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On sustainable fisheries and trumping

Article by Sigrúnu Perla Gísladóttir, UU's representitive in the public consultation committee for the Minister of Food's project Our Resource (Icelandic: Auðlindin okkar). A similar article by Perla on this topic is available in Icelandic here.


A 467 page report just landed on my desk. Titled Auðlindin okkar, Sjálfbær sjávarútvegur “Our Resource, Sustainable Fisheries”, a promising title, it lures me in with optimism. It is a product of great work undertaken by The Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, in which I’ve had the pleasure of part-taking in the advisory board. The report outlines the three pillars of Sustainable Development, namely economy, environment and society (here in alphabetical order), and suggests that these three must be equal to become “A Sustainable Fishing Industry”. Furthermore one of the main objectives is to establish general satisfaction around the topic, which has remained a flammable one.

For at least a hundred years, we’ve played a game with a deck of fifty-two economy cards. Most of our decisions have been taken based on economic arguments. It has benefited us greatly and the party been good, but the bill has repeatedly been thrown out the window. It is time that one kind of card in the game gets to trump the others, at the same time as we must recognize that this is no game and that our actions have consequences.

Current ideas claim we will make the pillars equal, and then-we are sustainable. However we forget to take into account our disproportionate abilities to construct the different pillars, that are naturally built on our experiences. We’ve been building on the economic pillar taller and taller, to witness our world now about to collapse - no house can stand on one pillar alone.

In Auðlindin okkar an effort is made to put the environment at the forefront. Measuring the height of the pillars with the amount of actual proposals, we have 16 proposals in Step 1: The Environment in Forefront, 16 proposals in Step 2: Maximizing profit and 28 proposals in Step 3: Equitable sharing of benefits. In other words the environment and economy are equal and society ranks highest; maybe fair enough considering the objective of establishing a general satisfaction. If we look at it in the corresponding amount of pages, we have 32 pg with environmental proposals, 23 pg with social proposals and 46 pg with economic proposals. Furthermore the second two have multiple additional chapters and appendices that the environmental pillar does not. Those end up rounding 107 and 170 pages whereas the environment remains 35 pages among the 467. And that's no foundation to build your house on.

So are we really putting the environment at the center or are we just adding it as a facade?

Let's make it very simple. The environmental is now a trump card. All of our decisions will be taken based on what is best for the environment. Whenever we are confronted with a decision to be made, we must choose the option that's best for the environment. And when we do not know what is best for the environment, we have to figure that out, and learn to apply it. The knowledge is out there, we - all of us - must take brave decisions. The environment is the pillar we must unite to construct.

Imagining this as the case for Auðlindin okkar, I think there is a chance for real satisfaction. None of us want more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, none of us want the sea to overflood our children’s homes, we definitely don’t want the Gulf-stream to stop coming and I’m pretty sure we’re not that keen on ocean acidification - the shells that can’t form are after all the base of the food chain we exploit.

We are in a huge debt to the Earth we live on and the bill is long overdue. We must start paying back and I hope that the ambitious work in Auðlindin okkar will contribute to that. The best news is that we are in the middle of rewriting a fisheries management law at the very same time we are about to ratify a goal of at least 30% protection of sea and land by 2030, (and another one that allows for protection of the High Seas). Rewriting that law is no easy task and neither is the one of establishing general satisfaction. But both tasks will become easier if we’re brave enough to let the environment trump in every decision we make, and we can build our houses, for peoples and corals, on solid foundations.


Article by Sigrún Perla Gísladóttir (she/they). She is a captain and sustainability architect. She is a member in the advisory board of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries to Auðlindin okkar, on behalf of The Icelandic Youth Environmentalists (Ungir umhverfissinnar).


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