What The Wildlife Trusts are doing for the sea
For decades fishing in UK waters has been guided by the Common Fisheries Policy. The fact that the UK will soon be leaving the European Union will lead to change in how we manage our seas and our fisheries. We believe that this change presents opportunities for taking the best of the Common Fisheries Policy and improving it to make UK fisheries management world-leading. This means making sure that all fishing activity is sustainable; not just in terms of fish stocks but also reducing impacts of fishing on the wider marine environment. We are working hard to make sure that wildlife and the environment are at the heart of future fisheries management and future legislation.
For decades fishing in UK waters was guided by the EU Common Fisheries Policy. The UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit) and withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy has given us the unique opportunity to re-write the way in which we manage our fisheries. In 2020 the Fisheries Act was passed which sets out how UK fisheries will be managed outside of the Common Fisheries Policy. Embedded throughout the Fisheries Act are commitments to managing fisheries sustainably through 8 fisheries objectives which are:
- the sustainability objective*,
- the precautionary objective*,
- the ecosystem objective*,
- the scientific evidence objective*,
- the bycatch objective*,
- the equal access objective,
- the national benefit objective, and
- the climate change objective*.
* These objectives are key to ensuring environmental sustainability
The policy framework to achieve these objectives is laid out in the Joint Fisheries Statement, published in 2022 by the 4 UK fisheries policy authorities.
We are working hard to make sure that wildlife and the environment are at the heart of future fisheries management and legislation.
Offshore Marine Protected Areas – conservation not compromise
It is vital that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are well-managed, with activities that are likely to cause damage to protected habitats or species excluded from these special areas. Under current rules, fishing activities in offshore areas (beyond 12 nm) are controlled through the Common Fisheries Policy. If the UK wants to impose controls on fisheries to protect offshore MPAs it must seek the agreement of all Member States whose vessels regularly fish in those areas. In many offshore sites this is leading to compromise rather than conservation, with areas of habitat being left open to damaging fishing activities fishing to placate fishing interests.
This must change. So, we are working hard, talking to Government to persuade them that after the UK leaves the EU that offshore MPAs will be fully protected. First, this means that that any non-UK vessels must abide by the same rule as UK boats. Second, while there will be discussion with other countries the UK government must have the final say and this must mean that all damaging activities are excluded from offshore MPAs.
So far, the signs from Defra are encouraging. But we will continue to press them on this matter, to make sure that conservation, not compromise, wins the day.
It is vital that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are well-managed, with activities that are likely to cause damage to protected habitats or species excluded from these special areas. Under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the UK had to seek the agreement of all EU Member States whose vessels regularly fish in UK seas to impose controls on fisheries to protect offshore MPAs (beyond 12 nautical miles). This often led to compromise rather than conservation for offshore MPAs, with areas of habitat being left open to damaging fishing activities to appease fishing interests.
The Wildlife Trusts worked hard during the exit negotiations, talking to the Government to ensure that offshore MPAs would be fully protected after the UK left the EU. Firstly, we believe this means that that any non-UK vessels must abide by the same rules as UK boats. Secondly, while there needs to be discussion with other countries, the UK government must have the final say and this must be that all damaging activities are excluded from offshore MPAs.
The new powers set out in the Fisheries Act 2020, have allowed the Marine Management Organisation (who manage England’s offshore seas) to introduce new byelaws to manage fishing activity within offshore MPAs. The English Government set its own target of ensuring all fishing in offshore MPAs is appropriately managed by 2024. As of December 2022, only 4 MPAs have management measures for fishing in place, out of 50 offshore MPAs in English water. In July 2022 the MMO started the process of determining the most appropriate management for 13 more offshore MPAs in English waters.
Fisheries management measures were introduced in June 2022 for four marine protected areas:
- Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation (Bottom towed gear prohibited across the entire site)
- Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Areas of Conservation (Bottom towed gear and static gear prohibited across certain habitats within the site)
- South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone (Bottom towed gear prohibited across the entire site)
- The Canyons Marine Conservation Zone (Bottom towed gear and anchored net and line Prohibited within a specified area of the site)
We are continuing to talk to the English Government to ensure that appropriate management measures for the remaining MPAs are brought in as quickly as possible, and are holding them to their deadline of 2024.