Oceans on the rebound? These 5 developments give us hope.

Amanda Leland

The fortunes of people everywhere are inextricably linked to our five oceans, and nowhere is this more evident than in the world’s poorest, most vulnerable communities that rely on oceans to meet their most basic everyday needs.

By rebuilding fisheries in these areas, we can secure nutrition and better economic conditions for people worldwide. And today – even as overfishing remains one of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges – we’re seeing incredible progress toward sustainable fishing with several tangible successes just this past year.

Here are five recent developments that bring hope for the world’s oceans and the billions of people who depend on them.

1) Belize shows the way on ocean sustainability

Belize has emerged as a leader on ocean sustainability, most recently after announcing bold new commitments at the United Nations Oceans Conference in June. The government of Belize has made voluntary commitments to turn the Caribbean nation’s fisheries into an engine for sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

Belize has already taken major steps to protect its magnificent barrier reef, supporting its biodiversity and the fishermen who work there. In doing so, it has established itself as a global leader in sustainable small-scale fishing.

The new commitments will secure those gains and strengthen the foundation for good governance of fisheries so that they continue to provide jobs, food, and income for fishing communities.

2) U.S. Pacific groundfish fishery recovering ahead of schedule

Also in 2017, two more chronically overfished rockfish species from the U.S. Pacific groundfish fishery along the West Coast have been declared “rebuilt” well ahead of schedule.

The fishery, which includes species of sole, flounder and rockfish; was declared a federal disaster in 2000. Now, nearly two dozen important species are certified as sustainable to eat, and just this year, Bocaccio and Darkblotched rockfish were declared rebuilt.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributes the recovery to a combination of habitat protection and a secure fishing rights program implemented in 2011. Result: Commercial and recreational fishermen – who have worked for years to avoid catching the previously depleted species to rebuild populations – will soon be allowed to safely catch a lot more.

This success is just the latest of many for the West Coast groundfish fishery, and will be welcomed by consumers who will now have access to these delicious and sustainable fish – as well as by the fishermen who catch them.

3) The Philippines takes major step to reform fisheries

The Philippines announced in October it has partnered with Environmental Defense Fund to implement sustainable and science-based fishing reforms.

More than 70 percent of fish stocks in the Philippines for which there is data are considered overfished. Science-based fishing reforms, however, can put the Philippines on the road to improved food security for the millions of Filipinos who depend on fish as a source of protein and income.

This monumental step forward for the Philippines can set an example for how to build policies that can improve food security and provide economic prosperity, while at the same time recover fish populations.

4) Fishery managers from 52 nations join online learning center

New online training from our Fishery Solutions Center will help practitioners around the world manage their fisheries sustainably. The Virtual Fisheries Academy is a brand new, free online learning center helping fishery managers, fishermen and others with a stake in fishing build on their existing knowledge to develop solutions tailored to their own fisheries.

Since the academy launched in September, more than 250 practitioners from 52 countries have signed up to take the courses. We are excited to soon see how these stakeholders apply what they learn to enable sustainable fishing around the globe.

5) Study shows adaptive fisheries can thrive amid climate change

Climate change will cause undeniable shifts and changes to global fisheries, threatening the people who depend on them most.

And yet, preliminary research from EDF and the University of California Santa Barbara shows that with practical solutions, we may actually be able to increase the number of fish in the sea and amount of fish on our plates, while boosting prosperity around the world – even in the face of rising temperatures.

Getting responsible management in place now is therefore critical. It will make or break future fisheries faced with climate change.

As 2017 draws to a close, we’re confident and hopeful that countries will come together and find solutions that work for fishing communities all over the world.