UK accused of reneging on promise of sustainable fishing
The UK has been accused of breaking its promise to foster a sustainable fishing industry after Brexit by seeking to increase its catches of haddock, hake and monkfish in depleted waters off the coast west of Scotland.
Demands by UK government negotiators for flexibility to redeploy catch quotas for haddock and other better-supplied North Sea fish to waters off the west coast of Scotland prove controversial in negotiations in Brussels, according to people briefed on the talks.
Conservation groups have said the UK government’s approach risks sacrificing sustainability for ‘short-term profits’ and undermines its claim that Brexit would allow Britain to make decisions that’ enable habitats sailors to prosper ”.
The UK government is under enormous pressure to supply more fish to Scottish fleets after its Brexit trade deal with the EU left the industry accusing UK ministers of treason.
UK negotiators seek flexibility to secure up to 40% of the country’s 27,000-tonne haddock quota from the country’s North Sea in fishing areas west of Scotland known as ‘Area 6a’ , where the catch limit is only 3,800 tonnes, people familiar with the talks with the EU said.
A potential compromise raised in the negotiations would still lead to a doubling of haddock caught in the western part of Scotland, the people added.
But in the worst-case scenario, experts calculated that the British proposals would lead to a quadrupling of haddock catches, and also impact cod and whiting stocks, as some would inevitably be trapped in the nets of the boats.
Using flexibility to move UK quotas geographically “could potentially increase fishing pressure considerably,” said an official from an EU member state. Another said stocks of cod and whiting would be “depleted”.
The EU and the UK have been negotiating for months over fishing levels for more than 100 species that roam the waters on both sides. The talks are necessary because even though last year’s Brexit trade deal divides fishing rights, it does not determine the aggregate amounts that can be caught each year.
Last year, announcing the UK Fisheries Bill, then Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said the UK would create a ‘sustainable’ fishing industry that ‘would enable marine habitats to thrive ”.
Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation, a conservation lobby group, said the UK’s demands for flexibility on where its fish are caught were “the opposite” of the precautionary approach to with regard to stocks which was supposed to guide the principle of government.
“The solution is to recover these stocks, not to continue overfishing them,” he added. “The government has, once again, decided to sacrifice sustainability for short-term profits.”
Andrew Clayton, director of ecosystem conservation and fisheries for the Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit organization, said international scientific advice had advised a zero catch limit for cod and whiting in the west of Scotland.
Scottish fishing groups have said flexibility on fishing grounds is essential as the industry is left reeling from Brexit, which has prevented the sector from trading quotas with EU fleets.
Mike Park, managing director of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said that while it was important to be “careful” that flexibility did not result in too much fishing in the West of Scotland, the boats had need extra fish.
“We need it more than ever. We must seize all the opportunities that we have, ”he added. “Because this year we will be missing thousands of tonnes of fish.”
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Elspeth Macdonald, Managing Director of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said flexibility was key to keeping the fleet at sea. “Sustainability has to be seen as a whole, in a social and economic context as well,” he said. she adds.
The European Commission has said negotiations with the UK are “complex and unprecedented”, but the bloc is committed to concluding talks as soon as possible. He declined to comment further.
The UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said it is committed to improving the sustainability of fish stocks in UK waters while ensuring the stability of the industry.
“Geographic flexibility for stocks of the same species is a wise fishery management tool used by both the UK and the EU,” he added. “This approach does not increase the fishery as a whole.”