The 14 Overseas Territories hold 94 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity, but few are well protected from excessive or illegal fishing. The establishment of fully protected marine reserves in Overseas Territories waters would contribute significantly to the amount of global ocean under protection.
The creation of marine reserves would:
- Make a significant contribution to the recovery of struggling global fish stocks
- Enable the protection of remarkable biodiversity, including turtles, dolphins, seabirds, unique fish and large migratory predators such as marlin
- Open new economic avenues for remote islands in the form of eco-tourism and scientific expeditions
- Prevent slavery and exploitation of human beings that takes place aboard some industrial fishing vessels.
On 16 September 2015, BLUE convened a gathering of MPs at the House of Commons to discuss progress to date in making the Blue Belts commitment a reality. At this meeting, Oliver Letwin, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the minister responsible for implementing the manifesto, acknowledged BLUE’s pivotal role in the campaign. He confirmed that his interpretation of ‘Blue Belts’ was ‘a series of vast marine protected areas beside sustainable fisheries in many cases.’ Charles Clover responded by praising the government for its pledge and assuring the inhabitants of the Overseas Territories that it was BLUE’s intention that the commitment would bring new benefits.
The seas around the South Atlantic island of St Helena are fed by the Benguela current and contain seamounts that support rich marine life. St Helena is home to a third of all the endemic species in British territories including 11 endemic fish. Migrating whale sharks may be seen within sight of the shore.
Sir Alan Duncan, the Foreign Office minister, announced in the autumn that St Helena is to make its waters what the IUCN calls a “category 6” reserve – which means sustainable fishing only. But the existing artisan tuna fishing industry, which relies on rod and line or pole and line methods, is currently receiving low prices for its produce and there has been pressure to allow in external long-line fleets to boost the volume of tuna exports.
Blue has proposed an alternative way of improving the island’s revenues, a premium quality tuna from a sustainable fishery, badged as such, using the Reserve Seafood label Blue devised for Lyme Bay. Charles Clover is working with the St Helena government to identify opportunities for their tuna on the British market and to improve freezing and processing facilities on the island to the highest standards.