Raft of UK supermarkets and food brands warn government's current proposals could damage the ability of UK fishing communities to meet growing demand for sustainable seafood
Over 20 of the UK's largest supermarkets and food brands have today joined forces to urge the government to reassess the sustainability credentials contained in the Fisheries Bill currently working its way through Parliament, warning that loopholes in the proposed legislation could "seriously damage the sustainability of UK fisheries".
In a letter sent this morning to Environment Secretary George Eustice, the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) called on the government to introduce legally binding limits for fishing of fish stocks into its forthcoming fisheries legislation, alongside measures that set out how fishing stocks shared with other coastal countries can be co-managed.
The group, which includes Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose & Partners, Marks & Spencer, The Co-op, Morrison's, and Young's, stressed the Fisheries Bill offered the government a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to establish a "world-leading" sustainable fisheries management regime after the Brexit transition period.
The Fisheries Bill marks the first new fisheries legislation in more than 40 years and represents a landmark piece of post-Brexit environmental legislation.
It is designed to set out how the UK will operate as a coastal state independent of the European Union and the government has long highlighted the potential to improve the sustainability of British fisheries while providing a boost to the fishing industry.
However, fisheries policy has emerged as one of the key sticking points in the currently deadlocked negotiations, with the UK and EU said to be at loggerheads over how quotas and fisheries should be managed post-Brexit.
Now a raft of leading food brands are warning that more sustainable management of UK fisheries is urgently needed to help reduce overfishing, protect the marine environment, and boost responsible sourcing, while also retailers can meet growing consumer demand for sustainable certified seafood.
"SSC members want to see stronger legislation to ensure sustainable fishing practices are enshrined in law," explained SSC coordinator Oliver Tanquerey. "The UK should be leading on this issue and not falling short of international best practices. Consumers are demanding sustainable seafood - to be able to source this from UK waters, businesses need to see better management of our fisheries."
In addition, the coalition has called on the government to back an amendment to the Bill - introduced by the House of Lords during the Report Stage - for electronic monitoring to be rolled out on all fishing vessels, a move that could enhance operators' accountability, improve the accuracy of removal rate data, and facilitate enforcement of quotas and reglations. This robust monitoring system should be complemented by an "appropriate sanctioning system" that disincentives illegal activity, the group said.
"The implementation of fully documented fisheries by remote electronic monitoring (REM) will bring the evolution on transparency and traceability that we need," said Tesco responsible sourcing manager Helena Delgado Nordmann. "We are very keen to see this reflected in the new legislation."
Responding to today's call, a spokesperson from the Department for Envrionment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stressed that the Fisheries Bill would enshrine the government's commitment to sustainable fishing into UK law. "As an independent coastal state, we want our fisheries managed in a way that protects our precious marine and coastal areas - while enabling our seafood sector and coastal communities to thrive," they said. "The government is committed to sustainable fishing, and our flagship Fisheries Bill enshrines that commitment in law."
The government has repeatedly insisted that it plans to delver a 'green Brexit', pledging to deliver "the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth, with the autonomy and ability to set our own future environmental protections".
The SSC binds all its members to responsible sourcing commitments and claims to be responsible for ensuring three quarters of all seafood sold in UK supermarkets is labelled and sourced responsibly. Environmental law organisation ClientEarth operates the group's secretariat.
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