Fisheries Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (FISH13)

Fisheries Bill: Public Bill Committee

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (the RSPB) is the charity that takes action for wild birds and the environment. We are the largest wildlife conservation organisation in the country with over 1.2 million members. We own or manage over 150,000 hectares of land for nature conservation on over 200 reserves throughout the UK.

The principal object of the RSPB is the conservation of wild birds and their habitats. The RSPB therefore attaches great importance to all international, EU and national law, policy and guidance that assist in the attainment of this object. It campaigns throughout the UK and in international fora for the development, strengthening and enforcement of such law and policy.

The RSPB welcomes the publication of the Fisheries Bill, which in the context of leaving the EU, must be used as an opportunity to improve and restore the health of our marine ecosystems for the benefit of fish stocks and the ecosystems on which they inextricably depend. We recognise that this is a framework piece of legislation to deliver the tools for fisheries management. However, we have several concerns with the Bill as it is currently drafted.

The RSPB is also a member of the NGO coalitions Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link and this evidence complements their joint response. Broadly this coalition response outlines the improvements needed to the Bill to ensure it delivers sustainable fisheries that are truly ‘world leading’. These include:

· A duty on all relevant public authorities to achieve the fisheries objectives and a requirement for annual updates on progress against objectives.

· A commitment to ensure that fishing limits cannot be set above MSY (the scientifically recommended levels that would deliver the objective to restore fish stocks to a healthy biomass).

· An approach which seeks to ensure shared stocks are managed sustainably.

· A clear objective in the Fisheries Bill that fisheries management should be coherent with UK (including the devolved administrations) and international environmental legislation.

· A mandate to allocate all fishing opportunities - existing and new - on the basis of transparent and objective environmental and social criteria, and to incentivise the most sustainable fishing practices.

· A commitment to full documentation of catches.

· A commitment to robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

· Access of foreign vessels to UK waters should be contingent on compliance with the same environmental standards applicable to UK boats.

· A formal consultation procedure to scrutinise secondary legislation.

Executive summary

· The RSPB welcomes many aspects of the Bill but finds it falls well short of the trail-blazing ambition in the ministerial pronouncements that accompanied the publication of the White Paper in July. By comparison with the White Paper itself and its promising title ‘Sustainable fisheries for future generations’ we find the Bill generally lacks the ambition, clarity of detail and purpose, and courage of commitment that would put the UK on a par with the global best practice to which it aspires. We cannot leave such intent to the Joint Policy Statement – more explicit duties should be added to the Bill itself.

· While we welcome the Bill’s objectives, the Bill also needs to assert a robust duty on public authorities to deliver them, otherwise the guarantee of follow-through is missing. The RSPB has a particular concern in this regard for the objectives on maximum sustainable yield (which needs to be defined more rigorously in the Bill) and the ecosystem-approach. The latter is particularly important if it is to enable, in secondary legislation and through other instruments, the actions needed to maintain and restore the health of the marine environment and eliminate the ongoing collateral damage fishing inflicts on it. To ensure maximum compliance and delivery, this commitment also needs to be explicitly aligned with domestic and internal legislative norms, to be stated in the Bill.

· A major concern is the lack of any firm commitment in the Bill on how shared stocks will be sustainability managed or a clear provision that foreign vessels fishing in UK waters will be held to the same high standards as applied to UK vessels. This gap is compounded but the absence of provisions on monitoring and enforcement. Explicit commitment in the objectives to full documentation of fisheries as an overarching direction of travel would help frame this. Finally, the Bill should mandate the allocation of fishing opportunities on environmental, social and economic criteria, not least to help incentivise sustainable, low impact fishing.

Details of these points are as follows:

1. Sustainability objectives

1.1. The Secretary of State outlined his ambitions for the Fisheries Bill to "promote a more competitive, profitable and sustainable fishing industry" that will set a "gold standard for sustainable fishing around the world". This Bill is an opportunity to put fisheries in the wider context of the marine environment and to take a truly ecosystem based approach to management. We therefore welcome the broad direction of the Fisheries Bill and in particular the establishment of fisheries objectives, including an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.

