Consumers are demanding sustainable seafood – to be able to source this from UK waters, businesses need to see better management of our fisheries.
The government has removed language that would have put sustainability as the prime objective of draft legislation that will replace EU fishery laws from next year.
The first draft of the fisheries bill contained objectives on sustainability, but these were not legally binding, and only concerned the long-term.
Amendments were added in the House of Lords so that management decisions would have to take sustainability into account in the short term, and also to make sustainability the primary objective of the bill. These amendments had cross-party support.
However, during a debate in the House of Commons, environment minister Victoria Prentis told MPs that having an overall objective for sustainability could mean that the government would not be able to support coastal communities as they transition to a new fisheries’ management regime.
It could also make the UK vulnerable in annual fishing quota negotiations as other countries would know its quota would need to be with environmentally sustainable limits, she said.
“Proposing to revert to the original wording is not about the government going against environmental ambitions—absolutely the opposite. Our amendment reverts to the very carefully drafted original wording, which gives equal weight to environmental, social and economic considerations,” she said.
However, Sarah Denman, an environmental lawyer at Client Earth said that the changes would not have damaged the fishing industry.
“These amendments could have made a huge difference to sustainability. They wouldn’t have cast aside the fishing industry, they would just mean that when fisheries take any management decisions, they have to take sustainability into account.”
The removal of the sustainability objective was “hugely concerning”, and very suggestive of the direction of travel the government will take post Brexit, both domestically and in the EU fisheries agreement, she said.
Many businesses support stronger rules for fisheries on sustainability.
Ahead of the debate in the House of Commons, members of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition signed a letter to environment secretary George Eustice calling for legally binding fishing limits; robust monitoring and enforcement and sustainable management of shared stocks with the EU.
The coalition includes Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Partners, Marks and Spencer, the Co-op, Morrisons, Lidl GB, Bidfood, Young’s, and Whitby Seafoods.
Current management of fisheries limits the ability of UK fishing communities to sell to responsible businesses, they said.
SSC coordinator Oliver Tanqueray said: “Consumers are demanding sustainable seafood – to be able to source this from UK waters, businesses need to see better management of our fisheries.”
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She tweets at @Cat_Early76.