Webinar reveals keys to aquaculture success

Specialists from around the world have outlined core factors for success and sustainability in the multi-billion dollar aquaculture sector.

The fourth webinar in a Blue Charter series hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat and attended by more than 50 participants, featured fish farming case studies from Cyprus, Seychelles, Mozambique and Egypt, which together contribute to a global total of more than 80 million tonnes of fish produced each year.

Most aquaculture goes towards feeding an ever-increasing world population, making up more than half of all seafood produced annually.

Opening the event, ocean governance adviser and lead expert on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Jeff Ardron, outlined an important caveat for the growing sector: “There is incredible room for growth in the ocean, but it must be done sustainably.”

“Ultimately, aquaculture must be profitable to continue, but in doing so, it should not degrade the marine environment, which is already facing significant pressures. Also, to be sustainable in the long run, it must not irrevocably displace people or their local activities.”

Legal frameworks

The webinar underlined the importance of having far-sighted laws and policies to support aquaculture activities.

Cyprus, for example, began exploring aquaculture as early as the 1960s and 1970s, recognising the interdependence of economic, social and environmental factors in the sector.

The government created an aquaculture development policy and strategy as a priority in the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment.

This led to the creation of specific laws in 2000 and 2002 for the establishment, operation and further development of aquaculture activities in Cyprus.

The ministry’s Head of Aquaculture, Vassilis Papadopoulos shared how this provided a secure regulatory environment for investors, while fostering transparency, better monitoring and improved health of farmed organisms.

Similarly, in Seychelles, aquaculture can help diversify the tourism-reliant economy. Support from the government was crucial, with aquaculture featuring in the country’s ‘Blue Economy Strategic Framework and Roadmap’, developed with assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat. This resulted in an updated Fisheries Act, a new national policy and new regulations.

According to Principal Officer at the Seychelles Fishing Authority, Aubrey Lesperance: “Aquaculture cannot develop without a proper framework. You definitely need a plan in place before you venture into aquaculture because it’s a new science and still being developed.”

Training and community

Discussions also showed how training and capacity building are essential to the sector’s sustainability.

Looking at lessons learned outside of the Commonwealth, Egypt’s aquaculture sector provides at least 100,000 full time jobs, half of which are filled by youth. World Fish’s Ahmed Nasr-Allah said the NGO has delivered vital training on best management practices to Egyptian fish farmers since 2010, with real impacts on efficiency and profitability.

From 2015-2018, they trained about 4,300 fish farm workers, who went on to train thousands more in their networks. The result was 13% more profits and 20% less wastage of aquaculture feed which reduced the impact on the local environment, as well as a 22% drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

In Mozambique, where aquaculture has significant domestic and regional markets, community engagement has also proved valuable.

The Chicoa Fish Farm in Lake Caora Bassa for instance, runs a small-scale farmers’ programme and training centre, while employing local women and youth.

Director Damien Legros said: “Our project has already inspired other people and there have been a couple of farms that we’ve helped. Just the presence of a strong fish farm already induces other people to do similar things.”

Opportunity and profitability

However, aquaculture does not work everywhere. UK-based expert Malcolm Dickson emphasised that performance varies from country to country.

In the Commonwealth, the top producers are in Asia – namely, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia – while other ‘aspiring countries’ such as Seychelles, Mozambique, Fiji and Jamaica, are still in the early stages of development.

Dr Dickson said that success comes down to two factors – opportunity and profitability. Physical space for aquaculture systems, institutional and legal frameworks, and viable markets are all required to create opportunity.

Furthermore, each step of the production chain needs to be profitable: “If the profitability factor is not there, then you don’t get the private sector investment to scale up.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter action group on sustainable aquaculture was set up to explore these issues and share experiences amongst members. Led by champion country Cyprus, the group is working on a model roadmap that Commonwealth countries could use as a basis to develop “environmentally compatible, financially viable and socially acceptable” aquaculture.

