Prince Charles reveals what he’s learned from his sustainability unit

Prince Charles boards a Norwegian research ship to meet with representatives of the Institute of Ocean Research.

It is all too easy to believe that news on the state of fish stocks amounts to a relentless counsel of doom. Fortunately, there is a more positive story emerging — and it gives me considerable hope. Research conducted by my International Sustainability Unit reveals that, in many parts of the world, positive steps are being taken to establish a much more sustainable way of managing these vital, self-renewing resources.

In 2008, developing countries exported about twenty-seven billion dollars-worth of fish. Fishing supports the livelihoods of more than 120 million people and 1 billion people rely on fish as their main source of protein. So it is important to see that what many call an environmental problem is actually also an economic and social one. As long as there are fish to catch, many millions of people enjoy job security and the social cohesion that comes from that.

And it could get better. The World Bank recently estimated that an extra 50 billion dollars a year could come from annual catches if better management was put in place. So what needs to be done? Analysis by my I.S.U. team has shown that many examples of better practice around the world are underpinned by three broad factors.

First, they have all been implemented with the understanding that fish don’t exist in isolation from the environments that sustain them. There are many tools available to help manage fish stocks in ways that respect ecosystems — things like improving fishing gear, protecting stocks during spawning, setting aside protected areas or taking a precautionary approach to exploitation.

The second characteristic is the creation of well-designed rules for intelligent fishing that are enforced robustly. This includes proper monitoring and appropriate penalties to deter illegal fishing.

And finally, there is sound economics. Good management of fish stocks is rewarded with secure and decent livelihoods for those who do the fishing. There are several ways this can be achieved. One would be improving labelling to encourage consumers to demand more sustainable seafood; another is the establishment of appropriate long-term rights which give fishermen a stake in the future of their fishing grounds. It seems to me that it would also make a tremendous difference if official subsidies really focused on supporting socially and environmentally positive activities. All too often, better ways of doing things are inadvertently penalized by how subsidy systems work.

I find it very encouraging that actually there are many examples of positive progress, from the U.S.A. to Indonesia and from Iceland to Vietnam, where fishing communities are adopting the approaches needed to rebuild fish stocks. Where this happens, stocks recover and communities reap the benefits. The urgent questions, it seems to me, are how can these examples of best practice be spread and how quickly can this be done?
One powerful way to do this is through a process I have employed for many years in other sectors — what might be called “seeing is believing.” This, simply put, involves inspiring people to change their behavior through showing them what is already being done through successful examples of best practice. My hope is that my I.S.U. can play a small role in this.

Genuine multi-stakeholder partnerships must urgently be pursued to introduce best practice sustainable fisheries management to all corners of the world. Everyone can play their part, including consumers.

They can become more aware of the choices they make and ensure the fish on their plates is sustainably sourced. When you consider that the alternative is the continued decline of the world’s fish stocks, I fear that we really have no other choice.

His agenda

Making decisions ‘future proof’

The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project is part of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit, developed to “ensure that we are not battling to meet 21st century challenges with, at best, 20th-century decision-making and reporting systems. The project’s work focuses on ways to integrate measures of environmental health, social well-being and economic performance to provide a ‘future-proofed’ framework for decision-making, to build the capacity needed to take action.” It has organized a panel about the topic at Rio+20.

Watch “The End of the Line,” Blue Marine’s documentary on ocean health, for free here


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