Natural England
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

Fishing for the Future

Natural England’s survey highlights public demand for sustainable fisheries

Three quarters of the public would pay more for fish caught without damaging the environment, according to a new survey published today (10th September 2009) by Natural England. The survey accompanies its new report, ‘Sea fisheries: steps to sustainability’, highlighting the ways in which fishing practices should be adapted to secure more sustainable fish stocks in English waters.

The survey (by TNS) revealed overwhelming public support for encouraging fishing practices that help protect the marine environment, with the majority of respondents calling for action to address overfishing and 80 per cent saying a healthy marine environment was important to them.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “Overfishing is one of the most significant environmental issues we face and it is clear from our research that the public are increasingly aware of the problems - and are willing to help address them.”

England’s seas are amongst the most biodiverse in Europe and a long history of overfishing has contributed to a marked decrease in the populations of many important species such as skate and cod. The ‘Sea fisheries: steps to sustainability’ report points to the heavy impact of discarding – the “scourge of fishing” - as a practice that now sees nearly a third of the total catch in the North Sea being thrown back into the sea, partly because of quota restrictions.

But Natural England’s report makes clear that current levels of waste and over-exploitation are by no means inevitable. The fishing industry has already made a number of innovations in fishing gear and fishing methods that can help to minimise damage to sea bed environments, and reduce by-catch and discards. A wider programme of fisheries certification is needed to ensure that the fishing industry can capture an economic premium for fish caught through these sustainable fishing methods.

In addition to highlighting the benefits of changes in fishing methods, fishing gear and certification schemes, the ‘Sea fisheries: steps to sustainability’ report calls for radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Ecological sustainability and better matching of fleet size to the size of available stocks should be made the keystone of more responsive fisheries management.

Helen Phillips continued: “The Common Fisheries Policy needs an urgent overhaul if is it to be fit for the purpose of providing sustainable fish stocks for the future. We need a radical change of approach to avoid a permanent collapse of marine life around our shores and the end of the livelihoods that, for decades, have depended on it”.

Dr Phillips continued: “We can avoid the bleak future that England’s fishing industry currently faces, but we have to accept that far-reaching changes - from policy through to purchase - are now needed. It is only through a fundamental change in approach that we can develop a more sustainable fishing industry and restore England’s fragile undersea landscapes and the rich and varied wildlife they support.”

Notes to Editors:

For copies of the report, contact: Michelle Hawkins, press officer, on 0300 060 1109 / 07775 585 935 / michelle.hawkins@naturalengland.org.uk and visit www.naturalengland.org.uk

1. The Omnibus survey was conducted by TNS between 24/07/09 and 28/07/09. The sample size was 898 (unweighted) and the interviews were conducted face-to-face in people’s homes using CAPI (computer assisted personal interviewing) technology.

The survey highlights:

  • 80% of respondents said a healthy marine environment was important to them

  • 83% believed that some types of commercial fishing can damage the marine environment to various degrees in England’s seas

  • 61% said they are concerned and that action should be taken to address over-fishing

  • 72% claimed they would be prepared to pay more for fish which had been caught in ways that reduced environmental harm

  • 58% agreed that helping fishermen to make a decent living was as important as reducing any negative impact on England’s seas that fishing may have

For copies of the survey, please contact Michelle Hawkins, press officer (on Wed 9 Sept 09), or visit www.naturalengland.org.uk for a downloadable PDF (as from Thurs 10 Sept 09).

Photos from the ‘Sea Fisheries – steps to sustainability’ report are available on request.

Interviews can be arranged on request.

2. Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. It conserves and enhances the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation.

Natural England is responsible for marine conservation in England’s inshore between 0 - 12 nautical miles. JNCC is responsible for UK offshore waters between 12 - 200 nautical miles and the UK Continental Shelf.

3. Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)
In spring 2009, the European Commission commenced a formal consultation on the reform of the CFP; the consultation closes this December. Early indications are that this will be radical, and rather greener, than before.

Natural England’s objectives for the Common Fisheries Policy:
a) Focus on ecological objectives The European Commission has already recognised that it is essential to achieve ecological sustainability in order to secure economic and social sustainability. Decisions regarding Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas must not be manipulated by political and economic concerns but should be determined by biological advice.

b) Improved governance The ability of the CFP to effectively manage stocks is compromised by the fact that all decisions are taken by the Council of Fisheries Ministers. A more appropriate scale of management would help unwieldy and unnecessary application of regulations. For example, if high level objectives were set by the Commission, determination of how to meet objectives could be devolved to a lower tier of governance – possibly reformed Regional Advisory Councils.

c) Overcapacity The size of the fleet should be proportionate to the available fish stocks. This will prevent the incentive to overfish and ensure profitability for the fleet.

d) Differentiated regime for an inshore fishing fleet Segregating the fleet into offshore and inshore components, if correctly defined, could reduce the environmental impact of fishing in the inshore area where some of the most vulnerable habitats are found. e) Integration with other policies The CFP will need to be a key mechanism to help deliver the aims of the EC Marine Strategy Framework Directive including meeting objectives for all types of Marine Protected Areas. This must be achieved in a non-discriminatory manner (i.e. to no disadvantage of any particular fishery or member state).

4. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Natura 2000
A formal consultation period will start in November 2009 on 10 new ‘Natura 2000’ sites – 8 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the EU Habitats Directive, and 2 Special Protected Areas (SPAs) under the EU Birds Directive collectively known as “Natura 2000” sites. There are currently 45 sites (SPAs and SACs) in English inshore waters currently which cover 4,328 square kms. The proposed new sites would provide an extra 8,667 square kms, thereby extending MPA coverage to just under a quarter of England’s territorial waters. Natural England is responsible for identifying these new sites, and conducting top-down public consultation on proposals for inshore waters. Defra is the designating body for new Natura 2000 sites.

Marine Conservation Zones
When the Marine and Coastal Access Bill becomes an Act (probably towards the end of 2009), the legislation will authorise the creation of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). Lundy Island Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) will automatically become England’s first MCZ.

MCZs will be designated to protect nationally important, rare, threatened and representative habitats and species and, together with the Natura 2000 sites and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), will form the English MPA network.

Proposals for MCZs will be shaped by a stakeholder-led consultation process supported by Natural England, JNCC and Defra. The MCZ project will focus on four regions, and four new regional groups will run these consultations:

  • Net Gain (North Sea)

  • Balanced Seas (the Channel and the south east)

  • Finding Sanctuary (south west)

  • Irish Seas Conservation Zone (Irish Sea)

This innovative and ambitious stakeholder-led consultation process will be the first of its kind in Europe. It will start in 2009, ending in 2011. Recommendations for MCZs arising from the consultations will be passed on to Natural England and JNCC to then submit to Defra, which will designate the MCZs in 2012. A new organisation called the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will be set up to enforce the MCZs by 2012. The MMO’s existence will be ratified when the Marine and Coastal Access Bill is enacted.