Coloured nets on docks

UK government white paper fails to protect British fisheries and marine environment

The government’s plans for fisheries after Brexit are promising but alarmingly devoid of detail about its environmental commitments, ClientEarth lawyers say.

Today’s white paper has promised sustainable fisheries and better monitoring of fishing activity and enforcement of laws after Brexit, but no plans for how these goals will be delivered.

ClientEarth law and policy advisor Tom West said: “Yet again we’re seeing the government talking the talk, but it has failed to back up almost any of its promises with details or concrete action.

“Whilst we’re happy to see a commitment to managing fisheries with the whole marine environment in mind, a lot of what’s in the white paper is just a continuation of current EU policies.

“Michael Gove has said he wants to use the opportunity of Brexit to secure a ‘sustainable marine environment for the next generation’.  This is the chance to set an ambitious agenda – but today’s plans are really no better than the status quo.”

Importantly, the white paper assumes the UK will get a larger share of fish to catch, as part of its negotiations with the EU.

West added: “Achieving the environmental promises in the white paper depends on curbing overfishing. The government is also promising a greater share of fish stocks when the UK has left the EU, so it needs to explain how this is consistent with fishing at sustainable levels.”

ClientEarth says the government has a chance to set rules that ensure marine life in the UK’s seas continue to recover and thrive once we leave the EU. New fisheries legislation must include:

  • Requirements for government to set truly sustainable catch limits according to the best scientific advice
  • High environmental standards for fishing gear and methods and better protection for vulnerable ocean ecosystems
  • More resources for robust monitoring and enforcement of fisheries laws
  • A commitment that negotiations with the EU and other countries will ensure commercially important shared stocks are managed sustainably

“Healthy seas mean healthy fish stocks. We need well-managed fisheries to achieve that and today’s announcement leaves a lot to be desired” West said.  

A YouGov poll conducted earlier this year found that there is widespread support amongst the British public for new laws that ensure we fish responsibly and protect the marine environment. More than three out of four people support a new law to ensure fish stocks are protected from overfishing after Britain leaves the EU.

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Gideon Chilton

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