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British public want strong laws to protect the ocean after Brexit

Fishing has strong links to Britain’s identity and it has become a symbolic issue for Brexit withdrawal negotiations. The demands of the fishing industry in the UK often capture headlines, yet the voice of the British public also needs to be heard.

May 2018

A recent poll found that more than three out of four people across the UK support new laws to ensure that fish stocks are protected from overfishing once Britain leaves the EU. And this level of support came from both leave and remain voters.

While some fish stocks have been recovering in recent years, 40 percent of Northeast Atlantic stocks are still being overfished.

Fish and the ocean are a public resource and it is important that the government manages this for the benefit of everyone, including future generations.

Once we leave the EU, the government has the opportunity to put new fisheries laws in place that ensure all fishing limits are set according to the best scientific advice, at levels that fish populations can support. And these limits should be properly monitored and enforced.

People understand the importance of the ocean. The polling, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by ClientEarth, show that a whopping 87 percent of people agree that the fishing industry should be required to fish in a way that protects marine life.

The bottom line is that we need to fish in a way that the ocean can support. One of the most common causes of deaths of marine mammals, like porpoises, is being caught in fishing gear. And heavy, bottom-trawl fishing gear can damage the seabed in a single sweep, with the ecosystem taking years to recover.

Fish are also an essential part of ocean ecosystems. Small sandeels in the North Sea are a vital food source for seabirds like puffins and marine mammals like dolphins, not to mention other fish like mackerel. But sandeels are also fished commercially. If they are to continue to play a key role in ocean life, fishing must be managed sustainably, keeping in mind the wider ecosystem.

Marine life is not the only beneficiary of strong fishing laws. Without healthy fish populations, we will not have a fishing industry that continues to support the livelihoods and proud heritage of coastal communities.

Protecting what’s in the sea also benefits those who rely on its health long-term. So restoring fish populations and fishing sustainably has to be the government’s prime concern. And the majority of people surveyed agree that the government should prioritise protecting fish stocks from overfishing over ensuring the British fishing industry has a larger share of fish to catch once Britain leaves the EU.

Fish in the sea belong to us all and are an integral part of life in the ocean. The government must make sure that we do not take more fish than the seas can support and that fishing is done in a way that protects marine life. We should not be sacrificing the ocean’s health for short-term political or economic gains.

Amy Hill, Biodiversity Lawyer, Client Earth.

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NOTE: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,845 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 19th March 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.