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A few years ago, Sweden experienced its biggest forest fire in modern times.
Have you ever seen a forest fire? The roaring flames. The massive heat. The smoke. It is a dramatic experience – even frightening.
Looking out at the sea, on the other hand, is a very different experience. At least in good weather in the beginning of June... The calm blue water, the soothing sound: that is not dramatic or frightening. Just peaceful, glittering and serene.
But the beautiful surface is not telling the whole truth. Overfishing, global warming and pollution are destroying the ocean. Not with flames and smoke, like a fire. But silently, invisibly, deadly.
At a frightening pace, we are approaching a point of irreversible damage to marine life. A point from which the ocean will not bounce back.
We are at a critical point in time.
Today, seafood is the largest source of animal protein in the world. Half of it comes from aquaculture, the other half is ocean harvested. We consume about 20 kilos of fish and fishery products per person a year. That is more than ever before.
But while the global population is growing, the growth rate of seafood production is on decline. 60 percent of all stocks are already fully fished and 30 percent are even overfished. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing may account for up to 26 million tonnes of seafood a year. That equals more than 15 percent of the world’s annual global seafood production.
Meanwhile, climate change is putting enormous pressure on marine life.
The ocean plays a crucial role in regulating our climate, absorbing excess heat and carbon dioxide. But it does so at a great cost: Ocean warming leads to dramatic changes in natural habitats and food supply. It also makes the waters more acidic; bleaching and killing the coral reefs – the nurseries for about a quarter of the ocean's fish.
All alarm bells are ringing: We are coming dangerously close to fatal tipping points.
In the coming decades, we are facing a sharp increase in demand for protein. Keeping our ocean healthy is, and will be, key in ensuring food security. All seafood, whether farmed or wild-caught, must be produced in a sustainable way. The alternative is not “un-sustainable” seafood - it is in fact no seafood at all.
Without doubt, the seafood industry is one part of the problem. But I am convinced it can also be part of the solution.
In November the Stockholm Resilience Centre launched the SeaBOS initiative. SeaBOS stands for Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship. In this initiative, nine of the world's largest seafood companies are working together, leading a global transformation towards sustainable seafood production and a healthy ocean.
These Keystone Actors are transnational corporations who dominate the global seafood industry. Some of them have been operating their businesses for many generations. But on this matter, they are moving fast, eager to put their words into action.
The leaders of the global seafood industry are acting as role models. Not only for their own industry, but for all industries whose businesses depend on our planet's ecosystems. I look forward to following the progress of SeaBOS, which I am proud to support. And I hope it can serve as an inspiration for other similar initiatives in the ocean-related industry sectors.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this room I see business leaders, policy makers and leading scientists. I see consumers. I see people whose actions and decisions can make real difference for the future of our ocean. I urge you to exercise that power. Do what you can – do it wisely – and most importantly, do it now. Just like you would if you were fighting a forest fire.
A healthy ocean is not a luxury item. It is a necessity for survival. And taking care of the ocean means taking care of ourselves.