This week I have led a group of scientists who have sent letters to the Director Generals of Environment and Marine at the European Union to demand more action for the conservation of seagrass. This letter has also been sent to the British Government Department for the Environment (DEFRA). The letter explains how seagrasses need to be conserved as part of a joined up strategy to ensure the sustainability of fisheries throughout the continent. Our letter follows on from research published this week that finds seagrasses to support the productivity of world fisheries, this includes support for 1/5th of the world’s biggest fisheries, two of which are Atlantic stocks (Cod and Herring). We stress that it is no good managing the offshore stocks of mature fish if their sheltered shallow water nursery grounds are being damaged and rapidly lost, as is still the case across Europe. In the research paper we present the case for why seagrass meadows need targeted policy to recognise and protect their role in supporting fisheries production and associated food security. The major points of which are: Seagrass meadows provide valuable nursery habitat to over 1/5th of the world’s largest 25 fisheries. Importantly for Europe this includes the Atlantic Cod and the Atlantic Herring, two of the continents biggest fisheries. In complex small-scale fisheries from around the world (poorly represented in fisheries statistics) many of those in proximity to seagrass are supported to a large degree by these habitats. This includes many locations in the EU. Intertidal fishing activity in seagrass is a global phenomenon, often directly supporting human livelihoods. This has been documented all around Europe. Our research identified many opportunities that could be drawn out of current policy and legislation. It recognised that the Common Fisheries Policy (CAP), the habitats directive and the Water Framework directive are key to conserving and restoring seagrass across Europe. But the work importantly recognises fisheries and nature conservation policy in Europe have not always been fully and consistently aligned and the paper highlights the need for more joined up thinking between key policies and directives. New policies are needed that directly support seagrass conservation and restoration to enhance fisheries. In doing so these could also provide strong incentives to expand conservation of these habitats for other reasons such as carbon sequestration. Our work also highlights the need to foster R&I in more fully understanding the links between coastal biodiversity and our ocean basin scale fisheries productivity.
Our letter was authored by myself, Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth and Dr Lina Mtwana Nordlund, a copy is available here