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New organization recruits Paul Martin in high seas role


by Roderick Benns 

From the time he set foot on a fishing boat in Lake Erie as a youth to take on his first job, former Prime Minister Paul Martin has always felt a special connection with the water.

When he was in university, he would later become a deckhand for the summer on a tug-barge, travelling the Northwest Territories along the Mackenzie River. Many years later, in the mid-1970s, he would become the president of Canada Steamship Lines, Canada’s largest shipping company. He would soon buy the company outright with a business partner.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that concern about the high seas would draw Mr. Martin to take on yet another international role – as one of a handful of representatives on the Global Ocean Commission, just established earlier this year.

The commissioners represent all of the world’s continents and are a mix of former political leaders, business people, and those who sit on international governance boards. Trevor Manuel, one of South Africa’s longest serving ministers of finance and co-chair of the commission, asked Mr. Martin to join the cause as a commissioner.

“We’re not talking about the 200 mile limit around each country’s shores,” Mr. Martin told Leaders and Legacies. “This is the high seas, which cover nearly 50 percent of the world’s surface – and it needs better protection.”

Mr. Martin says there is no governance structure pertaining to the high seas (which is the problem) and there are many issues they face that inevitably affects all people.

“Declining fish stocks, acidification of the ocean from pollution, loss of habitat – basically, half the Earth’s surface has no insurance of its ongoing health.”

These waters that are under international jurisdiction are so far only governed by the now three decade old United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, of which about 166 countries have signed. The US is not one of them.  Although both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush supported it, some U.S. senators believed there would be a loss of sovereignty for the US should the country sign onto the convention.

The treaty is showing its age though, and there is concern it doesn’t have enough tools in it for the full spectrum of protection the high seas need, including biodiversity protection. That’s why the Global Ocean Commission will work to come up with short, medium, and long-term suggested solutions.

According to their website, the objective of the commission is to come up with recommendations to address four key issues facing the high seas:

  • overfishing
  • large-scale loss of habitat and biodiversity
  • the lack of effective management and enforcement
  • deficiencies in high seas governance.

Mr. Martin says when an economy has a crisis there is a market meltdown and then a correction.

“But the high seas can’t correct themselves the same way.”

“I am incredibly concerned about the oceans’ health and we have to realize that has a direct link to our health, too.”

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