New fisheries minister - more than just goodwill will be needed in a sea of challenges

MCS Fisheries Policy Officer, Debbie Crockard, reflects on the choppy waters surrounding the new Fisheries Minister, Robert Goodwill, as the House of Lords attacks unsustainable fishing levels in the EU.

The House of Lords EU Select Committee has written to Defra Minister Robert Goodwill MP with serious concerns about the level of unsustainable fishing allowed by the fishing quotas for 2019 that were agreed by EU fishing ministers. The letter is scathing and says “it is inexcusable that EU fishing Ministers failed so spectacularly in their responsibility to secure sustainable catch limits.”

Each December fishing ministers from across the EU convene to agree how many of each species of fish EU fishers can catch – known as the Total Allowable Catch (TAC). Those decisions are informed by scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) on how many fish can be caught sustainably, and the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy requires sustainable fishing across the EU by 2020.

The new fisheries Minister, Robert Goodwill, who’s only been in post since March 5th faces a sea of challenges in his new role. Not only Brexit and the new Fisheries Bill, but also in meeting existing obligations for sustainable fishing – hence the letter.

As pointed out to him by the letter, only 59% of stocks for the North East Atlantic were set in line with sustainable limits – down from 69% the year before. This is particularly concerning as there are a number of commitments binding the UK and the EU to set fishing limits at sustainable limits by 2020.

The House of Lords letter to Mr Goodwill follows an equally critical Lords report in February which highlighted the failure of the Government in implementing and preparing for the landing obligation – or ‘discard ban’. The report recommended introducing CCTV cameras to help monitor catches and tackle non-compliance with the landing obligation, a proposal MCS is supportive of.

Whilst MCS has always accepted that there may be some flexibility required in quota setting, it is disappointing to see such a decrease in sustainably managed stocks. Where flexibility was required – such as for stocks which scientists advised a zero catch this year like West of Scotland cod and whiting and Celtic Sea cod - we also made clear that we expected these fisheries to be subject to improved monitoring of catches, that flexibilities and leniencies are being granted to the industry to help them address issues around not having enough quota but at the same time, it appears there is a significant amount of continued discarding which could lead to significant unreported catches and overfishing.

The continued reluctance of Member States to set quotas and catches at sustainable levels creates uncertainty for the industry and is potentially devastating for the environment in the long-term. Ineffectual monitoring and limited control and enforcement is nurturing a culture of non-compliance, coupled with limited data creates a very serious situation.

We need to know what is being caught and how much, we need to set fishing limits at sustainable limits and most importantly we need to make sure this is actually happening at sea. We’re urging the new Minister to look carefully at the evidence provided and to support long-term environment and fisheries management which puts sustainability at its heart.