MCS Alice Watson, public affairs assistant at the Marine Conservation Society, discusses the Fisheries Bill and its key provisions.
What is the history of the Bill?
The Fisheries Bill will be the UK’s first domestic fisheries legislation in over 40 years. Upon leaving the EU, the UK will become an independent coastal state in charge of managing its own waters. This presents a new opportunity to establish the UK and devolved nations as leaders in sustainable fisheries management.
The Fisheries Bill was first published in October 2018 but failed to progress beyond Committee stage in the House of Commons. A new version of the bill was introduced into the House of Lords at the end of January 2020 and has just finished Committee Stage.
What are the key provisions?
The Fisheries Bill is primarily a piece of framework legislation to govern UK fisheries after Brexit. It sets up a foundation for future fisheries policy to operate in and legitimately provides the UK with the legal power to exercise control of its waters.
The bill is underpinned by a set of key principles, aiming to act as the goalposts for a sustainable and profitable fishing industry. These aims are framed to achieve several outcomes, including:
- controlling access—the bill formally ends the automatic right for EU vessels to access UK fishing waters. In its place, there will be new licencing requirements for any fishing vessel that operates within the UK
- a joint management approach—fisheries is a devolved matter, but as the administrations share key stocks, the bill aims to achieve a ‘common framework’ for collective management. This will be achieved through Joint Fisheries Statements (JFS), where devolved authorities are required to set out how they aim to achieve the key objectives in the bill. The bill also introduced the concept of ‘Fisheries Management Plans’ (FMP), which are intended to lay out the details of how they will achieve sustainable fisheries
- distributing fishing opportunities—the Secretary of State will be given the power to determine fishing opportunities for the UK
- sustainable fisheries—the bill aims to ensure the long-term sustainability of UK fisheries by in-troducing sustainability objectives that are dealt with in the JFS