UK Politics

All parts of the UK must unite to stand up for fishing, MPs say

Mackerel catch
Image caption The Mediterranean and and Atlantic are being over-fished, the EU says

The whole of the UK needs to present a "united front" to the European Union to protect the future of fishing fleets, MPs have said.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee accused Brussels of "micro-management" in setting catch quotas.

It said EU member states should decide them "as locally as possible".

The MPs urged ministers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to work together to ensure UK views are heard when new EU rules are introduced.

The European Commission says the existing system of fishing quotas - which often leads to tonnes of good fish being dumped at sea - will be changed over the next couple of years.

'More ambitious'

It believes the current "top-down" system is failing to prevent 82% of Mediterranean stocks and 63% of Atlantic stocks being over-fished.

The commission argues that the method of allocating EU-wide quotas has contributed to the depletion, as crews that haul in more than the agreed limit often throw large quantities of dead fish - known as "discards" - back into the sea.

In its report, the committee urges the UK government "to consult fully with the devolved administrations" in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland "to determine fishing policy" in an effort to take advantage of the EU's change of policy.

It adds that the industry is "vitally interested that the UK, as a member state, acts as just that: as a joined up member state...

"The interests of the UK's fishing industry are best served by one strong voice in Brussels. Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the devolved administrations should seek to present a united front in negotiations with the EU over fishing policy."

The committee adds: "The centralised micro-management of fisheries by the European institutions has been widely criticised. The essential first step is to improve the CFP's governance through a more ambitious programme of decentralisation.

"The (European) Commission believes that the EU's exclusive competence over the conservation of marine resources restricts the extent to which powers can be passed back to member states."

'Local as possible'

But the committee notes that the commission has "baulked" at a full-scale repatriation of powers to set fishing quotas.

It says: "However, we have identified a lawful means of qualifying the EU's exclusive competence through amending the CFP Regulation itself, without requiring Treaty change.

"This could deliver an effective 'locally as possible' approach to fisheries management in line with the ambitions of stakeholders, national governments, and the commission itself."

A government spokesman said ministers were pleased that the committee shared their "ambition for radical reform" of the Common Fisheries Policy.

"The current system is too heavily controlled by Brussels which is why we have consistently argued for member states to have a stronger say in how their own fisheries are managed.

"Defra has also repeatedly called for an end to discards and will continue to press the Commission hard until we achieve this."

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