Table of Contents

See also the “Aquaculture” and “Aquaponics” chapters.


1. Overview

Our oceans cover nearly three-quarters of the earth’s surface, and produce more than half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Some 97% of our water is here. It is a major influence on weather systems and a source of energy (the EU is looking at wave and tidal power to provide a tenth of the bloc’s power by 2050). It is also the home of a vast array of marine life – from whales to phytoplankton.

Over 12 000 species are known to occur in South African waters, “with almost a third of these species found nowhere else on earth” (WWF SA, 2017). South Africa, recognizing the economic potential of the ocean, has built its Operation Phakisa around it in 2014 (see heading 5). But there is a second reason why this chapter is in the “Issues” section.

The blue in the Blue Planet is in crisis.

Our oceans have been mismanaged, or at best, not been managed at all. They have been overfished and been altered by pollution “in ways we’re still just beginning to understand” (Ecowatch, 2015; see also Carrington, 2017; Smillie, 2017). How to carry on with global economies and interaction while ensuring that there is still life in our oceans? The 14th of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiated by UN member states in 2015 is to "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development" (UN, 2015). Member states and major fishing companies have pledged to prevent illegal fishing (Harvey, 2017) amongst other things.

Measures that will turn the tide, so to speak, include:

  • The setting of quotas on the amount of fish caught
  • Adopting measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
  • Establishing networks of marine parks in which/near which activities like building and mining are prohibited.


Populations of marine species are being fished to their limits globally. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 90 percent of fish stocks are being taken from the world’s oceans at or beyond sustainable levels. In traditional fisheries management, scientists conduct stock assessments, which managers use to set quotas and other policies designed to ensure that overfishing does not occur. But too often, politics derail multilateral negotiations to set science-based limits, especially when multiple countries are collectively setting catch limits and other fishing policies for a stock. Collaboration on catch limits is often elusive even when a population’s health reaches a crisis point. That’s where harvest strategies can help. These pre-agreed upon frameworks for making fisheries management decisions can help governments plan ahead.


Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing

Halting Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing would enable African countries to unleash the full potential of their fisheries. The social and economic costs are huge. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing represents a theft of revenue comparable to tax evasion. Overfishing – legal, but careless – reduces fish stocks, lowers local catches and harms the marine environment. It destroys fishing communities, who lose opportunities to catch, process and trade fish.

Source: World Economic Forum. 2017, June 12. "We need to stop plundering of Africa's ocean fisheries". Eye Witness News. Available at 

Read about the Port State Measures, a binding international law and "one of the most efficient - and cost effective - ways to fight IUU fishing", at

Marine parks

The United Nations convention on biological diversity aims to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020 (UN, 2015). Some 6% of our oceans have been set aside for protection. Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and Tahiti have made news recently as countries taking steps to do so (Busby, 2017). The USA under Trump is headed in the opposite direction, reportedly considering shrinking its marine national monuments in the Pacific (Rose Atoll and the Pacific Remote Islands) (ibid.)