Tim Glover, who has been many things including UK director of BLUE, looks back over the charity’s first ten years as he becomes the first crew member to retire to sail his boat – though maybe not for long…
It’s early 2009, in an upstairs bar of a notable Soho drinking den and my journey with BLUE was about to begin. Charles Clover, author of the game-changing book about global overfishing, The End of The Line and the Jeremy Clarkson of the fish world, is in full rant about one thing or another at his companions, George Duffield and Chris Gorell Barnes, (Producer and Exec-Producer of the highly acclaimed film of the book). Also present are environmental journalist, the late Paul Eccleston and me. We had met to discuss potential “legacy projects” from the film, of which top of the pile for Charles and me, was a sustainable fish restaurant review website which launched later that year as Fish2fork.com. It ran successfully for the next seven years, despite almost being kippered in its first few months by a libel case, brought by a high-profile restaurateur we had upset with one of our first reviews. All was eventually amicably resolved, reputations stayed intact and we lived to fight another day; but I digress….
The main flesh on the bones of our Soho chat was, however, far more ambitious. George and Chris, intending to strike at the heart of overfishing, had launched a marine foundation that would facilitate the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world, codenamed Project BLUE. Nothing was shabby about their design and with two highly connected and talented entrepreneurs as founders, riding on the back of the wildly successful film, we thought this might have a chance. Seed-funded by George and Chris, we joined their bold endeavour and BLUE was registered as a limited company in March 2010, within days of BLUE’s first great success.
The first catch was an absolute whopper! The founders persuaded the Bertarelli Foundation that BLUE could underpin the creation by the UK FCO of the Chagos MPA which would ban all fishing in the British Indian Ocean Territory and in one stroke create the largest no-take MPA in the world. Charles threw himself into dealing with politicians and I dealt with the finance, together with any other unclaimed job functions. The size of this first project soon meant that extra resources were required and members of staff were brought aboard in quick succession over the following 12 months. There followed a few years when, although we initiated a number of projects, core funding was always difficult to obtain and a very necessary lean and punch-above-our-weight ethos was first imprinted on BLUE’s soul. It would go on to become a core value at BLUE – fewer people doing more! Despite these pressures, BLUE initiated a second major overseas project with the Bertarelli’s in Belize, followed by a number of smaller overseas projects.
At the same time, the distinguished and resourceful board that BLUE has been lucky enough to have from the go made a conscious decision that we needed a project closer to home, so in 2011, Charles and I, tipped-off that small-scale, inshore fishermen were an endangered species there, took a trip to West Bay in Dorset (a.k.a. Broadchurch in the eponymous TV drama series). Over mugs of tea in the harbourside café and in constant danger of being chucked into the harbour if we said the wrong thing, we met more than a dozen fishermen. We didn’t have an agenda but wanted to listen to what had gone so horribly wrong in their fishery. We faced a steep learning curve. Three years previously, a statutory bottom trawling ban had been imposed to stop the destruction of the coral reef by scallop dredgers, but this had resulted in the unforeseen consequence of tens of thousands of shellfish pots being set and left to fish by non-locals, as there was now no risk of them being lost through trawling activity. This had decimated shellfish stocks, causing local fishing communities to be seriously fearful for their survival. We devised a plan and BLUE’s long-term philosophy of working closely with low-impact inshore fishermen to deliver wins for both conservation and fisheries began. Years of hard work and financial investment followed, managing the Lyme Bay Reserve collaboratively with fishermen, regulators, scientists and other local stakeholders. It is worth mentioning that we couldn’t have done anything in Lyme without the vision of Marks & Spencer, who recognised the necessity of supporting sustainable fishing and put their money where their mouth was, along with many other committed funding partners.
By the middle to late ‘10s, BLUE had moved from young upstart to serious player. We had a reputation for actually getting stuff done. Multiple projects were going on and many exciting ideas were coming to fruition. Some of my favourites include the Solent native oyster restoration project aiming to reverse the 95 per cent stock decline with the introduction of five million juvenile oysters; leading a national initiative to introduce marine parks; projects in the Mediterranean, Ascension Island, St Helena and the Maldives; species management initiatives to protect the grouper, bass, whelk and iconic sturgeon in the faraway Caspian Sea; conferences, awards and education programmes – the list is endless. All of these exciting projects are underpinned by fisheries policy interventions around the world at government level.
BLUE spent the first few years of its life trying to get a foot in policy-makers’ and large, established NGOs’ doors, and now it had become a highly-regarded and welcomed partner.
So, with my experience as head of UK projects for nearly a decade, where do I think BLUE could go from here?
The Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation model has proved beyond any doubt that conservation and small-scale fishing can co-exist. Our research shows that the ecosystem has thrived since the ban on bottom-trawling and the subsequent collaborative management programme. The coral reefs have recovered and are abundant in flora and fauna and the fishing communities have survived and are looking at an increasingly rosy future. A resounding win-win! One scallop diver told me recently that he has never seen so much life down on the seabed. So, we have asked the IFCAs and Defra to consider using our Lyme experience as a model for inshore fisheries management and BLUE is already applying voluntary adaptations of the model in sites around the UK from Berwickshire to Jersey.
It is my personal view that the protection the Lyme model management affords to inshore fisheries should be extended to include a ban on destructive bottom-towed gear within three miles of the British coast (and indeed many coastlines worldwide). This is clearly a highly controversial suggestion but with post-Brexit fisheries policy planning currently in the making, there could never be a better time in the UK to take bold steps to ring-fence both vulnerable ecosystems and the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen, and to lead the world by example.
BLUE’s UK and overseas work goes from strength to strength and the highly talented team of trustees and staff, with whom I have had the greatest privilege to work, will I am sure take BLUE to new levels of achievement over the next ten years, reaching the goal of 30 per cent ocean protection by 2030. They will get there, I am sure, by maintaining the energy, agility and passion that has become the hallmark of BLUE.
As for me, I’m going sailing, despite many people thinking I will not really retire. As one Lyme Bay fisherman friend said to me the other day “I don’t think you’ll ever give it up, Tim. You love the hassle of it all too much”.
Happy birthday BLUE!