Amendment 93

Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville:

Moved by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

93: Clause 23, page 15, line 23, at end insert—“(2A) When making a determination under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must engage with any other state that exploits a shared stock with a view to ensuring that—(a) shared stocks are managed in accordance with the UK’s international law obligations and in accordance with the fisheries objectives of this Act, and(b) fishing mortality is below levels which will restore or maintain those shared stocks above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield.(2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A)(b), where the biomass of the stock or the level of fishing mortality consistent with achieving the maximum sustainable yield cannot be estimated reliably using the best available scientific advice, the Secretary of State must—(a) not postpone or fail to determine fishing opportunities for the stock on the ground that there is an absence of, or uncertainty in, that evidence,(b) have regard to the interdependence of stocks, the biological characteristics of the stock, and any environmental conditions affecting the stock, and(c) engage with any other state that exploits a shared stock with a view to ensuring that fishing opportunities are determined—(i) at a quantity which functions as a suitable proxy for maximum sustainable yield, and(ii) in a manner that is consistent with the scientific evidence objective and the precautionary objective.(2C) Where neither a formal agreement nor a common arrangement is made with another state that exploits a shared stock, the Secretary of State must—(a) take all necessary steps to ensure that fishing of shared stocks is carried out such that fishing mortality is below levels which will restore or maintain those shared stocks above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield, and (b) provide, and make public, an annual report to the appropriate legislature outlining the steps taken pursuant to paragraph (a).(2D) For those stocks for which fishing opportunities are not determined pursuant to section 23(1), fisheries policy authorities must—(a) ensure that exploitation does not exceed the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate, or(b) if the current biomass of the stock or the level of fishing mortality consistent with achieving the maximum sustainable yield cannot be estimated reliably using the best available scientific advice, ensure that exploitation—(i) does not exceed a level determined by a suitable proxy for maximum sustainable yield, having regard to the interdependence of stocks, the biological characteristics of the stock, and any environmental conditions affecting the stock, and(ii) is consistent with the scientific evidence objective and the precautionary objective.”

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, this amendment introduces binding legal commitments not to fish above scientifically recommended sustainable levels. We have touched on this issue in other amendments. I am indebted to the Greener UK organisation for its assistance and we have had a long debate today on Amendments 112 and 124, which are all about sustainability.

The UK shares almost every stock in its waters with another coastal state. While the UK will gain control of its exclusive economic zone as an independent coastal state, the fish that live in these waters will continue to cross between borders and are therefore not the sole responsibility or property of the UK. I have referred to this previously, as have other noble Lords. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said earlier, we are all on the same page here.

The purpose of the amendment is to set clear sustainability criteria in relation to negotiations with other countries to ensure that a clear and robust process can be developed to prevent overfishing. The amendment also requires authorities to set fishing limits in line with sustainable levels for any other stock that is not subject to Clause 23(1), including stocks that are not shared with other coastal states.

The Fisheries Bill must have a strong focus on the UK’s domestic and international commitments to rebuild healthy fish stocks and recover, restore and protect marine habitats and species, enabling the sustainable management of shared resources in co-operation with international partners. This represents international best practice as set out in the common fisheries policy regulation, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United Nations fish stock agreement and its sustainable development goal 14. All of these highly respected and reputable international organisations cannot be wrong in wishing to see best practice and fish stocks preserved.

Article 2 of the common fisheries policy commits the EU not to set catch limits above MSY by 2020, but this same commitment has not been included in the Fisheries Bill. While MSY is not the only measure, it is important. Instead, there is a simple aspirational objective to achieve a healthy biomass for stocks as set out in the precautionary objective in Clause 1(3)(b). However, it is not legally binding and lacks a timeframe for when it should be delivered. This is a regression in standards from the common fisheries policy and not one that future generations would wish us to sign up to. It is vital to protect against short-term political pressure to set catch limits higher than scientific advice, which will lead to overfishing.