The webinar event was the fourth in a series by the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which focuses sharing experiences and finding scalable solutions for pressing ocean challenges.

Webinar explores ways to raise money for ocean protection

More than 180 participants from across the globe tuned in online to hear fresh insights on how to finance ocean protected areas in the Commonwealth.

Held on July 22, the webinar was the second in a series organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, aimed at sharing ideas and solutions for ocean challenges.

During the webinar, ocean experts from Belize to Seychelles focused on securing funding to manage marine protected areas (MPAs). These are important zones set aside by governments, where activities that harm the environment are restricted or even outlawed, to help protect and nurture marine ecosystems.

Webinar Panelists

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Before COVID-19, more than 60% of all existing MPAs in the world reported inadequate budgets for basic management. The situation will become even more dire since the pandemic, as governments are likely to further cut funding as they prioritise other sectors.

Opening the event, Jeff Ardron, lead expert on the Commonwealth Blue Charter at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “The intrinsic and monetary value of sustainable marine development, including the establishment of protected places, is now widely recognised.

“But despite the high rate of return financially, monetarily and in ecosystem services, the question remains: how can we finance the management of these highly valuable marine locations, where no or very few natural resources are being exploited?”

High costs, new funding sources

Managing marine protected areas can be costly. Funds must support on-the-water patrols, buying and maintaining equipment such as boats and drones, as well as putting in place required infrastructure such as buoys and signage. Office operations and marketing also require budget.

In Seychelles, the total expenditure to manage protected ocean areas in 2017 was US$5.1 million. Now, with 30% of its ocean legally protected – a milestone achieved in March – the government estimates future costs to be US$30-42 million per year.

“Protected area managers are struggling financially, especially due to COVID-19 impact on tourism,” said Seychelles’ Principal Secretary for Environment, Alain de Comarmond.

Traditional finance sources such as grants, entrance fees and corporate social responsibility donations will not be adequate in a post-COVID world.

The government is thus looking to ramp up innovative ways to fund conservation, such as ‘debt-for-nature’ swaps, where creditors agree to reduce sovereign debt if the government invests in marine conservation, as well as ‘blue bonds’ issued by the government, where proceeds go towards ocean protection.

Angelique Brathwaite, Director for the Caribbean at Blue Finance, added that tourism-dependent revenue streams such as visitor centres and underwater attractions have dried up due to COVID-19.

Her organisation, which has included a focus on tourism, is now also looking at other options, such as sustainable fishing and ‘blue carbon’ offsets, whereby MPAs can make an income from their capacity to store carbon in mangroves and sea grass, reducing the impacts of climate change.

Engaging NGOs, private sector

All the panellists agreed that sharing responsibility and costs is essential. In Belize for instance, the government routinely co-manages protected areas with either NGOs or businesses.

Valdemar Andrade, who heads the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association in Belize said: “This is not an undertaking you can do on your own. All stakeholders, including public and private sectors as well as academia and technical networks need to be involved.”

For the tourist town of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, the private sector has emerged as a vital player.

Jake Kheel, Vice President of the Grupo Punta Cana Foundation, shared how hotels and other businesses are realising that protecting coral reefs is an important part of business strategy.

He said: “The private sector and tourism economy have a great capacity to involve local and fishing communities. For example, [in Punta Cana] they have been training local fishermen to do conservation work, hiring them as boat captains, dive or maintenance staff, so they have become an important asset.”

Alain Maulion, CEO of the Blue Alliance in the Philippines added that his NGO uses both grants and loans to fund operations.

The panel agreed that a combination of revenue streams are needed and solutions would have to be adapted to the circumstances in each country. Key ideas and scalable solutions shared during the webinar will be circulated to participants.

The webinar is part of a series being rolled out to support the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all 54 Commonwealth member countries to work actively together to promote ocean health and sustainable ocean development.

