Q147 Could each of you explain to us what you think the main flaws and weaknesses in the current common fisheries policy are, but also which of its elements and principles you would like to be retained in a domestic Bill?
I think the biggest weakness in the current common fisheries policy, following the reforms in 2013, is that those reforms have been under-implemented. For example, the legally binding requirement to fish at sustainable levels that was written into the CFP was classic EU fudge. It was put in there with a deadline of 2015 where possible and by 2020 in any event, so we are only now coming to the crunch in terms of delivering that and making sure that fishing limits are sustainable when they are set each autumn. The Fisheries Minister will no doubt have a torrid time in Brussels in two weeks, trying to make sure that deadline is achieved. The fudges in agreeing those objectives have added further delay to making that policy sustainable, even though a lot of work has been done in the four years since the policy came into effect.
One of the weaknesses of the CFP is its lack of flexibility and ability to react quickly when situations arise. That is something that can be quite difficult if there is a situation that requires reactivity. That is one of the biggest weaknesses, but one of the strengths—one of the strongest things that came out of the last reform of the common fisheries policy—was the legally binding requirement to fish at maximum sustainable yield, which is definitely something that we would like to see.
We would say that the strengthened version of article 17 of the CFP was an important step forward, but it has not been implemented in the way that we need in terms of environmental and social criteria. We welcome the transposition of article 17 into the Bill, but it urgently needs to be strengthened in order to deliver on environmental, social, and local economic objectives.
I agree with my colleagues and just add that the commitment to take a more ecosystems-based approach towards our fisheries management was a welcome inclusion in the CFP, and we need to take that broader perspective—take fisheries out of a silo and look at the environmental impact, not just on target stocks but broader than that, on other marine species and habitats.
Q Is it your view that if we move away from the multilateral kind of discussion that takes place at December Council, with qualified majority voting being the underlying principle for decision making, and instead we move to something that is more of a bilateral agreement between the UK and the EU, and given that we have set out clear environmental objectives that we have brought across from the EU in clause 1 of the Bill, then to answer Andrew Clayton’s point, it should be easier to deliver those objectives, because it will be a bilateral agreement rather than a qualified majority vote?
I would agree that the deal making might be made a kind of cleaner process through that bilateral discussion, but the big concern for me is that the precautionary objective brought into the Bill is insufficient. It actually undercuts the CFP; it is a lower level of ambition than exists in the CFP at the moment. The UK is signalling with this text as it stands that it will aim lower, and that will certainly make it harder to get that kind of agreement.
Q Would you expand on that? I know that you have raised this point with me, and I can make a direct comparison between what we have—clause 1(3)—and article 2.2 of the CFP. With the absence of targets that are now past, or they will be past by the time this Bill is commenced, the wording is identical.
The fudge that was agreed in 2013, and the legally binding objective that at the time was welcomed as a big win for the UK in negotiating that legally binding requirement, was CFP article 2.2, which is written in two parts. The first part of the CFP objective is an objective to restore biomass, defined in terms of maximum sustainable yield. It was felt at the time that it was very difficult to make a biomass objective legally binding, because you would be holding Ministers to account for putting fish in the sea, so it was agreed at the time that there should be a second clause to that objective with the aspiration to restore biomass. The second clause, which is the more important and more binding, actually relates to exploitation rates—setting fishing limits. It is that more binding clause that brings in those legal deadlines, saying that by 2015 where possible and by 2020 in any event, fishing limits should be set in line with that scientific advice on maximum sustainable yield. It is that binding part that we can hold Ministers to account to and it is that binding part that is having an impact in the EU decision making. That is the kind of element that is in the forefront of Ministers’ minds when they are setting fishing limits in the December Council.
Q But the use of the term “exploitation rate” was only in the context of describing the 2015 where possible and by 2020 on all quota stocks.
Personally, I think the date is a moot point, because the UK is committed to achieving that date by 2020. I realise the timing of this Bill taking effect is uncertain, but either way the UK is committing to achieving that job.
