“We will defend our hard-won Common Fisheries Policy reforms. We will continue to devolve management...and rebalance the UK’s inland water quotas to smaller, specific locally-based fishing communities”
- 2015 Conservative Party manifesto
Greenpeace has a long history of working with small scale and low impact fishers to ensure their voice is heard and government decisions reflect their needs as well as the ocean’s. As the Prime Minister triggers Article 50, the question on many people’s lips is what does this mean for UK fishing communities?
Conservative fisheries ministers worked very hard to reform the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy, and the reforms mean that actually many of the changes that local fishing communities and NGOs like Greenpeace want to see have been possible without needing to leave the EU.
Now, as we leave the EU and that policy may no longer be relevant to UK waters, politicians need to work hard to ensure something fair and sustainable takes its place.
There is no doubt that fishing is complicated. It intersects with issues like devolution, trade negotiations, promises made in the run up to the Brexit vote and a long history of disappointment in the UK fishing industry that has meant that fishing communities, often amongst the most deprived in the UK, are tired of broken promises.
However, there are three key things that this government needs to remember as they enter into Brexit negotiations and reimagine what a new UK fisheries policy will include:
1. Fish do not respect borders! Whatever fisheries policy they come up with, it needs to remember that national borders don’t mean a thing to the fish, and that UK fishers are often fishing from the same group of fish as our neighbours. We don’t fully understand how and when fish stocks move, and climate change is making things even more unpredictable than before, so it’s important for the future security of the fishing industry (as well as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) that we cooperate with our neighbouring countries in our fisheries policies.
2. Manifesto commitments still stand strong. In the run up to the 2015 general election, Greenpeace and small scale fishermen made its way around more than 50 coastal communities in a bright yellow fishing boat to get potential MPs to commit to our action plan for a fishing industry that is both fair and sustainable. The campaign was successful! All major political parties committed to put local fishers and the health of our oceans first. This government was elected on promises such as these and post Brexit, they still hold water. A recent Greenpeace investigation revealed just how little progress the government has made so far on this promise with nearly two thirds of fishing quota owned by just three companies!
3. Any new fisheries policy for the UK can and must have sustainability at its heart. The number of overfished stocks in the northeast Atlantic has dropped by a quarter in the last 10 years, but the latest data show close to half of all assessed stocks are still being overfished. If there is to be any fish left for future generations and healthy seas, the government must uphold its commitments to set sustainable, evidence-based fishing limits and properly implement the discards ban, as well as incentivise sustainable fishing. Greenpeace is working as part of the Greener UK coalition to call for even more progress to be made in making sure our oceans stay healthy.
As the UK leaves the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy, this presents a once in a generation moment to reimagine the future of the UK’s marine environment for generations of fishers to come. Politicians are uniquely placed right now to put the health of our oceans and the interests of coastal communities at the forefront of their policy making, making sure that fishing is done sustainably and has the interests of the local community at heart. We, and the fishing communities that depend on these decisions, will be watching.