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Sustainable seafood in classrooms across Europe

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Try out these resources and take young people into the wild to learn about the science behind ocean sustainability.

Sustainability – and particularly ocean sustainability – is a hot topic in 2018. In the UK most of us spent the darkest days of December huddled in front of our TVs watching the awe-inspiring stories of Blue Planet II, a new BBC documentary series showing us our deep oceans and the incredible creatures in them, in a whole new light. Many of us have seen videos on social media showing country-sized plastic drifts in our seas. We are becoming much more aware of the intricate balance of the ocean ecosystem, and of the power of people to both damage and protect our planet. In the UK the whole country seems to have taken away one thing from the TV series, and that’s the huge impact that we can have on the health of our oceans.

Asking my nine-year-old what their school topic was this term, there was only one possible answer; “Blue Planet, mum”. From classrooms to supermarkets to government departments, everyone is focusing on our oceans: plastics, pollution and the urgent need for ocean sustainability. Blue Planet II arguably created a ‘teachable moment’ across our society – an opportunity to raise interest, insight and create positive behaviour change for individuals, corporations and government, that will have an impact on our oceans for generations to come.

Talking to teaching professionals and educators I often come away with the sense that sustainability is a concept young people can struggle with. At best it’s a slightly un-intuitive word that demands some unpicking – or it can feel like a buzz word, associated simply with specific activities such as recycling, or a word they hear a lot about, but never get to delve into or really understand.

In my personal and professional life, I’ve often struggled with it myself, and get disheartened when it appears that sustainability is all about “don’t” – don’t fly, don’t eat meat, don’t use plastic bags. And of course many of us do all these things and constantly feel like we’re not able to live the ideals of a sustainable world. Teaching the concept of sustainability in a way that encourages young people to see a positive future, where they can make a real impact – rather than peddling doom and gloom – can be a challenge.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered that seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council uses a scientific calculation called Maximum Sustainable Yield to work out how much fish we can take from any fishery around the world, while making sure that there will be enough left so that they can reproduce. For me, this was finally, a sustainable “do”! Do eat sustainably sourced fish! It was this concept I wanted to take to young people in my work developing their education programme.

The Marine Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organisation with a vision of the world’s oceans teeming with life, and seafood supplies safeguarded for this and future generations. Using its blue fish ecolabel and fishery certification program, it recognises and rewards sustainable fishing practices, and works to influence consumers buying seafood, and transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) works across over 20 countries to support the fishing industry to use sustainable fishing methods and encourage consumers to choose sustainably caught wild seafood through their blue fish eco-label. When consumers spot the label on their fish in the supermarket, they know that the fishery it’s been caught in is measured, that bycatch such as turtles or dolphins is minimised or eliminated, and crucially, they know that fishing can continue indefinitely.

A blog from 2016 the MSC explains Maximum Sustainable Yield:

“When a ‘virgin’, or previously unfished population is first harvested, its biomass will initially decline as a result of fishing. But there is a point where a roughly constant harvest can be maintained indefinitely without causing decline in the population, and where the productivity of the population is at its maximum. The dynamic equilibrium between fishing and replenishment is what we consider a sustainable fishing level.”

The MSC’s film “ My dad the fisherman ” aims to explain the need for ocean sustainability and break down some of the concepts behind it, in a way that supports the curriculum and engages young people in high schools and secondary schools across Europe. It looks at what sustainability really means, focuses on food webs, and on how improving the scientific knowledge base about our oceans can help the industry adopt sustainable fishing methods. Using mixed media to bring abstract concepts to life, it’s told through the story of a teenage girl whose dad is a herring fisherman.

The film, and all the resources that go with it, have been built using the curricula in several European countries as a framework, but why might teachers want to focus on oceans and ocean sustainability in class?

For a start, capitalising on the inspirational content they’ve watched elsewhere could help young people explore food chains and webs, as well as biodiversity and interdependencies in ecosystems. Film can be a great stimulus tool to open up discussion and build critical thinking skills. By focusing in on sustainable oceans and fishing, and our reliance on the ocean, they can also examine positive and negative human interactions with ecosystems, through topical science that’s got everyone talking.

Perhaps most crucially for the future of our oceans, they can examine the role we all have in making sure our oceans are sustainable.  What do young people think the contribution of organisations like MSC could be in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 14, ‘Life below water’?

By Kate Jones from Think Global and MSC

Catherine Richardson 0
Catherine is a Programme Manager at Think Global, Consumer Classroom's UK National Team Partner. She previously worked as a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages through the Teach First programme and volunteered for a summer in Tanzania to deliver Limited Resource Teacher Training to local teachers. Catherine then worked for a year with PEAS Uganda as an Education Specialist for the eastern region cluster of schools. Just prior to joining Think Global, Catherine worked as Programme and Training Manager with Team Up and graduated from the University of Birmingham with a BA in International Studies with French.
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