Meet Morven Robertson, Senior Projects Manager at Blue Marine Foundation

Morven Robertson - Blue Marine Foundation

How did you end up working for Blue?

Growing up overseas in Gabon, Sarawak and Singapore, I have always lived close to the sea. I would watch the local fishermen come in with their daily catch and help them gut and clean their fish. For me, it has always been the human interaction with the sea, especially fishermen that has inspired and shaped my career in marine conservation.

In 2017, I saw an advert for the role of UK Projects Manager on BLUE’s website and was looking to move back into project-based marine conservation and fisheries management after spending a year working for a global seafood sustainability accreditation scheme. I applied and got through two rounds of interviews and accepted the offer.

What does your job entail?

Every day for me is different, which I love. I travel a lot; so one day I could be hanging from an oyster pontoon, covered in mud, measuring oysters; the next, meeting fishermen in a pub to discuss ideas to improve the management of their fishery or in the office developing policy with the UK team. Being able to be involved in discussions on the ground with people who are experiencing the impacts of loss of habitat or declining fish stocks allows me to provide workable solutions to policy makers. 

Why this project in North Devon? What is going wrong here?

North Devon is home to extraordinary biodiversity and was designated a UNESCO Biosphere in 2002. Sandy gravels provide essential spawning grounds for sharks and rays and are interspersed with rocky reef nurseries for shellfish including rare spiny lobsters. The Biosphere covers 1,600km2 and has a number of internationally important marine protected areas. At its heart lies Lundy Island, Britain’s first marine protected area (1986) and one of just a handful of no-take zones (areas where no fishing can occur).

In addition to its ecological importance the Biosphere contains important fishing grounds for local fishing communities. For centuries, fishermen have worked with the strong, unpredictable tides to fish a diverse and abundant catch. In the 19th century, over 100 boats were based out of Clovelly alone in pursuit of their ‘silver darlings’ (herring). Today fishermen target ray, lobster, crab, whelk and flatfish but have reported declining catches and fear for the future of the local fishery.

Despite this, many habitats including spawning grounds for commercial species are not adequately protected and the local fishing fleet faces increasing pressure from declining stocks and issues such as lack of access to quota.

Can you tell us more about the people you’ve met who will be directly affected by this project?

BLUE is working with local fishermen, regulators, scientists, NGOs and government to deliver protection for North Devon’s biodiversity and the communities that depend on it. In particular, BLUE is working with local small-scale fishermen from the ports that surround the Biosphere. Small-scale fishing can be better for the marine environment, provide more jobs per vessel and are fundamentally linked with coastal communities and culture. These fleets tend to respect seasonality and fish with less impact, reducing the enormous pressure facing fish stocks.

We are working with the local fishermen to use their knowledge to map North Devon’s marine habitats and identify the threats they face from pressures such as fishing, aggregate dredging, nuclear power and climate change. This will enable us to understand how fish and other marine life use these habitats for critical life stages such as spawning and nursery grounds and protect them. This will lead to healthier and more abundant fish stocks helping to safeguard this historic fishing fleet for generations to come.

How will any funds raised from this event be utilised specifically and when will they be deployed?

Funds from this event will help us work with fishermen and other stakeholders to increase protection for key species using research such as mapping of spawning grounds. This will support recommendations to policy makers to close critical habitats to damaging activities. Alongside this we will improve monitoring and reporting across the Biosphere to demonstrate sustainability of the small-scale fleet. In return, we will support fishermen to secure rewards for fishing sustainably through improved markets and infrastructure. The first of these projects is focused on herring, a fishery still targeted using traditional picaroons (small rowing boat) during the winter in North Devon. Over the winter 2019/20 BLUE staff and fishermen will map their spawning grounds to inform management measures.

Why should people pay more attention to supporting the ocean above other charities?

Healthy oceans are vital for the future of humanity, not only to provide a future food supply for a growing population, but because complex ocean ecosystems absorb half the planet’s CO2 and produce nearly half its oxygen. Oceans denuded of fish cannot function effectively and are less resilient to climate change, acidification and plastic pollution. Sadly, it is estimated over 90% of the world’s fish stocks have gone. 

The Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) exists to combat over-fishing and the destruction of biodiversity – arguably the largest problem facing the world’s oceans – by delivering practical conservation solutions, including the creation of large-scale marine reserves. BLUE’s aim is to put 30% of the world’s oceans under protection by 2030. We also work to establish sustainable fisheries, allowing fish stocks to recover over time.

Unlike most other environmental problems, overfishing is relatively easy to solve. BLUE’s projects around the world are designed to be decisive and effective. So far, BLUE has contributed to nearly four million square kilometres of ocean being protected, including a no-take zone nearly the size of the UK around Ascension Island. Most recently, BLUE’s win-win model of sustainable fishing and conservation developed in Lyme Bay has been applied to several new sites across the UK and the Mediterranean where it will continue to benefit local fishermen and coastal communities as well as the regions’ important marine habitats.


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