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Is the Government's new Joint Fisheries Statement as transformational as we'd hoped for?

Kirsten Carter, Marine Principal Policy Officer at RSPB, sets out the importance of the recently published Joint Fisheries Statement, asking whether it can deliver on the Government's promise of 'world leading fisheries management'.

February 2022

The Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS) is the policy statement written by the 4 devolved administrations providing a UK framework for the delivery of the 8 objectives within the Fisheries Act. It sets out an overarching policy direction for fisheries management and how it will be developed by relevant fisheries policy authorities. It is central to the Government’s ambition ‘to be a world-leading fisheries management nation and achieve fully sustainable fisheries’.

The Future Fisheries Alliance, a partnership of the RSPB, Marine Conservation Society and WWF welcomed its publication last month, in recognition of its significance in setting out how seafood production can contribute to tackling climate change, improving ocean resilience and restoring biodiversity while maintaining a thriving sustainable industry that aspires to world leading management.

Recognition of the role of the ocean

Positively the JFS, recognises that ‘a healthy and resilient marine environment is the foundation for a prosperous seafood sector and thriving coastal communities’ and that ‘sustainable use and conservation of the sea is central to the fisheries management approach.’ The ocean is the beating blue heart of our planet and we cannot tackle the climate and nature crisis without protecting it effectively. This is a welcome recognition of the need to modernise and create a climate and nature smart fishing industry that can provide a win-win for fishers, the environment and livelihoods, putting us on the path to ocean recovery.

In support of this we also welcome the recognition that ‘the protection, restoration and sustainable management of blue carbon habitats provides a nature-based solution that can support adaptation and resilience to climate change, alongside benefits for carbon sequestration and biodiversity’ and hope to see future provisions made through effective fisheries management and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect and restore these habitats.

Practically however the JFS contains many uncertainties and risks being open to interpretation. Recognition of differences in approach to policy development within each nation is reflected and it remains unclear how consistency of approach will be applied across policy authorities, regulators and stakeholders in regard to fisheries management.

Fisheries Management Plans

Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) will provide a key tool for practical management through development of stock and geographic level management plans. Of the over 100 stocks of commercial interest, FMPs have been identified for 43 within the JFS, covering a wide range of species and mixed fisheries. However, there is limited clarity on how evidence and scientific baselines will be identified and used, particularly where evidence may be missing.

Because not all (fish) stocks currently have sufficient evidence to establish Maximum Sustainable Yield type limits, the JFS commits that “alternative proxies will be used for more data-limited stocks”. What these proxies may be is unclear and needs to draw on robust scientific evidence. What is important is that the FMPs must set out clear time bound objectives and their development be transparent, inclusive and use the most robust evidence upon which to base decisions to meet these objectives.

Bycatch, monitoring and data

The JFS should also set out how data can be best gathered, and catches monitored while meeting objectives to minimise and where possible eliminate species bycatch (unintentional catch of non-target species, such as marine mammals and seabirds in fishing gear). Bycatch is preventable, and we can take swift action to address it, through effective policy and action on the water delivered through a transparent, inclusive process, utilising robust science.

The JFS makes reference to the ‘Bycatch Mitigation Initiative’ but this is not yet in the public domain and, from what we understand, it goes no further to bring about real change. It is also highly concerning to note that despite a call for evidence in 2020, there are still no clear commitments to expanding the effective use of Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) with cameras as a fisheries management tool, only the promise for further consideration, which doesn’t go far enough given the benefits that embracing such technology could make in underpinning sustainable fisheries.

Currently it’s unclear how much further forward this policy statement takes us. However, we look forward to engaging with the UK's four fisheries administrations to seize this opportunity and shape future fisheries management with climate and nature in mind.

To find out more about our vision for climate-smart fisheries - Climate Smart Fisheries Report

Kirsten Carter is the Marine Principal Policy Officer at RSPB

Follow: @Natures_Voice on Twitter

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

Photo credit:  Kolforn (Wikimedia)