News and blog

Erin Priddle

Programme Director – UK & Ireland

Brexit and the three MSC 'Ps'

February 13, 2020

The ‘B’ word. If I had an oyster for every time I heard that phrase, I’d have a jewellery shop full of beautiful pearls. But now it seems the UK’s divorce from the EU is real and there are many debates, discussions and opinions on what that means for UK and EU fisheries.  

For the MSC, the outcome we want from UK/EU negotiations is simple: the resulting ‘deal’ needs to ensure that overfishing is prevented. That requires the UK to adopt robust legislation and a policy framework that enables long-term management planning for the protection of fish stocks. Importantly, it also requires reciprocity by both sides to work cooperatively to ensure fisheries are managed sustainably. Fortunately, fishing at sustainable levels is a core requirement of the Fisheries Bill. It is also an overarching requirement of Principle 1 of MSC’s Fisheries Standard.  

But what else can our Fishery Standard offer as the UK sets its own course for a life outside the EU? Environmental safeguards are key. We already have a plethora of EU Directives under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive that offer important protection from damaging fishing activity. This includes protection for Endangered, Threatened, and Protected (ETP) species which is enshrined in Principle 2 of MSC’s Standard. There is an objective in the Fisheries Bill to protect ecosystems and minimise bycatches, which compliments MSC’s own vision to protect vulnerable marine habitats by incentivising fishermen to introduce measures that minimise the impact of their fishing activity on the wider marine environment. But as they say, the devil is in the detail and further debate in the UK Parliament is needed, along with comprehensive secondary legislation, that will demonstrate how these objectives will work in practice.  

All this is well and good, but political borders are superficial for fish who don’t know Brexit is happening and have ‘free movement’ to roam between north and south, east and west. With accelerated environmental changes and global sea temperatures rising, fish may leave their traditional grounds and crossover geo-political borders. The need for responsive and adaptive management across political borders is clear but achieving this in practice is more problematic. Now, more than ever, we need robust and effective agreements and long-term management plans to ensure nations are able to operate in the best interest of sustainability.  

Fortunately, Principle 3 of our Standard requires just that. Harvest Strategies and Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) are the foundation of managing stocks across borders by providing a comprehensive framework to develop joint management strategies. These are critical to achieving good fisheries governance and help ensure nations don’t overfish any stock while it is within their borders. Any new fisheries deal must provide management tools nested within a robust framework to aid nations in their responsibilities to agree and implement long-term management plans that help protect fish stocks into the future.  

If we don’t get this right, there is a real probability of putting our natural capital, including the habitats they rely on, at risk. But we are optimistic that the EU and UK – including the relations that have been built upon for decades – can foster an outcome that is good for the fish, the people, and serve to bring more sustainable seafood to consumer’s plates now and for future generations. 
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