The net effect of removing that second clause is that the future Fisheries Bill would therefore just have an aspirational objective to restore biomass at some point in the future, with no deadline. That still leaves Government and Ministers under short-term pressure every autumn to take that short-term view, to overfish in any given year, and there is always an excuse that can be made that overfishing for one more year might be justified in some way, with this longer term biomass objective in mind. The history of the CFP shows us this, but it is not even a historical point that I am making. We have just literally agreed and signed up to a deal this week to set limits for 2019 for mackerel higher than scientists advise, and the only kind of saving grace in that decision was that the Commission announced that they would not be able to do this again next year because of this 2020 deadline. This deadline is biting at the moment; we need to stick to that and not go backwards on the progress we have made.
Q Finally on that, there is something else in the Bill that is not in EU law: the requirement for a joint fisheries statement. That is a statutory requirement to have a plan agreed by all parts of the UK that sets out how we will deliver those statutory objectives in clause 1. Is that not the right place to define and describe in more detail how to deliver that biomass objective?
That may be a good place to define it, but the problem with the joint fisheries statement is that, under clause 6(2), if a national authority takes the decision to act other than in accordance with the JFS, it simply has to state the reason why. There is no binding duty to follow that JFS. If it goes against the JFS and sets fishing limits that are not legally bound, there is nothing to hold it to account in that situation.
One of my concerns about the Bill is that it does not go far enough in addressing data deficiency. We have data for a number of stocks, but for an awful lot of stocks—some quota and some non-quota—we Q do not have a baseline stock assessment or an understanding of how much fish is in the water that we may be catching off-quota. What could be improved in the Bill to address that data deficiency?
That is one of our concerns. It is not really addressed fully by the CFP either, which is why we think the Bill is a great opportunity for the UK to start to fill that gap. You are absolutely right: we do not have an effective means of documenting what we remove from the oceans. There are requirements to log what is taken. We have operated a landings-based system to date, but we should now move over to a catch-based system, with which we should be able to monitor what comes up in the net. We are not able to do that now; the systems are simply not in place. We would like to see the Bill address that with a verifiable, fully documented catch commitment, supported by the use of electronic monitoring in the first instance, for example.
As you say, it is not only the catch but what else comes up in the nets that we can start to gather data on, which can be fed into stock assessments, increasing confidence in those assessments. That, circularly, is good for best management practice. We advocate a verifiable, fully documented fishery approach with the support of electronic monitoring on the vessel. When under a piece of legislation that prohibits discarding, as we are now, that activity occurs at sea, so we need some means of monitoring effectively at sea to take account of that. Improving data collection would be absolutely fulfilled by that requirement.
Q The Minister asked about MSY by 2020. The omission of the “by 2020” part, although problematic because it looks like the UK will not hit the 2020 date, means that there is no target date in the legislation, which is a de facto reduction in environmental standards compared with the CFP, which is something my party has concerns about. Recognising that we will probably miss the 2020 date, what level do you think would be appropriate for the UK to reach an MSY figure?
I certainly agree that it is a de facto reduction as the Bill stands. I would not necessarily make the assumption that the UK will miss the 2020 deadline, because the power is with the UK to set fishing limits, or for the Council as part of the EU process. The only difference between an overfished stock and a sustainably fished stock are those decisions, and they are in the power of Ministers. I therefore think that we should certainly stick to that MSY commitment.
We have made a huge amount of progress, which is an important point. This is not about some far-off aspirational aim when it comes to setting fishing limits in line with the MSY objective. For 2018, about 44% of fishing limits were set higher than the scientific advice, but for stocks with MSY advice the percentage in line with that advice was about 75%. We have made good progress; we have taken a lot of pain on the way but the UK’s stocks are moving in the right direction, with fishing pressure being brought closer to scientific advice, biomass recovering as a result, and profits for the fleet on aggregate rising at an all-time high as a result of that progress. The important thing is not to go backwards.
