Wales and the UK Fisheries Bill - what's needed for sustainable fishing

We all want sustainable thriving fisheries in Wales, including the fishing industry, and it is achievable if we allow fish stocks to recover and if we carefully manage how much we fish.

Fishing boats dock

Management should be based around looking at the whole ecosystem, with the wider impacts being considered not just the fish stocks of target species. All fish and shellfish need to have catch limits which don’t exceed sustainable levels - the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Without such catch limits, it’s very difficult to effectively manage a fishery and be able to respond to fluctuations in stock size and changes in environmental conditions.

Fisheries management is never straight forward – particularly for mixed fisheries which we have many of in Wales – but post–Brexit, we should be able to build on what we already have as part of the EU. The proposed new UK Fisheries Bill is the start of this process, with further new legislation planned to be developed in Wales and the other Devolved Administrations, but the draft Fisheries Bill currently working its way through parliament, has some fundamental issues which essentially undoes important sustainability commitments that are currently in place.

The current EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) sets legal limits to ensure fish are caught sustainably, up to MSY by 2020 at the latest, however the UK Fisheries Bill as drafted does not include a legal duty to do this nor to restore fish populations. It does have some good overarching objectives, but these are not worth much if there are no requirements to actually implement them. Without this, it is possible for this or future governments to ignore MSY, if there were ‘relevant circumstances’ – what these are isn’t defined - possibly giving governments a free hand to downgrade fisheries protection and increase fishing limits above sustainable levels.

MSY allows for stocks to be fished into the future, which is in keeping with the Welsh Environment Act whereby we must ‘seek to maintain and enhance biodiversity’ and ‘promote resilience’. So, if the UK Fisheries Bill fails to deliver these legal duties, Welsh Government must include them in the Welsh Fisheries Bill which will be delivered within this Government term. Issues such as bycatch, fisheries interactions within Marine Protected Areas, loss of fishing gear, and protections of spawning and nursery grounds for species of both ecological and commercial importance, also need to be included.

MCS as part of Wales Environment Link, and Greener UK, welcomed a recent meeting with the Welsh Minister for Environment Energy and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffith, who has responsibility for fisheries, and were encouraged that she listened to our concerns.

The recent Climate Change Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (CCERA) report into the UK Fisheries Bill agrees with several of our concerns and raises 26 recommendations to Welsh Government. In particular, the report recommends that:

1. in the UK Fisheries Bill, there should be milestones and targets to enable progress against the sustainability objectives to be measured, including MSY and an obligation to report on progress in delivering these. The report agrees that the absence of a legal duty in the UK Fisheries Bill, to deliver the sustainability objectives, is a significant weakness that risks reversing progress in environmental standards in Welsh fisheries and the marine environment;

and

2. The the UK Fisheries Bill should include a requirement not to exceed MSY limits. The report expresses disappointment that the UK Fisheries Bill is weaker than the current position set out in the CFP as it omits the commitment to achieve MSY by 2020.

The National Assembly agree with many of our concerns, so it’s now up to Welsh Government to seek improvements in the UK Fisheries Bill and/or to address these in Welsh legislation. This is a real opportunity to make Welsh fisheries an example of how they can benefit not only the environment, but also the economy and provide security and social wellbeing for the future for our coastal communities.