 

Seychelles milestone offers lessons on marine protection

Commonwealth countries committed to saving the ocean will benefit from new knowledge gained from the Seychelles, which has just designated almost a third of its ocean as marine protected areas (MPAs).

The island nation recently set aside 30 per cent of its marine territory, or about 410,000 square kilometres, to be legally protected from activities that damage the marine environment.

Other than sustainable tourism, the new laws will ban almost all human activity in half of the protected areas, while allowing only low-impact sustainable businesses to operate in the other half.

The milestone is a culmination of six years of intense technical and legal work, scientific research, as well as community and political engagement.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “Seychelles has demonstrated remarkable leadership as the ‘champion country’ for marine protected areas under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. It is immensely encouraging to see  how the experiences, insights and lessons learned from Seychelles will  inspire and catalyse other member states who also wish to protect their ocean.

“Marine protection goes beyond conservation, allowing for the development of  ‘blue’ economies based on sustainable ocean activity. A healthy ocean also presents enhanced opportunities for economic recovery post COVID-19, and for building resilience and withstanding the impacts of natural disasters and extreme weather events.”

The new marine spatial plan maps out the entirety of Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone (spanning 1.37 million square kilometres) and was financed through an innovative ‘debt-for-nature’ swap co-designed by the Government of Seychelles and The Nature Conservancy.

Path to success

Alain de Comarmond, Principal Secretary of Environment at the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change of Seychelles stressed that countries would need to set their own targets and methods according to their own circumstances.

He outlined four basic elements that led to Seychelles’ success: political support, efficient partnerships, a robust framework for implementation, and patience.

He explained: “The starting point in all of this is the political support and commitment. The President and political leaders were clear about the objective for Seychelles, and the Cabinet was updated regularly on all progress of our work.

“Finding the right partnerships is also very important. For small developing states like Seychelles, most of us do not have all the technical capacity or knowhow needed. We were very lucky to have a very strong partner in The Nature Conservancy, which provided technical and financial assistance.”

Mr de Comarmond added that a well-oiled chain of teams and committees across various agencies helped to ensure that the process was inclusive. The government recognised that the business community and civil society needed to be fully engaged and take ownership.

He said: “We took a very patient and persistent approach, investing a lot of time in building trust and getting the agreement from all our stakeholders. Proposals were always backed with scientific data.”

Seychelles’ achievement of 30 per cent coverage is far beyond international targets of 10 per cent by the end of this year. However, a growing number of Commonwealth countries are supporting a more ambitious target of 30 per cent by 2030, to be agreed at the next UN Biodiversity Conference.

Blue Charter Champion

Under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Seychelles leads an action group of 16 member countries, including: The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, The Gambia, Ghana, Jamaica, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, Tonga, the UK and Vanuatu.

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said: “A key goal of the Blue Charter is to share knowledge and experiences, while working together to scale up strategies, in this case for the effective management, monitoring and enforcement of MPAs.”

Sustainable aquaculture strategy to boost growth and food security

Commonwealth countries have outlined a joint plan to boost economic growth and food security through the sustainable farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants.

Aquaculture generates more than half of the seafood people eat across the world, and sustains some 26 million jobs. This translates to about 80 million tonnes of fish produced globally per year (up from 3 million in 1970), valued at around US$ 240 billion.

Nine countries are now joining forces to explore ways of expanding the sector within the Commonwealth. They are part of the Blue Charter action group on sustainable aquaculture, whose aim is to develop local communities, create more jobs, produce high quality food, while ensuring a healthy ocean.

To date, members include: Cyprus (as the lead or ‘champion’ country), The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Trinidad and Tobago.

Following the action group’s inaugural meeting in Cyprus on 25-27 February, the Director of Fisheries and Marine Resourses, Ms Marina Argyrou said: “Aquaculture, being the fastest growing food producing industry on a global scale,  has an important role in contributing to food security, creating employment opportunities, as well as improving the welfare of local communities.

