The new UK Fisheries Bill: learning from past mistakes or set to repeat them?

MCS Fisheries Policy Expert, Debbie Crockard, looks at the new Fisheries Bill and its potential to help end overfishing in UK waters.

The thing about good legislation is that it is only as good as its implementation. A case in point is the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)- the EU fisheries legislation we will soon be leaving. It is, in general, a good piece of legislation, its weakness lies in the fact that it has never been properly implemented, controlled or managed and that the deadlines included for sustainable fisheries haven’t been met.

Looking forward, the UK now has the opportunity to learn from these mistakes. The new Fisheries Bill has the opportunity to close loopholes which would allow overfishing, habitat damage and unfair distribution of fishing opportunities to be addressed. The big question is, will it do that?

The previous Fisheries Bill, which fell when we had the election in December, contained a number of loopholes which would prevent the government from meeting their ambitions for world leading fisheries management. In some areas it was even weaker that the CFP which we are leaving behind; no legally binding requirements to set fishing at sustainable levels, no reference to climate-smart fishing and little to ensure that fishing would be monitored or controlled effectively in UK waters.

The Bill has been resurrected and we are eager to see if these omissions and loopholes have been addressed, or whether the UK government has resigned itself to lowering its ambitions and to continue down the path of a second-class piece of legislation.

The initial information we have received seems to have taken on board some areas which were omitted previously, including the impacts on climate from fishing, and it looks like a new approach is being proposed to manage fisheries sustainably. We very much welcome the more holistic approach towards fisheries management; the health of our fish is integral to the health of our ocean.

As always, however, the devil is in the detail, and unless there is a commitment to a legal requirement for all fish stocks to be fished at sustainable levels and practical management solutions, including the roll out of CCTV cameras on vessels to provide data of what is being caught and to ensure robust surveillance and monitoring, we cannot secure the long term health of our marine environment.

With overfishing being the biggest cause of marine biodiversity loss in the last 40 years it’s vital that the UK governments act to ensure we stop overfishing in our waters.