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World Oceans Day 2024

Blue resilience: the vital role of fisheries in large ocean states

Dr Valerie Hickey

Global Director of Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy, World Bank

In the shimmering waters that surround small island nations, fishing is not just an industry; it’s the heartbeat of blue resilience.

For islanders, the ocean’s bounty is a tapestry woven into the fabric of their daily lives, providing reliable food security and nutrition, export revenue and jobs.

Island states relying on the ocean’s resources

Although commonly known as Small Island States (SIDS), these nations might be better known as Large Ocean States — a nod to their vast ocean territories and resources. This island geography is not without its own unique challenges; these states are often at the forefront of too many of the world’s crises, including food security, climate change and pollution.

Cornerstone of island food security

Fish is a cornerstone of the island diet, often constituting the primary source of protein and essential nutrients. In some Pacific islands, fish contribute more than half of the animal protein consumed.

This reliance on marine resources is not just a matter of preference but necessity; alternative sources of nutrition are limited by the islands’ remote locations, the cost of imports and the challenges of agriculture on smaller land areas. Yet, global overfishing, coupled with climate change and marine pollution, is threatening island food security.

Reliance on marine resources is not
just a matter of preference but necessity.

Fisheries offering economic resilience

Fisheries are also at the centre of most Large Ocean States’ economic strategies. Fish and related products account for up to 70% of exports in several island nations, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. This income is not just a figure on a balance sheet; it translates into jobs, infrastructure and services — building economic resilience that IS the lifeblood of island communities.

However, fisheries as an economic engine and the food security they provide for island communities are under threat. Overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and the impacts of climate change are fraying the nets that have held these communities together for generations.

The decline in fish stocks is more than an ecological crisis; it has nutritional and economic implications, too. Globally, countries are foregoing $83 billion in revenues because of mismanaged fisheries.

Protection and conservation of island communities

Island communities are not taking these realities lying down. They are at the forefront of innovative solutions, championing sustainable fishing practices and marine conservation. The World Bank, with support from many of its shareholders through the PROBLUE trust fund, supports island nations in building blue, resilient and inclusive economies.

Examples include designing parametric insurance for Caribbean fishers, so they can avoid dealing with dangerous high winds and waves to get their catch and instead access insurance to make up for lost income. PROBLUE is also helping countries across the globe in the battle against plastic pollution, which is choking marine life and economies.

Ocean legacy and blue resilience

In the end, the ocean is more than a source of food or income; it represents a legacy — a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of island nations navigating the vast and changing seas of our blue planet — and a warning of what awaits the rest of us from the world’s triple environmental crisis if we don’t act now.

They remind us of the interconnectedness of our global community and the shared responsibility to protect the resources that sustain us all.

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