Q Can I ask about stock levels in relation to non-quota species such as cuttlefish? Cuttlefish live for only about two years, so there is a risk that if you overfish in one year, you can significantly affect stock levels with huge potential future impact. We do not have a lot of data on cuttlefish at the moment. For those types of species, is there anything that could be included in the Bill to require or encourage greater data collection?
I would emphasise that the precautionary objective in the Bill refers to harvested species. The Bill aims to deal with all those stocks, whether they currently have a fishing limit or not. It is a note of concern that the CFP also does that—it talks about harvested species—and the CFP is going in the opposite direction and removing fishing limits. Six limits for deep sea species were removed just in November. It is a good opportunity for the UK to show more ambition in managing those species better and gathering the data that is needed as the starting point.
Q One of the areas about redistributing quota, both new and potential if we get any drawdown from our EU friends, is allocating that on more economic, environmental and social grounds. Is that an area where, from your point of view, there could be benefits in terms of environmental protection and investment in coastal communities? Is that an area that you would support?
Absolutely. Greenpeace is working with the Greener UK coalition as well as the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation and Charles Clover’s Blue Marine Foundation, to push for a more robust approach to distributing quota—existing, new and future—on the basis of environmental and social criteria. It stands to benefit the entire fishing industry in terms of driving a race to the top for fleets of all sizes, which would have the opportunity to access fishing opportunities as long as they conformed to environmental standards and things such as giving local employment to communities. We see that as a huge opportunity.
Referring to the objectives again, I think the fanfare with which the Bill was published emphasised sustainability and put it at the heart of what the Government are trying to achieve. The language in the objectives is ambitious to the extent that it mirrors some of the existing commitments. I have already described the serious concerns I have about the shortfall in the sustainability and precautionary objective.
Learning the lessons from the CFP, the important thing under this Bill is that the Government pave the way for implementation—that is why it requires slightly more binding commitments in it—and through the joint statements, to ensure that is implemented in practice, with sufficient deadlines and some concrete detail. Fisheries is a policy area that suffers constantly from short-termism and highly politicised annual decisions. It is important that future Fisheries Ministers are not put under as much pressure to make short-term, short-sighted decisions as previous Fisheries Ministers have been.
The ambition here is for world-leading sustainable fisheries management. At the moment we do not have a duty in this Fisheries Bill to meet the objectives in the Bill. Those objectives cover a lot of very good things—sustainability and a precautionary approach—but without the duty there is no clear obligation to deliver those objectives. Without that clear obligation you are in a situation where they might not be met and there is no obligation to meet.
It has the potential to improve it if it becomes binding. A lot of these objectives are very good, but they have to be binding; they have to allow us to make those steps to world-leading sustainable fisheries. Without that binding obligation and without the obligation for MSY and without the improvements in CCTV and monitoring and information and data collection, we will struggle to prove that we are even making those changes to sustainability.
I think you just have to look, as Andrew said earlier, at the common fisheries policy. We have the binding objectives there, but there is still a lack of political push in many aspects to actually meet those things. MSY was supposed to be put in place by 2015, but it has been pushed back and back to the very last point, which will be 2020. Without that binding obligation, there is a lack of motivation.
That was demonstrated by the CFP. The last reform introduced that binding commitment for a deadline. Prior to that, we consistently set limits over and above that recommended by scientists. Since that binding commitment was brought in, we have started to see those trends going the right way: biomass increasing, fishing mortality decreasing, and trying to balance our fleet sizes appropriately to the resources available to them. This is good in terms of the commitment, but the application will be absolutely critical. To have that duty and also the mechanisms around it in terms of monitoring what is coming up in the net, what we are removing from the sea and how we are being accountable for what we are removing, will be key to the success and the ability to say that we are talking about world leading fisheries. At the minute, without that, we are falling behind.
