Oceana claims that hopes for sustainable fishing floundered when the UK Fisheries Bill passed through the House of Lords yesterday
Oceana, a non-governmental organisation focused solely on global ocean conservation, has hit out at what they call the ‘shocking absence’ of a duty to fish sustainably risks breaching international agreements.
The Fisheries Bill concluded in Parliament yesterday, Thursday 12 November and the NGO says that hopes have floundered for the UK to lead the way in sustainable fishing.
They claim the Fisheries Bill includes scant legal commitment to fish sustainably, despite having been much lauded by Ministers as the UK’s chance to showcase “gold standard” fisheries management as an independent coastal state following Brexit. The world’s largest ocean conservation organisation, Oceana, condemns Ministers bowing to pressure from the fishing industry to allow overfishing to continue, rather than provide legal duties to end overfishing.
Melissa Moore, Head of UK Policy, Oceana said: “Given the swagger around fisheries and Brexit, we had hoped that the Government might develop a Fisheries Bill that could showcase a gold standard globally in sustainable fisheries as they’d promised. Instead it’s more of a wet fish – a bare framework bill, with references to sustainability, but no clear duties, and in fact a shocking absence of them. Without these legal duties to fish sustainably the UK could continue to overfish for years to come, overrunning the UN 2020 deadline and breaching international commitments.
“Overfishing isn’t just bad news for our marine life. It threatens the future of our fishing industry and the important part played in our diets by British favourites like cod, herring, mackerel and sole. Ending overfishing is critical to the future of the UK fishing industry and the supply of fish and seafood for public consumption.”
Oceana is concerned that in refusing to include a legal duty to fish below Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) for all stocks in the UK Fisheries Bill, Government will permit continued overfishing which could breach international law notably the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and agreements such as the UN Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement1 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These international instruments clearly require MSY as the minimum standard for fisheries management.
The lack of a legal duty to fish below MSY could also cause problems for the UK in reaching trade agreements, as some states now require a commitment to end overfishing and to fish below MSY, as seen in the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA). In addition, the Common Fisheries Policy requires the EU to pursue MSY in agreements with third parties. In seeking future trade deals with third parties such as the EU or USA the UK may be required to comply with similar MSY obligations.
A last ditch attempt to amend the Bill was made by Lords to strengthen the wording related to the sustainability clause and to include a duty to put cameras on vessels to monitor catches. However, given the likely opposition by the Government and in the Commons, these amendments were withdrawn.
Oceana says that whilst Britain’s fishermen might benefit in the short term, fishing within science-based sustainable levels is critical to the future of the British fishing industry and the supply of fish and seafood for public consumption. Over 40% of fish stocks are still overfished in the NE Atlantic despite the deadline for ending overfishing being 2020. They fear the UK Government looks set to continue to overfish into the next decade. Oceana is calling for a commitment from the Government to set sustainable fish limits in the short and long term.
Oceana’s research shows that if sustainable fishing practices are put into place and backed by a legal requirement to follow scientific advice on fishing limits, UK catches could dramatically increase in just a few years’ time, and provide more food, more jobs and more money. Oceana analysed 75 of the most important commercial species, such as haddock, cod, Norway lobster and herring. If UK fisheries are managed sustainably over the next ten years, ending overfishing could result in the UK having nearly 30% more catches and generating an additional £319 million for UK GDP annually, with 5,100 new jobs. Read “More Food, More Jobs and More Money in the UK. Oceana’s Recipe for Fish Recovery”, April 2018: https://eu.oceana.org/en/publications/reports/more-food-more-jobs-and-more-money-uk-oceanas-recipe-fish-recovery