Cameras are key for truly sustainable British seafood, says Marine Conservation Society

Date posted: 23 June 2020

The Fisheries Bill, now making its way through Parliament, offers a unique opportunity for the UK to rethink the way it manages its fisheries to ensure the future health of its seas through ambitious, world-leading legislation.

fishing vessels
© William Murphy

Remote Electronic Monitoring with cameras is key to the future health of our seas and should be an explicit and vital part of the Fisheries Bill.

Sandy Luk,
CEO

The Marine Conservation Society has singled out one key change to the Fisheries Bill which would deliver the biggest positive impact for the health of UK seas, and mark a turning point for the recovery of domestic fisheries.

Remote Electronic Monitoring with cameras (REM) is an important tool in modern sustainable fisheries management yet is being vastly underused in the UK. Over the past 50 years, commercial fishing has been one of the leading contributors to the loss of marine life*. But that needn’t be the case for the future.

Cameras fitted on board vessels would provide large amounts of good quality data on what fish is being caught and discarded where, and what other marine wildlife is being encountered on fishing trips. This independent information would be used to make fishing rules like catch limits more accurate, help fishers avoid vulnerable species and could help verify certain rules are being followed.

Currently, human observers are largely relied upon to gather information on fisheries, but unfortunately cover less than 1% of fishing activities. Cameras are affordable, don’t take up much space and could be used to vastly supplement observer data. Cameras could be installed and operated on every vessel over 10 metres in the UK for between £4.8 and £6.75million per year. That’s less than 1% of the value of seafood caught by these boats.

Too many fish are being taken out of the UK’s waters, resulting in losses for both the environment and coastal communities. It’s estimated that over 40% of the UK’s fish populations** are subject to overfishing, including several cod stocks, with many more of an unknown status. A requirement to carry cameras on board fishing vessels would greatly improve information about the UK’s fish populations and related fishing activities, enabling more precise management and recovery where needed.

Sandy Luk, CEO of the Marine Conservation Society: “Remote Electronic Monitoring with cameras is key to the future health of our seas and should be an explicit and vital part of the Fisheries Bill. The technology will give a clearer picture of how our seas are being fished and what’s being taken from them, paving the way for better, more ocean-friendly management with science and data at the forefront. The Fisheries Bill is the Government’s golden opportunity to restore our marine ecosystem, omitting this technology from the Bill would be an opportunity missed.”

Sam Stone, Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture: “Our seas need improvements to management, but the incremental changes we’ve been seeing are not delivering quickly enough to cope with the twin climate and nature emergencies. Whilst there is a raft of complex issues to address, underpinning them all is the need for good quality information and scientific analysis. Cameras would pave the way for a new generation of management that places information and science at its core, and I can’t think of any other single thing that would deliver so much benefit for the UK’s fisheries.”

REM with cameras would not only improve the management of fisheries but would also help provide assurances to buyers and sellers about how their seafood has been caught and its sustainability. There’s certainly consumer appetite for this. In a survey by the Marine Conservation Society, only a quarter (26%) of respondents said they felt confident when choosing sustainable seafood, despite a survey by Seafish finding that 70% of UK seafood consumers think sustainability is important.

As the UK begins to plot its recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic, action must be taken to urgently address and provide solutions to the twin nature and climate crises. The management of the UK’s waters must be overhauled to ensure both the economy and environment are guarded for the future - we cannot revert to a ‘business as usual’ approach. By including a requirement for REM with cameras in the Fisheries Bill, thereby focusing on a recovery that combines modern technological solutions with a plan to restore and maintain fish populations at healthy levels, the UK can future-proof the economy and our marine environment and set a benchmark for the world to follow.

To learn more about REM and why the Marine Conservation Society believes it’s crucial to the new Fisheries Bill, please visit the charity’s website here.

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