I understand the plight of some fishermen, especially those working the mixed fisheries. This has been flagged up by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which has lobbied heavily on this matter. Fishermen wish to increase their catches, but that must be sustainable. Setting catch limits up to or preferably below maximum sustainable yield levels allows for the maximum proportion of fish to be removed from a stock year on year without reducing the stock’s ability to maintain its population at healthy levels. This is the only way we can ensure the fishing industry in this country well into the future.

If the UK sets fishing opportunities above MSY levels or decides to set fishing levels according to an alternative system from neighbouring coastal states, it will fail to implement its international legal obligation to meet Articles 61.2 and 61.3 of UNCLOS and its commitment to sustainable development goal 14 to end overfishing by 2020. Can the Minister give the Committee a reassurance that this will not happen? If it does, not only will the UK miss these targets, it will fail to realise the significant social, economic and environmental benefits of restoring stocks above biomass levels capable of producing sustainable fish stocks. It will also fail to increase the resilience of fish stocks in response to environmental changes such as rising sea temperatures. Again, that is something I have referred to in previous debates on the Bill, as have others. The UK is less likely to improve the stability of catches or to reduce the risks associated with overfishing or natural ecosystem fluctuations in the complex mixed fisheries that are prevalent in our waters.

In order to be effective, this must also be underpinned and supported by properly resourced and effective monitoring, control and enforcement. We are looking for the Minister to give a legal commitment on the face of the Bill not to fish above sustainable levels. I believe that the maintenance of sustainable fish stocks is the golden thread which runs through this Bill, so they must be protected. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee 6:15 pm, 9th March 2020

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of the amendment because it provides me with an opportunity to give part two of my lecture on maximum sustainable yields, although I detect that the undergraduate audience is less than enthusiastic about hearing it. However, I want to ask the Minister the following question. The classic textbook on maximum sustainable yield was written by William Ricker in 1975. In it he defined it as

“The largest average catch or yield that can continuously be taken from a stock under existing environmental conditions.”

The three key elements of that definition are “average”, “continuously” and “existing environmental conditions”. I hope the Minister will tell us whether, given that the Government are set on harvesting at MSY—which, as I explained earlier, I think is a mistake—there is a definition in their mind of “average”. To give three possibilities, is it the arithmetic mean, the geometric mean or the harmonic mean?

There must also be something in the Government’s mind about “existing environmental conditions”, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, already referred to. What does “existing environmental conditions” mean and how will the change in MSY be linked to changing environmental conditions? The Government must also have in their mind a definition of the word “continuously”. Perhaps the Minister could clarify those points for me.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench

My Lords, I cannot say much more than the noble Baroness has already said, very eloquently. I lend my support to this amendment because it addresses a fundamental question about Clause 23.

In the next group we will discuss some of these issues in relation to Clause 25 in great detail. For now, I fully support the idea that we should be putting these conditions into this agreement. It is similar to my Amendment 103, so I do not want to rehearse it, but I was struck by the noble Baroness’s comments about the fact that we should be managing this stock for future generations and not simply for the short-term economic needs of those who are benefiting from the status quo.

Not to trivialise the debate, but my children are engaged in the marine environment for a number of reasons, not least through watching the wonderful BBC series “Octonauts”. The Octonauts’ phrase is that we should explore, rescue and protect. I hope that the Bill can be transformed into one which enables us to explore the fishing industry with data, rescue those stocks that are in need of respite and their levels to be restored, and protect the socioeconomic conditions of the whole fishing industry, not just a subset.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling Amendment 93, which allows us to return to two previously debated topics: international co-operation and the need to ensure fishing at sustainable levels.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has previously spoken cogently about shared stocks and the interdependency of sustainability across nation states. The Committee has had several assurances from the Minister on both these topics yet concerns remain. Despite many challenges, especially in relation to the UK and the devolved Administrations’ activities, NGOs and stakeholders remain concerned that the legislation before the Committee does not truly give effect to the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably.

