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Current overfishing was a ’grossly irresponsible’ use of UK national resources, the Blue Marine Foundation said

The Blue Marine Foundation has launched legal proceedings over the government’s decision to set fishing opportunities for more than half UK stocks, at levels exceeding scientific advice.

The charity said such moves were illegal under post-Brexit fishing laws, which requires that management of UK fisheries  based on the best available scientific advice and any decisions to be made on a transparent basis.

The current overfishing was harming the marine ecosystem, the livelihoods of future fishers and was a grossly irresponsible use of UK national resources, it said.

“By continuing to allow exploitation above sustainable limits the government is not only putting fish populations at risk but also everything that relies on them including marine ecosystems and the fishing industry itself,” said Charles Clover, co-founder of Blue Marine.

On 24 January, Blue Marine issued a pre-action protocol letter to the Defra secretary asking the government to admit liability for breaching its legal duty to conserve stocks and for the excessive levels of secrecy around the decision to set fishing opportunities.

It has now issued proceedings after the government failed to give satisfactory answers to many questions formally submitted by the charity.

The charity highlighted the government’s “irresponsibility” in issuing of 24,000 tonnes of mackerel quota given by Norway to the UK in return for Norway to be able to fish in the UK zone.

This quota, the charity said, was negotiated by the UK despite the stock being overfished and was distributed for reasons that remain secret.

It explained that mackerel quota is controversial as individual nations “self-declare” their own figures so the overall catch ends up exceeding scientific advice, leading to 400,000 tonnes more fish being caught than was sustainable in 2023.

The charity also said that much of the excessive quota was being made by companies with “supernormal” profits paying significant dividends to shareholders.

At the same time, employment in the fishing industry overall has been in decline with jobs falling from 8,395 in 2016 to 6,557 in 2022, according to data from Seafish.

Blue Marine said it was not just mackerel that is facing overfishing but also cod, whiting and monkfish, which could lead to species decline and fewer fishing opportunities for fishermen.

“In terms of transparency, it is not remotely clear what benefit the public is getting from over-allocating this very valuable resource, the mackerel, to a handful of multi-millionaires,” said Clover. “It is time that the distribution of fishing opportunities is reformed to make it clear that natural resources are being distributed according to scientific advice to protect the marine environment and food security and in ways which benefit our struggling coastal communities.”

“Sustainability has been at the heart of the UK’s approach to support the UK fishing industry and catch limits have been set in line with obligations under the Fisheries Act 2020 and the Joint Fisheries Statement,” said a Defra spokesman. “During these negotiations we pushed for decisions to be based on the best available science to protect key stocks using evidence from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.”  

“As litigation is ongoing, we cannot comment as these are matters for the Court’s consideration,” he added.