulations for what they have achieved in that period of ten years.
We just had a seminar earlier before the reception with quite a large number of representatives from the retail sector and those involved in the world of seafood. It was clear that quite a lot of effort is still required to explain to the consumer exactly what the problems are in relation to the Marine environment and marine ecosystems and the pressure on fish stocks all around the world. You don’t need me to tell about the problems and challenges we face in the same way that we face the huge challenge over deforestation of the Rainforests. So many ecosystems are under threat and that is another reason why what the MSC is doing in working with all of you is of such great importance.
You know that 80 per cent of the world's fish stocks are estimated to be fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted and that proportion is growing all the time.
The thing that I can never get over, I don’t know about you, is that over 7 million tonnes of fish that are caught globally are discarded against total catches of around 84 million tonnes. That by-catch issue is I think immoral and I cannot understand how it is possible that we still manage to achieve such a situation. There are clearly huge challenges ahead. The other thing of course is the annual increase in efficiency of fishing vessels is thought to be about 2 to 4 per cent each year - a percentage known as you know in the jargon as 'technological creep' - and some estimates pitch it at much higher than that. Or, to put it another way, over the past twenty years the same number of boats has developed the capacity to catch around 50 per cent more fish through the kind of sophisticated technology that can detect and extract almost every fish in the oceans.
So again, these are yet more issues that need, I think urgent attention. Again you know better than me that fish are a primary source of animal protein for about one-sixth of the world's population and they account for 40 per cent of the diet of Africans. And when you consider that the European Union purchases fishing rights from West African nations desperate for foreign currency, it is surely possible to see just what a risk this poses to the long-term capacity of some of the world's poorest people to feed themselves, particularly in all those thousands of coastal fishing communities around the world which are increasingly threatened with catastrophe through the collapse of once abundant fish stocks. And if that happens where will all these people go!
The science tells us very clearly that if we continue to fish without any care for the long-term sustainability of fish stocks, then we will soon face a nightmare of collapsing stocks and inevitable starvation amongst the World’s poorest people.
So I think the debate around the marine environment is rather like that which surrounded climate change in the 1980s. Back then, climate change was something about which a few people were trying very hard to make their voices heard – occasionally myself! - but no-one wanted to listen. Over the years I’ve tried to make speeches and hold seminars about the fishing problem but again it has been very difficult to get the attention of all sorts of people, agencies, organizations and the consumer. The subject was, quite literally, out of sight - and so it was out of mind. Now that we’re nearer catastrophe we find that Governments, companies and individuals are desperately trying to find answers to a problem which, had it been addressed twenty years ago, might have been easier probably to solve.
So time is running out. It is not too late to address the problems of the world’s oceans. If we delay, citing concerns about the short-term financial impact, then I fear it really will be too late.
So Ladies and gentlemen the M.S.C. provides the leading criteria for sustainability and can help guarantee a future for the fishing industry, but it can only do so with your support, for which I am enormously grateful. So I hope The next ten years and beyond, you will be able to continue giving your time resources to help the work of the Marine Stewardship Council. It really will make all the difference.