Ocean conservation charity Blue Marine Foundation sues the UK government

The Ocean conservation charity Blue Marine Foundation has announced that it is suing the British government for repeatedly setting fishing quotas higher than scientific advice.

Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Meritt Thomas & Kristin Snippe

Blue Marine Foundation, a charity dedicated to restoring the ocean to health, has launched legal proceedings over the government’s decision to set fishing opportunities for more than half UK stocks, at levels exceeding scientific advice. The charity argues that the government’s unsustainable management of fish stocks is an irresponsible use of national assets and against the interests of the majority of fishermen.

The Blue Marine Foundation points to evidence that decades of prioritising short-term commercial considerations over responsible management will lead to the depletion of key species such as mackerel, Celtic Sea cod, monkfish and Irish Sea whiting – and argues that under the new post-Brexit Fisheries Act the government can no longer override long-term sustainability based on un-evidenced claims that this is good for fishing communities.

Blue Marine’s research into these issues has highlighted egregious examples of partiality and unfairness towards the majority of fishermen such as the distribution of mackerel quota, well above scientific advice, wholly or largely to a small number of wealthy and interconnected fishing companies – the ‘mackerel millionaires’. Worse still, additional quota was negotiated by the UK, knowing it was unsustainable, and given free to wealthy companies while smaller-scale, independent fishers are facing multiple challenges.

Dr. Thomas Appleby, chief legal affairs adviser to Blue Marine Foundation, comments: “The setting of quota and distribution to fishing vessels in the UK and Europe has long been controversial. For decades fish stocks have been set beyond scientific advice and as a result stocks of fish have dwindled, and so have the number of people employed in the fishing industry. Our case is principally about transparency in the decision-making process.”

He adds: “UK law permits fishing beyond scientific advice, but only if there is some socio-economic benefit. Our hope is that if the system is made transparent, government will not be able claim economic benefit, when really what’s happening is political expediency.  Most effective fisheries management regimes make sure scientific advice cannot be exceeded, so if there are reasons to exceed the science they need to be powerful ones. Once the information guiding these decisions is made public, we will, we hope, be able to introduce some rationality.”

In the legal proceedings, the charity therefore makes the case that that the government’s distribution of more than 50 per cent of fishing quota over scientific advice for each of the past three years has been against the long-term interests of fishermen and fishing communities as well as irresponsibly threatening the survival of populations of fish species. The court will further be told that the government’s approach to fisheries-related decisions is unlawful and lacks the transparency required by its own policies.

Blue Marine argues that a new approach which is fully compliant with fisheries law and policy is essential if the UK is to end overfishing and support prosperous domestic fishing fleets and coastal communities, meet international legal commitments on sustainability and mitigate the effects of climate change. “One by one stocks collapse. In the past, the fleet has tended to move on to new stocks by fishing down the food web and targeting the prey of the overfished stock. There comes a time when stocks simply run out, as commercially viable species become fished out and the ecosystem changes beyond all recognition,” adds Appleby.


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Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Meritt Thomas & Kristin Snippe

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