Managing shared stocks

Fisheries Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 pm on 17 December 2018.

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“(1) Where shared stocks of common interest are also exploited by other coastal states, the Secretary of State must engage with those states 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 objectives of this Act;

(b) fishing mortality is below levels which will restore or maintain those shared stocks above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield; and

(c) the impacts of fishing on the marine environment are avoided or, where avoidance is not possible, demonstrably minimised.

(2) The Secretary of State must endeavour to establish bilateral or multilateral agreements with other coastal states for the joint management of shared stocks of common interest.

(3) Where no formal agreement is reached, the Secretary of State must make every effort to reach common arrangements with other coastal states for fishing of shared stocks of common interest.

(4) Where neither a formal agreement nor a common arrangement is reached, the Secretary of State must—

(a) take all necessary steps to ensure that fishing of shared stocks of common interest is carried out such that the relevant stocks are maintained above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield; and

(b) provide and make publicly available an annual report to the appropriate legislature outlining the steps taken pursuant to subsection (a) above.

(5) In setting total allowable catches in the UK exclusive economic zone for shared stocks of common interest, the Secretary of State may not increase the total allowable catch for any particular shared stock for UK fishing vessels apart from in the circumstances provided for in subsections (6) and (7).

(6) Where a coastal state with which a shared stock is jointly managed has reduced the total allowable catch available within its territory and—

(a) the Secretary of State is confident that this new total allowable catch will be complied with and enforced; and

(b) the coastal state consents to the UK increasing its total allowable catch,

then the Secretary of State may increase the UK total allowable catch by an amount not exceeding the amount by which the other coastal state has decreased its total allowable catch.

(7) Where the best available scientific advice on a shared stock confirms that fishing mortality of that stock can be increased without reducing the stock below a level capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield, then the Secretary of State may increase the UK total allowable catch in proportion to the change in recommend fishing mortality and the UK’s agreed share of total allowable catch for that stock.”.—

The purpose of this 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.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We come back almost full circle to how we deal with what are known as shared stocks. It is pretty clear that that is going to be a subject of some political and commercial significance when we move to the next stage of negotiations on the future relationship with our current EU neighbours.

We have observed a number of times that the principle of sustainability was front and centre in the White Paper when it was published, but somehow does not seem to have made the transition into the Bill. New clause 11 would put sustainability back into the Bill as it relates to our management of shared stocks. It seeks to give a framework under which we would seek to reach agreement with neighbouring countries, third countries and the EU. I would suggest that the principles are fairly straightforward and sound and that this is exactly the sort of thing that the Government should have in the Bill if it were to be, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport suggested earlier, a sustainable Fisheries Bill.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

The Bill makes no firm commitment on how a shared stock should be sustainably managed, which was one reason why we spoke about shared stocks in the objectives right at the start of our consideration of the Bill. That is extremely concerning, as setting clear sustainability criteria in relation to negotiations with other countries would help to avoid, for example, another mackerel wars scenario.

However, I have some questions about subsection 6 of the new clause, in particular about its unintended consequences for the total allowable catch. It suggests that if, for any reason, a country reduced its allowable catch on sustainability grounds, the other countries in that shared stock would ramp up to get to the total allowable catch, which could have implications for sustainability. It would be interesting to know from the right hon. Gentleman how that might work and how he might allay any concerns on that point.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not agree with the new clause. It is unnecessary and could have unintended consequences.

As a country, we already have clear obligations under international law—under both the UN convention on the law of the sea and the UN fish stocks agreement—to co-operate on the management of shared stocks. That is an international obligation that we have as a signatory to both UNCLOS and the UNFSA. Notably, article 63 of UNCLOS requires the UK and all other signatories to

“seek, either directly or through appropriate subregional or regional organizations, to agree upon the measures necessary to coordinate and ensure the conservation and development of such stocks”.

Both UNCLOS and the UNFSA also contain obligations to achieve maximum sustainable yield.

I do not accept the analysis that there is nothing on sustainability in the Bill. Clause 1, right at the start of the Bill, contains a list of sustainability objectives, including a commitment to MSY and all the objectives that are currently written in the basic EU regulation on the common fisheries policy.

A more likely scenario is that other countries, whether that be Norway or the European Union, would choose to fish unsustainably. In the event that we could not get an agreement, the suggestion here is that we would still set our own catch well below that of other member states. Subsection (6) seems to suggest that other states might set their quota well below maximum sustainable yield, meaning that we could set it higher, provided we had the permission of other member states.

I am not sure what scenario the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland envisages. A more likely scenario is that the UK will insist on sustainable fishing, as we always have, since ours is the country that champions sustainable fishing more than any other, but another country might not agree to do so. If we could not get an agreement, that other country might fish unsustainably outside of an agreement.

Our remedy for that, as things stand, is to be very clear, as we were in our White Paper, that access to UK waters is conditional on other foreign countries fishing sustainably. We will have strong leverage to be able to say to our neighbours: “Unless you fish within an agreement and within levels that are sustainable, we will not grant you the access to our waters on which you depend.” That puts us in a strong position. The new clause seems to suggest that the UK is the country that will want to fish unsustainably while everybody else—our neighbours—are the good guys. I suspect the opposite will be the case, but we have other remedies to ensure that we can deliver sustainable fishing by our neighbouring countries.

For all those reasons, and because we already have legal commitments, including in clause 1, and to a joint fisheries statement, I oppose the new clause.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

It is a pity that the Minister’s appetite for declaratory clauses appears to have been sated by the introduction of new clause 22. I confess that I struggled to follow some of his reasoning. It comes to the point about subsection (6). Essentially, the Minister seems to be saying that we will behave in such a way that it is unnecessary for us to include the provision in the Bill, because those are our international obligations, although we are not expecting anybody else to follow their international obligations in the same way. I confess that I do not understand the logic of that.

However, having said that, the sustainability point remains. We know from experience of the common fisheries policy that, unless there are principles such as sustainability everywhere, Governments and fisheries managers are always very ingenious at finding ways not to follow them.

Given the lateness of the hour and the fact that we will probably want to return to this issue on Report with a broader audience, I am not minded to press for a Division at this stage, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 12