“It also has the potential to provide environmental services in the framework of fisheries re-stocking programmes, as well as restoration projects for mangroves and corals.”

Ms Argyrou referred to aquaculture as a “main pillar of blue growth”, adding that: “It is our obligation to develop it in a sustainable way so as it will be financially viable, socially acceptable and environmentally compatible.”

The Action group will assess aquaculture practices in member states, outline shared priorities for action, and establish a framework for cooperation with the European Union and other international organisations.

It is one of 10 such groups under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all Commonwealth leaders to cooperate actively to protect ocean health and promote good ocean governance.

These action groups are led by ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally members around key ocean issues, such as marine pollution, climate change, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

Ms Argyou concluded: “Cyprus is honoured to champion the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on sustainable aquaculture. We hope this platform will spur action among like-minded countries and partners, with a focus on knowledge-sharing, cooperation, and taking a science-based approach to sustainably develop our activities.”

Blue Charter action group aims to strengthen marine protection

Commonwealth countries are joining forces to improve how they protect the ocean, as part of the voluntary actions being rolled out under the ground-breaking Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The Blue Charter is an agreement by all 53 member countries to actively cooperate to protect ocean health and promote good ocean governance, with nine action groups to date set up to coordinate action around key ocean issues.

Seychelles champions the action group on marine protected areas (MPAs) – essential conservation zones where human activities such as fishing and tourism are restricted. The inaugural meeting of the action group was hosted in the capital, Victoria, on 4-7 November.

Principal Secretary for Environment at Seychelles’ Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Alain de Comarmond, said: “The first meeting of the action group was a great success, where we had active participation and contribution from the countries and partners present. It has certainly set the tone and momentum to move the priorities identified in our action plan forward.”

More than one-third of all marine waters under national jurisdiction are part of the Commonwealth.

At least 15 per cent of the ocean within the Commonwealth is protected for conservation. This surpasses the current UN target to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by next year.

Seychelles has already protected about 26 per cent of its waters, and is on track to achieve 30 per cent in the coming months.  Along with the United Kingdom and others, it is part of the drive to raise the ambition for marine protection to 30 per cent by 2030.

Commonwealth Blue Charter lead Jeff Ardron said: “Protecting a greater amount of the ocean is essential for safeguarding coastal resources for future generations and building climate resilience.

“At this meeting, we have discussed how to make this work in practice through management plans, enforcement, and long-term financing. Without paying attention to these sorts of details, our protected areas will not really be protected.”

The event was opened by Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Wallace Cosgrow. Government officials were joined by non-governmental representatives, including from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy and the ocean research foundation Nekton.

Participants drafted key points of an action plan, agreeing to learn from one another’s experiences, while testing and scaling up the effective management of MPAs. They discussed partnerships to strengthen capacity, mobilise funding and raise awareness across all sectors of society. Finally, they explored institutional frameworks for the establishment, management, monitoring and enforcement of MPAs.

To date, 16 countries have joined the action group, including: Seychelles (Chair); The Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Dominica; The Gambia; Ghana; Jamaica; Kiribati; Papua New Guinea; Samoa; Sri Lanka; St Kitts and Nevis; Tonga; the UK and Vanuatu.

Secretary-General: fast-track action on ocean health ‘before it is too late’

The Commonwealth is working to establish a fund to help member countries take practical action on ocean sustainability.

Ministers leading Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups met in Oslo with marine experts, investors and philanthropists to discuss the shape of the proposed fund.  The meeting took place during the Our Ocean Conference, to build partnerships between government, industry, science and civil society to meet the challenges facing the ocean.

The initiative comes at a time when coastal states are struggling to find the financial resources to deliver much-needed projects to sustain ocean health. Less than one per cent of all philanthropic funding goes towards marine conservation and sustainability, even though the ocean covers more than two-thirds of the planet. Large funds established to combat climate change appear to be reluctant to support work for the ocean, despite the close interrelation between the health of the ocean and of the environment more generally.

