Hugh urges his Fish Fighters to fight the Fish Bill

September 28, 2020


Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the writer and broadcaster who led the campaign for reform of Europe’s fishing policies in 2012-13, has put his name to a boulder to be dropped by Greenpeace on the Dogger Bank in protest at the weakness of the government’s Fisheries Bill.

He said: “This week a boulder with my name on it will be dropped by Greenpeace on the Dogger Bank. I’m proud to take part in this action to help prevent unlawful and highly damaging trawling and dredging on one of the most important Marine Protected Areas in our seas.

“The new Fisheries Bill needs to live up to its promise to protect our seas and allocate the post Brexit fisheries opportunities in a truly sustainable way that favours small scale inshore fishermen. All our Government’s bold talk of ‘taking back control’ of our fisheries will amount to nothing if our marine reserves remain ‘paper parks’ without proper protection, our fish stocks are not sustainably managed, and our fish are given away to foreign-owned fishing vessels and not the home-grown inshore fleet that will look after them best.”

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall called on the 800,000 signatories to his “Fish Fight” campaign for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2012 – which included MPs, celebrities and members of conservation groups – to help strengthen the UK’s Fisheries Bill, which returns to the Commons next month.

He added: “It would be brilliant if everyone who wants healthy seas and sustainable fisheries (including all those Fish Fighters who helped get the Common Fisheries Policy reformed in 2012-13) wrote to (or tweeted) their MPs now. Tell them you want a Fisheries Bill that robustly protects our marine reserves and puts a duty on ministers to ensure our fisheries are sustainably managed. Meanwhile I’ll continue to support direct action to protect our seas until the government shows it can do that job properly, and as it has promised.”

Chris Thorne, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK who is on board the Esperanza, said:

“We are determined to protect the Dogger Bank from destructive bottom trawling and will be back this week with more boulders which we will safely place on the seabed. We can’t sit idly by while our Government allows bottom trawlers to destroy this protected area, while also systematically breaking the law by turning off their AIS satellite trackers. This is like driving down the motorway at night with your headlights off.

“Our Government needs to step up and properly protect our oceans. What use are marine protected areas, when they don’t actually protect anything? Our new boulder barrier in the Dogger Bank, when completed, will close off almost 50 square miles of this vitally important ecosystem to destructive bottom trawling, which is ripping up and destroying the supposedly protected seabed.”

Charles Clover, Executive Director of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, is between a boulder and a hard place.  He has Greenpeace dropping rocks on the Dogger Bank – with huge public support – to protest at the failure to protect the habitat of critically endangered species such as the angel shark and the common skate that should have been protected a decade ago. He has us, BLUE, writing to ministers saying that we will take them to court if they break their own laws by allowing damaging vessels to trash British public assets after Jan 1. Now he has Hugh and his Fish Fighters joining in.

“Has he got the message yet that his Fisheries Bill isn’t good enough?

“He would give himself a much quieter life by giving himself a duty to prevent over-fishing – which exists in the United States which has revised its legislation for over 40 years and has now one of the best regimes in the world.  He should reflect that 49 per cent of fishing opportunities are owned by foreign industrial fleets and that British inshore fishermen want a fair Bill that looks after their interests and not those of the Dutch.  Our inshore fishermen want the protection of offshore marine protected areas such as the Dogger Bank because they save fish.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. In the Commons George Eustice stripped out a Lords amendment that said sustainability should be the “prime objective” of the Bill.  It now refers to long-term sustainability rather than short term sustainability.  Opponents called the move “a recipe for overfishing.”
  2. Under the Habitats Regulations, which the UK will take over sole responsibility for in UK waters from Jan 1, any “plan or project” – which includes licensing fishing vessels – is meant to have an “appropriate assessment” to show that the fishing methods used are not damaging to the protected habitats.  Under the Common Fisheries Policy, fishing nations have been able to postpone indefinitely carrying out these assessments but in the view of BLUE’s lawyers, they will be needed from Jan 1.
  3. The government is proposing to give powers to the Marine Management Organisation to manage the offshore marine protected areas after Brexit and says that the MMO will launch consultations on the 73 such areas some time after Jan 1 2021.  In the case of the Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton Special Area of Conservation off the East Anglian coast, an area where the byelaw approach has been applied before as it is within 12 miles of the shore, it took the MMO three years to launch a consultation after the area was designated for protection.  The eventual result was that the MMO issued a byelaw protecting less than 4 sq km of the 1500 sq km SAC from harmful bottom-towed gears.  That was 0.26 per cent of the area designated for protection.  Blue Marine Foundation says that this was unlikely to have been compliant with environmental law.

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