Sustainability is clearly important. Several of you have mentioned the remote electronic monitoring equipment, as have other witnesses. Is that technology sufficiently developed to do what we want it to do? Is there any evidence from where it is being used in other countriesQ ?
Yes, very much so. Electronic monitoring systems have developed quite rapidly in the last decade and are now standard operational practice in certain fisheries around the world. In the US, for example, the national administration there has taken the decision that there is no need for further piloting; they just need to get on and do it. They currently have between 25% and 30% of their fleets covered by electronic monitoring. New Zealand has just taken the decision to roll it out across the whole of their fleet. That is in the process of happening.
Numerous other countries have started to adopt it, not just as a means of monitoring but in recognition the things that New Zealand cited, for example: reduction of waste, so it incentivises more selectivity; reduction of discards; and greater economic returns, because you are no longer taking out lots of smaller fish but allowing them to stay in the water longer. Your biomass and the health of your stock in terms of the make-up of age classes is better. Also, in terms of public confidence in the fisheries, the ability to say, “This comes from a highly sustainable fishery,” is a great thing. Coming back to your point on data provision, Mr Pollard, and the data coming out of the system, being able to build into the assessments gives greater confidence in that management. Quite often, if you have higher confidence levels in what you are talking about, your quotas start to increase because your confidence is greater.
There are benefits all around, and I think more and more Governments across the world are realising that. It is a cost-effective and robust means of doing that. Here in the UK we have several vessels currently operating with it and saying that they have benefited from it, because it has been able to demonstrate that sometimes what fishermen see in the water is not what they are being recommended by scientists, so they have said, “We can use this as a great tool to be able to say, ‘Actually, what we’re seeing is here.’” There is an ability to be very responsive in the management, turning it around very quickly—not quite in real time, but very close to it—and allowing adaptive management.
I do not think they have a detailed end point. The commitment is for all vessels going to sea to have this technology. They are rolling it out currently. It is not something that will happen overnight. You cannot all of a sudden one day have a vessel that does not have the technology.
Q That is the point I am making here. You are asking for it to be put into the legislation, and clearly in that case at some point vessels would need to be compliant, so I am trying to get a feel for what that really means, bearing in mind that there are some timescales that we are working to.
It might be useful to talk about a choke species, because that generates a lot of debate when we talk about setting objectives for sustainability and the difficulties of dealing with stocks that have very low levels of biomass and therefore very low levels in their scientific advice. There is a good example that will be discussed in the December Council: cod to the west of Scotland is a stock that has been overfished for decades. Fishing pressure is way too high and because biomass is so low, scientists advise a zero TAC or a zero level of directed fishing.
That is proving very difficult because of where we are in implementation of the CFP. In 2019, both a landing obligation and this MSY requirement—the deadline to end overfishing—will be approaching. What we need to do with those species is to find a way to reduce their catch. We need to reduce bycatch and we need initiatives to ensure that they are not being fished at the high levels that they have been under pressure from for years and years.
To meet the deadline, what is happening in the EU system at the moment is that they are considering bycatch initiatives—small bycatch TACs that would be used to bring fishing pressure down. Member states have plans to reduce the bycatch to try to restore that stock, because where we have stock that has been overfished to that level over such a long time, we have a huge disparity between the catches in that mixed fishery. That stock will hold back all the other perfectly sustainable catches that could be made in that fishery. What we have done for way too long is overfish and then hide discarding over the horizon. Now is the time when we need to get to grips with the fishing mortality in that fishery and allow that stock to recover so that we can get the highest yield out of the fishery overall.
In this particular case it is not an example of MSY being used to set that limit; no fisheries scientist on the planet would advise catching that stock, because it is in such a dire state. The MSY level of catch for that would be about 500 tonnes, but zero catch is advised because it is in such a poor state. That is one example of overfishing. I mentioned mackerel earlier, which is the UK’s most valuable stock. It supports so many jobs in the UK and is a really important iconic species for us. It is also a stock that has been overfished in recent years. That is partly to do with the lack of agreement between the various coastal states that are fishing the stock. Not all coastal states are within the CFP; we have to negotiate with Iceland, Norway and the Faroes.