1.2. However, necessary as these objectives are, we are disappointed that the Bill does not contain any direct legal duty on relevant public authorities to deliver them, rather fisheries authorities must exercise their functions in accordance with policies contained in Fisheries Statements. The absence of such a direct duty means there is no clear legal obligation to deliver the Bill’s targets, effectively weakening the UK’s aspiration to be a world leader in delivering sustainable fisheries. The Bill should establish a strong duty on all relevant public authorities (as opposed to simply the Secretary of State/central Government) to act in accordance with the objectives on the face of the Bill. Furthermore, failure to adequately adhere to the objectives should be able to be challenged, and subsequently rectified through clear legal process.

1.3. In this regard, the RSPB has a particular concern over the absence of a duty to deliver the objective of an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries. We note that the definition of the ‘ecosystem objective’ in the Bill (Art 4a) is ‘to implement an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management so that negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine environment are minimised’. While this matches the definition in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) [1] (Article 2(3)), we consider that the Bill should raise the bar and amend ‘minimised’ to ‘minimised and where possible eliminated’, as stated for example in the overall objective of the EU Action Plan [2] for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears.

1.4. That refinement apart, the Bill’s ‘ecosystem objective’, if also properly underpinned by a duty on public authorities to exercise their functions to this end, will enable the UK to emulate best practice elsewhere in the world. It will allow the UK to address the collateral damage that commercial fishing inflicts on the marine environment, such as (i) the bycatch of seabirds, cetaceans and other marine wildlife in fishing gears; and (ii) the overfishing of sandeels and other ‘forage fish’, a critical prey resource for sustaining our seabird populations at a time when many are in chronic decline. According to the Marine Climate Change Impact Partnership (MCCIP), ‘…ICES advice does not explicitly consider the food requirements of predators in estimating a [sandeel] TAC and fisheries may locally deplete sandeel aggregations…’ [3] . In other words, there is a strong likelihood that the Danish-led North Sea sandeel fishery leaves insufficient ‘set-aside’ of sandeels for the needs of seabirds and other dependent marine wildlife. The RSPB favours curbing the sandeel fishery, our favoured option being an end to sandeel fishing in UK waters.

2. Coherence of fisheries management with environmental legislation in the UK (including the devolved administrations) and internationally

2.1. One of the strengths of the CFP is its commitment (Article 2(5)(j)) to be coherent with the Union environmental legislation, in particular the objective under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) [4] of achieving ‘a good environmental status’ by 2020, as well as other Union policies –  notably the Birds and Habitats Directives – that protect species and habitats. The Bill needs to match the CFP’s level of legislative cross-compliance between fisheries and the environment, with the accountability that follows from that. The Bill also needs to commit to doing so in a way that ensures coherence with not only environmental legislation across all four UK countries, but also with relevant EU and wider international legislation. Only such a scope recognises the seamless nature of the marine environment in which fisheries operate and places the Bill in the aspirational frame to be world leaders on sustainability. While clause 2(2)(i) does require the Secretary of State fisheries statement to inter alia ‘contribute to the achievement by 2020 of a good environmental status…’, no such requirement is made on fisheries authorities via the fisheries objectives under clause 1. This should be amended.

3. Setting catch limits

3.1. Currently the Bill does not contain a commitment to ensure that fishing limits cannot be set above the scientifically recommended levels that would deliver the objective to restore fish stocks to a healthy biomass. Indeed, the powers for the Secretary of State to set fishing opportunities (clauses 18 & 19) make no mention of sustainability or scientific advice. The Bill should ensure that all stocks (both quota and non-quota) should be restored and maintained above biomass levels capable of delivering MSY (or its best proxy) by ensuring that, by 2020 at the latest, fishing mortality (F) does not exceed levels that will deliver MSY. Currently this is not an explicit commitment in the Bill, rather it is conflated – but inadequately so – with the ‘precautionary objective’ (clause 1(3)(b)).

