The NGOs have been scathing in their response to the recent developments with the Fisheries Bill; this theme has been picked up by the Guardian and Independent.   Fisheries Bill – Guardian Commentary

Independent:  ‘UK’s post-Brexit fishing protections ‘pitifully weak’, warn conservationists

Rhetoric that government will develop gold standard fisheries is ‘a joke’, campaigners say

Conservation organisations and MPs have said the government’s rejection of a series of amendments designed to strengthen protections in the new UK Fisheries Bill indicates the Conservatives’ ambition to protect vulnerable habitats is “pitifully weak” and spells “the end of sustainable fishing”.

The bill replaces many elements of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which has governed the UK’s fishing fleet since 1972, and will prevent foreign boats from fishing in British waters unless they have obtained a licence to do so.

However, amendments including a provision to ban supertrawlers — boats more than 100 feet long, which can catch and process 250 tonnes of fish in a single day — from operating in marine protected areas, was rejected, as was an effort to introduce rules to keep fishing quotas within levels deemed “sustainable” by scientists.

The government described the legislation as “the power to build a sustainable, profitable UK fishing industry and deliver a green Brexit with new protections for our precious marine environment”, but since its inception environmental organisations have warned the bill could weaken protections on the UK’s fish stocks.

After the amendments aimed at banning overfishing supertrawlers were defeated in the House of Commons, the bill received an unopposed third reading and will now go to the House of Lords where peers are expected to further scrutinise the provision for sustainability and environmental protection.

Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, told The Independent: “The Tories have again voted against creating new jobs in our fishing communities and stopping supertrawlers destroying marine habitats

“Britain’s fishers and our seas deserve better.”

Helen McLachlan, fisheries programme manager at WWF, said the bill “sadly falls short of what’s needed, and the UK has missed an opportunity to take the first crucial steps towards ocean recovery”.  She said: “Urgent action is needed by the UK government and devolved nations to end overfishing, restore and protect vital marine habitats and build resilience in our oceans. This is vital not only for the health of the marine environment but for the many businesses in our coastal communities.” Currently, the UK is assigned a quota as a proportion of the EU’s Total Allowable Catch (TAC) under the relative stability principle (which uses historical data to set catch limits). With the new legislation, the UK will set its own TAC, but the country is still expected to participate in wider negotiations regarding sustainable stock management and quota trading.

Victoria Prentis, a junior environment minister, said the bill had to “balance environmental, social and economic needs”. During the four-hour Commons debate she said the bill represented a “once in a generation chance” to seize control of the country’s natural resources and “sets in stone our commitment to improving the health of our seas”.  But campaigners strongly rejected the government’s suggestion the bill would “make sure we pass on healthier seas which are abundant with life,” as Ms Prentis described it.

Melissa Moore, of international ocean conservation organisation, Oceana said: “It’s a sad day for UK fisheries as the bill will enable overfishing to continue as there is no deadline or clear duty to fish sustainably. “This is bad news for fishermen as more stocks will be at risk of collapse, bad news for coastal communities and bad news for the public who love fish suppers. “This is yet another example of this government getting rid of environmental commitments we had in the EU, in this case a deadline to end overfishing by 2020, and replacing it with something weaker. The UK government’s rhetoric that it would develop gold-standard fisheries management is a joke.”

The organisation said the bill represented “the end of the line for sustainable fishing”.

Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said: “Despite enormous public and cross-party political support for banning destructive fishing like supertrawlers and bottom trawling from our offshore Marine Protected Areas, the government’s ambition remains pitifully weak. Fishing boats over 100 metres long have absolutely no place in so-called protected areas. Just because their nets do not touch the seabed should not mean they are given every right to haul hundreds of tonnes of fish every day from vulnerable habitats.’

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