Managing shared stocks

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

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:45, 17 December 2018

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.