4. Shared stocks

4.1. Currently the Bill does not make any firm commitment on how shared stocks should be managed. The UK must cooperate and agree shared stock Total Allowable Catches with the EU and other coastal states on the same MSY-compliant basis, in line with UNCLOS and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA). Setting catch limits must take account of the precautionary approach, particularly where stocks are data-deficient, whether or not they are subject to quota. Therefore, the Bill should be amended to ensure that there is an overarching provision to the effect that the Secretary of State must take all necessary steps to ensure that access to shared stocks in UK waters by all vessels (irrespective of national origin), and by UK vessels wherever they fish, is contingent on all parties reaching agreement on TACs for those stocks, consistent with MSY (or else a precautionary approach to non-quota stocks) as advised by the most reliable scientific body. The Bill should also specify that the Secretary of State will make publicly available an annual report on the steps taken in pursuit of such agreement.

5. Protection of the wider marine environment.

5.1. We welcome the inclusion within the Bill to extend powers across the UK administrations to manage fishing activity for the purposes of the conservation of marine species and habitats both within and beyond Marine Protected Areas/Marine Conservation Zones. These powers will further allow the management of fishing activities in the offshore zone (12-200nm) for marine conservation outcomes.

6. Access of foreign vessels to UK waters

6.1. We welcomed the White Paper’s assertion that the terms of negotiating access to UK waters by vessels from EU and other coastal states after 2020 must be conditional on compliance with the same sustainability rules, standards and practices applicable to the UK. Whilst there are references in the Bill (clauses 8, 11 & 12) to only allowing foreign fleets to fish UK waters in accordance with terms of their licence, it is disappointing that the Bill contains no provision that specifies that access of foreign vessels be contingent on compliance with the same rules and environmental standards as those applied to UK boats. On a technicality, we also note that in clause 12(4)(a) of the Bill, a licence granted to a foreign fishing boat ‘must name the fishing boat in respect of which it is granted’; however, while necessary, stipulating the name alone is not sufficient and the Bill needs to be amended to require also the ‘unique vessel identifier’.

7. Robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.

7.1. As it stands, the Bill contains no provisions to deal with monitoring and enforcement. The legislation enshrined in the Bill must be underpinned by effective monitoring, control and enforcement, applicable to all fleets, whether UK vessels fishing in and beyond UK waters, or foreign vessels fishing in UK waters. For compliance, fisheries must operate in a transparent and accountable way with fully documentation of catches. The Bill is deficient in not committing explicitly to fully documented fisheries, even though the White Paper included a whole section on ‘Collecting the best scientific data by the most modern methods’ (section 2.5, pp 29-30).

7.2. In support of this, Remote Electronic Monitoring with CCTV (REM) should be introduced as standard for all over-10m vessels fishing in UK waters, regardless of origin, and to UK vessels fishing elsewhere.

7.3. Framed in the Bill, the new UK fisheries policy should ensure that, in the future, all infringements to fisheries law are sanctioned by effectively deterrent policies. UK fisheries enforcement policy does not currently guarantee this. For example, a 2017 report [5] from the European Court of Auditors highlighted that, in Scotland [the focus chosen for the UK inspection], ‘in practice, most of the action taken following infringement involved advisory letters and verbal and written warnings. These "soft measures" were applied even in cases of serious infringements….and the measures did not seem to prevent recurrence. Even though the inspection efforts and coverage were higher than in other Member States, the recurrence was greater, which indicates that the sanctions were less dissuasive’.

8. Allocation of fishing opportunities

8.1. Whilst Article 17 of the CFP has been retained and amended to state that relevant national authorities shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature when allocating fishing opportunities, this still results in a lack of transparency in how fishing opportunities will be distributed. Fish are a public resource and the rights to catch them are therefore a public asset. The Bill should make it explicit that existing and new opportunities should be allocated according to transparent and objective environmental, social and economic criteria to incentivise the most sustainable fishing practices. Failure to allocate fishing opportunities according to such criteria has the particular potential to disadvantage those small-scale inshore vessels whose fishing activity has low impact on stocks and the wider marine environment, with wider ramifications for sustaining the livelihoods of local coastal communities on which such fishing is reliant.

December 2018


[1] Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52012DC0665&from=EN

[3] http://www.mccip.org.uk/media/1818/mccip-sandeels-and-their-availability-as-prey.pdf

[4] Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy

[5] https://www.eca.europa.eu/Lists/ECADocuments/SR17_8/SR_FISHERIES_CONTROL_EN.pdf

 

Prepared 18th December 2018