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

The UK Fisheries Bill to be laid before parliament today would make overfishing legal, a serious setback to the legal obligation to fish sustainably under EU law, warns Oceana

Press Release Date: January 29, 2020



Emily Fairless | email: efairless@oceana.org

The UK government has revoked the legal duty to fish sustainably, at Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) in the new Fisheries Bill, despite their claims to the contrary. Oceana fears that unless amended the Fisheries Bill will make overfishing legal in the UK. Despite repeated promises by the UK Government not to renege on EU environmental commitments, here they are clearly doing so.

Fishing at Maximum Sustainable Yields (MSY) allows governments to balance what we take out of the sea with replenishing stocks which results in more fish, more jobs, more money. By contrast, overfishing leads to fish stocks shrinking or at worst collapsing, as happened to North Sea cod last year, which puts both the socio-economic sustainability of fishing and fish supplies at risk.

At present in the North East Atlantic nearly 60% of commercial fish stocks are now fished sustainably, in line with the MSY, while 40% are still overfished. Post Brexit, the UK wants to increase quota for its UK fishermen, while the EU is determined to retain its existing quota in UK waters, meaning that there is an increased likelihood of overfishing of over 100 shared stocks. To prevent this negative trend, Oceana urges that the UK fisheries bill includes a legal duty to fish at MSY. 

Not fishing at MSY will be bad for fish stocks and fishermen as well as our seas. Supermarkets also increasingly only want to source sustainable fish, so this move will also be frustrating for them and consumers will need to be increasingly wary about whether their plate of fish is sustainable.

Melissa Moore, Head of UK Policy at Oceana, said After all these years of working towards recovering fish stocks we’re very worried that overfishing may continue or even increase unless the Fisheries Bill is amended to provide a legal duty to fish sustainably. Given the climate and ecological emergency, we should take even more care of our fish stocks to provide additional food security in the future, rather than allowing an increase in overfishing which threatens fish stocks and can cause them to collapse.