There are negotiations on trade yet to come, where there could be little transparency regarding sustainable outcomes without a commitment to produce annual reports. Instead, we see a commitment subject to caveats of fishing sustainably when circumstances allow and when the UK can strike relevant agreements at international level.

I will not repeat instances from previous Committee debates, but careful consideration must be given to how this framework can add value to the ponderous steps in that direction in the CFP, and brought back on Report. Movement in these areas would give us a level of reassurance that we are heading in the right direction.

However, as it stands, and as Greener UK points out, the objectives on biomass do not go far enough, and in any event are not fully binding. The Bill does not include legal commitments on international co-operation, with the Government falling back on their participation in existing international agreements, even though these are limited in scope.

The Committee can acknowledge that there are areas where the UK will want to diverge from the common fisheries policy. We have all been critical of the CFP for failing to achieve its targets in relation to MSY. Here, I admit to being in the kindergarten stage, having not even reached undergraduate. The fact is that these targets are recognised at international level and the Committee will need to consider how pressure can be brought in this aspect.

If we do not improve the Bill, the UK could be left with a regression in environmental standards resulting from the CFP. We will be left in a situation where the Government say they want to go further than the EU has allowed us to, but where there is no statutory duty to match what came before. This is why those NGOs, and certainly those on these Benches, are so concerned. We cannot let sustainability be left to non-binding policy statements, which can, in a number of cases, be overwritten or overridden. This is no basis for a fully independent fisheries regime; nor will it give the UK any cast-iron basis on which to negotiate with international partners.

The Minister may resist this amendment, but I ask that in the meetings which he has assured the Committee can be undertaken before Report, we might bring forward further improvements that the Government may be willing to sign up to.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Amendment 93, which sets out a number of requirements relating to the determination of fishing opportunities by the Secretary of State and fisheries authorities.

Starting with subsection (2A), it is important to be clear that the UK is already required to comply with its international obligations, including those under UNCLOS to co-operate with other coastal states to manage shared stocks sustainably. When it comes to shared stocks, noble Lords can be assured that we will be engaging with the coastal states with which we share those stocks. Furthermore, when carrying out his functions relating to the determination of the UK’s fishing opportunities, the Secretary of State will also be bound by the policies set out in the joint fisheries statement and any Secretary of State fisheries statements, as well as by the fisheries management plans. Repeating these requirements in the way proposed by this amendment is not necessary.

Proposed subsection (2A)(b) seeks to ensure that fishing opportunities for shared stocks resulting from negotiations with coastal states are set on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield for those stocks. The UK remains committed to the principle of the maximum sustainable yield. However, our negotiating partners might not always attach the same degree of priority to realising this goal. In those circumstances, the UK must be able to take this into account and negotiate accordingly or risk parties walking away altogether, with potentially worse outcomes for the sustainability of those stocks.

The noble Baroness is right to raise the challenge of fisheries management with limited scientific evidence. Shared understanding between nations becomes imperative in these situations. That is why the UK is so committed to continued engagement through ICES as well as global objectives such as the UN’s relevant sustainable development goal.

Although we will seek to influence and engage responsibly, it is not appropriate for the United Kingdom to seek to solve problems which may be caused by other countries. Subsections (2C) and (2D) of the amendment would introduce duties requiring the United Kingdom to act unilaterally to set fishing opportunities consistent with MSY, irrespective of the behaviour of other coastal states. This could lead to a number of unacceptable outcomes, such as disadvantaging the United Kingdom in negotiations by imposing stricter responsibilities to achieve MSY than those applying to other coastal states; and, more seriously, risking the creation of a perverse incentive for other coastal states when negotiating with the UK to either set higher TACs, or unilaterally claim larger shares, in the knowledge that under our own legislation we would be legally bound to reduce our own quotas as a consequence.

