Maintaining the sustainability of our oceans, controlling our waters and protecting fishing livelihoods is of paramount importance.
I am aware of the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy, and I understand concerns about the impact of overfishing. I agree that our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. I am glad that the Government is fully committed to the sustainable management of our seas, while enabling a successful UK fishing fleet. The objectives in the Fisheries Act 2021 collectively reaffirm this commitment to sustainable fishing and protecting the marine environment while tailoring the approach to our unique seas.
I know that 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. Under UK leadership, 80 countries have signed up to an international target to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030. Alongside this, the Government has accepted the central recommendation of the Benyon Review and will be taking forward Highly Protected Marine Area pilot sites. These sites will be designated next year and will aid nature to recover to a more natural state, allowing the ecosystem to thrive in the absence of damaging activities.
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 proposed aim to ban fishing where there is evidence that they harm wildlife or damage habitats, and will seek to ban the use of bottom towed fishing gear in all four sites, with additional restrictions for static gears over sensitive features in two of the sites. I understand that these 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.
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 many people have concerns about larger vessels fishing in our waters. I would like to assure you that now the Transition Period has ended, ministers are reviewing the UK’s policy on access for supertrawlers. This review is being driven by evidence and needs 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.