As promised in my blog on Monday, here are thoughts on how fisheries policy will need to evolve now that the UK has voted to leave the European Union.  Below, I explain why the proposed new Fisheries Bill (announced in last month's Queen's Speech) offers us an opportunity to build on recent fisheries reforms to help revitalise our seas for both people and marine wildlife.

A new vision

The clear message in the Brexit and Environment fisheries report published this week, which gathered views from across fisheries sector stakeholders, is that everyone wants sustainable fishing (see table).

Table from: Stewart, B.D. and O’Leary, B.C. (2017) ‘Post-Brexit Policy in the UK: A New Dawn? Fisheries, Seafood and the Marine Environment’.

This of course makes sense; fishermen themselves say that they support sustainability because “without fish, there are no fishermen”. The livelihoods and communities connected to the fishing industry rely on healthy fish stocks, which in turn rely on a healthy and diverse marine ecosystem. Indeed, as I wrote a fortnight ago, seabirds also need healthy fish stocks and breeding success can be affected by fishing intensity!  So, those benefiting from fishing should shoulder some responsibility for managing their impact.

Brexit offers us the opportunity, as in agriculture on land, to set an overarching framework to protect and restore a healthy marine environment. Only under this framework can a truly long term fisheries policy sit. This ordering of priorities will both commit the fishing industry to the role it must play in delivering this overarching aim, and also recognise the role a healthy marine environment plays in generating a self-reliant and profitable fishing industry and thriving coastal communities.

Leadership and stewardship

To match the UK Government’s ambition of becoming global leaders on sustainable fisheries policy, the Fisheries Bill should make the relevant high level international targets a legal obligation in UK waters. This will pave the way for the UK to demonstrate it is leading progress against these targets globally and give it the legitimacy to fight its corner and influence others on the world stage.

The Fisheries Bill gives UK administrations a golden opportunity to set global best practice by being scientifically led and by setting the industry on a sustainable path by asserting that fish resources are a public good and access to fishing opportunities a privilege conferred by society. In keeping with this, the bill should recognise those using our waters as stewards of that shared environment and reward, with better fishing opportunities, those who are contributing the greatest social and environmental benefits.

If we meet this ambition and best practice, it is fitting to expect the same level of responsibility and standards from fishing vessels of any other country that may have access to UK waters post-brexit. It also offers us the opportunity to be an exemplar and achieve better stewardship across the wider marine region in which we fit. The UK’s waters are part of the North East Atlantic marine ecosystem (see map below), which we manage jointly with 14 other nations, and we now have a much greater opportunity to lead by example in this collaborative approach.  



The interconnectedness of the Atlantic pond and its marine wildlife is graphically demonstrated by groundbreaking new findings which we publish today showing how seabirds electronically tracked from their UK colonies fan out into offshore waters to forage, sometimes on the same fish targeted by commercial vessels.  Fisheries management once we leave the EU that gives breathing space for seabirds and other marine wildlife can only benefit from this sort of sophisticated mapping.

The Fisheries Bill, as with the Agriculture Bill, offers us an opportunity to end the practice of treating human activity on land and sea in isolation from the environment in which it takes place. This week's report shows there is an overwhelming consensus that this is a discredited approach. Now is the time to translate that consensus for sustainable fishing into a policy that ensures a brighter future for our marine environment, society and economy.

If you would like to read more about our thoughts on the future of fisheries, please see Greener UK webpages here.