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To be, or not to be, a world leader in fisheries management?

Kirsten Carter, Marine Principal Policy Officer at RSPB, writes about the Future Fisheries Alliance (MCS, RSPB and WWF) response to the Joint Fisheries Statement; a vital piece of policy for the sustainable management of UK fisheries. The response, which was also supported by Wildlife and Countryside Link, Wales Environment Link and Scottish Environment LINK, can be read in full here.

April 2022

A new approach to fisheries management could see the UK place itself as a world leader in securing a more resilient future for our seas and coastal communities but a key opportunity to deliver the transformative change needed is at risk of being missed.

The Future Fisheries Alliance (FFA), a partnership of the RSPB, Marine Conservation Society and WWF welcomed the publication of the Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS) on January 18th, in recognition of its significance in setting out how seafood production can contribute to tackling climate change, improve ocean resilience and restore biodiversity while maintaining a thriving sustainable fishing industry that aspires to world leading management. 

The JFS is a requirement of the Fisheries Act 2020, the UK’s first primary fisheries legislation in almost 50 years. The JFS is the opportunity for the four fisheries authorities of the UK to set out their ambition to deliver against the objectives of the Act and how they intend to bring about transformational change on the water, and as such should provide a toolkit for delivery, setting out clear time bound commitments for this change.

The most direct pressure on our seas is fishing and alongside climate change, commercial fishing was identified as one of the predominant human pressures preventing the achievement of Good Environmental Status – a measure of the health of UK seas for which 11 out of 15 indicators are failing (see the ELUK Marine Strategy Part 1 Response).

The Future Fisheries Alliance core asks are:

Sustainable Fishing

The FFA focuses on key aspects of fisheries management including sustainable fishing. Our partners at the Marine Conservation Society publish the Good Fish Guide and Sandy Luk, (Chief Executive of the Marine Conservation Society) highlights that the latest Good Fish Guide update shows all new UK ratings are either amber or red rated. It is crucial the Joint Fisheries Statement and Fisheries Management Plans deliver transparent and improved management to recover depleted fish stocks, and create a pathway for an environmentally sustainable and thriving fishing industry.

How technology can underpin sustainable fisheries management

The use of technology can underpin sustainable fishing. The FFA advocates for Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) with cameras as a cost effective, tried and tested tool that underpins sustainable fisheries management by capturing robust data that provides an understanding of the impact fisheries are having on our seas. This includes better data for stock management and information on the accidental capture of marine wildlife such as seabirds and marine mammals and how impacts can be minimised. REM also improves transparency and accountability and can remove potential barriers to entering sustainable supply chains, all of which will support the positive marketing of UK seafood. The FFA are urging UK fisheries managers to commit to rolling out REM as a key fisheries management tool that will support the recovery of our seas and the fisheries and coastal communities that are dependent on them.

Improved ocean health can help tackle climate change

We know that ocean health is vital in tackling climate change and that industries operating across our seas have an essential role to play in this regard. UK fishing needs to change and modernise to meet this challenge. The Joint Fisheries Statement is a crucial opportunity to demonstrate the UK’s world leadership for fisheries and aquaculture and help mitigate climate change. We are calling on the governments of the UK to commit to and implement a climate-smart strategy.

Our key asks for improvements to the Joint Fisheries Statement

In order to bring about transformative change, moving us beyond the status quo for fisheries management, governments specifically must: 

  • Take a holistic approach to fisheries management; minimising wider impacts on the marine environment, while driving the rapid recovery of depleted stocks and review fleet capacity to meet the scientific objective; prioritising recovery of both fish and shellfish stocks and marine ecosystems. 
  • Implement an ecologically coherent and well-managed MPA network that is resilient in the face of climate change; UK Fisheries Policy Authorities (FPAs) should outline policies relating to MPA management within the JFS, and in line with IUCN advice, committing to excluding bottom-towed fishing gears from MPAs designated for seabed protection as appropriate.
  • Ensure a precautionary approach is at the core of delivery at a strategic level; securing effective delivery and monitoring across the four administrations, rather than creating four separate processes.
  • Provide clear targets and objectives to prevent exploitation of stocks at unsustainable levels; ensuring targets are set at levels below FMSY, allow populations to be maintained, or restored, above biomass levels capable of sustaining MSY.  
  • Set out a timeline for which stock assessments will be completed for all commercially targeted fish and shellfish stocks. Ideally this would result in all stocks being contained within a Fisheries Management Plan (FMP), including requirements to improve data to ensure adequate stock assessments, protect important species and habitats and enabling ocean recovery.  
  • Provide clarity regarding how evidence and scientific baselines will be identified and used; providing assurance through evidence that these stocks are 'sustainable' to the UK public.
  • Embed action to address sensitive species bycatch within the JFS; committing to timebound targets; testing and rollout of mitigation measures in high-risk fleets and effective monitoring at sea through REM (with cameras) and observer programmes.
  • Set out how UK fisheries are going to be effectively monitored and data collected; providing a more accurate picture of the impact UK fisheries are having on the marine environment, allowing for better management, improving transparency and accountability across the UK fleet.
  • Gain accurate information on landings; whilst landing data is collected within UK ports (and applies only to UK landings), the data is primarily from 10m and over vessels, providing an incomplete picture of effort from UK landed species.
  • Utilise robust evidence and set out clear timebound, transparent objectives when developing FMPs; we do not believe FMPs as described in the JFS and Fisheries Act are going to deliver this ambition, meet key objectives of the Fisheries Act or reflect international standards.
  • Invest in research to improve the evidence base and improve management for fisheries; research is required in multiple areas to support sustainable UK fisheries. 
  • Include provision for aquaculture throughout the JFS; the UK’s number one food export is farmed Atlantic salmon, given any increased demand for seafood will have to be met by aquaculture, this should be made explicit and given equal emphasis as the fishing industry.  
  • Specify a date for delivery of a clear timebound strategy for climate smart fisheries; fisheries are both vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and contribute to it, due to emissions from fossil fuel use as well as disturbance of marine ecosystems, disruption to vital blue carbon and removal of fish and shellfish.  

This isn’t the first time that the RSPB feels the UK government could have been more ambitious as we have previously drawn similar conclusions about the targets consultation for the Environment Bill and the UK commitments at the CBD meetings in Geneva.

The consultation on the draft Joint Fisheries Statement closed this week, after which responses will be reviewed and then finalised and signed off by all four fisheries administrations by November 2022.

Now is the time and this is the opportunity to transform fisheries management and deliver a resilient, climate and nature smart fishing industry. However, unless significantly strengthened, the JFS will fall short of achieving its ground-breaking aim of delivering world leading sustainable fisheries management and will fail to satisfy the Fisheries Objectives under the Fisheries Act.

Kirsten Carter is the Marine Principal Policy Officer at RSPB, follow @NaturesVoice

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

urther reading

Read more about the Future Fisheries Alliance’s key asks for the Joint Fisheries Statement in the parliamentary briefing FFA Parliamentary Briefing on the JFS.

To read the full JFS consultation response see Joint Fisheries Statement Consultation Response | Marine Conservation Society | Marine Conservation Society (

Read more about Climate Smart Fisheries in the report Shifting Gears: Achieving Climate-Smart Fisheries.

Find out more about fisheries and seabirds by reading about the RSPB's key asks to tackle bycatch in fishing gear and overfishing of key prey like sandeel.