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The Joint Fisheries Statement – A ‘world leading’ statement of intent?

3 minute read

We asked Nicola Cusack, our Fisheries Policy Manager, to tell us about the UK Government's recently published Joint Fisheries Statement, and what it means for our seas.

What is the Joint Fisheries Statement and what does it mean?

When the UK left the European Union on the 31st January 2020, it became an independent coastal state and was no longer subject to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy - presenting a sizable challenge for the UK.

The UK Fisheries Act (2020) offered a solution - it showed a renewed commitment to sustainability which ensures healthy seas for future generations, and marked a major milestone in the UK's ambitions to manage fisheries sustainably into the future. It laid out eight objectives (known as the Fisheries Objectives) which balance social, economic, and environmental benefits while preventing the over-exploitation of fish stocks and protecting the marine environment.

On the 23rd November 2022, the UK Government published the Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS). This sets out how the UK delivers on eight Fisheries Objectives, and demonstrates how the UK intends to manage fisheries while restoring the marine environment.

Boat leaving Hastings harbour Peter Richardson

Credit: Peter Richardson

Who wrote the JFS and what does it cover?

The JFS sets out how UK fisheries will be managed in the future and how the UK plans to meet its ambition to become a ‘world leader’ in fisheries management. It was published by the UK Government Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which collaborated with UK devolved administrations and UK fishing industry stakeholders.

Environmental organisations like us have also been feeding into the process and support many of the Fisheries Objectives. We believe these will benefit the fishing industry, fishing communities, and the marine environment.

Who does it impact?

The Fisheries Act (2020) and the JFS are primarily aimed at managing the UK’s fisheries. However, the Fisheries Objectives within the Act include benefits such as restoring the marine environment and making contributions to tackling climate change, which are beneficial for all - not just the fishing industry.

fishing boats

Credit: Jack Clarke

Has it achieved this ambitious aspiration or has another opportunity slipped the net?

The published JFS does include some new and positive language, and there are notable improvements, such as recognising the connection between fishing activities and environmental restoration. It also references recreational sea angling and aquaculture, both of which are crucial components of a well-managed marine environment and are very much welcome.

However, some language has been weakened and there are many non-committal additions such as ‘may’ and ‘where appropriate’, with very little detail on how. We're concerned that this language undermines ambition and takes strength out of the statement.

Does the JFS deliver world-leading fisheries management?

We are in climate and biodiversity crises. We need strong and ambitious policies and leadership which support the marine environment while providing certainty and clarity for sea users and decision makers, too. It’s concerning to see some timeframes in the JFS slip. We urge the UK Government to make good on its ambition to deliver ‘world leading fisheries management’ and at pace.

The UK Government previously claimed that the JFS would set out how it would deliver on the fisheries objectives, but it has failed to do this. Instead, it's disappointing, it lacks the ambition needed and gives the impression of all words but little action.

We believe the JFS has effectively ‘kicked the can down the road’ for the next step in the process – the Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) - to pick up.

We welcome the FMPs but with so much now at stake, it's crucial that they deliver for the environment through Fisheries Objectives, and not just the recovery of commercially exploited stocks.

The UK Governments and devolved administrations must work together to recover depleted stocks, address the bycatch of sensitive species, and restore the marine environment through a holistic, ecosystem-based approach. We strongly urge the UK Government to develop FMPs in line with environmental sustainability principles that support fishing activity and restores the marine environment, alongside continued, constructive engagement with stakeholders.

The future for managing fisheries in the UK has the potential to be very bright indeed. We must commit to to timebound, effective targets, make clear decisions in light of future challenges, and balance the need to deliver a sustainable fishing industry and restore our marine environment - a shared goal for us all.