Fisheries Bill [HL]

Written Evidence submitted by the

Honor Frost Foundation (HFF)

Steering Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage (FB09)

Fisheries Bill 2019-21; Public Bill Committee

Summary

Fishing is perhaps the oldest of all human activities at sea. It is hard to envision the future of the UK’s fishing sector without conjuring up images of its vital past. However, new measures are required to avoid inadvertent damage to our sea-going legacy whilst making the most of maritime heritage for the present and future.

We support existing clauses of the Bill that encompass features of archaeological or historic interest within the scope of the marine and aquatic environment, enabling financial assistance and conditions on sea fishing licences to enable their conservation.

We suggest an amendment to clause 1(2)(a) in respect of the sustainability objective to ensure consistency with the definition of marine and aquatic environment in clause 51.

We suggest amendments to clause 38(4); Schedule 8 para. 1(4); Schedule 8 para. 6(4); and Schedule 8 para. 11(4) to ensure that fishing-related activities can be regulated to conserve features of archaeological or historic interest. This will address a gap in current heritage legislation and ensure consistency with existing provisions relating to the inshore waters of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Background

Michael Gove’s Foreword to the White Paper, Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations, acknowledged that ‘Our seas and oceans are an integral part of our history’ [1] . The physical consequences of this history frame the distinctive character and identity of so many of our historic ports and fishing communities around the coast. Indeed, it is hard to envision the future of the UK’s fishing sector – or of any UK marine sector – without conjuring up images of this vital past.

Fishing is perhaps the oldest of all human activities at sea. Today’s fishing and its prospects for the future lie on a continuum of development that stretches back millennia. The history of the relationship between people and fisheries is fundamental to ensuring a sector that is sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms. The history of fishing underpins many of our coastal communities. The losses they have sustained – both in peace and war – are still represented on the seabed by hundreds of fishing boat wrecks. Important for commemoration as well as their heritage value, shipwrecks also provide valuable habitat for commercial fish species today [2] .

Maritime heritage sites attract thousands of visitors  and contribute millions of pounds to coastal economies. A sense of history pervades many people’s enjoyment of the coast, where heritage provides an important tangible setting within which wellbeing and other social benefits accrue. For all that has been achieved in the maritime heritage sector, the potential for further gains is greater still [3] . Realising this potential requires that all marine sectors – including fishing – do not inadvertently damage our sea-going legacy, and that we instead take steps to make the most of maritime heritage for our present and future. 

Support for existing clauses

We strongly support the Bill’s inclusion of features of archaeological or historic interest within the definition of the marine and aquatic environment in clause 51.

As a consequence of this definition, financial assistance can be made for purposes including the conservation of features of archaeological or historic interest by the Secretary of State (clause 35), by Scottish Ministers (Schedule 6 para. 1(1)(a)), by Welsh Ministers (Schedule 6 para. 2(1)(a)) and by the Northern Ireland Department (Schedule 6 para. 3(1)(a)). We strongly support the inclusion of features of archaeological or historic interest within the provisions on financial assistance.

Also as a consequence of this definition, sea fish licensing authorities can attach conditions to licences for the purposes of conserving or enhancing features of archaeological or historic interest (Sched. 3 clause 1(2)(d)). Again, we strongly support the provision for conserving or enhancing features of archaeological or historic interest through conditions on sea fishing licenses.

Ensuring features of archaeological or historic interest are included within the scope of the sustainability objective

We welcome the inclusion of the ‘sustainability objective’ in the fisheries objectives set out in clause 1(1) and note the importance of these objectives to fisheries statements and management plans. However, it is not entirely clear that ‘environmentally sustainable’ in clause 1(2)(a) encompasses ‘the marine and aquatic environment’ as defined in clause 51. For the avoidance of doubt, we suggest that clause 1(2)(a) is amended to ‘not compromise the sustainability of the marine and aquatic environment’ in place of ‘not compromise environmental sustainability’.

Regulations to conserve features of archaeological or historic interest

Authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland already have powers to make regulations for conserving features of archaeological or historic interest in their inshore waters by virtue of s. 2A(3)(a) of the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984 and s. 124(2A)(a) of the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. The current Bill provides an important opportunity to make equivalent provision for features of archaeological or historic interest in the inshore waters of England and Wales, and in the offshore waters of each home country.

We note that the Bill provides powers to make regulations for conservation purposes for the Secretary of State (clause 38(1)(b)), Scottish Ministers (Schedule 8 para. 1(1)(b)), Welsh Ministers (Schedule 8 para. 6(1)(b)) and the Northern Ireland Department (Schedule 8 para. 11(1)(b)). ‘Conservation purposes’ include protecting the marine and aquatic environment from the effects of fishing or aquaculture, which encompasses features of archaeological or historic interest by virtue of the definition in clause 51.

However, the scope of regulations is restricted to provisions set out in sub-paragraph 4 of these clauses and paragraphs. For the avoidance of doubt, we suggest that amendments are made to expressly include ‘fishing-related activities in the vicinity of a feature of archaeological or historic interest’ among the provisions about which regulations can be made in clause 38(4); Schedule 8 para. 1(4); Schedule 8 para. 6(4); and Schedule 8 para. 11(4).

Please note that heritage protection legislation – such as the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 – cannot be used to restrict fishing activity on even our most significant historic shipwrecks. While many fishermen are diligent in seeking to avoid impacting their gear on wrecks, such impacts are known to occur and have been used previously to argue for more general restrictions on certain types of fishing activity. Making these amendments to enable conservation of localised features of archaeological or historic interest – as in the inshore waters of Scotland and Northern Ireland – would be far more targeted as an instrument in those cases where there is a demonstrable need. Fishing could continue beyond the immediate environs of the specific feature.

Any queries regarding this evidence can be addressed to info@honorfrostfoundation.org.

About the Honor Frost Foundation

The Honor Frost Foundation’s mission is to promote the advancement and research, including publication, of marine and maritime archaeology with particular but not exclusive focus on the Eastern Mediterranean with an emphasis on Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus.

The Foundation also seeks to foster and promote the protection of underwater cultural heritage (UCH).

The Foundation was founded in 2011 with a legacy from the pioneering underwater archaeologist Honor Frost. For further information please see http://honorfrostfoundation.org/.

September 2020

 

Prepared 15th September 2020