A conversation with Uta Bellion, director of the European marine programme of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Q: Why is Pew so committed to ending overfishing?
A: Pew has long recognized the vulnerability of ocean systems and the life within to a wide variety of threats, including overfishing, pollution, destruction of critical habitat, and climate change. To address the most serious of these threats, Pew developed a global ocean conservation program aimed at stopping the destruction of marine life and restoring the oceans to a state of good health.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization reports that 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are overfished or fully fished, compared with 60 percent just 40 years ago. The European Union is the largest global market for seafood products, which means that its consumers and communities that depend on fisheries have a high stake in ending overfishing.
Q: Why is Pew committed to ocean conservation?
A: The ocean covers nearly three-fourths of the globe and is home to nearly half of the world’s known species, with countless yet to be discovered. It produces almost half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide.
More than 250 million people depend directly or indirectly on fishing for their livelihoods, and the ocean provides the main source of animal protein to over 2.6 billion people.
Too many marine species are in rapid decline, even facing extinction. Apex predators such as sharks and some tuna mature slowly and have long life cycles. They need strong conservation measures to replenish their populations to healthy levels. Forage fish at the bottom of the food chain also urgently need safeguards. They are essential to ensuring that the ocean can support the full range of marine life as well as maintaining a sustainable fishery. Illegal fishing is compounding the toll around the world and must be stopped.
Depleted fish populations must be rebuilt to sustainable levels. Pew is committed to advancing scientific understanding of ocean conservation challenges, designing policy solutions, and mobilizing public support for their implementation.
To this end, Pew’s environmental science division pursues a diverse portfolio of projects related to marine conservation. It develops and supports scientific research, technical analyses, and efforts to synthesize information to help explain critical emerging issues and inform policy.
Q: What is Pew’s ambition for Europe in fisheries management and ocean conservation?
A: Pew would like to see the EU take a leading role in ending overfishing, illegal fishing, and destructive fishing practices, both in European waters and globally, to ensure that fisheries everywhere are sustainable. Particular EU Member States, such as the United Kingdom and France, have extensive overseas territories that are surrounded by rich marine life. These nations can be leaders in the creation of large fully protected marine reserves in those near-pristine waters. The EU also can support designation of large protected areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica and help drive negotiations at the U.N. for a new international agreement to protect marine life in the high seas, an approach that would allow the regeneration of marine ecosystems.
Q: What is Pew doing about illegal fishing?
A: Experts say about 1 in 5 fish taken from the ocean is caught illegally. This is depleting fish stocks to less than sustainable levels, threatening the viability of the fishing industry and communities that depend on it.
We are working globally with industry and governments to improve monitoring of illegal fishing activities, including within marine reserves and on the high seas. In January 2015, we launched Project Eyes on the Seas, which uses satellite technology and other data sources to help track and catch illegal operators. We are collaborating with governments and international agencies such as Interpol on this project.
Q: Why the emphasis on marine protected areas?
A: The ocean plays an essential role in sustaining life on our planet, but human activities increasingly threaten its health. Research shows that very large, fully protected marine reserves are critical for restoring the abundance of species, promoting ecological diversity, and protecting the overall health of the marine environment. Healthy ecosystems also are more resilient to threats from climate change. Moreover, the creation of marine protected areas can help local economies, by advancing tourism, for example.
Global Ocean Legacy, a project of Pew and its partners, is working with local communities, governments, and scientists around the world to secure protections for some of our most important and unspoiled ocean environments. We are working globally, including on potential reserves in French and U.K. overseas territories. Pew also advocates for establishing protected areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, securing the Arctic Ocean from industrial fishing until measures are in place to properly regulate it, and negotiating a new agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to safeguard marine life on the high seas.
Since 2006, our work has contributed to doubling the amount of protected ocean habitat worldwide. At over 2.5 million square kilometres (965,000 square miles) of ocean, that’s bigger than Mexico and Texas combined and more than four times the size of France.
Q: Is ocean conservation Pew’s biggest area of work?
A: Pew has a broad mission to find solutions to many of today’s most challenging issues. In addition to our global environmental work, Pew’s portfolio includes projects focused on health, state, and consumer policy initiatives in the United States. The Pew Research Center, a subsidiary, is a world-leading provider of independent opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis, and other data-driven social science research.
Pew has been involved in environmental work for more than 40 years. Our marine conservation projects include efforts to protect habitat, promote ecosystem-based fisheries management, halt overfishing in the EU and the U.S., combat illegal fishing, reform high seas governance, and protect tuna and sharks, both apex predators. We also have major land conservation projects in Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Q: What is Pew’s background? How is it funded?
A: The Pew Charitable Trusts is the sole beneficiary of seven individual trusts established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Co. founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew.
Since 1948, the Trusts has operated independently from the family business. The seven trusts that fund Pew operations divested their holdings in Sun Company (Sun Oil Co.) in 1997. We also receive substantial funding from partnerships, foundations, and individuals.