Oceana urges the EU and UK to commit to retain sustainable science-based management, high environmental standards and control of fishing activities in the negotiations for a bilateral fisheries agreement starting tomorrow. Fisheries is foreseen as one of the most controversial topics in the complex future relationship. While most of the awareness is focused on access to waters and the trade of seafood product conditions, ensuring the environmental sustainability of the agreement is essential.
The future agreement will be unprecedented in scope, covering over 100 shared EU-UK fish stocks - of which, the EU is dependent on catches in UK waters and the UK is dependent on exporting theirs to the EU single market. So safeguarding a new sustainable fisheries framework will not only continue the current progress achieved in terms of reducing overfishing, but will also protect the socio-economic benefits of fishing.
During the radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013, led by the UK, all EU countries agreed to a legal commitment to fish at Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020 at the latest. This collaborative approach for all EU nations concerned, resulted in the overfishing rate for stocks in the North-East Atlantic dropping by about half, from 75% to 40%, within a decade. Another environmental change championed in the reform was the banning of wasteful discards. The new EU-UK arrangement must continue this progress, and not reverse it.
Melissa Moore, Oceana’s Head of Policy in the UK, says that “fish know no borders so the EU and the UK must collaborate to end overfishing and deliver fully sustainable fisheries that are not fished above Maximum Sustainable Yield. Without this commitment we will see a return to overfishing, the collapse of more fish stocks, causing fish scarcity for future generations”.
Oceana’s Policy Advisor in Brussels, Agnes Lisik, adds that “only through international cooperation with ambitious common objectives and transparency can shared stocks and other transboundary issues be addressed. Reciprocal access to waters and markets should be conditional on sustainability, traceability and legality of the fisheries concerned”.
No collaboration or a no deal would result in highly competitive rivalry, leading to an ‘overfishing race’ that would be destructive to the environment as well as to the socio-economic situation in the long-run - both in the UK and the EU. This was the case with mackerel, a widely distributed fish stock in the North Atlantic, for which lack of agreement among the EU, Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland, led to unilaterally increased quota and risked the sustainable exploitation of the stock. Both parties need to commit to reaching a deal when negotiating annual catch limits and, ideally, multi-annual quotas.
The goal of the agreement should be to achieve fully sustainable fisheries governed by the best scientific advice, rather than politics. Shared stocks need to be managed according to joint methodology and the advice of an independent, international and widely acknowledged scientific body, such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), not by fisheries ministers’ desires and lobbying from the fishing industry.
Lastly, to effectively monitor the fishing activity of shared stocks exploited by both the UK and the EU, they should establish joint control programmes in the future agreement, involving the European Fisheries Control Agency. The agreement should also include commitments from both parties to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.