Marine Biodiversity of areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) refers to the marine life found in the high seas, and is known to be a murky and complex topic. The so-called high seas encompass all areas that lie beyond national waters – specifically, they are outside of the exclusive economic zone of any country, and equate to almost ½ of the Earth’s surface.
The high seas are largely unexplored, vastly deep, and teeming with marine life. At the same time, they are under increasing threat from overfishing, mining, climate change, and pollution. Only around 1% are currently protected and – due to the lack of clear rules and effective enforcement that follows as well as persisting governance gaps – the high seas are notoriously difficult to manage and often subject to contention.
Fortunately, nations across the world are working on creating an international legally-binding treaty to manage shared marine biodiversity in the high seas. The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) will take place in early March 2022, after being postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This conference aims to agree an international legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Involving all stakeholders
Until now, seafood supply chain companies have rarely offered positions on this issue. But in advance of this critical meeting, a coalition of retailers and suppliers, though usually market competitors, have joined forces to publish a joint position.
The voice of the supply chain tends to focus on seafood matters rather than biodiversity, however all seafood is part of a wider ecosystem. The health of this ecosystem is integral to the sustainability of seafood for present and future generations.
Under this joint position, which includes every single UK supermarket along with nearly 50 other supply chain companies, signatories recognise commercial fisheries as the largest direct driver of biodiversity decline in the high seas and call for the increased protection of these areas. They ask for governments to conclude a robust global treaty as soon as possible, including provision of marine protected areas. This is the first ever public effort by members of the seafood sector to contribute to the BBNJ process in the over 15 years of negotiations.