Brexit: Fisheries Bill to enshrine sustainability in law

Fishing trawlers in AberdeenshireImage source, PA Media

All fish stocks in UK waters will be fished at sustainable levels after Brexit, the government says, as it publishes new legislation.

The Fisheries Bill gives the UK power to operate as an independent coastal state and guarantees it will quit the EU Common Fisheries Policy in December.

Environment group Greener UK welcomed the focus on sustainability.

But fishing is likely to be a key area of contention in post-Brexit trade talks between the EU and UK.

The Common Fisheries Policy currently sets out how much British fishermen can catch and where.

It also allows vessels registered elsewhere in the EU to fish in UK waters - but the new legislation will end those automatic rights of access.

Instead, access will be for the UK to negotiate in the future and foreign vessels will have to be licensed if they fish in British waters.

Earlier this week, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the BBC the UK "may have to make concessions (in a future EU trade agreement) in areas like fishing in order to get concessions from us in areas like financial services".

But Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers insisted the bill "takes back control of our waters".

She said it would enable the UK "to create a sustainable, profitable fishing industry for our coastal communities, whilst securing the long-term health of British fisheries".

She added that leaving the "failed" Common Fisheries Policy was "one of the most important benefits of Brexit".

'Close loopholes'

The bill sets down in law that all fish stocks must be fished at sustainable levels, and aims to ensure species such as dolphins are protected.

It also includes measures on "climate-smart fishing" to consider the impact of climate change on the sector - for example, if fish populations move as a result of rising temperatures.

Patrick Killoran, from Greener UK - a coalition of 13 environmental organisations - said the focus on climate change and sustainability was "very helpful".

"It recognises that vibrant fisheries create a healthier wider environment," he said.

"However, this will only work if the government closes loopholes in the last bill that allowed ministers to exceed fishing limits."

He said more detail was need on "how the government will actually ensure sustainable fishing".