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Fisheries

June - September 2017

Summary

A Fisheries Bill has been announced, although its scope is unclear so far. The bill should include clear principles and strategies for delivering sustainable fisheries management, within the framework of a wider marine policy that aims for healthy and biodiverse seas. Michael Gove’s appointment as environment secretary has helped to raise the profile of fisheries. It is positive that he has made clear that UK fisheries must be sustainably managed outside the EU. 

The government withdrew from the London Convention in July, which means that, after the two year withdrawal period, foreign vessels will not be able to fish in the area six to 12 nautical miles out to sea. This indicates the UK government’s intention to restrict access to UK waters, or at least to establish fisheries as a subject for negotiation during the exit process. Any change in access must be accompanied by clear mechanisms for co-ordination with neighbouring countries to ensure sustainable management of shared resources.

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Principles & strategies
The government intends that the EU Withdrawal Bill will “ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect”. However, as currently drafted, the bill fails to carry across the general principles in the EU treaties that underpin fisheries and marine policy, such as the goals of sustainable development and a high level of environmental protection, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. The bill also fails to carry across the directives that set the policy frameworks, and the strategies that set out trajectories for achieving policy goals.

The announcement of a Fisheries Bill could provide the opportunity to include clear principles and strategies for delivering sustainable fisheries management, within a framework of wider marine policy that aims for healthy and biodiverse seas. However, the scope of the bill is unclear, with some indications that it may only contain access rights and quota allocation processes. 
Legislation
The government intends that the EU Withdrawal Bill will “ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in domestic law”. This broad commitment is reassuring, yet it is stated elsewhere that the bill will only convert EU law into domestic law “wherever practical and sensible”, and it is not yet clear whether this could create gaps in fisheries policy. The bill also contains extensive powers for ministers to alter that law during the two years following the UK’s exit. We remain concerned about the level of scrutiny given to statutory instruments used in the conversion process, particularly given the short timeframe.

The Fisheries Bill could establish the UK as a world leader in sustainable fisheries management, within a framework of wider marine policy that aims for healthy and biodiverse seas. However, the scope of the bill is so far unclear, with some indications that it may only contain access rights and quota allocation processes.
Capacity & funding
Defra is due to see a 15 per cent reduction in its resource spending between 2015 and 2020, although more civil servants are being drafted into the department. The EU environment, agriculture and fisheries acquis are extensive, and it is unclear whether Defra will be able to cope with any additional workload associated with, first, the transposition of that body of EU law into domestic law, and then the monitoring of existing policy and creation of new policy. Most of this effort has happened at EU level thus far.
Governance
The EU Withdrawal Bill envisages that existing EU case law will remain applicable by domestic courts. However, the role currently played by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) together with other EU institutions in providing the monitoring, oversight, accountability and enforcement functions required to ensure the effective implementation of sustainable fisheries legislation will no longer exist.  Although the government has proposed several options to replace the ECJ’s role in resolving cross-border disputes, its eventual position will depend to some extent on what sort of future relationship is negotiated with the EU. And the options paper does not set out an adequate plan for filling the domestic governance gap.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has declared his ambition for the UK to “design potentially more effective, more rigorous and more responsive institutions, new means of holding individuals and organisations to account for environmental outcomes.” His department must set out soon how it plans to do so.
Co-operation
The government withdrew from the London Convention in July, which means that, after the two year withdrawal period, foreign vessels will not be able to fish in the area six to 12 nautical miles out to sea. There is some debate as to whether the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) had already superseded this legislation, but, either way, it gives an indication of the UK government’s intention to restrict access to UK waters, or at least to establish fisheries as a subject for negotiation during the exit process. Any change in access must be accompanied by clear mechanisms for co-ordination with neighbouring countries to ensure sustainable management of shared resources.

There is continued uncertainty surrounding any co-operation or co-ordination between Westminster and the devolved administrations. New fisheries legislation needs to be agreed jointly by the four administrations to deliver coherent and co-ordinated management across the UK. With regard to regional engagement (eg on the North Sea) and commitments to current legislation, there is evidence of the UK government giving up on current CFP commitments, particularly the discard ban, in anticipation of new arrangements coming into force. However, the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence stated that the UK and EU share a commitment to high environmental standards, and outlined her preference for a new economic relationship that is underpinned by those standards.