A parliamentary reception was held in Westminster this week, hosted by the the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP on behalf of Blue Marine Foundation, to explain the benefits of nature-based solutions by way of rewilding the sea.
During his speech, co-founder and executive director of Blue Marine, Charles Clover, urged Ministers to address the inflated catch limits of stocks in UK waters, 65 per cent of which were set above scientific advice by the EU and UK in last year’s negotiations.
A campaign to #BringBackBritishCod, supported by Hollywood actor Jude Law, has gained over 7,000 public signatures and sets the tone for this year’s negotiations which started this week.
Charles’s full speech can be read here in full:
This week sees the opening of the climate talks in Egypt. It also sees the opening of the annual fisheries talks with the EU and Norway. You won’t hear anyone making a connection between these two events – but I can tell you there is one, and it is a big one.
Research suggests that fish globally soak up twice the CO2 emissions of the EU-27, every year. That is even more than whales – though whales are phenomenal carbon sinks. And it happens despite global fish stocks being in their present drastically overfished state. It is clear that the take-up of carbon by marine creatures could be many times greater if we were to look after them properly.
I have brought you all a copy of my book Rewilding the Sea, which shows that the potential of nature-based climate solutions in the sea is very large indeed.
What do I mean by ‘rewilding the sea’? I simply mean stepping back and letting nature repair the damage we have done or where we have managed to eradicate those species altogether – stepping in and reintroducing those species, such as oysters.
We need to do this for three reasons:
• for biodiversity,
• for our own food security, and with it the security of the economy and coastal communities
• and for the climate. Our climate needs all the help it can get. The ocean is our friend. We need to phone a friend.
These are some easy wins, and God knows this government needs some easy wins – but first we have to solve two aspects of policy which are going in the wrong direction.
1) The first is: we are fishing above scientific advice. In last December’s negotiations, the EU and the UK set 65 per cent of all catch limits above the level which would allow fish populations to recover. That is simply wrong, ecologically, economically and for the climate.
Among the stocks that are severely overfished in our waters are our five native populations of cod. The cost of living crisis triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine has reminded us that we haven’t actually been managing our cod stocks for food security for about 40 years. Only 5% of cod served in British fish and chip shops is British cod. The rest are imports. That is crazy. Our fish and chip shops would like us to do something about it. So there is a compelling economic reason to manage our fish stocks for recovery. There is also a legal reason. The EU is now being held to its law against overfishing in the courts. In post-Brexit UK too, there are lawyers who think setting catch limits at sustainable levels may actually be a legal obligation.
2) The second aspect we are getting wrong is investing in the health of the sea. Fishing is not farming. Fishermen do not sow, they only reap. Sometimes they plough the same field seven times a year. As a farmer’s son, I know that isn’t a very good idea. The only way to invest in a wild ecosystem is by leaving it alone for more of the time. We can do that partly by setting catch limits right. We also need to do it by setting aside 30 per cent of our waters, as scientists advise, so fish and fish habitat can recover from the mistakes we have made over decades in fisheries management. And for nature’s sake. Here is another easy win, which is also cheap and very popular. It is palpably absurd that we continue to trawl and dredge in 95 per cent of marine protected areas. An MPA that allows trawling and dredging is not protected in any meaningful sense of the word. I would like to thank Chris for his work on this issue, his ten minute rule bill aimed at limiting dredging in protected areas was inspirational and showed the way.
3) The fishing industry complains that they are having a third of their fishing grounds taken away by wind farms or Marine Protected Areas. This is ecologically ignorant. It is also disingenuous. What will actually be happening in those areas is that we will be sowing fish and other species. Fishing won’t even be banned in these areas – just the most destructive method of fishing, trawling! The fact is that because of those protected areas and those wind farms, almost certainly there will be more fish to catch.
Rewilding the sea is already under way, it is already successful, and there really are no downsides from managing more of our coastal waters in this way. I have documented it in my book: in Lyme Bay, 12 years after trawling and dredging were banned, there are four times more commercial fish species and four times more species overall. One fishermen described the Lyme Bay MPA to us as a “gold mine.” I am fine with MPAs allowing some forms of fishing provided we also have some marine reserves – like nature reserves on land – for nature alone. These need to be of a meaningful size to have any effect. On land we decided to go for ten per cent 40 years ago. But in the sea, as of today, less than one per cent of the UK’s waters ban fishing. If, all five HPMAs that the government is currently considering were put in place that would add another 0.15% to the total. Are we really saying that is all nature deserves in the sea?
As I say, rewilding is already happening – in Sussex Bay and Lyme Bay and on the Dogger Bank. Those are great British success stories. Are we really going to junk some of the laws that brought those successes about? The Brexit Freedoms Bill – the daftest piece of legislation for 1000 years as one lawyer put it to me – is due to repeal 570 EU laws on the environment, many of them very popular, some of them actually effective. So here is my third easy win which can only rebound to the Government’s credit: just scrap this absurd piece of legislation, not the essential nature protection laws that it threatens. Law can evolve over time as it always has. If you are going to scrap this Bill, do it quickly, or the government will get no credit and the impression will continue to spread that you have started a war against nature.
Please do sign the petition to #BringBackBritishCod: https://bit.ly/bringbackbritishcod
Clockwise from top left: Shadow Minister Alex Sobel MP; Shadow Minister Kerry McCarthy MP with Blue Marine executive director Charles Clover; Defra Minister, The Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP; Blue Marine supporter, the designer Steve Edge; Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Therese Coffey MP; Lord Randall of Uxbridge.