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Free from EU constraints, UK government stubbornly persists to allow overfishing in British waters

Despite assertions that it will put in place “world leading” fisheries management, the Fisheries Bill proposed by the UK government will allow overfishing to continue

Press Release Date: June 19, 2020

Location: Brussels


Emily Fairless | email: efairless@oceana.org

The Fisheries Bill returns to the House of Lords on 22 June, and the UK government is still refusing to amend it to require sustainable fishing. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) namely refuses to include a legal duty in the bill to exploit fish populations in line with the best internationally agreed management standard, which is known as the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Oceana calls for this amendment and for the UK to lead the way on sustainable fisheries management, by keeping the environmental standards it championed to prevent overfishing when the UK was still a member of the EU.

Melissa Moore, Head of UK policy at Oceana, said the UK Fisheries Bill comes amid a global movement to protect the ocean. But the reality is that 4 out of 10 fish populations around the UK are still overfished, meaning our cod dinner is at stake as well as the jobs that depend on healthy fisheries. All eyes are on the UK to see if they can manage fishing better, outside the EU, but they are not going to succeed if they refuse to commit to a sustainable catch limit in the Fisheries Bill”.

She continued, as the EU and UK fight for a bigger share of the post-Brexit fish pie, with the UK wanting to increase its quota and the EU wanting to maintain its share, there is an increased likelihood of overfishing of the 100 fish stocks they share. Setting an MSY limit is particularly important within this context”.

Fishing at or below MSY limits human-induced fishing mortality and allows fish populations to recover and reproduce, generating a surplus that benefits fish, jobs and the economy.

With no MSY requirement in the Bill, there is a significant risk that overfishing will continue or increase. Overfishing leads to fish stocks shrinking or at worst collapsing, as was the case with Celtic Sea herring or North Sea cod in 2019. At present in the North East Atlantic over 40% of commercial fish stocks remain overfished, that is to say fished above Maximum Sustainable Yield rates. The UK must not go back on its promise to keep the environmental standards to which it has previously committed. Reversing this trend of overfishing is essential for our fish stocks, fishermen and seas.