The UK is a global leader in the fight to protect our seas with our ‘Blue Belt’ of protected waters. I share the concerns about the protection and health of British waters and I am fully aware of the impact that super trawlers have on marine life. Our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. The future of the communities that earn their livelihoods from the sea and the biodiversity of the ocean depends on a balanced and considered approach to fisheries management.
The UK has 357 Marine Protected Areas covering a quarter of the country’s waters but the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) currently restricts our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. While we are still part of the CFP, EU registered vessels are legally entitled to fish in our waters. We will automatically take back control of our waters, and others’ right to fish in them, at the end of 2020. For the first time in 40 years, we will be free to decide who can access our waters to fish and on what terms.
The Fisheries Bill, currently going through Parliament, will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels. This builds on a manifesto commitment which promised to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably as we become an independent coastal state once again. The Bill strengthens the MMO’s powers in a variety of areas, including ensuring that they can restore and enhance, as well as conserve, the marine environment in the offshore zone, and to continue to support the delivery of the Government’s Blue Belt Programme.
I understand that the access of super trawlers to UK waters is of significant concern to local fishing communities and to those working to protect our seas. That is why I am glad that the Fisheries Bill will provide the Government with powers to licence foreign vessels in UK waters. Foreign vessels will have no automatic right of access to our waters in the future. Any vessel granted access to our waters will also be required to abide by UK rules, including on sustainability, and I fully support this approach.  The Government is currently considering the recommendations of the Benyon Review into HPMAs. HPMAs are defined as areas of the sea that allow the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems.
I will not be signing the campaign letter as I am confident that the Government is listening to concerns and taking action in the best interests of the UK.