Resources mobilised from the public and private sectors through the proposed fund will contribute to a healthy ocean, sustainable enterprises and vibrant communities.

“Protecting the ocean for future generations is a shared responsibility and a matter of global urgency,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, while stressing that more needs to be done “before it is too late”.

She continued: “Our Commonwealth Blue Charter recognises that no single country can solve these issues alone. Nor is it a matter simply for governments. We need broad and inclusive partnerships drawing together a range of expertise and resources to scale-up and accelerate our collective responses to ocean-related challenges.”

More than 30 countries have banned or restricted single-use plastics and the 53 countries of the Commonwealth have collectively protected more than 15 per cent of the ocean within their jurisdiction, surpassing the UN target of conserving at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

Seychelles’ Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Wallace Cosgrow, told colleagues at the meeting that in order to rebuild fish populations and protect marine habitats his country plans to extend marine protected areas from 26 to 30 per cent.

He said: “As a champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, we want to take this initiative forward with our member countries to inspire real action in saving the diverse sea life for our future.”

Commonwealth Head of Oceans and Natural Resources, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said: “This meeting is one of several interactions around the proposed fund in the lead-up to the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.  Once the fund is established, we hope it will harness the strengths of the public and private sectors to drive rapid actions on protecting our threatened ocean.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a commitment by all 53 Commonwealth member countries to co-operate on tackling ocean-related challenges and meeting their commitments for sustainable development and protection. Twelve ‘champion’ countries are currently taking the lead in rallying fellow members to take action in nine key areas for ocean sustainability.

Also at the Our Ocean Conference, the Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding with Vulcan, which was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It will allow Commonwealth countries to use the Allen Coral Atlasa satellite-based mapping and monitoring system, to plan and manage their coral reef ecosystems.

Extending frontiers of deep sea exploration will improve ocean governance, says Secretary-General

In March this year state-of-the-art submarines will descend to previously unexplored depths of the Indian Ocean on a pioneering research expedition.

First Descent, a collaboration of ocean research institute Nekton, the Commonwealth and 46 other partners, launched the multidisciplinary exploration at the Commonwealth headquarters in London.

The expedition ship, a floating research station, is travelling to Seychelles equipped with cutting-edge subsea technologies, including a submersible capable of descending as deep as 3,000 metres into the ocean, and some of the world’s top scientists on board to test the health of the ocean.

Speaking to Commonwealth high commissioners, media, scientists and ocean specialists at the launch, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said that extending the frontiers of deep sea exploration will help governments to make more informed decisions about policies to address climate change challenges and govern ocean-based sectors such as fishing and tourism.

The Secretary-General issued a stark warning about the urgency of addressing the global challenge of climate change.

She said, “We face an existential threat as a result of the changes in climate. Unless we map and understand better what is in our oceans, we are doomed to repeat some of the mistakes we made on land.

“Our partnership with Nekton is important because it will assist Commonwealth co-operation and accelerate action by the governments of our member countries to protect the ocean. The data gathered from this exploration enable us to test the ocean’s health, and will guide governments and policy-makers in making informed and effective decisions on ocean governance issues relating to climate change, overfishing and conservation.”

In November the Commonwealth and Nekton signed a memorandum of understanding to boost actions under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a joint commitment by member countries to protect the ocean and sustainably manage its resources.

CEO of Nekton Foundation, Oliver Steeds, said the ocean research expeditions will be guided by Commonwealth values.

“First Descent is aligned to the principles of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by all 53 Commonwealth countries to actively co-operate to solve ocean related problems and meet commitments for sustainable ocean development,” said Mr Steeds.

“Humankind is poised to make the next giant leap into the deep ocean. We need to discover what is there before the ocean’s demise triggers our own. In many ways I think that is why the Commonwealth with Nekton and our partners is launching First Descent today.”

Scientists at the event joined the calls for urgent action.

