Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Over the past decades, changes in consumption, distribution and fishing habits have had a dramatic impact on marine ecosystems. The level and nature of consumer demand has not adapted to the sustainable management of oceans: fish consumption per inhabitant has increased four times over since 1950. As a consequence, 80% of marine resources are exploited at full capacity or are overexploited: predatory fish species, like sharks, have declined by 90% over the past 50 years and “the end of fish” is scheduled for 2048 if fishing pressure remains unchanged (2025 for deep-sea fish). According to an upcoming research study by Daniel Pauly, comparing the number of catches actually reported and the real number of catches, the situation would be even worse with under-estimated fishing stocks.
Negative impacts of current fishing practices are difficult to prove because of the lack of independent studies. Current research is biased by the financial and political interests of their sponsors, with research grants coming from the fishing industry. The lack of reliable information prevents relevant corporate strategy design and policy making. For example, contradictory research sources give different lists of endangered species to protect. Policy-makers also suffer from the slow pace of negotiation and reform implementation at the EU level, while also feeling strong lobbying pressures from multiple stakeholders. As a result, fishing quotas and legal constraints are too indulgent to effectively protect marine ecosystems. The financing system is also imbalanced; 85% of subsidies ($34 to $50 billion a year) go to industrial fishing (versus traditional fishing), whereas they only account for 50% of the sector’s catch dedicated to human consumption and only represent 4% of the sector’s employment. This imbalance can be explained by the power of a strong industrial fishing lobby led by economic heavyweights and by the huge financial interests at stake
In this context, most NGOs working towards marine conservation miss opportunities to trigger real change. On the one hand, activist organizations like Greenpeace denounce dangerous practices but do not work with stakeholders in the field to build sustainable alternatives; on the other hand, NGOs like WWF work with companies but do not rely on independent research and accept money from their partner corporations, which leads to dramatic conflicts of interest. The impact of NGOs is limited as they focus on the top tier of the ocean and on a few species, instead of building actions for marine ecosystems as a whole. Until now, no one has developed an entire value chain approach, combining reliable research, effective denunciation and selfless collaboration with industry players and political institutions, which is quite possibly the only effective way to bridge activism, implement the necessary reforms and bring about a systemic change.
From a citizen perspective, there is no pressure coming from the civil society. Most consumers have no understanding of the silent destruction that is currently threatening all marine ecosystems. While they are informed of the fate of some endangered species living on firm ground, they ignore the very existence of deep sea species. Moreover, without an affective bond to these species, humans often feel less concerned about their destiny. As a result, they think of fish as a sustainable, healthy alternative to meat without realizing that the volumes of species they consume have a direct, negative environmental impact.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Claire is pioneering a multi-faceted environmental advocacy effort, backed by a body of independent research in the marine protection field to increase legitimacy, aiming at changing practices along the fishing value chain, from consumers and distributors to governments and regulatory institutions. Through the mobilization of an international group of independent researchers and experts that work on pro-bono projects, she is able to provide new insights across a spectrum of areas, including the state of marine ecosystems and impact on marine life, consumption patterns (the transparency of certifications and labels, usage of fish byproducts across industries), subsidy systems that finance the fishing industry, and alternatives to fish-based products. On that basis, she builds multi-targetted strategies to a) raise awareness among consumers and change their consumption patterns, b) denounce deceptive labeling and certification strategies of distributors c) help distributors change their practices and rethink their supply chain and d) lobby towards a change in industry norms (such as creating a more balanced subsidies system for the fishing industry).
While most activist NGOs and social entrepreneurs work to change the practices of fishermen communities in the long-term, Claire understands the urgency to do something to preserve threatened marine ecosystems that are disappearing at a dramatic rate. She targets key areas, mostly forgotten by other environmental organizations, where change is doable and success is rapidly achievable. Therefore, for instance, stopping wide-net fishing and the 285 mega boats that use these nets and are responsible for 85% of deep-water catches is one of her major battles. She is also focused on increasing advocacy and knowleldge-sharing around the fact that species of sharks could disappear over the next 20 years due to their overconsumtion for banquets in Asia or their use in the cosmetic industry.
In order to foster an enabling environment for new, viable fishing industry norms, Claire goes beyond building expertise and lobbying efforts. She sparks a twofold movement with NGOs and consumers: first she rallies them to be vocal about the responsibility of political and business decision-makers to address the impact of current industrial fishing industry practices on marine ecosystems, and second she then provides these decision-makers with data and proposals for more sustainable regulations.