Twitter LinkedIn

The UK’s marine strategy is inadequate to restore our seas to good health and is in urgent need of reform

Sean Clement of WWF-UK, Chair of the Link Marine Group, writes that marine experts from across the UK have responded to the Government's recent consultation on their policies to restore our seas to good health. He reports that the UK’s marine strategy has been assessed as inadequate to protect our seas and in urgent need of reform.

December 2021

The UK’s Marine Strategy is the overarching framework for delivering marine policy in the UK. As part of this process, a ‘programme of measures’ is published every six years which sets out the actions the UK Governments will take to recover our seas (or in policy-speak the actions to deliver Good Environmental Status - GES - for UK seas).

This week, alongside colleagues and campaigners from across the UK, Wildlife and Countryside Link submitted a joint response to the Government’s consultation on its proposed programme of measures. Delivered at the end of what the government claimed was a ‘super year’ for our seas, we are disappointed to report that this 124 page document is heavy on words but light on content. Our own assessment is that what is proposed will be insufficient to improve the health of our waters beyond the grave findings set out in 2019 (where the UK failed to meet 11 out of 15 targets for GES).

Following the closure of this consultation, the government has an opportunity to review and revise this aspect of the strategy and deliver a programme that will truly chart a course towards the recovery of UK seas.

Our response contains recommendations applicable across all devolved nations that are drafted and supported by marine policy specialists from 14 of the UK’s foremost environmental conservation groups. These proposals, which aim to restore our polluted, over-fished and under-protected waters, include:

  • Robust Fisheries Management Plans, Remote Electronic Monitoring and financial assistance for sustainable fishing, must be implemented at pace. With seventy references to the Fisheries Act within the marine strategy, these improvements can ensure the Fisheries Act will deliver, rather than detract from achieving GES.
  • Currently in draft form, the UK Bycatch Mitigation Initiative requires levelling up in terms of detail, ambition and delivery. Implementation must follow swiftly, with robust independent monitoring and binding timelines for action.
  • Decisions remain outstanding on by-laws to restrict bottom contacting fishing gear in four English offshore MPAs. Outcomes that protect these sites must be announced as soon as possible and consultations for remaining offshore sites begun to ensure the Government sticks to its own commitments for offshore marine management.
  • Measures essential for meeting GES by 2024 (the date of the next assessment) must be implemented in a timeframe which matches this date. While this sounds like a necessity for any time-bound strategy, many measures in the UK marine strategy will have no impact on GES by 2024. For instance, a Deposit Return Scheme is a proposed measure for tackling marine litter yet is not scheduled to be implemented until late 2024 at the earliest in England.

Many of the additional and strengthened measures we propose are eminently achievable. As the government takes stock of responses, we look forward to an improved and ambitious programme of measures to enhance the UK’s chances of restoring our seas to GES by 2024.

Read the ELUK response to the UK Programme of Measures here.

Sean Clement is Chair of the Link Marine Group and an Ocean Restoration Project Officer at WWF-UK. The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.