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The Ocean Conference – it’s nearly show time!

In less than 2 weeks the long-awaited UN Ocean Conference will begin in New York. The Call for Action is in the process of being finalised – a 2nd round of consultations has taken place and a new version has been released and is currently being discussed in New York.

A couple of issues remain contentious and the wave of change in US environmental policy is becoming increasingly apparent. Firstly, there’s still no agreement on how to refer to the WTO’s ongoing negotiations on eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies. The EU wants to call for a swift conclusion of negotiations (understandable given that this issue has stalled and dragged on for more than 10 years), but others, such as the US, feel this is a step too far. Secondly, the US is trying to water down references to the Paris Agreement on climate – something we are also seeing elsewhere (see update on the Arctic Council below). And apparently, action to fight microplastics is too much for Russia to support without further research. This lack of political will is what you would expect from countries negotiating a "Call for Inaction". That’s why we need to get the message out loud and clear to the politicians, business leaders, and our own circle of friends and family, that we need leadership, commitment and urgent action to protect the Ocean. The final round of consultations will be finishing today (25th May) and a final draft will be ready shortly before the meeting.

schedule of side events (over 150 of them!) are now online; the co-chairs have been appointed for the 7 different Ocean dialogues; information for the participants is online; and the registry of voluntary commitments is starting to fill up – with 229 entries at the latest count. We are also reliably informed that there will be some big announcements about actual, really big, “on the water” protections. Exciting stuff!

Tired of reading all these newsletters and reports, then listen to World Ocean Radio’s overview on what will be happening at the Conference. And look out for next month’s Navigator for a lowdown on what happened at the meeting.

New York goes blue

New York City is also gearing up for an Ocean knees-up! On Sunday the 4th June, the day before the Ocean Conference officially begins, the first World Ocean Festival will take place, including a grand Ocean march.

Between 20th May and 21st June more than 50 amazing wave sculptures, which have been designed by artists, rock stars, models, actors and entrepreneurs, are being displayed all around the city as part of Project O’s Wave Trail, sponsored by La Mer. Click here to download a map of the Wave Walk. These impressive sculptures, measuring about 1.3 metres high, are also up for grabs! Yes – this is your chance to own a seriously cool Ocean artwork (put your bid in now), and the really great thing is that proceeds go towards supporting Ocean conservation projects.

World Environment Day and World Ocean Day

There are a couple of very good excuses to celebrate our planet and the Ocean this June. Firstly, on the 5th June it’s World Environment Day with the theme "Connecting People to Nature" – urging us all to go outside and show that we’re #WithNature. Now that’s an excellent excuse to jump into the water, as if we need one! Then, just a few days later on the 8th June we can jump back in the water again on World Oceans Day. Check out the website to download resources, follow blogs, register your event or find out what is happening near you, and be part of an ever-growing, global, Ocean movement that is calling for greater Ocean protection.

Tuna Meltdown

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is currently holding its annual meeting in Indonesia. For years, environmental campaigners have been frustrated at the continual lack of action and delaying tactics by parties to stop overfishing of tuna and to protect precious marine life in the region. Two key problems fuel this overfishing. First is the ever increasing use of fish aggregating devices (FADs). These are artificial floating objects (anchored or drifting) – placed in the Ocean by fishers – that fish and other Ocean critters like to hang out around. Purse seine fisheries profit from this behaviour trait by netting whole schools of fish including “under-age” fish and other marine life such as turtles and sharks. The second problem is transshipment at sea, which makes it easy for IUU fishers to offload their contraband catch away from the scrutiny of port authorities.

This year the Commission will discuss improving the yellowfin stock rebuilding measure as well as proposals to reduce the number of FADs each vessel can use and a phase out of supply vessels that carry all the extra FADs that help purse seiners hunt for tuna. A number of other important proposals will be discussed relating to IUU fishing, driftnets, discards and better protection for sharks and rays. You can see all the proposals and the NGO statements here. Let’s hope that this year parties will stop faffing around and get on with the job of ensuring sustainable, science-based management.

There’s good reason to look after this resource. Tuna accounts for US$ 42.2 billion in retail sales annually. But its increasing popularity is placing huge pressure on stocks, with Pacific bluefin teetering on the edge of extinction and Indian Ocean skipjack tuna, which is found on supermarket shelves all over the world, poised to go from green to red in 2017 unless measures are taken to prevent overfishing.

Hopefully, initiatives like the recently celebrated first ever official World Tuna Day on the 2nd May, the announcement that all Aussie tuna brands are FAD-free, and the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration, will help raise awareness further, support the actions of groups that are working hard to prevent a worldwide tuna meltdown, and spotlight those states that are blocking progress to prevent overfishing at bodies such as the IOTC.

Parties of new Port States Measures Treaty to hold first meeting

From the 29th–31st May in Oslo, Norway, the first meeting of the parties to the UN Port State Measures Agreement to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU fishing will take place. The agreement finally came into force last June and now, with the recent announcement that Montenegro and Japan – one of the top importers of seafood – have ratified the agreement, the number of official parties stands at 48. Woo-hoo!

This agreement is a very important weapon in the fight against the multibillion-dollar business of illegal fishing. It aims to unite governments in stopping IUU fishers offloading their contraband at ports through increased inspection in ports and the refusal of port entry or access to port services including the landing, transshipment, processing and packaging of seafood. After the hard work of negotiating and getting the necessary number of ratifications, the even harder work of implementing the agreement begins. The recent announcement that Japan has joined with the US and EU, so that the world’s 3 largest consumer markets for seafood are now onboard, gives an extra boost to banishing illegal fishing.

This meeting will see how countries (port states and flag states) and RFMOs and other organizations are faring in starting to implement the treaty. Want to find out more about what this means on a practical level? Check out this Port States Measures Agreement Implementation toolkit.