Many of my constituents have contacted me about the ongoing issue of super trawlers and overfishing. I share your concern about the protection and health of British waters and I am fully aware of the impact that super trawlers have on marine life. Heavy beam trawlers and super trawlers cause lasting damage to our precious seabeds. Our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. The future of the communities that earn their livelihoods from the sea and the biodiversity of the ocean depends on a balanced and considered approach to fisheries management.
I have worked with the Marine Conservation Society, local angling groups, the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority over the past two and a half years to achieve the Beachy Head East Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) which covers our coastline from Beachy Head to Hastings. We were successful in that the government designated this zone last summer.
The UK now has 357 Marine Protected Areas covering a quarter of the country’s waters, but the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy currently restricts our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. However, at the end of the end of the transition period, the UK will be able to introduce stronger measures so that we can manage our waters as we see fit.
As you may know, Ministers have already set up a ‘Blue Belt’ of Marine Protected Areas extending across 38 per cent of UK waters, and the Fisheries Act includes new powers to better manage and control these Areas. Further, under UK leadership, 80 countries have now signed up to an international target to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030 and, alongside this, plans to increase protections for England’s waters through a pilot to designate marine sites as Highly Protected Marine Areas have now been launched. I understand that the selected sites would see a ban on all activities that could have a damaging effect on wildlife or marine habitats. I know that the sites to be piloted will be identified by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee with input from the results of a formal consultation set to launch next year
The Marine Management Organisation has now consulted on proposals to manage activity in four of England’s offshore Marine Protected Areas: Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation, Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation. I am aware that the byelaws being proposed aim to prohibit fishing activities where there is evidence that they harm wildlife or damage habitats, and will seek to prohibit the use of bottom towed fishing gear in all four sites and additional restrictions for static gears over sensitive features in two of the sites. I understand that these first four Marine Protected Areas were chosen as a priority to help protect their vibrant and productive undersea environments. I know the information received from this consultation is now being reviewed and I look forward to the Marine Management Organisation's response.
The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has restricted our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. Now that the UK has left the EU, the UK Government has powers to implement evidenced based marine management that will help ensure our seas are managed sustainably, protecting both the long-term future of the fishing industry and our precious wildlife and habitats. The Fisheries Act will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels.
I know from my work on the MCZ that the access of super trawlers, beam trawlers and pulse trawling to UK waters is of significant concern to local fishing communities and to those working to protect our seas. As you have rightly pointed out, the Fisheries Act provides the Government with powers to licence foreign vessels in UK waters. This means that any vessel granted access to our waters will also be required to abide by UK rules, including on sustainability, and I fully support this approach. We will once again be in control of how we protect our waters.
The Joint Fisheries Statement and associated Fisheries Management Plans will revolutionise the way we manage our fisheries. This Bill sets our direction for securing the future of our fisheries to support future generations of fishermen and coastal communities. At Report we brought forward a package of amendments on the request of the devolved administrations, as they have now consented to the Bill. These are largely technical amendments and include provisions to make clear the ability of devolved administrations and the Marine Management Organisation to delegate functions to each other. This supports a UK wide approach where that is appropriate and helpful.
It is widely recognised that there are three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. We must not undermine this globally recognised balance.
The Fisheries Act prohibits any commercial fishing vessel, including foreign-registered vessels, from operating in UK waters without a licence once the transition period ends. It also provides powers to attach conditions, such as the areas that can be fished, species that can be caught and the type of fishing gear that can be used, to fishing vessel licences.
Foreign vessels operating in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, including the conditions that are attached to their commercial fishing licence. Where vessels do not comply with the conditions of their licences, action can be taken to restrict or prohibit their activities in future.
We are committed to making sure that our marine life can recover and thrive. During the passage of the Bill, there has rightly been interest in our approach to managing additional quota negotiated, and our commitment to the national benefit objective in the Bill which seeks to ensure that the UK benefits from fish caught in UK waters by UK boats. I am pleased therefore, to bring to your attention three consultations which have now been published by the government.
As a coastal MP, I will continue to take a very close interest in this matter.