Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for Wales and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (T18)


  The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the forum through which the three country agencies—English Nature (EN), the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)—deliver their responsibilities for Great Britain and internationally. These responsibilities contribute to sustaining and enriching biological diversity and sustaining natural systems, they include:

    —  Advising ministers on the development of policies for, or affecting nature conservation.

    —  The provision of advice and knowledge to anyone on nature conservation issues.

    —  The establishment of common standards throughout Great Britain for the monitoring of nature conservation and for research into conservation and the analysis of results.

    —  The commissioning and/or support of research to support the above.

  The JNCC and the country agencies established a marine fisheries working group in the early 1990s. This group has used its combined experience to inform the development of national policies and legislation relating to fisheries and nature conservation. The focus of the group includes the revision of the CFP.


  We believe that the following issues are the greatest presently facing the UK fishing industry.

    —  The need to integrate fisheries and environmental policy at all levels.

    —  The need for a rapid and significant reduction in fishing effort in nearly all fisheries. We believe that this should be carried out through a properly resourced decommissioning scheme, rather than through temporary "tie-up".

    —  The management of European Seas should be devolved to an appropriate "regional seas" level.

    —  The need for significantly improved management of new, particularly deep-sea, fisheries.

    —  The greater use of non-take zones.


  We agreed largely with the five essential objectives of the 1999 report on Sea Fishing. However, we consider that the scope of the Inquiry precluded the essential aspect of addressing the environmental effects of the fishing on the marine environment and, hence, none of these five objectives deal directly with environmental issues. We recognise that the Committee did not wish to repeat the work of the previous Agriculture Committee in 1992-93, but consider that the complexity of the issues involving the fishing industry cannot be addressed adequately without taking account of environmental issues. It is plain to us, and indeed most fisheries managers, that environmental objectives must be integrated into any fisheries management scheme.

  Despite this omission from the 1999 report, we are pleased to note that both the UK and the European Commission have made some progress in this integration. For instance, a ban on drift nets is scheduled to come into force early in 2002 and sandeel fishing off eastern Scotland is being regulated to help ensure that the needs of sandeel predators are being met.

  There is however little doubt that the fishing industry has a greater effect on the marine environment than any other human activity; there therefore needs to be greater and deeper account taken of the needs of the environment within fisheries management. We consider that this is best achieved by much greater integration between environmental and fisheries policy. We were pleased that the Government placed such integration at the head of their list of objectives to improve the CFP. To a relatively large extent, the objectives of fish stock conservation and those of nature conservation coincide. Because of this coincidence, many of the necessary measures to make fishing more sustainable are the same as those needed to reduce impact on the marine environment.


  The Committee called for an objective to promote sustainability of resources to safeguard the long-term success of both the stocks and the industry. The primary policy response to this objective must be to reduce fishing pressure on the stocks and the environmental substantially. Independent scientists have consistently advised that such cuts in fishing effort need to be in the order of 50 per cent, with some stocks being in such bad shape that a greater cut is required. We believe that the only rational way to achieve this is to cut the size of the fleets that exploit these stocks by a similar amount. This can only be carried out through a properly funded decommissioning scheme accompanied by focussed efforts to assist those communities and diversify the economy in areas that are particularly dependent on fisheries.

  It is obvious that the current capacity of the fishing industry is too large as, despite the efforts of many scientists and regulators, many stocks (about 2/3rds of those in European waters) are classified as being over-fished and have only become so in the last few years. Due to the urgency of the situation and the likely lag that there will be introducing the necessary decommissioning scheme, we recommend that a tie-up scheme might be introduced as a first stage in a decommissioning scheme for those fishing vessels targeting those stocks in the most dire straits. Even if stocks were allowed to recover through temporary tie-up schemes, it is plain that fleets are too large and this problem is exacerbated by continual improvements in the technology of fish capture. A reduction in fleet size would also go a long way to achieving the remainder of the Committee's essential objectives: efficient exploitation of stocks; improving profitability; minimising the cost to the public purse and minimising regulatory complexity.

  Whilst we consider that small-scale inshore fisheries may need some insulation from the large-scale cuts we are concerned that owners of decommissioned vessels do not reinvest their money in new inshore vessels, thus increasing fishing pressure on stocks and the marine environment. We note that the Canadian government spent in the order of 1.3 billion Canadian dollars on decommissioning, retraining and community support measures following the collapse of the eastern Canadian cod stocks. A recent evaluation has shown the result of this has been an overall increase to 140 per cent of previous capacity of the fishing fleets. We recommend that such counter-productive scenarios be avoided.

  Fleet size reductions plainly have to be co-ordinated with other EU member states to ensure fairness. The latest EU wide scheme to reduce effort was the five year MAGP IV. The fleet targets within this programme were set so low by member governments that most countries met their obligations within a year or two of the start of the programme. We would support strong political measures to establish a much more radical scheme to cut fleet size in the next round of co-ordinated EU decommissioning.


  The Committee endorsed the precautionary approach but registered concern at the way that it had been introduced, but nevertheless endorsed the approach. We consider that the precautionary approach should also be applied when considering environmental issues in the fisheries management decision-making process.

  We believe that the best way to achieve a more holistic management regime is an ecosystem-based approach. This would be best achieved by devolving fisheries management to regional seas (eg Baltic, North, Irish Seas) and including more formally a range of stake-holders in the decision-making process. Such stake-holders would include representatives of fishers and of statutory nature conservation organisations.

  We feel that the current management of the CFP is much too centralised and exclusive of those affected by decisions. We recognise though the legal difficulties that would come with applying the principle of subsidiarity to fisheries management for offshore seas, so suggest that regional seas advisory bodies be established initially. The inclusion of fishers in this process should help reduce the concern surrounding new approaches to fisheries management advice.

  We were disappointed that the Government has considered that the inclusion of statutory nature conservation agency advice in the current consultative committees that include fishers is not needed. In particular, the opportunity to include environmental considerations into the current process that has been developing recovery plans for severely deleted stocks has not been taken.


  We note that the Committee recommended that the fisheries research organisations assist in the development of new fishing grounds through proper stock assessments. The Committee further believed that the environmental impact of fishing of new stocks or new grounds should be taken fully into account. Despite the Governments agreement with this recommendation, we have been scant evidence of this occurring in practice. We are particularly concerned with the development of deep-sea fisheries where several fish stocks have been successively targeted and then depleted to below a commercially viable size. These fish stocks, as with many organisms in the deep sea, are particularly susceptible to fishing as the species are long-lived and have a very low reproductive rate. Fishing capacity and technology in this sector has continued to increase as has the impact of fishing on previously untouched (by fishing gear) environments. The biological nature of these stocks makes management through the setting of TACs and quotas inappropriate, and it is likely that only strict management of effort at a fraction of its current size would be sustainable in the long term.


  We agreed with the Committee's support of the principle of no-take zones and closed areas. However we were disappointed that both the Committee and the Government failed to acknowledge the further benefits to the environment that would come from such closed areas. We believe that, as with cuts in fishing effort, there is much to be gained for both fish stock conservation and nature conservation from no-take zones, particularly permanently closed areas. We are disappointed that no no-take zones have been introduced since the publication of the Committee's report.

1 May 2001

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