It's make or break time for the UK's fishing industry

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Sustainable fishing measures aim to yield a healthier marine environment for the future

Moves to establish a UK sustainable fishing system have reached a crucial stage, with the next steps leading to success or disaster, according to The Seafood Company's technical director Mike Mitchell.

In the wake of the UK Marine Bill receiving royal assent on November 12, 2009, consultations are taking place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about future planning.

"We have one chance to get this right and successful implementation of the Bill means striking a fine balance between the sustainability of fishing and coastal communities and that of the environment," said Mitchell. "Done correctly, the introduction of the Bill could be the best news ever for a sustainable future for UK fishing. Getting it wrong could result in irreversible consequences for the fishing industry and the environment."

In England, the Marine Management Organisation, which is being launched in April, subsuming the existing Marine and Fisheries Agency, will handle marine planning. Part of this concerns the creation of Marine Protection Areas (MPAs), with input from stakeholder groups, including processors.

"The Findus Group [of which The Seafood Company is a part] very much supports MPAs as a sustainability measure where there are clear scientific conservation objectives and the halo impacts have been properly assessed," said Mitchell. "There's a danger MPAs may result in more intensive fishing on less productive grounds beyond their boundaries to yield the same catch level."

Separately, under EU legislation, discussions are under way that would lead to about a quarter of the UK seabed becoming protected conservation areas. Fishermen would have to use recommended kit that would not damage the seabed. The socioeconomic impact on communities would influence the choice of sites. "Industry can play a key role in deciding what would be acceptable," said Mark Gray, environmental advisor at seafood industry body Seafish.

Related topics: Meat, poultry & seafood

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