The opaque outline of a fishing boat in the distance, with silvery sea

Focus on fishing rights must be matched by detail on sustainability

Greener UK has responded to a government announcement on its new Fisheries Bill, which is expected to be published in full tomorrow (Thursday 30 January). The bill will define the UK's approach to fisheries management after the UK leaves the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Much of the focus on fishing relates to access and shares of quota, highly political issues that are likely to play a significant role in negotiations between the UK and EU on the future relationship.

However, the nature of the debate often overshadows concerns for the sustainability of fish stocks. Amidst a growing awareness of the environmental crisis, more than 40% of all UK fish stocks were overfished in 2019 – up from 31% in 2018. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) suspended the sustainability certification for iconic North Sea cod last October, after scientists called for its catch to be reduced by two thirds due to plummeting stocks.

The Conservatives party acknowledged the need to improve the health of fisheries in their election manifesto, pledging to establish legal commitments to fishing sustainably and a legal requirement for ‘a plan’ to achieve maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for each stock. 

In its latest announcement, the government states that the bill will make sure fishing is done at sustainable levels, with a greater focus on examining the relationship between fisheries and climate change.

Reacting to the government's fisheries bill announcement, Patrick Killoran of Greener UK said:

The additional focus on climate change and sustainability is very helpful, as it recognises that vibrant fisheries create a healthier wider environment. However, this will only work if the government closes loopholes in the last bill that allowed ministers to exceed fishing limits.

The focus we can expect on rights and access over the next few months must be matched by more detail on how the government will actually ensure sustainable fishing.

This includes more clarity over whether stock will be allocated to smaller, more sustainable boats, and whether the government will introduce cameras on vessels so we can fully document what is coming out of the sea.

We will conduct more detailed analysis when the bill is published in full, particularly to examine the strength of legal commitments.

Patrick's comments have been covered by BBC NewsThe Guardian and The Ecologist, via the Press Association.