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Hopes for sustainable fishing flounder as Fisheries Bill passed

Oceana: ‘shocking absence’ of a duty to fish sustainably risks breaching international agreements

Press Release Date: November 12, 2020



Emily Fairless | email: efairless@oceana.org

The Fisheries Bill concluded in Parliament today (Thursday 12th November) as hopes flounder for the UK to lead the way in sustainable fishing.

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)1  and agreements such as the UN Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement1 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals2. 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)3. In addition, the Common Fisheries Policy requires the EU to pursue MSY in agreements with third parties4. 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 Government and in the Commons, these amendments were withdrawn. 

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. Now the UK Government looks set to continue to overfish into the next decade. Oceana is calling for a commitment from Government to set sustainable fish limits in the short and long term.

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Notes to editors

1. UNCLOS and the UN Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement require signatories: to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield.

2. UN SDG Target 14.4:  By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics. http://www.fao.org/sustainable-development-goals/indicators/1441/en/

3. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/IssueAreas/Environment/USMCA_Environment_Chapter_24.pdf

4. Article 33 CFP states: Principles and objectives of management of stocks of common interest to the Union and third countries and agreements on exchange and joint management: Where stocks of common interest are also exploited by third countries, the Union shall engage with those third countries with a view to ensuring that those stocks are managed in a sustainable manner that is consistent with this Regulation, and in particular with the objective laid down in Article 2(2). 

Oceana’s research on the impact of sustainable fishing practices on UK catches

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

Learn more:

Fisheries Bill could spell the end of the line for sustainable fishing

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

UK government waives the rules to allow fishermen to rule the waves



For further information and to arrange interviews, please contact the Oceana team at Barley Communications:

Catherine Jordan Jones: catherine.jordanjones@barleycommunications.co.uk (+44 7917 664648)

Sam Williams: sam.williams@barleycommunications.co.uk (+44 7949 607029)