The advice for this year was for a huge cut of that stock, because our luck ran out. We have been overfishing it, and taking too much of a gamble with that stock. Finally, a huge cut was proposed to try to get things back on track. That is, of course, unpalatable. The main thing that we need to do is to move away from that boom-and-bust cycle, so that we do not keep fishing at the absolute maximum pressure, or even overfishing, and then find it surprising when scientists advise drastic cuts. We need to move away from drastic cuts and get some stability in our fisheries.
Q You have obviously been very clear that you think that this is a less ambitious set of targets, and less binding on Ministers, than the CFP. How would you repair the Bill to make it more ambitious and more binding? Would you simply transpose into the Bill that second part of article 2.2 of the CFP, or would you do something else?
I understand the head scratching about the 2015 deadline and the 2020 deadline. I understand that that might not be appropriate for the Bill at this stage, but Greener UK has submitted amendments that would correct this and ensure that a fishing limit is set in line with scientific advice.
Yes, I think it is time that recreational fishers were at the table and involved in management decisions, because they bring a large amount of money into the economy and are involved in fishing mortality as well. They should be a player in the system.
My apologies for arriving late. In my experience, fisheries management is currently incredibly adversarial. We in this place, parliamentarians, and non-governmental organisations very much promote a more collaborative approach, with the fishermen being the solution. Do you think that that will be achievable in practice, and how do we make it achievable? We talk about collaboration the whole time, but in the real world it can be very difficultQ .
Again, it comes down to the processes, the implementation and how we are going to take it forward. There are some good models of collaboration and effective delivery. For example, the Scottish Administration have taken a very strong approach to that, really bringing the catching sector, the processors and the NGOs around the table to have very frank discussions about what needs to happen if we are to meet certain objectives. That is a good model, and one that could be replicated by the different Administrations. We will not deliver sustainable fisheries management by having conflict and not having the catching sector working alongside administrators and the NGOs, because we all represent important constituents.
Adopting a more fair, equitable and sustainable approach to the distribution of fishing opportunities in the future is of fundamental importance to securing the buy-in of fishers across our coastlines. We just have to look at the current unequal distribution, which can also contribute to unsustainable outcomes, to recognise that we need to see urgent change.
In practice, all we are saying is required to deliver on that is a couple of small tweaks to clause 20, which essentially removes historical catch levels as the prevailing criterion for determining the distribution of fishing opportunities in the future and requires that environmental, social and local economic criteria are prioritised instead. We need to think about the political buy-in that can be achieved by that and, in turn, how that helps us to deliver on the higher-scale MSY objectives that we have been talking about.
The advisory councils are also an example of collaboration between the other interest groups—OIGs—rather than the NGOs, on the advisory councils, and the industry. While we do not always agree, and it can take a lot of time to come to any agreement, there is a lot of really useful discussion and collaboration in those groups.
Yes we are, but we want to stress that the way to achieve that is through introducing transparent and objective environmental and social criteria that all fleets need to abide by. It is not necessarily a black-and-white dichotomy between small scale and large scale, although of course the new approach would stand to benefit the smaller-scale fleets significantly, given their current fishing practices where, for example, about 90% of the under-10s use passive gears.
Q Do you think that would have a positive economic impact on localities such as Hartlepool, where we hardly have a fleet but where the fleet could grow given a fairer distribution of quotas?
Absolutely. I refer the Committee back to the evidence from Jerry Percy on Tuesday. To add to that, the social criteria that we would suggest were used would need to be developed through public consultation and advice from experts. They should include, but not be limited to, things such as local employment and port and processing opportunities. That is a way to bed in local economic benefits.
