UK politicians join forces to fight for better fish laws

Posted by Willie — 19 May 2011 at 2:13pm - Comments

In case you missed it, last week a progressive debate was held in the House of Commons about the future of UK fish: centred on the urgent need for reform of European fisheries laws, and ending the needless waste of excess catch known as ‘discards’.

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP, secured the parliament debate because of widespread cross-party support for his Early Day Motion, which called for a full resolution to this year’s Fish Fight campaigns and issues around discards. Early Day Motions are like an official petition for MPs that they can add their names to if they agree with the motion - if one gathers a lot of signatories the topic is considered for debate, allowing a fuller discussion of the motion's issues by concerned MPs.

MPs showed massive support for Goldsmith’s Motion (aka EDM 1123), with 240 signed up. Combined with huge public pressure, plus the media’s focus on discards (after campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s successful Fish Fight TV series), this was bound to be a well attended – and keenly watched – debate.

Over three hours, his motion was discussed and agreed unanimously. Many MPs, including those who represent fishing communities, took part and there was broad agreement that meaningful reform of European fishing rules (the Common Fisheries Policy) was desperately needed.

(For full details on who took part and what was said, read the full transcript here. Or you'll get a quicker synopsis via the Conservatives’ blog on the motion including Zac’s full speech.) 

The huge impact of Hugh’s Fish Fight campaign was explicitly acknowledged, as was the need for a ‘ecosystem-based approach’ to fisheries. This means that the impact of fisheries on the wider environment has to be factored in; considering the single species being targeted is just not enough.
Goldsmith also called for an end to discards - the shameless waste of fish (and other marine life), caught and thrown back in to the sea dead (with the exception of those very few species which can survive).

This ask is very important, as there was concern that a ‘discard ban’ would mean killing more fish that currently survive – an obviously perverse outcome for a ban designed to eliminate discards.
The motion also calls for all fish and shellfish to be harvested at sustainable levels by 2015 - essential as over 80 per cent of EU fish stocks are currently considered to be in trouble.
The last point made by Goldsmith’s motion - and the most important - calls on the UK to introduce better standards of conservation and management of its own waters: that the UK should expect all boats, whatever nation’s flag they fly, to comply with our rules in our waters. For conservation this is priority, as the UK, like other EU member states, must be responsible for protecting its own waters. Right now rules around conservation (and managing fisheries) in the UK cannot be enforced on non-UK vessels - unless the EU agrees.
The cross party support for this motion was impressive. The unanimous support in Westminster even more so. But where do we go from here?

The CFP reform process is already underway, so it’s up to the UK government to consider how much of Goldsmith’s motion they’ll use for the official position on that reform.

The UK government must also be aware of how hard it will need to fight once these tough negotiations start. It’ll be under pressure to trade off protecting our marine environment for winnng other goals in Brussels.

Surely the massive political support, public pressure (674,000 emails and counting) plus media interest in Fish Fight must count for something?

CFP reform will happen, but it needs to happen properly. Discarding perfectly good fish isn’t the only issue, as explained by Ariana on our blog, but it's by far the most unacceptable one to the average voter.

After watching the entire groundbreaking debate, I’ll leave the final word to Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, who summed the message up when he opened the talk series at Selfridges’ Project Ocean:

‘You cannot backtrack on the public indignation over discards’.

Well done Hugh, and Zac. UK government – it’s over to EU!

Want to know more? Read about Greenpeace UK's oceans and fishing campaigns here:

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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