Greener UK – Written Evidence (NFF0007)
- Greener UK is a coalition of 13 major environmental organisations, with a combined public membership of over 8 million. We came together to ensure that environmental protections are maintained and enhanced during the Brexit process, particularly through ambitious domestic legislation. Now that we have left the EU, we are urging the UK and devolved governments to build on our high environmental standards and protections, including when negotiating trade agreements and the future relationship. For our seas, this means achieving the government’s vision for “clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas”.
- We are facing a climate and ecological emergency. A recent UN report on biodiversity highlighted that overfishing is the biggest cause of marine biodiversity loss in the last 40 years. The recent near collapse of North Sea cod reflects the enormous pressures on our marine life and 93% of fish stocks globally are fully exploited or overfished. It is therefore vital that the UK/Norway fisheries agreement and future relationship protects our precious fish stocks and restores the marine environment.
- Greener UK welcomes that the UK and Norway have reached an agreement on fisheries. Not reaching an agreement on fisheries could pose significant environmental, political and socio-economic risks. In addition, Greener UK welcomes the commitments set out in Article 1 of the agreement that the parties will cooperate with a view to ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources.
- However, we are concerned that the agreement contains no specific commitment to setting Total Allowable Catches (TACs) in line with sustainable levels. Sustainable management of shared stocks will greatly increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change, delivering significant environmental, social and economic benefits to fishing communities. There should be requirements in the UK/Norway fisheries agreement for both parties to negotiate according to clear sustainability criteria to protect our oceans and coastal communities. In particular, negotiations must aim at ensuring that:
- fishing mortality is at levels below those which will restore or maintain shared stocks above levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield (MSY); and
- the impacts of fishing on the marine environment are avoided or, where avoidance is not possible, demonstrably minimised.
- The recently published UK Fisheries Bill raises concerns about the UK’s approach to sustainable fishing after leaving the EU. The Fisheries Bill represents a regression in environmental standards from the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and gives UK authorities discretion to allow overfishing by:
- removing the legal commitment set out in Article 2 of the CFP to set catch limits in line with MSY by 2020 and replacing it with a simple aspirational objective to achieve healthy biomass for stocks. This objective is neither legally binding nor subject to any deadline and is dealt with by way of ‘fisheries management plans’ that can be disregarded in a wide range of circumstances, including negative economic effects on the fishing industry; and
- allowing scientific advice to be overruled by socio-economic considerations.
- This is of particular concern as more than 40% of all UK fish stocks were overfished in 2019 – up from 31% in 2018 – and the Fisheries Bill does not contain sufficient legal safeguards to reverse this trend. In addition, the Fisheries Bill makes no provision for sustainable management of shared stocks. It is therefore vital that the UK cooperates with other coastal states, including Norway, to ensure that shared stocks are managed in a way that prioritises sustainability and protection of the wider marine environment.
- Greener UK is also concerned that there is no requirement on the parties to reach an agreement on TACs. While the CFP obliges EU Member States to reach agreement on the exploitation rates of given stocks during the December Council negotiations, bilateral agreements and coastal state negotiations are not institutionalised to the same degree. There is nothing in the UK/Norway agreement that prevents either party from walking away from negotiations if they do not agree on the TAC. It is disappointing that the UK/Norway agreement does not commit the parties to reaching an agreement on TACs, potentially allowing them to walk away and set quotas unilaterally, and does not set out a resolution process where agreement cannot easily be reached.
- Given that the UK shares over 100 stocks with the EU, it is vital that the future EU/UK fisheries agreement addresses the issues highlighted above in relation to the UK/Norway fisheries agreement.
30 October 2020