Fisheries Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Greenpeace UK (FB12)

Greenpeace is a member of Greener UK and supports all the coalition’s asks. This submission complements Greener UK’s asks for the Fisheries Bill and should be read alongside the coalition’s submission (FB06).

Greenpeace is an international environmental campaigning organisation with presence in around 50 countries around the world. It has been campaigning for more action on climate change and nature protection, including protection for our oceans, for well over a quarter of a century.

The Issue

1) Our oceans are facing more pressures than at any time in human history. Globally, 93% of commercial fish populations are being fully or overfished. Reports suggest there could be more microplastics in parts of our waters than zooplankton; and climate change is making our oceans warmer, more acidic and driving the oxygen from them. Last year, just 59% of UK fish stocks were fished at or below sustainable levels - down from 69% in 2018.

2) Local fishers across the UK’s coastlines were promised an improvement to their livelihoods after Brexit. Two major threats to their livelihoods are industrial-scale overfishing, which depletes fish stocks and reduces catches in inshore waters, and historic inequity in the way in which fishing opportunities are allocated. Whereas the majority of UK fishing boats (79%) are small-scale, the small-scale fleet holds only 2% of UK quota. [1] As a result, many coastal communities have lost out in terms of employment and port-based investment due to lack of access to fishing opportunities.

3) The UK’s offshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were established to safeguard vulnerable ecosystems from destructive activities in domestic waters. However, destructive industrial fishing activity is rife in these areas:

A Greenpeace investigation revealed that supertrawlers - industrial fishing vessels longer than 100 meters that catch hundreds of tonnes of fish a day - spent 2968 hours fishing in UK MPAs in 2019. [2]

A subsequent Greenpeace investigation revealed that supertrawler fishing activity in MPAs in the first half of 2020 is almost double that of the whole of last year. [3]

Greenpeace’s most recent report found that, as a result of weak levels of protection and the lack of long-term site condition monitoring, only 5 of 73 offshore UK MPAs may be progressing towards their conservation targets. Aside from supertrawlers, sandeel fisheries, electric pulse fishing and bottom trawlers also operate in these so called ‘protected’ areas. [4]

4) Unfortunately, it is clear that the UK’s network of MPAs is currently no more than lines on a map.

5) Fully protected MPAs, which at present cover less than a few kilometres of UK waters, are not only effective tools to safeguard vulnerable ecosystems. They are also seen to have significant benefits in restoring fish populations (with as much as a 670% increase in abundance inside fully protected areas compared to partially protected areas) and in mitigating against and building resilience to the worst impacts of climate change.

Solution

6) Once the UK leaves the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the Government will have the opportunity to introduce stronger measures to protect our waters at home. This will enable the UK both to be a world leader in ocean protection, and to improve the livelihoods of coastal communities. In addition to the vital sustainability amendments endorsed by the Greener UK coalition, the two most important measures the Government should take to deliver on this are:

7) Strengthen the protection of the UK’s offshore MPAs - use the UK’s renewed powers to regulate coastal waters outside the CFP by immediately committing to ban destructive industrial fishing vessels like supertrawlers from fishing in MPAs.

Such a ban would instantly help ease pressure on the vulnerable ecosystems within MPAs, and would have a spillover effect to local waters, thereby helping to revitalise fish stocks. Low-impact fishers would benefit from this as they would see increases to their catch.

One hectare of ocean in which fishing is not allowed produces at least five times the amount of fish as an equivalent unprotected hectare. [5] That’s because fish in protected areas grow to larger sizes which means they have higher reproductive outputs. And because fish and their eggs disperse out from the MPA to surrounding areas, this has a positive impact on fisheries yields outside MPAs.

A ban on the most destructive industrial fishing in MPAs should be the first step towards designating a network of fully or highly protected MPAs off-limits to all destructive human activity across 30% of the UK’s waters by 2030. This would give ocean life the space it needs to recover and thrive. The remaining 70% should be sustainably managed.

It would also bolster the Government’s credibility as an ocean champion on the world stage, and strengthen its position when negotiating for a Global Ocean Treaty that can pave the way to protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

A ban on supertrawlers in MPAs would be widely welcomed by the UK public. 81% of people polled agreed that supertrawlers should be banned from fishing in UK MPAs (85% among Conservative voters and 81% among Labour voters). [6]

8) Introduce a fairer and more sustainable system for distributing fishing opportunities

Instead of allocating quota simply on the basis of historic catch, quota should be distributed transparently on the basis of environmental, local economic and social criteria (e.g. more selective gear, delivery of local jobs etc). This would incentivise a race to the top in fishing practices, encouraging continual improvement across the sector as the basis for securing the ongoing right to fish. As part of a post-covid recovery package, it would also help boost new entrants, and likely deliver a larger share of opportunities to the inshore fleet.

September 2020


[1] https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/10/11/fishing-quota-uk-defra-michael-gove/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/11/supertrawlers-making-a-mockery-of-uks-protected-seas

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/13/supertrawlers-ramp-up-activity-uk-protected-waters-during-lockdown

[4] https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/resources/bright-blue-seas-mpa-report/

[5] https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fee.2075

[6] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-06-18/four-in-five-want-supertrawlers-banned-from-marine-protected-areas-poll-shows/

 

Prepared 15th September 2020