Q I have one last question on climate change, which is hardly mentioned in the Bill. Are the provisions adequate to abide by international climate change obligations? What are the implications of climate change for fish stocks and marine ecosystems?
I can say something about the level of precaution and the importance of building resilience. As managers of fish stocks, as I said earlier, we cannot put fish in the sea and we cannot control biomass directly. All we can do, when we are managing exploitation and managing the fishing fleet, is operate with a suitable level of precaution and make sure that stocks can be resilient if they face other pressures.
Fishing pressure obviously has a huge impact on fish stocks, but so do climate change, habitat degradation and acidification—there are all kinds of other threats that fish stocks face. It is about leaving them enough space to be resilient to those other pressures as well.
On the economics, I wanted to say that the concept of maximum sustainable yield is primarily an economic concept that gained ground after the second world war. It is about providing as much protein for hungry people’s plates as possible. It is not a green benchmark; it is not something that you would start from if you were looking only at the environment—you might want to be more cautious with some other measure.
It is a happy coincidence that we, as green organisations, find that we are advocating a high-yield, highly profitable, highly economically successful approach. That is what other countries around the world have seen when they have delivered MSY. It is win-win for the environment and for the bottom line of fishing businesses.
I would like to ask about the legal implications of potentially redistributing quotas. What do you envisage the complexities of that might be? How can we address them as part of the process? What is your take on monopolistic activity in the fishing industryQ ?
Greenpeace has taken independent legal advice on the issue. The conclusion was that, from a legal perspective, the Government and any other relevant national authorities can feel very confident in proceeding with this new approach to quota distribution. The prospects of a successful judicial review are very low, and the reasons for that are twofold. First, in the Brexit process, the proposed amendment is being put into a new Westminster Act of Parliament. As such, after we leave the EU, Parliament will be supreme and the law will have superiority to case law. Secondly, the 2012 legal case discussed on Tuesday concluded that while there may be some property rights attached to fixed quota allocations, those are not applicable if the quota has not been used. In any case, it is within the power of the Secretary of State to allocate as they see fit. Taken together, our conclusion is that such a measure would be clearly compatible with national and international law.
Good morning, everybody. We have not discussed the fact that the Bill includes a proposal for a discard prevention scheme. Do you have a view as to whether the measures are transparent enough? What are the risks of doing that? Is it the right approach to avoiding discardsQ ?
Discards are a major issue and we welcome the continued commitment to trying to minimise discards overall. Our view on the measures in the Bill is that it is not quite clear what consequences or unintended consequences might arise. We would like to see more effort being placed on being clear about what it is we are taking out of the water and how much we really do need to discard. Going back to electronic monitoring at sea, we need to get a clear case. What we are concerned about at the end of the day is what we are removing from our ocean systems and how we can account for that sustainably. I think we would like to see more focus on that, rather than penalties per se, particularly as we are not quite clear on the intended or unintended consequences at this point.
Especially because the original intention of the landing obligation was to improve selectivity, to make fishing more sustainable and to reduce waste. If there are uncertainties and things that are not clear within the Bill, we need to ensure that the legislation is still trying to meet those initial intentions.
Q Rebecca, if we go back to quotas and quota allocations, you are talking about wanting to see more transparency, environmental measures and social benefits. You spoke about public consultation developing that. What do you actually want to see on the face of the Bill? That is what we are looking at just now. How do we get those protections in the Bill?
In terms of the Bill, we are talking specifically about clause 20, which starts off as a transposition of article 17 of the CFP. We are suggesting that a few very small changes are made to that article essentially to remove historic catch levels as one of the determining factors for distributing quota and to prioritise environmental, social and local economic criteria instead. That would be the tangible, most important change on the face of the Bill. In terms of the follow-up process, the change in the Bill would set the principles and the legal framework for how quota should be distributed in the future, but it would then become the responsibility and powers of the relevant national authorities, including the devolved Administrations, to run their own public, transparent consultation process to determine exactly what those criteria are, how it works in practice and to implement it.