These possible consequences would not be in the interests of fish stocks, our broader marine ecosystems or, indeed, our fishing communities. I must reiterate that creating an inflexible situation for UK negotiators could result in the United Kingdom having to walk away from negotiations altogether, with unilateral quota-setting as a consequence. Experience has shown that unilateral quota-setting in the absence of an agreement between countries is a recipe for overfishing—something we all wish not to happen.

As I have said, the UK remains committed to applying independent scientific advice, and especially the concept of MSY, in negotiations on fishing opportunities. As an independent coastal state with a major interest in many shared transboundary stocks, the United Kingdom will look to exert an even greater influence on sustainable and responsible fisheries management. In this vein we are already working to: agree new frameworks for fisheries management with other coastal states; join priority regional fisheries management organisations where we have fishing and conservation interests; and prepare to enter other multilateral negotiations as an independent coastal state. We will continue to work tirelessly to achieve our sustainability objectives in all these fora. This is in addition to the joint fisheries statement or Secretary of State’s fisheries statement, in which we will look to set out our policies to deliver on the objectives set out in Clause 1, including ensuring that all stocks are managed sustainably.

I know I will never convince the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that we should use MSY; I reiterate that it is the recognised international standard—but not the only measure. I am happy to meet the noble Lord—I might get some of our scientists together so that there can be, shall we say, some exchange at the level that he would enjoy. I take the point. As I said before, it is not the only tool. We have to start somewhere, and it is internationally recognised. I am sure that the introduction of a new concept through this Bill is not something the Government will wish to put forward, although we absolutely will want to see what are the best ways of fishing sustainably in future.

On the commitment to sustainable fisheries, I say in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, but also to all noble Lords, that we have emphasised these points in the objectives. However, due to the international nature of fishing and fishing stocks, which span national negotiations, MSY for many stocks can be achieved only through international negotiations and relies on the good will and shared ambitions of other parties too. In part, this is why—we have to concede this—the EU as a whole has not met the 2020 target. It is also why achieving MSY by 2020 was a target for the EU as a whole and did not apply to individual member states, precisely because many stocks cover broad geographic areas. This demonstrates how critical it is to achieve MSY through negotiations with other coastal states. We will use our negotiating power as an independent coastal state to seek to achieve sustainable fishing at an international level.

I also say—particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, but also to others—that the joint fisheries statement is a legally binding document in which the policy authorities set out their policies for achieving the objectives in Clause 1. I do not think I will ever be able to persuade certain noble Lords that this Bill covers sustainability in the way they most desire. Their perfect form would not actually be in our interests, but I absolutely endorse the spirit that the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and all noble Lords have expressed: sustainable fishing is the way to vibrant communities. As I have set out in my remarks, the Government have that responsibility to negotiate and work with other parties and coastal states. Particularly with shared stocks, this will be the only way in which all of us who wish to share those stocks can achieve that desirable outcome: vibrant stocks.

In summary, although I know that the noble Baroness has all the best intentions in this, the Government think that as drafted this risks unacceptable consequences—unintended by the noble Baroness, I am sure—for our country. Given our existing obligations under international law, we feel that this is not required. As I say, I have taken on all the points made and understand the spirit in which they were made, but on this occasion I respectfully ask whether the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:30 pm, 9th March 2020

I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, that my granddaughter is also addicted to “Octonauts”; I quite like it as well.

I have heard what the Minister said and the difficulties around imposing MSY or some other very strong sustainability criteria. This is an issue that noble Lords across the whole House are extremely concerned about. Sustainable stocks are absolutely vital to the fishing industry. I understand the argument will be made that fishermen will want the fish to be there so that they can catch them, but sometimes that leads to overfishing of some stocks. I am grateful for the reassurance that the joint fisheries statements are legally binding documents, but we do not have them at the moment and it is possible that some of these statements will take a little while to come in. In the meantime, we need to be assured that sustainable fishing will take place. I completely agree that sustainable fishing leads to vibrant communities, but we need to maintain sustainable fish stocks across the board.

Given the number of times we have debated this, I feel certain that we will return to this in some form or other on Report, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 93 withdrawn.