This week’s negotiation round must give rise to significant progress, warns Oceana, as the fisheries agreement is essential for environmental sustainability and to prevent a return to overfishing
As a new round of negotiations between the UK and the EU begins this week, Oceana draws attention to the urgent need for a successful conclusion of the talks when it comes to fisheries. Due to the shared nature of ecosystems and fish populations, a deal on fisheries is essential not only to settle issues of access to waters and to markets but also, and most importantly, to avoid a return to overfishing.
Melissa Moore - head of UK policy at Oceana said: “Reciprocal access to markets and waters must be conditional on sustainability. An agreement between the UK and the EU must include commitments to end overfishing and restore fish populations, by fishing at levels not exceeding the best available science. Fisheries that damage our marine ecosystems and protected areas should not be permitted either.”
Under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), progress was made to reduce overfishing. But this autumn the fishing rules need to be agreed for 2021, the first year when the UK will not be subject to the rules of the CFP. Failure to come to a deal will endanger any chances of agreeing such rules, which could easily result in unilateral quota setting and overfishing. EU and UK fishers need at least the stability and certainty of how much they will be allowed to catch next year, and that amount must be sustainable.
Vera Coelho – Senior director of advocacy in Europe at Oceana said: “An agreement is urgently needed, not only to provide the foundation for long-term sustainable management, but also because decisions must be made very soon regarding fishing limits and other management measures effective as of 1st January 2021.”
Oceana is advocating for a deal that is based on scientific catch limits, upholds environmental standards and leads to operational predictability for fishers. The alternative, no deal and no cooperation, is the worst possible outcome, as the unilateral setting of catch limits will result in an overfishing race to the bottom.
Fisheries remains one of the issues that is preventing an overall agreement between the EU and the UK in the negotiations on their post-Brexit relationship. Any future agreement will be unprecedented in scope, covering over 100 fish stocks. For legal and political reasons, a final agreement must be in place by October, so that the EU and UK parliaments have time to ratify it before the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020. Negotiations on catch limits for 2021 must also start this autumn, so that they can be agreed in time for the beginning of the fishing year in January 2021.
In the last decade, a collaborative effort based on common objectives established in the CFP has resulted in the overfishing rate in the North-East Atlantic dropping from 75% to 40%. This progress must continue if overfishing is to become a thing of the past.
Oceana maintains that there must be a legal guarantee that the total allowable catch (TAC) for commercial fish stocks will not overshoot scientific advice and will not exceed Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), the sustainable rate of fishing. Whereas the heated political discussion between the EU and the UK concentrates on their respective quota shares and access to waters, it is critical that the fishing limits for both parties be set according to science for the sake of ending overfishing, allowing fish stocks to recover and providing a long-term future for both countries’ fishing sectors. Oceana believes that shared stocks need to be jointly managed according to a common methodology and non-biased advice of an independent, international and widely acknowledged scientific body, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), of which the UK, Norway and EU countries are members.
Similarly, Oceana argues that the UK government must adopt a clear legal commitment to fish at or below sustainable levels in the Fisheries Bill, which is now being debated and amended in the UK parliament. Whilst the UK government has promised a world leading bill, it is shying away from any legal duty to fish sustainably below Maximum Sustainable Yield.