Clean policies underpin maritime future

THE celebration tomorrow of World Oceans Day underlines the major role they play as the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe.

Clean policies underpin maritime future

Name: Dr Susan Steele.

Occupation: Chair, Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority.

Background: The independent statutory body responsible for the regulation of Ireland’s sea-fisheries and the sea-food production sectors.

Its role includes protecting and conserving fisheries resources and ensuring seafood safety.

World Oceans Day

THE celebration tomorrow of World Oceans Day underlines the major role they play as the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe.

The purpose of the day is to recognise the impact of human actions on the oceans and to unite for their sustainable management as a major source of food, medicines and a critical part of the biosphere.

“World Oceans Day is a global celebration of the sea, which plays such a vital role in all our lives and wellbeing,” Dr Susan Steele explains. “As an island nation, the sea has an added economic significance in our island country with many towns and communities around our coast depending on it for a living.”

Due to various initiatives, including World Oceans Day, awareness is increasing of the growing and pressing need to protect and safeguard our marine resources for the future.

This year’s theme — Together we can protect and restore our ocean — is about the power and importance of collaboration, and a timely reminder that we cannot leave it to others to take the necessary action. The responsibility lies with each and every one of us to work together to play our part and that includes the regulators, fishing industry, manufacturers, and the public, amongst many more.

Our Ocean Wealth Summit, the flagship event for the marine sector, takes place at Cork City Hall on June 9th and 10th — bringing together Irish and international organisations working to create innovative, sustainable solutions that drive ‘the blue economy’.

The theme for the summit is ‘Shared Voices from Small Island Nations,’ and will hear from environmental activist and former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, plus a host of island nation leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs to network and shape discussions about the maritime economy, and its related opportunities and challenges.

“I am looking forward to participating in the discussion on the creation of the right environment for ocean enterprise. With the world eating more fish than ever before, and a forecast that consumption will increase to 30 kilos per person by 2030, opportunities abound for the development of the Irish seafood industry.”

She adds that good regulation is pivotal to the achievement of the collective ambitions for the industry, and ensures that the shared marine resources are sustainable for future generations.

“It also ensures that consumers at home and abroad can consume Ireland’s seafood safely. Consumer trust in the quality, provenance and safety of our seafood produce is vital to the successful realisation of the collective growth plans for the sector over the coming years.”

Dr Steele works with the senior management team in promoting excellence in the SFPA through a combination of leadership and strategic direction toward the continued protection of marine resources. Originally from Castletownbere, with a PhD in Zoology from UCC and a BSc in Marine Biology from the University of Wales, she has worked in both academic and private and public sector appointments.

Prior to joining the SFPA in March 2013, she was involved in developing BIM’s Seafood Development Centre as Head of Innovation.

She is also a member of the Institute of Directors, sits on the board at the Health Research Board, and is a member of the Strategic Advisory Board at UCC.

“As the regulator for Ireland’s sea-fisheries and the seafood production sectors, our mandate includes all fishing vessels operating within Ireland’s 200-mile limit, over 2,000 Irish registered fishing vessels, and over 235 SFPA approved sea-food processing establishments.”

The implantation of the landing obligation, under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, continues to be a key focus, ensuring a sustainable industry, with fish stocks capable of providing higher and more profitable catches in the medium- to long-term.

“The regulations require fishers to land what they catch, to reduce and eliminate unwanted discarding of fish at sea — which is a major change in fishing practice.”

Brexit is a significant concern for the fishing industry, as it is for many others, she says.

“There are still so many unknowns and it is not possible at this stage to gauge the impact that it will have on sea-fisheries or the size of the regulatory burden that will result. Our main aim is to keep trade flowing. We’ve been working on a number of contingency plans in coordination with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and this work continues to be given top priority within our day to day work.”

A measure of Ireland’s maritime potential is underlined in its position as having sovereign or exclusive rights over one of the greatest sea to land ratios of any EU member state.

“I grew up in the beautiful and rugged Beara Peninsula by the sea. I decided at three that I wanted to work with the sea and I have been driven by that wish ever since,” says Dr Steele. “To me, the seas around Ireland are so valuable and while sometimes we don’t fully appreciate what treasures are there, I do believe that is changing.

“I would encourage everyone who is attending Seafest this weekend to visit our stand where we offer a wide range of exhibits, with films and workshops for children and adults that celebrate the sea and hopefully help nurture a deeper appreciation of everything that it offers us.”

The SFPA act as guardians to ensure marine resources are protected and fairly shared — a vision summarised as ‘coasts full of jobs and seas full of fish’.

“This harmony is possible if we realise the value of what is in the sea, broaden the focus to a wider range of species and seaweeds and develop really exciting products from seafood. Seafood has been identified as one of the main drivers of export growth for the agri-food sector within Food Wise 2025, against a backdrop of rising global demand for quality product and a supply deficit.”

Good regulation is pivotal to the achievement of these ambitions and, as the regulator, the SFPA plays a key role ensuring the shared marine resources are sustainable for future generations.

“Good regulation also ensures that consumers at home and abroad can consume Ireland’s seafood safely. Consumer trust in the quality, provenance and safety of our seafood produce is vital to the successful realisation of the collective growth plans for the sector over the coming years.”

Despite the significant environmental and climatic issues confronting the world, Dr Steele remains optimistic for a sustainable future.

Our remit in the SFPA lies in the protection and conservation of fisheries resources, ensuring that the marine fish and shellfish resources around Ireland are exploited sustainably and consumed safely for the benefit of all. We have zero tolerance for illegal fishing and we can see from the low levels of non-compliance that the majority of fishermen, producers and processors want to work within the law.

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