Government’s post-Brexit fisheries proposals are vague on how they will achieve world leading sustainable fisheries say conservationists

A fishing fleet docked in Shoreham Port, Sussex, just after dawn.

Lack of detail on sustainability objectives for new Fisheries Bill is of real concern, says MCS

UK marine charity the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says the Government, while showing some ambition, has been far too vague on exactly how it intends to achieve world leading sustainable fisheries in its Sustainable Fisheries For Future Generations document, published on 4 July.

The long-awaited Government White Paper outlining post-Brexit plans for fisheries management in its waters has been published and a consultation on the paper launched.

However, reference to the most important feature of future management of our fisheries, a brand new Fisheries Bill, lacks commitments to key principles and objectives that are essential for sustainability.

MCS says the resulting Fisheries Bill seems like it will be far too narrow in scope, missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our future fisheries truly world-leading and sustainable.

Sam Stone, MCS Head of Fisheries & Aquaculture, says that the new Fisheries Bill will form the foundation of how our fisheries are managed for a very long time and we need to get this right. “It cannot be a stop gap where we worry about the detail later”.

“The Bill will have provision to change retained EU law which is necessary, but if it has these powers then it also needs to enshrine broad top level objectives and principles of sustainability. This will pave the way for future amendments and policy changes to be in line with world-leading best practice.”

“This is the best way to ensure that the UK Government’s ambition ‘for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’ is fully met and not diluted in any future legislative developments, whilst affording managers with the flexibility and freedom to make the changes they need to manage fisheries more effectively.”

MCS says that although there is good re-commitment in the consultation document to improving the sustainability of our fisheries, there is a lack of clarity on how this will be achieved on important issues such as reducing bycatch of vulnerable species and achieving an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. The Ecosystem Based Approach is widely recognised as critical for making sure our exploitation of fish stocks is sustainable not just for the stocks, but also for the other species and habitats that are affected by fishing and other industries, along with issues like coastal development, pollution and climate change.

The charity agrees that UK wide frameworks will be needed to ensure ecosystem-based fisheries management is applied. Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont must therefore work closely together to ensure that new fisheries legislation, from whichever legislature it arises, is jointly developed and mutually agreed to deliver sustainable fisheries management for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and therefore all UK waters.

“Fisheries management is fully devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and our fisheries resources are shared across borders, so we need to make sure that any new policies, approaches and processes work for all four UK nations.” says Debbie Crockard, MCS Senior Fisheries Policy Advocate.

Working with a coalition of leading organisations (including Greener UK -the Brexit-tracking group of environmental organisations keeping an eye on ensuring protections are not weakened or lost), MCS wants all the UK administrations to ensure that the following five principles are at the core of new primary fisheries legislation:

HOLISTIC – Ecosystem based approach: managing fish as a public resource and an integral part of healthy ocean ecosystems, and taking account of the cumulative impact of human activities on the environment.

SUSTAINABLE – All fish stocks restored and maintained above biomass levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield.

SCIENCE-LED – Fisheries management decisions based on the best available science.

ACCOUNTABLE – Fully transparent and accountable fisheries where catches, both target and non-target, are fully documented, infringements are properly enforced and fisheries are effectively controlled.

FAIR – Fishing opportunities are allocated on the basis of transparent and objective environmental, social and economic criteria, in a way that incentivises the most sustainable fishing.