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.