Amendment 93

Part of Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 9th March 2020.

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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 6:15 pm, 9th March 2020

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.