Image by Laurie Campbell

Conservationists are today calling on the UK and developed governments to work together as we prepare to leave the European Union to develop new fisheries law that will allow fish stocks to recover while putting our traditional fishing industries and coastal communities on a sustainable footing.

As an island nation our coastal communities and connection to the sea hold a special place in our cultural identity. Our seas are also home to or visited by an amazing variety of wildlife such as puffins, Minke whale, lesser sandeel and basking shark.

Over the last 10 years progress has been made on reducing overfishing in the northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters. In this period the number of assessed stocks being overfished dropped by over a quarter. However, the latest official information confirms that 47% of assessed stocks are still being overfished, which doesn’t just impact on the profitability of our fisheries but also the food supplies and habitats that support other marine life.

As control of waters around the UK are repatriated, conservationists are calling on the governments to ensure our precious marine life and important fishing industries both have a long-term future.

As a leading voice in the reform of the EU’s fisheries policy, the UK has helped shape policies to reverse the damage done by overfishing, and new domestic fishing legislation should continue this positive work. In line with the governments’ ambition to become world leaders in sustainable fisheries management, future policy should be science-based, following scientific advice when setting fishing limits to ensure fish stocks remain sustainable into the future.

This would also set high standards for foreign fishing vessels seeking access to UK waters and guide us as we look to negotiate the multiple new agreements that will be required to allow our fishing fleets continued access to waters they have previously fished under European Union arrangements.

The principles unveiled by ClientEarth, Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society, New Economics Foundation, The Pew Trusts, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK set out how governments can build a brighter future for our seas. They highlight the need for:

  •  Effective legislation that meets the governments’ ambition to be world leaders in sustainable fisheries management
  • Good governance that includes a clear and transparent process of stakeholder engagement and decision making.
  • Sustainable fishing levels and accountability – legal requirement to fish below a level that allows fish stocks to fully recover, and to be fully accountable for all fish caught

Catherine Weller, Head of Biodiversity Programme, ClientEarth, said: “Brexit must not mean lower environmental protection for marine life. Overfishing, catches of vulnerable species and damage to marine habitats are some of the major issues facing the seas around the UK. To create a sustainable future for the UK’s seas and the communities which depend on them, strong environmental protection must be built into the new fishing laws.”

Will McCallum, Head of Oceans Campaigns, Greenpeace UK, said: “There has never been better time to reimagine the future of the UK’s marine environment than over the next two years. Politicians need to put the health of our oceans and the interests of coastal communities at the forefront of their policy making, making sure that fishing is done sustainably and has the interests of the local community at heart.”
Sandy Luk, Chief Executive, Marine Conservation Society, said: “Thriving coastal communities and a profitable fishing industry rely on a healthy marine environment. Knowing how we are impacting our environment through our fishing activities allows us to ensure that we are fishing in the most sustainable, low impact way. Our seas have the potential to be profitable, protected and well managed for future generations”

Aniol Esteban, Programme Director, New Economics Foundation, said: Healthy seas can help bring economic activity back to communities around the UK coast. Brexit must not mean the plunder of the seas but ensure that fish stocks recover, so that sustainable fishers in ports nationwide can earn a living for generations to come.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “Our seas are home to an amazing variety of wildlife and some of the most incredible wildlife spectacles from pods of dolphins off the coast of Aberdeen to the hundreds of thousands of seabirds that make their home at Bempton Cliffs. We want to work with Governments and stakeholders to develop new laws to better manage our seas to protect our marine life, allow fish stocks to recover and support our traditional fishing industries.”

Andrew Clayton, Project Director, The Pew Trusts, said: “As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is imperative that UK governments put sustainability at the heart of their plans for fisheries management. This will allow UK to fulfil its requirements under international law, enable effective management of shared stocks and the marine ecosystem, and help to deliver resilient, productive fisheries into the future.”

Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas, The Wildlife Trusts, said: “UK marine wildlife and UK fisheries alike depend upon healthy seas and healthy ecosystems. As well as ensuring that exploitation of fish populations is sustainable we must also reduce the pressure that fishing places on the seabed, especially in those areas set aside to protect marine habitats and species. Putting marine ecosystems at the heart of decision making is not only good for our wonderful marine wildlife, but will help to ensure a future for those who rely on the resources that our marine ecosystems provide.”

Dr Lyndsey Dodds, Head of Marine Policy, WWF-UK, said: “Healthy seas and plentiful fish stocks lie at the heart of a sustainable and resilient fishing industry and dependent coastal communities. Ensuring the use of the right fishing gear, fishing at levels that result in sustainable stocks and identifying ways to monitor what is happening at sea are key in order to understand the impacts of fishing and provide accountability for all fish caught. Let’s make UK seafood synonymous with sustainable seafood”