Oxford Professor Alex Rogers, who is part of the First Decent research team, spoke about the importance of examining the zone between 30 and 3,000 meters in the ocean, where, he explained, there is a peak diversity of species.

“We are in a situation where the ocean is suffering from serious degradation through the damaging effects of overfishing, pollution, and we are all aware of the growing story of marine plastics and the effect of climate change – and that includes ocean warming, ocean acidification and deoxygenation of the ocean. So it’s really critically important that we understand how life is distributed through the ocean now so that we can make decisions that are actually better informed.”

First Descent will kick-off in Seychelles, where Nekton is working on behalf of the Seychelles government and partners. The country has committed to protect 30% of their ocean territory by 2020 and champions the ‘Action Group’ for marine protection under the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

Seychelles High Commissioner, Derick Ally, said, “We also are a leader in the blue economy concept, and with the help of the Commonwealth, which has developed a blue economy roadmap for us, we are taking steps now to make better use of our ocean resources.”

Secretary-General Scotland added that the data gathered from the missions will have applications for the Commonwealth’s 53 countries and will inform progress and development of the Blue Charter and other initiatives.

She said, “We are collating this information to help us better understand what good ocean governance would look like, and then we are creating a series of implementation toolkits; because many countries are saying, we want to do something, but what do we do and how do we do it? We will now be in a better position to give them a blueprint to follow.”

Ground-breaking deep-sea exploration to boost good ocean governance

Commonwealth governments are set to benefit from a ground-breaking scientific research expedition into the unexplored depths of the Indian Ocean.

First Descent, a collaboration of ocean research institute Nekton, the Commonwealth and other partners will launch a multidisciplinary exploration of never-before-accessed ocean territory.

The expedition ship, a floating research station, will set sail from Seychelles in March equipped with cutting-edge subsea technologies, including a submersible capable of descending hundreds of metres into the ocean, and some of the world’s top scientists on board to test the health of the ocean.

A launch of the initiative will take place at Marlborough House, the Commonwealth headquarters in London, on Wednesday, 6th of February. More than a hundred people, including Commonwealth High Commissioners, media, scientists and ocean specialists are expected to attend to learn more about the mission.

In December, the Commonwealth and Nekton signed a memorandum of understanding to boost actions under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a joint commitment by member countries to protect the ocean and sustainably manage its resources.

“This is a mission of world firsts – including the first live subsea TV series and an examination of previously unexplored ocean depths with cutting edge technologies. But what is most important is the insight that this will offer governments and those who make decisions on important ocean governance issues such as conservation, climate change and fishing,” said Commonwealth Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke.

He continued, “This important partnership with Nekton and governments who recognise the need to take urgent action to protect our ocean will not only support the uptake of new marine science technologies and platforms to improve access to ocean data, it will also facilitate science-based policies and laws, and develop training materials for capacity building.”

First Descent will kick-off in Seychelles, where Nekton is working on behalf of the Seychelles Government and partners. The country has committed to protect 30% of their ocean territory by 2020 and champions the issue of marine protection in the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter.

The Commonwealth Secretariat has been appointed to an expedition steering committee that will help to plan Nekton expeditions, and take part in training, capacity-building and promotional activities.

CEO of the Nekton Foundation Oliver Steeds described the initiative as “a bold bid to help accelerate our scientific understanding of how the Indian Ocean is changing”.

He said, “Sustainable ocean development is the heart of what we are doing to support a blue economy and we are delighted to partner with the Commonwealth to support regionally led ocean governance for the Indian Ocean region.  We are seeking other Commonwealth nations to participate in future expeditions after the Seychelles in 2019 through to 2022.”

The Nekton Indian Ocean Mission will run from 2019 to 2022. Three research expeditions will be deployed in distinct regions of the Indian Ocean. They are backed by an alliance of additional partners, including the UK Government, Omega, Kensington Tours, University of Oxford, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sky and The Associated Press.

Image credit: Nekton