Is #Bluebrexit an oxymoron?

Date posted: 25 June 2018

The first Brexit-related environmental test will deal with our beloved fish. A new bill on fisheries will land in Westminster soon: we must make sure they get it right.

You don’t need to be a conservationist to know that nature ignores all human-made borders. Fish and birds carry no passport and they don’t stop at customs. We’ll never know if a stork feels more African than Polish, or if leatherbacks that love to feed near our shores feel unequivocally Latin American. That’s why conservation requires international cooperation, trans-national laws and treaties and harmonisation of rules and standards, such as the Ramsar Convention or the Convention on Biodiversity. But, well beyond treaties, conservationists have gone to extreme measures to unite, and build bridges.

Fish on ice

One of the most glorious examples is a peace park. Here, in the name of conservation, areas where humans have fought and killed each other for years – such as the border between Kurdistan and Iran, or the Gola rainforest in Africa – have seen unprecedented cross-border cooperation to protect wildlife. Anything that goes in the opposite direction, such as segmenting or breaking legislation and creating borders is bound to be bad for conservation. Brexit falls within this category and #BlueBrexit (or #GreenBrexit) is therefore, by definition, an oxymoron. Or is it?

This is the challenge the governments in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast face now: they must work together to ensure that environmental standards won’t be lowered when we leave the EU and, ideally, that they will be improved. And at face value they’re about to do just that. So nothing to worry about. But then, you wouldn’t expect anyone in politics or in the business community to state: ”Let’s trash the environment now that we can”… would you?

The proof will be in the proverbial pudding. One of the first such ‘puddings’ in the Brexit process will deal with our beloved fish. Whilst Defra has spelled out its wider ambitions for post-Brexit fisheries in a White Paper, a new Fisheries Bill is expected to land in Parliament very soon, possibly before autumn.

There are a few non-negotiable principles that must be met for Brexit to be genuinely ‘Blue’. Firstly, since fish are a public resource, they should be managed for the long-term using a precautionary approach that protects whole ecosystems. Next, there is sustainability: fishing limits must be set in line with the best available scientific advice. Thirdly, fishing opportunities should be fair and transparent, allocated on objective environmental, social and economic criteria to promote sustainable practices. Governance must be inclusive, transparent and robust so that fisheries are fully documented and accountable.

These high environmental standards should apply to foreign vessels fishing in UK waters and to UK vessels fishing everywhere. And, last but not least, cooperation: UK and devolved governments need to work together and agree on legislation and policy to ensure effective management of this common resource.

If Iraqis and Iranians can come together to save the Persian leopard maybe… we can take the step of treating our seas as the precious source of life that they are – can’t we? The Fisheries Bill is coming our way. It’s your fish and therefore your bill, too.

Make sure you’re informed on its content and act now to ask the government to fix our fisheries

Actions you can take

  1. Report your wildlife sightings
  2. Read our annual reports and reviews
  3. Download our 'Living without single-use Plastic' guide
  4. Browse Marine Protected Areas
  5. Join MCS for as little as £3.50 per month
  6. Join the Plastic Challenge

Did you know?…

Over time, one plastic bottle bobbing along in the ocean can break down in to hundreds of tiny plastic pieces

Globally, plastic litter has reached every part of the world’s oceans

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded almost 50% fewer bags on beaches