Fisheries Bill could see sustainable seafood options dry up

Supermarkets and foodservice operators have urged the UK Government to make “vital changes” to the Fisheries Bill as it returned to Parliament this week.

The Bill could “seriously damage the sustainability of UK fisheries”, warned members of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition in a letter to environment secretary George Eustice.

Members of the coalition, including Tesco, Waitrose, Young’s and Bidfood, said the current ineffective management of fisheries limits the ability of UK fishing communities to sell to responsible UK businesses. They also claimed that it impacts the availability of sustainably sourced seafood for consumers.

One area of concern relates to fishing limits. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy sets out both an objective to restore fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing so-called maximum sustainable yield (MSY) as well as a legal commitment to fish in line with MSY by 2020 in order to achieve that objective.

But the Fisheries Bill does not transpose the legal commitment that would ensure all stocks are fished in line with MSY. It “relies merely on aspirational objectives and as-yet-undrafted fisheries management plans”, SCC said, which “constitutes a regression in environmental standards from these existing commitments”.

There are also concerns with how the government has altered the language in the Bill. Current proposals are a “recipe for overfishing”, according to Andrew Clayton of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"The UK's [fisheries bill] says it will take into account the scientific advice; it doesn't say it will necessarily follow it,” he told Undercurrent News. “And there is language in there balancing this with other factors like the socioeconomics. So, the UK would in theory have the flexibility to choose to overfish, and go against the scientific advice, if it thought there were good economic reasons to do that in the short-term.”

This week MPs voted to strip out amendments so the Bill referred to long-term rather than short-term sustainability.

The SCC called for a “more sustainably-minded Fisheries Bill” that could “reduce reliance on imports, strengthen ties between national fisheries and seafood businesses, and improve responsible sourcing across the board, boosting the health of our oceans and their precious resources”

The SCC also called for legally binding sustainable fishing limits, robust enforcement and monitoring and sustainable management of shared stocks.

“The UK should be leading on this issue and not falling short of international best practices,” said SSC coordinator Oliver Tanqueray. “Consumers are demanding sustainable seafood – to be able to source this from UK waters, businesses need to see better management of our fisheries.”

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