We need to find common ground on sustainable fisheries

fisheries-copyThis post is by Lyndsey Dodds, head of UK and EU marine policy at WWF.

Since the EU referendum, there has been much talk of the ‘sea of opportunity’ for fisheries but little detail on what it will look like in practice and how we can go further than the status quo, to become world leaders on sustainable fisheries management.

Better management has increased fish stocks
We’ve seen many fish stocks in our waters recover and increase in numbers. This has happened as a result of better control and management of fisheries across Europe and includes avoiding catching high numbers of juveniles or species under pressure. Many of these measures were introduced by the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy. Almost all commercial fish species are shared stocks and it has taken joint action with our European neighbours to safeguard them. The big challenge of how the UK continues to achieve this outside the EU has yet to be addressed.

We need to harness the enthusiasm for ambitious solutions
As part of the Greener UK coalition, we are working to identify the best way to deliver sustainable fisheries management after Brexit. We now need to harness the enthusiasm and drive for ambitious solutions and look forward. One of the key areas will be how we find new ways to manage stocks jointly with our European neighbours. Until now we have had shared fisheries management in EU waters and have also been part of EU negotiations with Norway as a non EU fishing nation. In the future we are likely to have to undertake our own negotiations with Norway, as well as the EU, and find ways of sharing management to ensure sustainability.

We also need to deal with unselective fishing practices that result in discarding: ie throwing away unwanted fish at sea, something that neither fishermen nor consumers want to see. Currently, Europe’s fishing industry is committed to the objective but is struggling to deliver it. There are many reasons for discarding, including market forces, poor quota management and unselective practices.

The future of fishing in the UK
We would like the UK to make a similar commitment to end discarding post EU, but we could adopt a different approach with more likelihood of success. By having ‘fully documented fisheries’ we would give confidence to retailers, consumers and regulators and ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks. In a fully documented fishery, levels of fish that can be removed sustainably are agreed, and whatever is caught is recorded, whatever becomes of the fish, whether they are discarded, eaten or turned into fish meal. This would give a far more accurate picture of the status of key fish species.

One way to achieve this is to harness technological solutions such as Remote Electronic Monitoring – a system of cameras and sensors – to record all fish caught. A proportion of the data can then be analysed to provide a far more cost effective, safe and accurate picture of the fishery than can be achieved through sporadic visits from on-board observers. There are other benefits to this approach, for example fishermen can use the information collected as evidence of what is happening at sea; for instance to show when species are more abundant than expected. And scientists can use it to study different aspects of fisheries science. The camera footage can also be used to positively market fish and demonstrate best practice.

For the past five years, Scotland and England have been trialling full documentation with varying degrees of success. Participating fishing boats were initially given the incentive of additional fishing quotas. But, now this incentive has been dropped, the number of boats using the technology has fallen. New legislation provides a new opportunity to introduce this sort of technology as a mandatory component of UK fisheries management and to make it a condition of foreign vessels operating in UK waters.

We wouldn’t be alone. A number of fisheries around the world have already adopted this approach, including the groundfish fishery in British Columbia, Canada. Although the Canadian fishing industry was reluctant at first, they are now big proponents of the technology and are reaping the benefits of healthy and sustainable stocks. And more information is leading to increased quotas and more sustainable management of the fishery. This could also be the future for fishing in the UK.

Under a Greener UK pillar of work on marine and fisheries, Client Earth, Greenpeace, RSPB, Marine Conservation Society, New Economics Foundation, The Pew Trusts, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF, are working together to promote sustainable fisheries management and a healthy marine environment.

[Image: Back with the Catch, Southend-on-Sea, courtesy of Geraint Rowland from Flickr Creative Commons]

One comment

  • Excellent article raising some excellent points. Who knows what a departure from the EU will mean, but the thing I know for sure is that it provides us with a unique opportunity to protect our oceans and fish stocks. It’s up to us to ensure that the government takes the necessary steps to be world leaders in sustainable fishing! 🙂

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