Maintaining the sustainability of our oceans, controlling our waters and protecting fishing livelihoods is of paramount importance.
I agree that our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. I am therefore pleased that the Government is putting sustainable fishing and protection of our seas at the heart of its future fishing strategy. Ministers have already set up a ‘Blue Belt’ of Marine Protected Areas extending across 38 per cent of UK waters, and the Fisheries Act includes new powers to better manage and control these Areas.
The Marine Management Organisation has now consulted on proposals to manage activity in four of England’s offshore Marine Protected Areas: Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation, Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation. I am aware that the byelaws being proposed aim to prohibit fishing activities where there is evidence that they harm wildlife or damage habitats. The byelaws will seek to prohibit the use of bottom towed fishing gear in all four sites and additional restrictions for static gears over sensitive features in two of the sites. I am aware that these first four Marine Protected Areas were chosen as a priority to help protect their vibrant and productive undersea environments. I know the information received from this consultation is now being reviewed and I look forward to the Marine Management Organisation's response.
The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has restricted our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. Now that the UK has left the EU, the UK Government has powers to implement evidenced based marine management that will help ensure our seas are managed sustainably, protecting both the long-term future of the fishing industry and our precious wildlife and habitats. The Fisheries Act will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels.
I know that Ministers are currently reviewing the UK’s policy on access for supertrawlers. This review will be driven by evidence and will need to consider how any measures fit with obligations under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, as well as avoid taking any action against individual vessels which could be construed as discriminatory. I am pleased that under the Fisheries Act 2020, vessels permitted to fish in UK waters will have to be licensed and comply with UK rules and regulations including those on sustainability. Furthermore, licence conditions set by UK Sea Fisheries Authorities will apply to both UK and foreign vessels alike.