Today's blog is by Kat Holmes, Policy Officer. In her recent trip to our Bempton Cliffs reserve, she reflects on what Brexit will mean for the future of our fisheries policy and how that will affect our precious seabirds.

The first seabirds are beginning to return to our coastlines and this week I was lucky enough to be at Bempton Cliffs to see some of the first gannets soaring past the cliffs. I watched gannets land, and in couples elegantly use their beaks to ‘fence’, a behaviour that reaffirms their bond before the breeding season begins. Watching this spectacle on land it is hard to appreciate the challenges these seabirds and this seasons chicks will face out at sea, and the long co-existence they have led with the fishing industry in UK waters.

Gannets in typical 'fencing' courtship display (c) Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

The future of seabirds, the fishing industry and thriving coastal communities are all connected by their inter dependency on a healthy marine environment. It has never been more important to recognise this link than now. Leaving the EU will mean the Common Fisheries Policy, which has governed fisheries in UK waters since the early 1970’s, no longer applies. This will mean the UK and devolved governments will take full responsibility for UK waters and managing fishing activities within those waters.

UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice has said that EU exit offers the UK the opportunity to be ‘world leaders in sustainable fisheries management’. This is the level of political ambition our marine environment needs to recover and to fully support wildlife, the fishing industry and coastal communities that rely on it.

The RSPB has joined forces with seven other environmental organisations to produce 10 guiding principles for the UK and devolved governments to follow in order to build a brighter future for our seas. These include effective legislation that goes beyond current EU commitments, the setting of sustainable fishing levels and integration with conservation measures that protect wildlife and special places.

The cliffs at Bempton are home to over 250,000 seabirds (c) Kat Holmes

Governments won’t need to start from a blank page and can be proud of the work they have done, backed by public support, to improve fisheries policy within the EU over the last ten years. As a result of this effort the number of stocks overfished has reduced significantly, improving the profitability of our fisheries and availability of prey species for seabirds and other marine life.

To become true global leaders, the UK must build on this success by establishing fisheries policy that has sustainability at its heart, that puts an end to overfished stocks and that is scientifically based. As a true global leader the UK must be a driving force in shared and holistic management of our marine environment. By working with our neighbouring countries and on an international stage, not only will we meet our global commitments, but also tackle the threats facing our interconnected oceans.

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