Date laid: 10 June 2021
Parliamentary procedure: negative
This instrument revokes retained EU legislation that deals with fishing measures which protect certain fish stocks in the Celtic Sea and which currently apply within the English and Welsh zones of British fishery limits. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that these measures will be replaced with improved and more responsive measures which will be brought in through the application of domestic and foreign vessel licence conditions. While the licence conditions will not be laid before Parliament, the Department told us that relevant Committee Chairs in both Houses have been informed about the new measures. The instrument also makes adjustments to the level of European seabass that may be caught as bycatch within the current fishery limits and incidental and consequential adjustments to the bass management measures. The changes are the first time that powers conferred by the Fisheries Act 2020 have been exercised. We have asked the Department to revise the Explanatory Memorandum, so that some of the technical terms are explained and the changes made by the instrument are easier to understand for the lay reader.
The instrument is drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.
1.This instrument has been laid by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) with an Explanatory Memorandum (EM). The instrument revokes retained EU legislation that deals with fishing measures which protect fish stocks in the Celtic Sea. Defra says that the revoked legislation will be replaced with improved and more responsive measures which will be brought in through the application of domestic and foreign vessel licence conditions. The instrument also makes adjustments to the level of European seabass that may be caught as bycatch within the current fishery limits and incidental and consequential adjustments to the bass management measures. Defra says that the instrument is the first time that powers conferred by the Fisheries Act 2020 have been exercised.
2.The instrument revokes retained EU legislation that deals with technical measures in the Celtic Sea, which currently apply within the English and Welsh zones of British fishery limits. According to Defra, the revoked legislation will be replaced with improved measures which will be brought in through the application of domestic and foreign vessel licence conditions. This is to enable a “more responsive management regime, allowing improvements in selectivity to be applied more rapidly, in response to new scientific information or the outcomes of negotiations on fishing opportunities”. Defra says that improved selectivity will “enable the vulnerable stocks that are in a poor state (including cod) to recover [… and …] enable the continuation of a profitable and sustainable fishery as stocks recover”.
3.The revocation will take effect from 5 September 2021. Defra says that on the same day, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will apply the improved measures through domestic and foreign vessel licence conditions, so that there is no regulatory gap. Asked about the scrutiny of the new measures, the Department explained that:
“Amendments to fisheries management measures will still adhere to the Better Regulation Framework, undergo appropriate clearance and scrutiny for measures that classify as ‘regulatory provision’. These must be developed in line with wider legislative objectives such as the Fisheries Objectives in the Fisheries Act, including the sustainability objective, the ecosystem objective, and the scientific evidence objective, for example. Any significant changes to fisheries management measures will be subject to consultation, along with a regulatory triage assessment or impact assessment, as appropriate.”
4.Given that the licence conditions will not be laid before Parliament, we raised the lack of Parliamentary scrutiny with Defra. The Department told us that:
“We recognise your concern regarding this issue. To inform parliament, Minister Prentis sent a letter on 10 June 2021 to MPs with a potential interest and relevant committee chairs [including the Chair of the House of Lords European Union Committee] notifying of the government’s intention to implement changes to the UK fisheries management measures relevant to the Celtic Sea technical measures and seabass fisheries management.Within the annex, the minister provided a detailed summary of the new improved Celtic Sea technical measures which are to be applied on 5 September 2021 through vessel licence conditions. [ … ] As stated our approach will provide for a more responsive management regime in the Celtic Sea mixed fishery, allowing improvement to be applied more rapidly and in response to new scientific information or the outcomes of negotiations. We believe this is necessary to allow for the objectives within the Fisheries Act to be more effectively applied.”
5.We also asked Defra whether the new measures had been consulted on. The Department told us that:
“The package of improvement measures in the Celtic Sea have been developed closely with scientists, fisheries managers and industry. They are based on the position taken by the government, presented to the EU within December Fisheries Council from 2019. There has been ongoing engagement with relevant industry and stakeholders to inform the position. [MMO] recently published a communication note,summarising the measures and notifying industry of timings. Proposed amendments to technical measures relevant to Nephrops-directed fisheries require further consultation which we are currently planning to launch this summer.”
6.According to Defra, the UK EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement requires each party to notify the other Party of new measures that are likely to affect the vessels of the other Party before those measures are applied, to allow sufficient time for the other Party to provide comments or seek clarification. The Department has told us that it has formally notified the EU of the new measures.
7.The instrument also makes adjustments to the level of European seabass that may be caught as bycatch within the English and Welsh zones of British fishery limits and several incidental and consequential adjustments to the bass management measures.
8.Defra explains that the UK and the EU currently manage seabass fisheries jointly, and that under this system, the fishing pressure on seabass stock has been reduced to sustainable limits this year. The Department says that the UK aims to reduce the level of wasted discards within these limits, by providing additional flexibility in the English and Welsh zones to the vessel landing limit derogation for seabass bycatch. The instrument therefore adjusts the cap on how much bass can be landed cumulatively, from 520 kilograms per two months, to 380 kilograms per month, within the overall existing limit that seabass must not exceed 5% of the weight of the total catches of marine species on board caught by a vessel per fishing trip. The instrument also adjusts the scope of the general bass fishing prohibition, so that it does not apply to bycatches using certain shore-based fishing methods. Defra says that this will make it possible to market the bycatch rather than discard it while remaining within the relevant limits.
9.The Department further explains that while the UK remains within the shared management approach with the EU and adheres to mutually agreed catch limits, it is now able to exercise regulatory autonomy to make incidental adjustments to the retained EU measures. This instrument therefore clarifies a provision in the retained EU measures on the vessel annual bycatch landing limit which the Department says has been consistently contested by the UK. According to Defra, the clarification enables more effective use of the annual bycatch limit without relaxing the mutually agreed annual bycatch derogation limit itself. The instrument also makes an amendment to make it easier to replace small vessels with newer, safer vessels, whilst transferring the authorisation to retain bass which is tied to the previous vessel to the new vessel.
10.Defra says that the changes made by this instrument were developed in consultation with the Devolved Administrations. Formal consent was obtained from the Welsh Government as the instrument is directly relevant to the English and Welsh zones of the British fishery limits. While parts of the Scottish and Northern Irish fishing industry operate within the relevant area, Defra told us that the Scottish and Northern Irish administrations did not raise any specific concerns about the changes.
1 on the protection of certain stocks in the Celtic Sea.
2 See, for example, letter to the Chair of the House of Commons International Trade Committee, 10 June 2021: .
3 MMO and Defra, ‘New Fisheries Technical Measures’: [accessed 23 June 2021].
4 This relates to bycatch generated by certain fishing methods, such as demersal trawl and seine fishing.
5 Fixed gillnets.