The Seafood Free September marine conservation initiative is an informed, compassionate response to the economic, environmental and social impacts of an industrial fishing model on the ocean, marine wildlife, and human beings. Taking the pledge to give up seafood in September empowers individuals to be positive role models for sustainability and sends a powerful message to government and industry that we care about the negative impacts of an industrial fishing model on the ocean. 2016 is the inaugural year for Seafood Free September, and my hope is for the campaign to become a global call for action on marine conservation.
Seafood Free September is an annual event that aims to raise awareness about the sustainable management of the ocean’s resources but, more importantly, encourages all of us to fight for change on overfishing, industrial fishing practices, marine resource exploitation, and destruction of fragile marine habitats and ocean life.
Participating in Seafood Free September is an opportunity to show support for a sustainable fishing industry model that conserves the ocean for future generations.
Aren’t there ‘plenty of fish in the sea’?
In a 2009 TED talk, oceanographer Sylvia Earle told her audience when she first began exploring the ocean fifty years ago, neither she nor her contemporaries ever thought extracting large amounts of marine life could damage the ocean. The ocean was believed to be “a sea of Eden”, but humanity is now “facing paradise lost”.
There may once have been ‘plenty of fish in the sea’, but overfishing and increased consumer demand has depleted many wild fisheries almost to the point of collapse, placing immense pressure on remaining fish populations.
Why give up seafood in September?
Global fisheries are under pressure from overfishing. The human population is expected to increase and if the current rate and intensity of extraction continues, more fisheries may collapse.
Fish are sentient beings with intrinsic and ecological value other than their commercial value. Declines in fish stocks affect other species, including whales, sharks, seals and polar bears.
The ocean is the life support system for all ecosystems, habitats and species on Earth. An empty ocean is a dead ocean. As Sylvia Earle says: “No water, no life. No blue, no green”.
But we can turn the tide. Giving up seafood for 30 days is a step in this direction.
Healing the ocean
In 2015, the Pacific island nation of Palau declared a 500,000km2 marine sanctuary (equivalent to 80% of its territorial waters), to be phased in over the next five years. The entire population, including the government and fishermen, support the marine sanctuary.
The Palau archipelago is rich in marine biodiversity, including 1300 species of fish, 700 species of coral, 7 of the world’s 9 species of giant clams, 130 species of rare sharks and stingrays, and many cetacean species.
Palau is rich in diverse marine ecosystems, including barrier and fringing reefs, seagrass meadows, mangrove forests and marine lakes.
Commercial fishing will be banned in the marine sanctuary to allow the ocean to heal after the damage done by industrial fishing practices, and to allow healthy fish stocks to re-populate their waters and migrate elsewhere.
Evidence shows if fish are left alone to breed naturally, their populations can replenish on their own, in time. Marine protected areas have been scientifically proven to significantly increase the abundance, size and biodiversity of marine species within their boundaries.
This increased reproduction and growth can fuel the recovery of exploited fish stocks within the MPAs non-discrete boundaries, enabling populations of overfished species to be replenished naturally. ‘Spillover’ of fish outside these boundaries can then re-stock surrounding waters.
A history of ‘leaving the fish alone’
Historically, when fish populations declined in the waters off Palau, traditional leaders would declare a ‘bul’ (known in modern scientific terms as a fishing moratorium).
Fishing was banned in their waters to allow the recovery of fish stocks to ensure there would always be ‘plenty of fish in the sea’.
The ‘bul’ is embedded in the Palau constitution – it is written law that government must take priority action to conserve the natural environment.
A contemporary ‘bul’
When I learned about Palau’s efforts to protect the ocean, I wondered if their sustainable fisheries/marine protected area management model could be applied in other contexts.
The concept behind the Seafood Free September marine conservation initiative was inspired by Palau’s declaration of a ‘bul’ whenever fish populations in their waters showed signs of decline.
Taking the pledge to give up seafood in September is akin to declaring our own ‘bul’ and taking priority action for the ocean.
Imagine what we could achieve collectively if we declared a ‘bul’ on a global scale.
We can create change if we work together to support sustainable fisheries. Please join me in September and give up seafood to take pressure off global fisheries and allow the ocean to heal.
Accepting the Seafood Free September challenge
Taking the pledge to give up seafood and all products and supplements sourced from the marine environment during September, learning about the threats facing the ocean, and adopting more sustainable practices into our lives by consuming seafood responsibly after the month is over, is a promise to protect and conserve our ocean heritage.
REGISTER to participate in the Seafood Free September 30 Day Challenge and receive weekly updates in September.
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Help spread the word about Seafood Free September
Please invite your family, friends, work colleagues, and communities to help spread the word about the need to protect our marine heritage and the source of all life – the ocean.
Please share your seafood-free experiences during September on a wider scale via social media – blogging, posting and tweeting using the hashtag #SeafoodFreeSeptember will connect you with other like-minded souls concerned about the ocean, and who have taken the pledge to give up seafood in September.
Thank you for your support, and for taking action on marine conservation.