Without sustainable oceans and a sustainable supply of marine resources, there can’t be the trade, the economic potential and economic growth that are the core objectives of APEC. 

Issued by the APEC Oceans and Fisheries Working Group

Ministers from the APEC member economies are meeting in the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen, China to address oceans-related challenges. The APEC Bulletin spoke with Greg Schneider, Lead Shepherd of the APEC Oceans and Fisheries Working Group, who highlighted some of the issues and priorities topping the agenda.

APEC Bulletin: What are the priority areas of focus among APEC economies when it comes to oceans-related issues?

Schneider: Obviously there is great interest in ensuring the health of the oceans among APEC member economies. At the same time, we are focused on the oceans’ capacity to sustain economic growth, to provide proteins to an expanding global population and contribute to the resilience and sustainability of coastal communities.

APEC economies traditionally addressed marine ecosystem conservation and fisheries activities as separate issues, through separate working-level architecture. More recently, these efforts were combined together to strengthen the region’s response to the global challenges facing oceans and are today being tackled by the APEC Oceans and Fisheries Working Group.

There are several areas that APEC economies have identified as strategically important and which guide our collaboration. Issues related to climate change and food security are two. Trade and investment liberalization is another that is closely tied to APEC’s core agenda. We also are looking at issues more broadly related to sustainable development.

APEC Bulletin: How significant are region’s oceans in global terms?

Schneider: Take trade in marine resources, for example. Much of the world’s fish is harvested and traded across the entire sweep of the Asia-Pacific.

APEC economies run the gamut. Some like Malaysia and Viet Nam field many small scale fisheries but are also actively engaged in global trade within the sector. Papua New Guinea is another that falls into the category and is one of the largest tuna exporters in the world.

It’s important to note that developing economies now supply more than 50 per cent of the harvest capacity and production of fish and fish products within the global marketplace. This is a change compared to twenty years ago. During this period, developed economies such as Japan and the United States have become net importers to meet domestic demand.

APEC Bulletin: With such big differences between APEC economies, isn’t it hard to effectively rally cooperation to address challenges facing the world’s oceans?   

Schneider: It’s becoming apparent that there is a sort of organizing principle within APEC around a set of points that are now being described as the “blue economy.”

The blue economy as a concept is not defined; it’s a set of views that are interpreted differently by individual economies but does have at its core the promotion of sustainable development of the oceans and its resources as a precondition of fostering economic growth.

There are issues involved that may have their roots in innovation, efficiencies, improvement in quality along the food chain, the mitigation of post-harvest waste and attention to non-target species.

The challenges are more or less understood across economies. Ultimately it comes down the need for sustainable oceans. Without sustainable oceans and a sustainable supply of marine resources, there can’t be the trade, the economic potential and economic growth that are the core objectives of APEC.

What we’re really talking about is our capacity to address a fairly narrow set of challenges and objectives that have been embraced not just within APEC but also at the United Nations and in other international fora.

The real challenge that we face is implementation. The key is the level of will that is brought to these discussions and which is needed to move towards a successful outcome.

APEC Bulletin: Is there sufficient will within the region to take substantive action on oceans-issues?

Schneider: There’s simply no alternative. Consider the contribution of the oceans to economic growth and to the production of marine protein more specifically.

Populations are growing steadily around the Pacific Rim. Yet, harvests of wild capture and marine harvests more generally remained more or less the same for a long time.

APEC Bulletin: Are there any meaningful signs of progress?

Schneider: We often times don’t read or hear about the good news but we’re beginning to see some good news related to the oceans.

Encouragingly, new data that suggests rebuilding efforts in certain economies are having a positive effect on harvests which are going up. This includes an uptick in wild capture harvests.

Where we are seeing the most stupendous growth in production is in aquaculture and there is no reason to believe that that trend will reverse.

The necessary increase in protein from the oceans will come from aquaculture and also from better post-harvest practices and waste management. There’s quite a bit of evidence that shows we could extract more protein from the fish that’s harvested just by better control of the harvest itself and better control of the various processing aspects.

APEC Bulletin: What more needs to be done?

Schneider: There are many things that need to come together to reverse the trends that have degraded coastal regions, including critical areas such as mangroves.

The world is waiting for governments, in partnership with the private sector and civil society, including environmental non-governmental organizations, to come up with solutions.

APEC Bulletin: Why is APEC a useful mechanism for action?

Schneider: In the Oceans and Fisheries Working Group and more broadly in APEC, there is a culture of interaction. What that means is that economies can sit across from one another and debate, take exception and work out details—all in a very collegial, cooperative and inclusive manner.

I’m optimistic about our capacity to advance the global debate underway on oceans, in coordination with other stakeholders. 

The challenge is really to steer the private sector into our discussions; to bring them to the table and to create an opportunity for the business community to tell us what we can do for them and not the other way around.

APEC Bulletin: What types of measures are APEC economies seeking to take forward?

Schneider: An emphasis is on moving economies to a point where they can extract increased economic value from the oceans. The kinds of joint projects we’re advancing vary from basic research, to applied research, to the strengthening of value chains.

Our work is a response to the challenges that face the oceans and oceans resources, and takes into consideration the unusual characteristics of fisheries and oceans issues.

APEC Bulletin: What makes oceans-related challenges unique and how are APEC economies adapting to address them more effectively?

Schneider: In the case of agriculture or forestry, for example, it’s possible to go out and plant another tree and you move forward in that regard. By contrast, we are dealing with an exhaustible natural resource that moves around. It’s impossible for one economy to claim a fish that tomorrow may be in another economy’s waters.

All of this makes it difficult to establish comprehensive, regional policies and regulations that respond to the regional, highly migratory aspect of fisheries resources.

APEC’s cooperation architecture is well suited to tackle this unique problem. It recognizes that fisheries is not a sector so much as part of a broader ecosystem—the oceans. Put another way, we are addressing the issue by placing the resource itself in the context of the ecosystem.

The ecosystem includes the terrestrial side of things: the coastal community; the exclusive economic zones which extend 200 miles from an economy’s shoreline or where it meets up against others. It’s this entire complex that requires coordination.

It’s our responsibility to recognize the global and regional aspects of our work and go forward in a way that recognizes the limitations and potential of responding in a meaningful way to the challenges that the oceans’ current situation and future conditions present to us.