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Overfished stocks have one thing in common: They are on course for collapse and the livelihoods and ecosystems they support will go with them. All UK political parties should urgently commit to setting catch quotas in line with scientific advice at precautionary, sustainable limits.
Over a third of UK fish populations are being overfished and a quarter have been depleted to critically low population sizes, our 2023 report showed. Half of the ‘top 10’ fish stocks on which the UK fishing industry relies are overfished or are in a critical state.
The UK Fisheries Act needs to be urgently amended to enshrine scientifically defined precautionary sustainable yield, not just as an objective, but as a legally binding duty.
This will ensure that catches do not drive population decline and would also assist the UK government in negotiations with the EU. For fish populations where there is insufficient data for a full assessment, Fisheries Management Plans should follow a precautionary approach – where populations are fished only if it is known to be sustainable – to ensure that these stocks do not become overfished by default.
Setting sustainable catch limits is not an academic exercise: it has significant consequences for our nation. The UK’s fishing industry has been in decline for decades as a result of overfishing, and effective ocean protection that includes sustainable regulation is its only hope for the future.
Recovered fish populations also mean recovered marine ecosystems where other sea life can thrive, in turn building blue carbon storage and supporting a range of coastal livelihoods from water sports to wildlife tourism.
The UK’s seas are the jewel in our nation’s crown. Setting aside 30% of our seas for nature and ensuring that all fishing is sustainable is a small investment that will pay us back many times over. We can and should show the world how well-designed ocean protection and sustainable fishing can provide prosperity for people and planet.
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